Science

Mind-boggling discoveries scientists made in 2017

Three Earth-Like Planets

Astronomers found not just one but seven planets outside our solar system that circle a tiny star called TRAPPIST-1, about 40 light-years away. Three are in what NASA calls the habitable zone, which could be right for water to exist and possibly for extraterrestrial life.

Shrimp So Loud, They Were Named After a Rock Band

On the Pacific coast of Panama, scientists discovered a new type of pistol shrimp that uses its large pink claw to create a noise so loud it can stun—or even kill—small fish. In fact, the boom created by the animal’s snapping claw can reach 210 decibels. For comparison, a loud concert is about 110 to 140 decibels. The team members dubbed it Synalpheus pinkfloydi, inspired by their love of Pink Floyd.

A Therapy That Reverses Aging in Mice

As we age, senescent, or damaged, cells build up in our tissues, possibly promoting age-related diseases. Scientists from the Netherlands developed a molecule that purges those cells. When tried on ­elderly mice, their fur regrew, their kidney function improved, and they could run twice as far as untreated mice. One scientist called it a landmark advance in the field of aging.

Spray-On Skin for Burn Victims

If a burn victim’s wounds are severe, home remedies for burns aren’t nearly enough. So biomedical scientists have created a device that sprays stem cells onto wounds, helping them grow a new, healthy layer of skin in as few as four days. Biotech firm Renova­Care recently obtained a patent for the ­SkinGun and has used it to successfully treat dozens of burn patients in trials. While the device still needs FDA approval, it’s a game changer that could help eliminate the painful and scarring process of skin grafting.

Spider Venom That May Halt Stroke Damage

A bite from an Australian funnel-web spider could kill you in 15 minutes if not treated promptly. But scientists discovered that a peptide found in the venom of one species may protect brain cells from being destroyed by a stroke, even when given eight hours after the event. If the treatment fares well in human trials, it may become the first drug that can protect against stroke-induced brain damage.

The Ghostbusters Dinosaur

Scientists in Toronto identified a new species of dinosaur and named it Zuul, after the doglike monster in the 1984 film Ghostbusters. Like its namesake, the dinosaur had horns behind its eyes, spikes on its face, and a barbed, sledgehammer-like tail. The dinosaur’s fossilized skeleton, unearthed in Montana, is one of the most complete ankylosaurs—­armoured, lizard-like dinosaurs—ever found, with skull and tail club intact.

Flu-Fighting Frog Mucus

Scientists discovered that the slime covering the skin of a frog from southern India contains antimicrobial peptides that destroy bacteria and viruses—including key strains of the human flu—while protecting normal cells. So far, the therapy has been used only in the lab.

Dragon Blood That Kills Infections

Scientists found a new anti­microbial compound in the blood of Komodo dragons, the world’s largest lizards. In the lab, the substance healed infected wounds on mice faster than existing options, potentially giving doctors a new tool to fight antibiotic-resistant infections.

A “New Stonehenge” in Brazil

Researchers using drones identified more than 450 Stonehenge-like formations in the remote northwestern part of Brazil, indicating settlers lived in the area far earlier than scientists originally thought. While it’s unclear how prehistoric peoples used the stone enclosures, they date back at least 1,000 years, long before Europeans arrived.

An Artificial Womb to Nurture Preemies

Marking what could be a huge breakthrough in treating premature babies, scientists successfully built an artificial womb that was able to keep premature lambs alive and developing normally. The lambs lived for four weeks inside the device, which looks like an oversize plastic bag filled with synthetic amniotic fluid. The faux womb could one day help bring human preemies to term outside the uterus.

A Tool to Repair DNA in Embryos

Chinese scientists devised a gene-editing tool that may eliminate certain disease-causing mutations in the DNA of human embryos. It is the first such technology to be used on viable human embryos and could one day help prevent ­babies from inheriting serious genetic diseases. But it has already raised ethical concerns about the potential to effectively design children—and alter the genetic heritage of humankind.

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