Don't miss what's been happening in science this week! IFLScience

A weekly round-up of the most fascinating, exciting, and unusual scientific breakthroughs and discoveries for the week October 5-9, 2020.


Super Rare Half-Male, Half-Female Bird Found In Pennsylvania

The beautiful and certainly unique rose-breasted Grosbeak Gynandromorph. Annie Lindsay

Biologists in Pennsylvania have managed to catch an incredibly rare bird that’s genetically part male and part female, split down the middle and displaying the vibrantly colored characteristics of both sexes. It belongs to a species known as the rose-breasted grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) found throughout much of eastern North America. The male of this species is known for its richly colored plumage, but this individual also displays the brown-orange plumage of a female. This is a rare example of bilateral gynandromorphism, where an animals' external appearance is split down the middle by sex, half-male and half-female.

Read the full story and see more pictures here.


Pioneering CRISPR Genome Editing Technique Wins 2020 Nobel Chemistry Prize

French scientist Emmanuelle Charpentier and American Jennifer Doudna have been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their development of the CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technique. The two scientists will share the 10-million kronor ($1.12 million) prize for developing this simple but powerful way to edit the genomes of living organisms.

CRISPR has been nicknamed genetic "scissors" for its ability to snip out precise pieces of genomes and substitute them with others. This has allowed researchers to alter DNA and change the function of specific genes. CRISPR is now seen by many as a crucial tool in fighting and curing multiple diseases and genetic conditions, including cancer, blood disorders, and HIV.

Find out more here.


For The First Time, DNA Has Been Obtained From Insects Embedded In Tree Resin

Resin samples from Hymenaea trees in Madagascar with embedded Ambrosia beetles. Georg Oleschinki / University of Bonn

Wealthy geneticists with dreams of a dinosaur-filled theme park should not get too excited; the trapped insects died just a few years ago. Nevertheless, the incredible new discovery shows that, after much speculation, it is indeed possible to obtain and study the genetic makeup of organisms found embedded in tree resin.

The study revealed that water appears to remain embedded in samples for longer than previously thought, which could have a negative effect on the stability of the DNA. Nevertheless, they hope to build on this project by finding an upper limit to how long DNA can last in tree resin using more sensitive "next-generation sequencing" methods.

Read the full story here.


"Trojan Horse" Nanoparticles Kill Cancer Cells Without Drugs

Scientists have created a “Trojan horse” that sneaks anti-cancer nanoparticles into cancer cells and causes them to self-destruct without any drugs. The research is still in its early days, but the new method has already proved to be remarkably effective at killing cancer cells in a petri dish and reducing tumor growth in mice.

Researchers at Nanyang Technological University Singapore (NTU Singapore) developed their Trojan horse by lacing an anti-cancer nanoparticle with a specific amino acid, known as L-phenylalanine, which cancer cells rely on to grow. The cancer cells seek to absorb the amino acid, unknowingly letting in this anticancer nanoparticle and causing them to self-destruct.

Read more here.


Scientists Have Recreated How HIV Infects Cells In A Test Tube For The First Time

Artist's impression of HIV. Janet Iwasa

Scientists have finally recreated in a test tube the first moments of infection by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The infection takes place deep within cells, so understanding the first steps of this process has been difficult to investigate, but a huge step forward.

The research shows the role of the capsid (the virus's outer shell) is more complicated than previously thought. It was assumed that the capsid was there to simply protect the genetic material inside. However, the new research suggests that it is more than just packaging and instead helps the infection process directly. While the scientific progress has been impressive, people with HIV continue to suffer from stigma and discrimination, so access to treatment and education about the virus remains vital.

Read the full story here.


First Photograph Of A Black Hole Puts Einstein’s Relativity To Its Most Stringent Test Yet

General relativity is our best understanding of gravity but it doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon. We know that it doesn’t work with quantum mechanics, so there’s a better theory out there.

Now, a team has compared the size of the black hole shadow historically imaged by the Event Horizon Telescope last year to predictions from general relativity and found an incredible level of agreement. "Using the gauge we developed, we showed that the measured size of the black hole shadow in M87 tightens the wiggle room for modifications to Einstein's theory of general relativity by almost a factor of 500, compared to previous tests in the solar system," said co-author Professor Feryal Özel.

Read the full story here.


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