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SciTech Bulletin 4.7

Your monthly dose of the latest in science and technology

From a tiny organelle that can cure the dreaded disease of cancer to an emissary from beyond the solar system, the world of research in science and technology progresses by leaps and bounds. This edition of SciTech Bulletin brings you the most recent research conducted in biology, astronomy, chemistry, and palaeohistology.

Organelle to the rescue

This breakthrough allows accurate and focused treatment to be administered. Source: Fierce Biotech

Cancer is a disease caused by genetic changes leading to uncontrolled cell growth and tumor formation. The basic cause of sporadic cancers is DNA damage and genomic instability, and a new organelle discovered prevents it by making sure that the genetic material is copied accurately.

Scientists at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have discovered a strange new organelle inside our cells that helps to prevent cancer by ensuring that genetic material is sorted correctly as cells divide.

This is very useful in the case of breast cancer tumour as it makes a lot of genetic mistakes while segregating chromosomes. The team’s analysis gave doctors a new way to sort patients according to their tumour and choose therapies for them.

“Some percentage of women get chemotherapy drugs for breast cancer that are not very effective. They are poisoned, in pain and their hair falls out, so if it isn’t curing their disease, that’s tragic,” said researcher Dr. P. Todd Stukenberg, of UVA’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics and the UVA Cancer Center. “One of our goals is to develop new tests to determine whether a patient will respond to chemotherapeutic treatment, so they can find an effective treatment right away.”

This new organelle only forms to ensure that the chromosomes are sorted correctly, and vanishes when the work is done, which is why no one was able to discover it until recently.

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Solar system’s mysterious interstellar visitor

These two images capture the comet appearing near a background galaxy (left) and soon after its closest approach to the Sun (right). Source: NASA, ESA and D. Jewitt (UCLA)

A newly discovered comet, 2I/Borisov, is exciting the astronomical community worldwide. Its speed and trajectory indicate that it may have come from beyond our solar system. Since October, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has been eyeing this fleeting visitor and has provided the sharpest images as the comet navigated around our sun.

Hubble revealed that the heart of the comet is a loose cluster of ice and dust particles, and likely no more than about 3,200 feet across. The comet is following a hyperbolic path around the sun with an extraordinary speed of 110,000 miles per hour.

Comet 2I/Borisov is the second interstellar object recorded in our solar system. The first interstellar visitor was an object named ‘Oumuamua’, which appeared to be a rock. As comet 2I/Borisov is really active, the nature of these two visitors is extremely different. They have provided invaluable clues to the chemical composition, structure, and characteristics of alien star systems.

Discovered by Gennady Borisov, an amateur astronomer, The Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA computed an orbit for the comet, which showed that the comet came from somewhere other than our Milky Way galaxy. Although the origin of the comet is not precisely known, it is suggested that the comet 2I/Borisov likely came from a binary star system called Kruger 60, located in the constellation of Cepheus.

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Revolutionary method to remove contaminants from nuclear waste water

A precursor for future water treatment. Source: NewAtlas

With the levels of crude oil and other conventional sources plummeting, harnessing nuclear power seems promising because nuclear fuels are relatively more economical. Moreover, nuclear plants can run uninterrupted for a longer period of time than wind or solar power plants. But an underlying issue is that of the large volumes of water used as coolant and its contamination with radioactive isotopes, which require special long-term disposal.

To solve this, researchers at MIT have devised a technique that uses shock waves to remove radioactive contaminants from nuclear reactor wastewater, called shock electrodialysis. The water that is obtained from this cleansing process can be recycled instead of replaced, thus reducing the volume of contaminated water.

In shock electrodialysis, a deionization shockwave in a tube of water is used to push electrically charged ions into a charged porous material that acts as the tube’s lining. Hence, the contaminants can be selectively filtered out of the coolant water flow. The team was able to isolate 99.5 percent of cobalt and cesium radionuclides from the water and preserve 43 percent of the purified water for reuse.

Apart from routine cleanup, this method can be used for extreme cases like the damaged Fukushima Daichi power plant in Japan, where the accumulation of contaminated water has threatened to overpower the containment systems designed to prevent it from leaking out into the adjacent Pacific Ocean. Undoubtedly, the future seems optimistic for this technique which will be used in large scale plants in the years to come.

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Teenage T-Rex

This illustration depicts the stages of growth in the life of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Source:

The Tyrannosaurus Rex is undoubtedly the most famous dinosaur to have ever roamed the face of the planet. The image of a gigantic reptile with bone-crushing teeth is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. However, there has been little interest in how this ‘King of the Prehistoric World’ matured and grew into adulthood.

Two fossils of juvenile T-Rex were unearthed in the early 2000s, but collectors for museums were mainly concerned with the big-sized fossils for tourist attraction. Last year, however, a team decided to conduct research on the two fossils, which they nicknamed Jane and Petey.

Their study showed that the T-Rex took about twenty years to reach full size, and it underwent drastic changes till then. The teeth of juvenile T-Rex were razor-sharp and suited for tearing meat, while the teeth of grown T-Rex were more suited for crushing bones. Not only that, the teenage T-Rex were much more agile as compared to their adult selves. These mini-tyrants were larger than a full-grown horse and twice as long.

Modern palaeohistology has determined that even before achieving adulthood, these dinosaurs were fearsome predators that struck terror in the hearts of their prey. These creatures rightfully earned their title of Tyrant King long before fully growing up.

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