This week in science – Oct. 21

Mark Hendricks, Science & Technology Editor Ω

It’s in the air

The list of things in our everyday lives that are considered carcinogenic is constantly growing. French fries, red meat and diet sodas are all considered carcinogenic, and they now have another companion, the air we breathe.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially declared air pollution as being a carcinogen and a significant factor in lung cancer. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), 223,000 deaths from lung cancer in 2010 can be attributed to air pollution.

Although the cancer-causing nature of air pollution is worse in developing countries that are heavily investing in industrialization, such as China and India, the research applies globally according to the IARC.

“Our conclusion is that this is a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths,” said Christopher Wild, director of the IARC during a press conference in Geneva.

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A mosquito-shaped time capsule?

46 million years ago, a mosquito fed on a lunch like this one and became trapped in amber shortly after. John Tann/Flickr Commons

46 million years ago, a mosquito fed on a lunch like this one and became trapped in amber shortly after. John Tann/Flickr Commons

Blood from 46-million years in the past has come into the hands of the Smithsonian through a mosquito fossil that had bit an ancient animal and then became trapped in sap.

This find shows that compounds such as heme, a primary component of hemoglobin, can survive throughout the years in a fossil, something researchers previously thought impossible.

Unfortunately, the DNA does not come with the blood. Even under ideal circumstances, the blood would only have a half-life of 521 years, according to researchers at the Smithsonian.

The mosquito, which was found in northwestern Montana, had a belly that was high in iron and full of heme which was found nowhere else in the fossil. This is conclusive proof, according to the researchers, that this is blood that was inside the mosquito.

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We built him, we had the technology

The first-ever walking, talking robot with a human face was unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on Thursday Oct. 17.

The robot was made by Shadow Robot Co. as a showcase to display how far artificial organs and body parts have come. The robot is made up of 28 artificial organs and cost $1 million to make.

“The whole idea of the project is to get together all of the spare parts that already exist for the human body today,” Bertolt Meyer, a social psychologist from the University of Zurich said to Reuters. “If you did that, what would it look like?”

The artificial robot was operated remotely by a computer but could pump blood through its artificial organs and converse in a manner similar to Apple’s Siri, Robert Warburton, an engineer on the project told Reuters.

The robot is the subject of an hour-long documentary called The Incredible Bionic Man that aired on the Smithsonian channel on Sunday Oct. 20.

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