Science Briefs – Feb. 15, 2011
Compiled by Kelsey Gobroski
Feb. 15, 2011
Operation repairs babies before birth
The infant spinal disease Spina bifida gives rise to fewer complications if babies get an operation before they’re born. Otherwise, an improperly sealed spine exposes the spinal cord. This can lead to paralysis and learning difficulties. Normally, this sort of surgery is risky for babies and mothers. Fetal surgery doesn’t usually happen unless the baby would die otherwise. Operating before the fetus has fully developed doesn’t eliminate all the complications of Spina bifida, but the medical trials have guided doctors closer to that goal. The surgery still carries a lot of risk, but some post-birth surgeries have already been rescheduled.
Source: New York Times
Amazonian droughts spit out CO2
If the Amazon’s droughts continue, as they have twice in a decade, they may revert the rain forest from a sink to a source of carbon dioxide. These droughts should only happen once a century. Last year’s drought had three epicenters that lowered rainfall over 1.16 million square miles. The dying trees will not be able to absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, and would end up releasing the gas during their death throes. This would lead to a total of 8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the coming years, a study showed. The U.S. uses 5.4 billion metric tons in a year.
Source: Huffington Post
Plants: the new bomb-sniffers
Within the next four years, innocuous plants in airports may visibly change color in the presence of pollution, biological weapons, or bombs. Scientists engineered plants to respond to the “threat” of some chemical compounds by turning white. Under laboratory conditions, these plants bleach themselves in the presence of TNT. The proteins they use aren’t specific to any particular species. If the vegetative bomb detectors do appear in public events any time soon, it’s likely that they still won’t be able to detect bombs made out of the same ingredients as fertilizer.