Treating ectopic pregnancy with nanoparticles
Ectopic pregnancy is a life-threatening condition that happens when a fertilized egg implants itself outside of the uterus. If the egg is left to grow where it’s not supposed to, it can cause all kinds of damage including internal bleeding.
A drug called methotrexate is the most common treatment for ectopic pregnancy. It stops development of the fertilized egg, but fails 10% of the time and also has some nasty side effects.
To counter this, the scientists have developed a tiny bubble-shaped nanoparticle, called a polymersome, that is attracted to and interacts with placental cells. The nano-bubbles are filled with methotrexate, and when they reach the ill-placed embryo, they dissolve and release the drug.
Using the technology to treat mice, the researchers found they only needed one-sixth of the methotrexate they would need using just the drug alone.
Read the results in the journal Small here.
Quantum computing solution
The next great advance in computer science is undoubtedly in the realm of quantum computing. It’s heady stuff to understand — but suffice to say this new computer architecture relies on the physics of subatomic particles to store, access and process information.
These quantum properties give the computers far greater power — that is, if you can provide a perfectly stable environment for them to operate in. If you don’t, the system collapses. It’s a nut that hasn’t been cracked.
But scientists at the University of Washington have made a promising step forward in developing a new kind of qubit (similar to a “bit” in traditional computing, but far fancier). Theoretically, the new qubit, made of anyons, would be far less susceptible to outside disturbance.
By stacking two single-atom thin flakes of molybdenum ditelluride, giving it a slight twist, and bringing the temperature down to near absolute zero, they created a stable metaphorical house where the new kind of qubits could live.
How does an octopus see things?
Octopuses are astounding for so many reasons. For example, they use tools and have nine brains (one in their head and the one in each tentacle). And that head-brain is pretty amazing on its own — especially when it comes to how it processes vision.
Recent research out of the University of Oregon has shown that an octopus’ brain makes sense of visual cues in a remarkably similar way to a human’s brain. The scientists discovered this by passing dark and light spots across the visual field of one eye and then seeing which parts of the octopus’ optic lobe reacted to the information.
They found that the neural activity reflected the visual cues kind of like a map of the visual space. As the spots moved across the screen, brain activity moved across the optic lobe.
Humans and other mammals process visual information like this as well. Although the actual biological structures involved are very different — no doubt the result of being on separate evolutionary lines for more than 500 million years. The research is a stepping stone to a deeper understanding of how octopuses see their underwater environments — something the scientists plan to investigate further in the future.
Read the paper in the journal Current Biology here.
More women hunting
Think about what you’ve been taught about hunter-gatherer societies.
Who hunts? Men?
Who gathers? Women?
Now, you may want to forget everything you’ve learned.
Researchers at Seattle Pacific University looked at traditional hunter-gatherer societies that have survived to the modern era (the past 100 years) and found that women hunting is far more common than previously thought.
The researchers analyzed ethnographic reports for nearly 400 foraging societies spanning every continent (except Antarctica). Sixty-three had recorded information about their hunting practices available.
Accounts of women hunting appeared for 79% of these groups. In some societies women hunted intentionally; in some, it was just opportunistic. In 15 of the societies, women were actively involved in hunting large game. But oftentimes, the tools women used to hunt were different from their male counterparts.
The analysis supports recent and growing archeological evidence of female hunting traditions in far older societies. And the authors suggest that our binary thinking about gender roles likely has skewed interpretations of other archeological data to discount other evidence of women in hunting roles.
Read the paper in the journal PLOS ONE here.
Healthy eating through typography
Since 2018, restaurants in the United States with 20 or more locations have had to prominently display the calorie counts for all of their food items. But not everyone uses that information to make healthier food choices.
Researchers at Washington State University have found a way to subtly nudge more people to choose lower-calorie foods — and all it could take is a slight adjustment of font size.
The team leveraged a psychological phenomenon called the Numerical Stroop Effect, where people exposed to incongruencies between physical size and magnitude of printed numbers react slower than otherwise. Instead of increasing the font size as the caloric values rose, which would follow normal expectations, the researchers created a menu where the font size of the calorie counts for low-calorie foods were larger than the font size for high-calorie foods.
People shown the incongruent menu were more likely to choose healthier menu items than those shown a congruent version – especially if they were asked to respond quickly. Though the font trick had less impact on people who said they were health-conscious to begin with.
Read the paper from the International Journal of Hospitality Management here.
In this monthly rundown from OPB, “All Science. No Fiction.” creator Jes Burns features the most interesting, wondrous and hopeful science coming out of the Pacific Northwest.
And remember: Science builds on the science that came before. No one study tells the whole story.