Israeli Researchers Teach a Goldfish to Drive

Video: A man receives the first pig heart transplant (Warning: graphic content). Astronomers witness a star go supernova. Researchers identify a biomarker of depression. And a goldfish goes for a drive. Rabiah Mayas, of the Museum of Science and Industry helps us understand some science stories making headlines around the world.

Doctors Transplant Pig’s Heart Into Human Patient for First Time

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Doctors at the University of Maryland announced Monday that they had transplanted a genetically modified pig’s heart into a dying man who was ineligible for a human heart transplant. The patient, 57-year-old Maryland resident David Bennett had the surgery last Friday.  

“It was either die or do this transplant. I want to live. I know it’s a shot in the dark, but it’s my last choice,” said Mr. Bennett, the patient, a day before the surgery was conducted. He had been hospitalized and bedridden for the past few months.  “I look forward to getting out of bed after I recover.”

If the heart, which has been genetically modified in an effort to prevent rejection, proves viable then doctors hope such operations could become an option for patients currently unable to receive a human heart transplant.

See: University of Maryland School of Medicine Faculty Scientists and Clinicians Perform Historic First Successful Transplant of Porcine Heart into Adult Human with End-Stage Heart Disease

Astronomers Witness Red Giant Star Going Supernova

Astronomers at Northwestern University and the University of California, Berkeley have watched a red giant star go supernova for the very first time.

Researchers were able to observe the giant star for 130 days until it collapsed into a type II supernova.

“This is a breakthrough in our understanding of what massive stars do moments before they die,” said Wynn Jacobson-Galán, the study’s lead author. “Direct detection of pre-supernova activity in a red supergiant star has never been observed before in an ordinary type II supernova. For the first time, we watched a red supergiant star explode.”

See: Astronomers Capture Red Supergiant’s Death Throes

Researchers Discover Biomarker for Depression

Researchers at UIC say they are close to developing a blood test for depression.  In a new proof of concept study, researchers led by Mark Rasenick, University of Illinois Chicago distinguished professor of physiology and biophysics and psychiatry, have identified a biomarker in human platelets that tracks the extent of depression. The research team found depressed people had decreased levels of adenylyl cyclase – a molecule inside the cell wall that is made in response to neurotransmitters such as serotonin.

“What we have developed is a test that can not only indicate the presence of depression but it can also indicate therapeutic response with a single biomarker, and that is something that has not existed to date,” said Rasenick, who is also a research career scientist at Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.  

See: Researchers Identify Biomarker for Depression, Antidepressant Response

Goldfish Driving

It sounds surreal, but scientists in Israel have taught a goldfish to drive.

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev wanted to explore whether an animal’s navigational abilities were innate or restricted to their home environments. The experiment they devised put a set of wheels under a goldfish tank with a camera system to record and translate the fish’s movements into forward, back and side-to-side directions to the wheels. 

The goldfish quickly learned to navigate toward a target.

“The study hints that navigational ability is universal rather than specific to the environment. Second, it shows that goldfish have the cognitive ability to learn a complex task in an environment completely unlike the one they evolved in. As anyone who has tried to learn how to ride a bike or to drive a car knows, it is challenging at first,” says Shachar Givon, a Ph.D. student in the Life Sciences Department in the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

See: Can a Goldfish Drive a Car on Land?

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