We've all heard the saying "It isn't rocket science." And it's true—advertising is nothing like science. But science is still pretty cool.
The big news in science recently were the winners of the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology. Three Americans, Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young, were awarded the prize jointly for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm. It was big news. But here are some scientific discoveries you may not have heard of.
Here are 13 amazing discoveries that scientists have made this year:
1. Along came a spider. The bite of an Australian funnel-web spider could kill you in 15 minutes if not treated. However, scientists have discovered that a peptide found in the venom of one species may protect brain cells from being destroyed by a stroke, even when administered eight hours after the event. If this treatment does well in human trials, it may be the first drug that can protect against brain damage caused by a stroke.
2. The fountain of youth? As we age, senescent (damaged) cells build up in our tissues, possibly promoting diseases associated with old age. Scientists from the Netherlands developed a molecule that purges those cells. After trying it on mice, their fur regrew, their kidney function improved, and they could run twice as far as untreated mice. One scientist called this a landmark advance in the field of aging.
3. Slimed. Scientists have discovered that the slime covering the skin of a frog in southern India contains antimicrobial peptides that destroy bacteria and viruses, including strains of the human flu, while at the same time protecting normal cells. Thus far, the therapy has only been tested in the lab.
3. Alien? Astronomers have found seven planets outside our solar system that circle a tiny star called Trappist-1. They're a mere 40 light years away from Earth. NASA reports that three of these planets are in the "habitable zone." That means they could be right for water to exist and possibly even extraterrestrial life.
5. The Ghostbusters Dinosaur. In Toronto, scientists have identified a new species of dinosaur and named it Zuul, after the doglike monster in the 1984 film Ghostbusters. The name seemed appropriate since the dinosaur had horns behind its eyes, spikes on its face, and a barbed, sledgehammer-like tail. Unearthed in Montana, the fossilized skeleton is one of the most complete ankylosaurs ever found.
6. The mighty shrimp. On the Pacific coast of Panama, scientists found a new type of pistol shrimp that uses its large pink claw to create a noise so loud it can stun, or even kill small fish. In fact, when it snaps its claw, the sound it creates can reach 210 decibels (a loud concert is about 110 to 140 decibels. The team has named it Synalpheus pinkfloydi, because of their love for the rock music group Pink Floyd.
7. Behold! Zealandia! Scientists have presented evidence for the existence of a new continent in the southwest Pacific beneath New Zealand. Even though the landmass in 94% underwater, geologists say that it meets all the criteria to be recognized as Earth's eighth continent. Will Zealandia now appear in future geography books? Time will tell.
8. A DNA repair kit? Chinese scientists devised a gene-editing tool that may eliminate certain disease-causing mutations in the DNA of human embryos. The first of its kind, it could one day help prevent babies from inheriting serious genetic diseases. However, it has already raised ethical questions because of the potential to design children and therefore change the genetic heritage of humankind.
9. Cancer killer. Currently on the fast track for FDA approval is an immunotherapy drug that turns a patient's own blood cells into cancer killers. In an ongoing clinical trial, the treatment was given to patients with advanced lymphoma who had not responded to standard treatments or had relapsed. After three months, 37% of patients showed no signs of cancer. Scientists hope the therapy could be the next big step forward in cancer treatment.
10. Stonehenges older than Stonehenge. Using drones, researchers have identified 450 Stonehenge-like formations in the remote northwestern part of Brazil. These indicate that settlers lived in the area far earlier than scientists originally thought. While no one really knows how prehistoric people used the stone enclosures, they date back at least 1,000 years, long before Europeans arrived.
11. SkinGun. Biomedical scientists have created a device that sprays stem cells onto wounds. They help grow a healthy new layer of skin in as little as four days. Biotech firm RemovaCare recently obtained a patent for the SkinGun. They've used it successfully to treat dozens of burn patients in trials. While it still needs FDA approval, it can revolutionize burn care and help eliminate the painful and scarring process of skin grafting.
12. Dragon blood. The Komodo dragon is the world's largest lizard. Scientists have discovered a new antimicrobial compound in their blood. In the lab, the substance healed infected wounds on mice faster than existing options. Potentially, this could give doctors a new tool to fight antibiotic-resistant infections.
13. Prioritizing preemies. In what is being called a huge breakthrough in treating premature babies, scientists have successfully built an artificial womb that was able to keep premature lambs alive and developing normally. The lambs lived for four weeks inside the device, which looks like an oversize plastic bag filled with synthetic amniotic fluid. This could one day help bring human preemies to term outside the uterus.