Saturday, March 9, 2013

Science Saturday 4.2: HIV, Mind Meld & More

The big science news from this week comes from about 20 minutes away from my the University of Mississippi Medical Center, it was reported that a baby has been cured of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).  This is only the 2nd reported case of a patient being effectively cured.  30 hours after the baby's birth, they discovered she was HIV positive, so doctors began an intense treatment of three HIV antiviral drugs.  10 months later, there was no sign of an active virus - pieces of HIV DNA and RNA were still present, but the virus was not replicating.  This "functional cure" presents promising results for the future of antiviral therapies for HIV positive newborns, as well as giving insight to possible cures for adult patients.
Nanoparticles (purple) carrying melittin (green)
fuse with HIV (small circles with spiked outer ring),
destroying the virus’s protective envelope.


Speaking of HIV, another study is showing that nanoparticles made with bee venom can kill HIV.  Bee venom consists of melittin, a peptide (essentially like a smaller protein) that functions by degrading the protective protein coating surrounding the virus.  Because it is specific to this viral coat, melittin does not degrade or harm normal healthy cells, only the virus.  This has future implications to combat other viruses such as Hepatitis B or C.


Neuroscientists studying brain-machine interferences (BMIs) have demonstrated a "mind meld" of sorts in a pair of rats.  They were able to use microelectrodes in the brain to link up a neural network between the two rats.  Essentially, one rat's brain was stimulated (the encoder) and the other rat's brain received the information (the decoder). This study demonstrates the capability of an "organic computer," or multiple linked brainpower, being able to solve complex problems.  Resistance is futile.
"Researchers trained pairs of rats to press one of two levers, with the correct one indicated by a flashing light above, to get a drink of water. When the encoder rat pressed the right lever and got its reward, a sample of the brain activity that coded for that behavior was translated into a pattern of electrical stimulation and delivered directly to the brain of the decoder rat. The decoder faced the same lever setup, but got no visual clues, so had to rely on cues transmitted from the encoder to guide it to the correct lever and the reward."


Lastly, check out this cool video of fluid knots, which physicists have simulated in the laboratory.  Unlike tying a knot in a piece of string, this mathematical knot has no ends, and is a continuous loop or closed entanglement. Being able to replicate this model can lead to further understanding of lead to better models of airflow around aircraft wings, or of strange quantum substances like superfluids.

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