Discovered: A whole new type of lab mouse; black mamba venom dulls pain better than morphine; drilling deep into the Earth; microbial diversity turned into jazz.
A palliative use for snake venom. Probably very few people would willfully put snake venom in their bodies. But if they knew that it would relieve terrible pain without any nasty side-effects, perhaps they'd be more willing to ingest black mamba venom. Researchers in France have isolated mambalgins in the snake's venom which can block pain in sensory nerves and inhibit the passage of pain signals through the central nervous system. Though their painkilling effects are on par with morphine, these mambalgins are "powerful, naturally occurring, analgesic peptides of potential therapeutic value" that "do not produce motor dysfunction, apathy, flaccid paralysis, convulsions or death upon central injections." That means that they could greatly alleviate pain without causing many of the nasty side effects involved in taking other painkillers. [Ars Technica]
Baby mice born from stem cells. Giving a whole new meaning to the term "lab mouse," scientists in Japan have fostered baby mice into being through stem cells. Kyoto University's Mitinori Saitou and colleagues were able to grow "reconstituted ovaries" from the stem cells. They then fertilized the eggs using in vitro technology. The baby mice that emerged were healthy and fertile, making this the first time scientists have successfully grown baby mice through stem cell research. "Our system serves as a robust foundation to investigate and further reconstitute female germline development in vitro, not only in mice, but also in other mammals, including humans," the researchers write. [The Guardian]
Microbial jazz. The complexity of microbial life presents a unique challenge to microbiologists: how to organize and make sense of it all. Argonne National Laboratory researcher Peter Larsen came up with one interesting solution by using music to map out patterns in microbial diversity. He took data from the English Channel project, a long-running effort to collect information on microbes living in the Western English Channel and then matched certain variables (daylight, temperature, phosphorous levels, etc.) with chords. Concentrations of the microbes determined which scales come into play. "The same population would sound different in the key of sunlight,” says Larsen, “than in the key of nitrogen." Jazz is the most suitable genre, Larsen found, because it best mimics the spontaneity he observes when looking at microbes under the microscope. Listen to microbial diversity swing below. [Tooth & Claw]
Journey to the center of the Earth. OK, maybe not all the way down to the inner core, but scientists are planning to drill quite deep into the Earth in an effort by the international Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). What we know so far about the layers of the Earth come from computer simulations, mostly, but IODP plans to change that by drilling 3.7 miles into the Earth beneath the Pacific Ocean. There, the drill will retrieve the first-ever samples to be collected from within the Earth's mantle. One of the project's leaders, the University of Southampton in England's Damon Teagle, says this will be "the most challenging endeavor in the history of earth science." Japanese scientists currently hold the tunneling depth record, having drilled 7,000 feet below the seafloor last month. We currently know more about the surface of Mars than what lies just beneath the Earth's crust, and this project hopes to fix that irony. [Smithsonian]