Clean power, beamed from space?
It’s a dream from science fiction, but will soon be a reality—solar panels in orbit around the Earth, beaming energy down to power people’s homes. A start-up California company called Solaren Corp. is planning to launch an energy-gathering “solar farm” into orbit sometime before 2016. A satellite covered in solar panels would capture the powerful, unfiltered light from the sun for 24 hours per day, beaming it via radio waves to a receiver on the ground. The science behind the idea has already been demonstrated: Last year, a former NASA scientist used electromagnetic waves to transfer power between two stations on Hawaiian islands, 92 miles apart. San Francisco’s PG&E clearly believes in the technology; with the permission of the California Public Utilities Commission, it has agreed to buy 200 megawatts of power from Solaren once the satellite is up and running. “We’re convinced it’s a very serious possibility that they can make this work,” PG&E spokesman Jonathan Marshall tells the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s staggering how much power is potentially available in space. I say ‘potentially’ because a lot remains unknown about the cost and other details.”
Another chance at motherhood
Men can make sperm until they die, but women are born with a finite number of eggs in their ovaries—or so scientists have long believed. But a new study by Chinese scientists has found that with some hormonal stimulation, female mice can make new eggs late in life—opening the possibility that women can, too. Biologists at Shanghai Jiao Tong University were able to isolate germ-line cells (precursors to mature eggs) in the ovaries of adult mice, and develop them into real eggs. The eggs were then put back into the mice, leading to normal fertilization and the birth of healthy baby mice. If this process can be replicated in humans, it could allow formerly infertile women to give birth. “If you are looking to disprove that females cannot make new eggs, this paper proves it,” Harvard medical professor Jonathan Tilly tells The Washington Post.
A diabetes breakthrough
Diabetics who had their immune systems rebuilt with stem cells no longer needed insulin injections, a new study found. “I wouldn’t use the word ‘cure,’” Dr. Richard Burt, one of the study’s authors, tells
Time. “But it appears we changed the natural history of the disease.” In people with type 1 diabetes, the immune system mistakes insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells, for foreign invaders, and attacks them. Eventually, these people cannot produce their own insulin. To “rewire” the immune systems of 23 diabetic patients, the research team extracted stem cells from their bone marrow, used radiation to wipe out their immune systems, and restored the stem cells, which grew into healthy new immune-reaction cells. No longer under attack, the beta cells in the patients’ pancreases began to grow and reproduce. Soon, beta cells in 20 of the 23 patients were producing normal amounts of insulin. “It’s the first therapy for patients that leaves them treatment-free,’’ says Burt. Other scientists warn that many long-term diabetics have so few beta cells left that the new treatment may not help them.
Happy kids become happy spouses
Kids who smile a lot are more likely to grow up to have happy marriages, says a new study. Psychologists at DePauw University in Indiana looked over pages and pages of childhood photo albums from more than 600 adults, then asked about their marital histories. They found that of those frequently photographed smiling in childhood, only 11 percent had ever been divorced. But of people often photographed frowning or looking somber, 31 percent had had a failed marriage. Overall, people who rarely smiled in their childhood photos were five times more likely to get divorced than those who appeared happy. Study author Matthew Hertenstein tells LiveScience.com that frequent smiling probably indicates a happy, upbeat disposition, and that such “positive emotionality” repeatedly has been proved to produce happier lives. It may also be that “smiling people attract other happier people,” he says, leading “to a greater likelihood of a long-lasting marriage.”
Getting by in extreme conditions
An otherworldly colony of bacteria has been discovered living under an Antarctic glacier, where it has evolved into a near-alien life form over millions of years. The bacteria are surviving in subzero temperatures in a pool of extremely briny water 1,200 feet below Taylor Glacier, with no light, no oxygen, and no normal source of food. Scientists found these strange microbes in a trickle of blood-red water that flows out of the glacier, and determined that the bacteria have adapted to get energy from chemical reactions between sulfur and iron compounds (the iron gives the water its color). The colony might help explain how life could arise in harsh conditions on other planets, such as Mars, Dartmouth College researcher Jill Mikucki tells National Geographic. “This same creativeness in getting energy might be found elsewhere,” she says.