Scientists Fold Organ-based 'Tissue Paper' Into Origami

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iStock

So long, glitter slime. The newest thing in gross arts and crafts is so much better: Researchers have transformed real organ and muscle cells into flexible "tissue paper" that could help surgeons patch wounds and even regrow damaged hearts, ovaries, and lungs. The team described their remarkable creation in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Lead author and bioengineer Adam Jakus of Northwestern University hit upon the idea after witnessing a very strange chemical spill in the lab. Jakus had been trying to concoct 3D ink that would allow him to print ovaries. The container of cell-filled fluid overturned, and by the time Jakus reached it, the ink had dried into a flat sheet.

"When I tried to pick it up, it felt strong," Jakus said in a statement. "The light bulb went on in my head. I could do this with other organs."

As Jakus explains in the video below, his first stop was the butcher shop.

The research team made their paper from six kinds of cow or pig tissue: ovary, uterus, kidney, liver, heart, and muscle. The paper contains the scaffolding, or structure, of each tissue type—an encouraging environment in which new, healthy cells can flourish.

And grow they did. Flexible, foldable tissue paper treated with human bone marrow cells became a bustling nursery for the cells. After four weeks, all the original cells had attached and reproduced.

"That’s a good sign that the paper supports human stem cell growth," Jakus said. "It’s an indicator that once we start using tissue paper in animal models it will be biocompatible."

Surgeon and engineer Ramille Shah oversaw the research and was the corresponding author on the journal article. She says the tissue paper has the potential to work as a "very sophisticated Band-Aid" for damaged organs and other parts.

Reproductive scientist Teresa Woodruff tested the paper in her lab as well. She found that paper made with ovarian tissue could be used to grow functional, hormone-producing cells.

"This could provide another option to restore normal hormone function to young cancer patients who often lose their hormone function as a result of chemotherapy and radiation," she said.

Jakus said it's "really amazing" that we could someday turn animal byproducts into life-saving surgical materials. "I'll never look at a steak or pork tenderloin the same way again."

Can You Tell an Author’s Identity By Looking at Punctuation Alone? A Study Just Found Out.

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iStock.com/RyersonClark

In 2016, neuroscientist Adam J Calhoun wondered what his favorite books would look like if he removed the words and left nothing but the punctuation. The result was a stunning—and surprisingly beautiful—visual stream of commas, question marks, semicolons, em-dashes, and periods.

Recently, Calhoun’s inquiry piqued the interest of researchers in the United Kingdom, who wondered if it was possible to identify an author from his or her punctuation alone.

For decades, linguists have been able to use the quirks of written texts to pinpoint the author. The process, called stylometric analysis or stylometry, has dozens of legal and academic applications, helping researchers authenticate anonymous works of literature and even nab criminals like the Unabomber. But it usually focuses on an author's word choices and grammar or the length of his or her sentences. Until now, punctuation has been largely ignored.

But according to a recent paper led by Alexandra N. M. Darmon of the Oxford Centre for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, an author’s use of punctuation can be extremely revealing. Darmon’s team assembled nearly 15,000 documents from 651 different authors and “de-worded” each text. “Is it possible to distinguish literary genres based on their punctuation sequences?” the researchers asked. “Do the punctuation styles of authors evolve over time?”

Apparently, yes. The researchers crafted mathematical formulas that could identify individual authors with 72 percent accuracy. Their ability to detect a specific genre—from horror to philosophy to detective fiction—was accurate more than half the time, clocking in at a 65 percent success rate.

The results, published on the preprint server SocArXiv, also revealed how punctuation style has evolved. The researchers found that “the use of quotation marks and periods has increased over time (at least in our [sample]) but that the use of commas has decreased over time. Less noticeably, the use of semicolons has also decreased over time.”

You probably don’t need to develop a powerful algorithm to figure that last bit out—you just have to crack open something by Dickens.

What Happens to Your Body If You Die in Space?

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iStock.com/1971yes

The coming decades should bring about a number of developments when it comes to blasting people into orbit and beyond. Private space travel continues to progress, with Elon Musk and Richard Branson championing civilian exploration. Professional astronauts continue to dock at the International Space Station (ISS) for scientific research. By the 2040s, human colonists could be making the grueling journey to Mars.

With increased opportunities comes the increased potential for misadventure. Though only 18 people have died since the emergence of intragalactic travel in the 20th century, taking more frequent risks may mean that coroners will have to list "space" as the site of death in the future. But since it's rare to find a working astronaut in compromised health or of an advanced age, how will most potential casualties in space meet their maker?

Popular Science posed this question to Chris Hadfield, the former commander of the ISS. According to Hadfield, spacewalks—a slight misnomer for the gravity-free floating that astronauts engage in outside of spacecraft—might be one potential danger. Tiny meteorites could slice through their protective suits, which provide oxygen and shelter from extreme temperatures. Within 10 seconds, water in their skin and blood would vaporize and their body would fill with air: Dissolved nitrogen near the skin would form bubbles, blowing them up like a dollar-store balloon to twice their normal size. Within 15 seconds, they would lose consciousness. Within 30 seconds, their lungs would collapse and they'd be paralyzed. The good news? Death by asphyxiation or decompression would happen before their body freezes, since heat leaves the body slowly in a vacuum.

This morbid scene would then have to be dealt with by the accompanying crew. According to Popular Science, NASA has no official policy for handling a corpse, but Hadfield said ISS training does touch on the possibility. As he explained it, astronauts would have to handle the the body as a biohazard and figure out their storage options, since there's really no prepared area for that. To cope with both problems, a commander would likely recommend the body be kept inside a pressurized suit and taken someplace cold—like where garbage is stored to minimize the smell.

If that sounds less than regal, NASA agrees. The company has explored the business of space body disposal before, and one proposition involves freeze-drying the stiff with liquid nitrogen (or simply the cold vacuum of space) so it can be broken up into tiny pieces of frozen tissue, which would occupy only a fraction of the real estate that a full-sized body would.

Why not eject a body, like Captain Kirk and his crew were forced to do with the allegedly dead Spock in 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan? Bodies jettisoned into space without a rocket to change their trajectory would likely fall into the wake of the spacecraft. If enough people died on a long trip, it would create a kind of inverted funeral procession.

Even if safely landed on another planet, an astronaut's options don't necessarily improve. On Mars, cremation would likely be necessary to destroy any Earth-borne bacteria that would flourish on a buried body.

Like most everything we take for granted on Earth—eating, moving, and even pooping—it may be a long time before dying in space becomes dignified.

[h/t Popular Science]

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