Science

Turning carbon emissions into butter

Synthetic foods are one way to reduce carbon emissions by scaling back the land used and carbon emitted by farm animals. But they are really expensive, and there’s still a bit of an ick factor with things like lab-grown meat.

Why scientists gave mice a human immune system

Mice are really useful for human health research — in addition to being cheap and easy to take care of, they have a lot of similar genes and organs to humans. But there’s always a point when testing has to be moved to people, where scientists may find the treatment they’ve spent so much time and money on just doesn’t work the same way.

Saunas save frogs from deadly fungus

The problem: Chytrid fungus has been wiping out frogs for over 25 years, causing at least 500 species to decline in population. As many as 90 of those species are considered to be extinct.

Better formula by editing tobacco genes

The problem: For many parents, breast milk is not an option for feeding their infants. They can turn to formula, but it lacks the hundreds of complex sugars that help babies build their gut bacteria, which is key to developing their immune system.

Charging your electric car in 10 minutes

The problem: Supercapacitors are an alternative to batteries that promise incredibly rapid charging times (think 10 minutes for an EV, and a minute for your phone), but the fact that they store less energy than typical batteries has kept them from being practical.

An HIV vaccine may be within reach

The problem: HIV mutates faster than the immune system can make antibodies to fight it. That’s one reason it has been so hard to develop a vaccine — the version of the virus someone is protected from would be totally different from the one they may be infected with.

Psychedelic toads could unlock new mental health treatments

The problem: Psychedelics like LSD and magic mushrooms are a buzzy research area because of their potential mental health benefits. But they still aren’t well-understood, and might not be practical for people who can’t work a hallucination into their day-to-day lives.

Fighting waste with plastic-eating bacteria

The problem: Plastic waste persists because there aren’t many micro-organisms that can break it down — it’s built differently on a molecular level from the organic trash they typically eat. 

Scientists enlist millions of gamers as research assistants

The human gut has a big impact on someone’s health, but exactly what that looks like is dictated by interactions between trillions of microbes that change drastically based on diet and lifestyle. All of those different variables can make researching it really complicated.

Growing muscles for robots

It’s hard to get robots to move smoothly. All of those rigid parts make for stiff movements and a lot of wasted energy, which — besides looking silly — doesn’t make them all that useful for the commercial settings they are being developed for.