Top Stories: Living in The Matrix, Cannibalism in Jamestown, and Killing MRSA With Breast Milk
If rats are anything to go by, Morpheus, Neo, and Trinity probably used less brainpower while they were kicking butt in The Matrix. According to a new study, rat brains work differently when they're in a simulated environment. Researchers hope that the results will help them improve virtual reality.
Bird flu strain H5N1 hasn't infected many people—yet. But scientists warn that if H5N1 finds a way to efficiently move from human to human, a pandemic is inevitable. Controversial research last year showed how a few viral mutations could allow the virus to move freely in ferrets. Now, new research reveals that H5N1 needs to borrow just a single gene from a human flu strain to become easily transmissible between mammals.
The bones of a 14-year-old girl, found buried among food waste, confirm long-held rumors of cannibalism among the settlers of Jamestown, Virginia, the first successful English colony in North America. Scientists say that the girl's cheeks and tongue were cut out, her facial muscles stripped of flesh, and her brain pulled out of her head. The good news is that all of this most likely happened when she was dead and with good reason—the colony was starving, stranded without provisions, and living under siege at the time.
MRSA is a nightmare bug. It's aggressive, painful, and resistant to a slew of antibiotics. Now, with the help of a protein found in breast milk, scientists have found a way to make the superbug treatable again. The milky protein makes MRSA sensitive to antibiotics, helping the drugs kill the bug at very small doses. It makes ordinary bacteria more sensitive to antibiotics, too, meaning that much smaller doses are needed for treatment. Even better, it looks like bacteria have a hard time developing resistance to the protein. Researchers hope that the protein and antibiotic combo becomes an effective treatment for scary drug-resistant superbugs in future.
A new drug being investigated for its ability to treat sepsis could also end up being used to treat flu. At the moment, there's just one kind of flu drug out there, but it has to be administered quickly, and some flu strains have started to develop a resistance to it. This new substance works completely differently, targeting a flu sufferer's overactive immune system, and researchers are hopeful that it will introduce an entirely new class of antiflu drugs.
The new chair of the House of Representatives science committee, Lamar Smith, has introduced a draft bill taking aim at the National Science Foundation's grant review process that would effectively replace peer review with a set of funding criteria chosen by Congress. The criteria include ensuring that all approved grants be "ground breaking" and in the interest of the United States. The proposal has caused a bit of an uproar in the scientific community, and not everyone is on board with Smith's plans. President Barack Obama promised to defend the peer-review process in a speech earlier this week, and White House science adviser John Holdren has spoken out against the impending legislation as well.