Armchair Scientist Digest #3

We live in a time where new research regularly breathes life into the dreams of last year’s sci-fi authors. We just don’t hear about it on the news that often. So I’m here to bring you the most exciting of this month’s science crop culled lovingly from a variety of publications.

Gattaca, Here We Come!

Scientists in Japan made incredible strides in reproductive research this October, creating functional, fertile mice eggs from stem cells. These eggs were later grown into functional, fertile mice, which bred a second generation.

Stem cell research tends to come in two different flavors; embryonic stem cell and pluripotent induced stem cells. Embryonic stem cells are the more contentious of the two, as scientists must destroy an embryo in order to harvest them. Pluripotent stem cells are less controversial because they can be harvested from adult cells–such as skin or hair. Why do we want to do this to begin with? Because of the nature of stem cells, they can be coaxed into developing into any type of tissue.

These scientists managed to create fertile eggs via both means. This is very exciting for a number of reasons. If this same technology can be used to create healthy eggs for humans, that would open up the possibility for gay and lesbian couples to have genuine direct descendants instead of options such as adoption. Women who opt to concentrate on their career rather than raising a family could have more flexibility regarding their fertility. Rather than being hamstrung by the heightened risks of a pregnancy past 35, the future may find those with the desire and money able to replace their lost eggs with new ones grown of their own tissue.

Humans are notoriously more complex than mice, but it’s only a matter of time before someone works all of the kinks out.

Learn more in the October issue of Science.

Better Living Through Augmented Reality

Recent research from the University of Tokyo shows that augmented reality (AR), wherein a digital augmentation is overlaid on real world images, could be used as a powerful weight loss tool. This could be implemented in wearable technology such as Google Glass.

Currently, subjects have to wear a head mounted camera. The camera shows them images on a display. This allows images viewed by the user to be rendered and altered in real time. The study showed that by altering perception so that the food we see is 15% larger, people tend to eat 10% less. It also works the other way around; By decreasing the perceived size of the food, subjects eat 15% more food. The technology uses a deformation algorithm to make the eater’s hand appear a little more natural in spite of the shifting size of the item.

The trick is currently hamstrung by technical limitations (it can only be implemented in front of a blue screen) but researchers hope to circumvent these limitations in the next few years.

Learn more and see a really cool video at ExtremeTech’s writeup here: http://bit.ly/TNUoC5

Steve Baltrukonis is a musician, artist, writer, dog-walker, MRI technologist and all-around cool dude. He maintains streetartofchicago.tumblr.com, drawnwithfire.tumblr.com, and plays guitar for H for Hombre.

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