This Week in Science – Feb. 25

Mark Hendricks, Science & Technology Editor Ω

Whales of the sky

A new concept plane by Spanish designer Oscar Vinals could change the way we fly if it proves successful.

The AWWA Sky Whale is a oversized concept plane that would dwarf even the current jumbo jets such as the Boeing 787. The Sky Whale will have three levels of seating available and the design is inspired by a whale, as evidenced by the name.

The design is a departure from current aviation designs. The new design incorporates numerous advanced technologies such as rotating turbines that allow for a near vertical takeoff, self-repairing wings and a system designed to redirect airflow to intake engines to reduce turbulence and drag.

“The likes of Boeing and Airbus have a lot of experience of building aircraft that look like a tube and two wings,” Michael Jump, lecturer in aerospace engineering at the University of Liverpool said to the BBC. “When it comes to a new airframe that they want to design, it makes sense to evolve rather than revolutionise.”

Find out more: www.bbc.com/future

Three blind mice no more

Using a chemical called DENAQ, vision was restored to mice who were blind from ocular degeneration. Stephen Barnett/Flickr Commons

Using a chemical called DENAQ, vision was restored to mice who were blind from ocular degeneration. Stephen Barnett/Flickr Commons

A new chemical trial has restored vision in mice who were born with a degenerative condition which caused rapid degeneration of the rods and cones in the eyes.

The drug is called DENAQ and was developed by Richard Kramer from the University of California Berkeley. The chemical has been shown to cause ganglions within the damaged eyes to become photosensitive under regular sunlight, effectively restoring vision.

The trial had two groups of blind mice, one group was injected with DENAQ and the other was left alone. The mice were then observed under both regular-light and low-light conditions. The mice injected with DENAQ were better able to navigate their surroundings and showed clear evidence of visual learning.

As it stands now DENAQ is injected into the eye and must be re-administered every couple of days. No side effects have yet been observed, but the chemical is a long way from human trials and there is a possibility that human physiology might react differently, causing DENAQ to be toxic to humans.

Find out more: www.iflscience.com/brain

Native American bones show evidence of European descent

A recent study by a Danish geneticist has determined that Native Americans may have a European ancestry. *Katch*/Flickr Commons

A recent study by a Danish geneticist has determined that Native Americans may have a European ancestry. *Katch*/Flickr Commons

A team of scientists led by Danish geneticist Eske Willerslev found that a child whose remains date back roughly 12,600 years ago descended from a Siberian tribe that originated in Europe.

The boy’s remains were dated by the arrowheads that he was buried with. These arrows possess a distinctive fluting pattern that have only been found in the Clovis people, which lived 12,600 years ago.

The study also reveals that more than 80 per cent of all natives in the Americas are descended from this boy’s lineage.

The DNA sequencing has taken four years to complete and now that the project is completed the bones will be buried again to respect first-nations sensitivities.

Find out more: www.spiegel.de/international