Life on Mars
This week, NASA scientists have confirmed that organic matter has been found in sediments on the Martian surface. This organic matter does not directly confirm that life does or did exist, but it does tell us that life could have been eating or producing this organic matter at some point in Mars’ history.
The samples were from rocks that are 3 billion years old, around a quarter of the way into Mars’ history. Scientists are fairly confident that liquid water existed on Mars around this period and the discovery of stuff that life could eat strongly suggests that life could have been found swimming in the primordial seas of Mars.
But what about life on Mars today? Coupled with the discovery of organic matter, further analysis has been conducted on methane gas found on Mars. Methane on Earth is commonly produced by either life or chemical processes. The interesting thing about Martian methane is that it is seasonal, suggesting that as Mars goes through its seasons there may be life producing a varying amount of methane, or there could be stores of methane underground being periodically released. Either of these theories cannot rule out that there is currently life on Mars. Watch this space.
Stopping late-stage cancer
Judy Perkins, 49, from Florida was suffering from late-stage breast cancer when she was selected for a radical new therapy. Her cancer had spread to the rest of her body, keeping her in constant pain and she was told that she had only three years to live. Two years later she is cancer-free and living her life again thanks to a new branch of cancer treatment called immunotherapy. This powerful tool harnesses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.
For Judy, researchers removed some immune cells called TILs which normally infiltrate tumours and kill cancer cells. Sometimes TILs are not very good at their job or are too weak to fight cancer, so the researchers grew billions of them and then tested them for their strength against the specific mutations in Judy’s cancer. Next, they injected 80 billion of these super-TILs into Judy’s bloodstream where they set about killing cancer cells.
Scientists caution that the therapy has only been tested in one patient and that more work needs to be done. However, the treatment has been described as miraculous and could potentially be used in the fight against other cancers.
To try to halt the crash in insect populations across Europe, the EU recently banned neonicotinoid insecticides. These have been linked to the death of bees across the world and since bees pollinate 1 in 3 of our crops, it is an issue that must be dealt with. However, farmers are now left without a powerful weapon in their arsenal against pests. But, they may not be defenceless for long as creative scientists have found a way to target pest insects whilst leaving beneficial insects like bees unaffected.
Researchers have genetically modified tobacco plants to produce the sex pheromone required for specific bugs to mate. By extracting this and putting it into traps in the field, the life cycle of pest bugs is disrupted but other insects and those outside of the field are unaffected.
This new technique is already being trialled and may one day lead to ‘sexy plants’ being planted alongside crops as an environmentally friendly alternative to insecticides.
Written by Jake Howden