Science in Action

BBC World Service

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Damaged embryos repair themselves

March 31st, 2016

Episode 86 of 158 episodes

New research suggests that early embryos with abnormalities could still develop into healthy babies. The work, published in the journal Nature Communications and carried out on mouse embryos, shows that if even half the cells in an eight cell embryo were abnormal, these would die and then normal healthy cells would speed up their growth and take over. The abnormal cells in the embryos had too many chromosomes – normally a human cell has 23 pairs of chromosomes, sometimes though babies develop with an extra chromosome e.g Downs Syndrome or Edwards Syndrome. The scientists found that the abnormal cells do continue to grow in the placenta, but not in the foetus. If more than half of the cells were abnormal, despite healthy cells increasing their growth to compensate, the embryo would often spontaneously abort. Frog foam Foam produced by tropical frogs in Trinidad could be used to treat severe burns in humans. The new research, presented at the Microbiology Society General Meeting in Liverpool in the UK, shows that the foam is highly stable and it can be loaded with drugs and applied to the skin. Scientists hope that this could be a new drug delivery system used to treat burns victims in particular. So far the team have cloned about half of the genes that make up this foam and ultimately want to develop a synthetic version in the lab. Hobbit older than first thought The human species Homo floresiensis , nicknamed ‘the Hobbit’ is older than previously thought. A new analysis published in the journal nature shows the species probably went extinct about 50 000 years ago, and not 12 000 years ago as the original analysis suggested. Measuring gravity with a mobile Scientists at the University of Glasgow have built a small device that measures tiny fluctuations in gravity, and could be used to monitor volcanoes or search for oil. Such gravimeters already exist but compared to this postage stamp-sized gadget, they are bulky and expensive. The new design is based on the little accelerometers found in smartphones. Wolf dialects The largest ever study on howling shows that wolves howl in different dialects according to their species. Our reporter Jennifer Reiger finds out more. Presenter: Jack Stewart Producer: Ania Lichtarowicz (Photo: Cleavage stage embryo. Credit: Prof. Magdalena Zernicka-Goetz team at the University of Cambridge)

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