Over the last decade, the advances in neuroscience that led doctors to view addiction as a disease, rather than a desire or personal failing, raised the natural question of whether or not addicts could be vaccinated against drug use as if it were a virus. While the theory remains valid, the recent clinical trial of one of those vaccines, called TA-CD, highlights the complexity of the issue.
TA-CD works by preventing cocaine from entering the brain, thus stopping the user from getting high. It does not, however, stop cravings, leading some test participants who received the vaccine to take 10 times as much cocaine in the hopes of overriding the vaccine and getting high, or to bankrupt themselves while trying to do so.
First, there was the wooden peg leg. Then came bone replacements made of various metals and ceramics. Now, in the 21st century, we're back to wood. But this ain't your average sea dog's pine prosthesis; researchers in Italy have found a way to turn wood into synthetic bone that's so similar to real bone that it never has to be replaced.
Seismologists and geologists would love to know which volcano is going to erupt next. Now, so do bookies, odds-fixers and those with a taste for games of chance. Paddy Power, Ireland's largest bookmaker, is taking bets on which volcano around the world will next blow its top to the tune of a VEI-3 eruption. Following the recent eruption of Philippine's Mount Mayon, apparently Paddy Power was flooded with requests by -- and we're quoting here -- "punters around the globe" who wished to wager on nature's next super-destructive geo-seismic event. Apologies up front to Japan; it seems the odds are stacked against you.
It's been less than a year since NASA launched the Kepler Space Telescope, and the device is already paying off with new discoveries. In particular, NASA scientists have identified a planet with the consistency of styrofoam, a gaggle of exoplanets, and two never-before-observed objects too small to be stars, but too hot to be planets.
Viruses can rapidly evolve and adapt to the latest antiviral drugs in a never-ending war of survival. Yet some scientists have spent the past 10 years working on ways to turn that rapid mutation against the viruses. Carl Zimmer, a science writer with a special fondness for parasites, described the challenges facing those scientists in a recent New York Times story.
Troubadours, romantics and Bono have all claimed at one point or another that music has the power to heal. They might finally get some backing from the scientific community if a group of researchers in Germany has any say.
Scientists from the Scripps Research Institute have discovered that prions -- tiny infectious bits of protein that can cause deadly neurodegenerative disease -- are capable of evolution. While that might not seem groundbreaking, here's the thing: while prions evolve by Darwinian, naturally selective processes, they are completely devoid of DNA and RNA.
Still feeling the sting of New Year's Eve all these days later? A synthetic alcohol substitute developed from chemicals similar in composition to Valium could give users the pleasant feelings of tipsiness without affecting the parts of the brain that lead to barroom brawls, crippling addiction, and sleeping in your car.
In this micrograph of dorsal closure in a fruit-fly embryo, the protein actin is marked red, prominent around the gap in the epithelial cells. The microtubules that give shape to cells are green, and epithelial cells with their microtubules destroyed are blue.
One of the steps in fruit-fly development is similar to the healing of wounds. Until recently, scientists believed that when fruit-fly bodies take form during a process called dorsal closure, long strings of the protein actin behaved like the drawstring of a purse, pulling together the epithelial cells that eventually form the fly's skin.