Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday

Included in tonight’s science stories:

  • A synthetic molecule that targets tumors to destroy cancer cells
  • US embassies unwittingly improve air quality
  • Genes passed from a snake to a frog in Madagascar
  • Is Buddhism a religion?
  • Good time to delete data from Google
  • Zinc repairs lung damage
  • How psychedelics change your reality

The bright side

by Krista Conger, Stanford Medicine

Scientists have engineered a synthetic molecule that destroys cancer cells

Activation of the immune system at the tumor site can recruit and stimulate immune cells to destroy tumor cells. One strategy involves injecting immune-stimulating molecules directly into the tumor, but this method can be challenging for cancers that are not easily accessible.

Now, Stanford researchers have developed a new synthetic molecule that combines a tumor-targeting agent with another molecule that triggers immune activation. This tumor-targeted immunotherapy can be administered intravenously and make its way to one or multiple tumor sites in the body, where it recruits immune cells to fight the cancer.

Ars Technica

by Doug Johnson

US embassies may have accidentally improved air quality

In 2008, the United States Embassy in Beijing installed an air quality monitor and began publishing its findings hourly. Since then, these monitors have appeared in more than 50 embassies in countries and cities around the world.

In each of the cities where the monitors appeared, something unexpected happened. The researchers found that overall air quality improved in cities where embassies tweeted air quality data. “We were surprised,” Akshaya Jha, assistant professor of economics and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University and one of the paper’s authors, told Ars.

Quanta Magazine

by Veronique Greenwood

How genes can pass from snakes to frogs in Madagascar

Perched on a leaf in the rainforest, the little golden mantella frog is hiding a secret. It shares this secret with the forked frog, the cane frog, and countless other frogs in the hills and forests of the island nation of Madagascar, as well as the bois and other snakes that hunt them. On this island, many of whose animal species are found nowhere else, geneticists recently made a surprising discovery: a gene is scattered throughout the genomes of frogs, BovBwhich seems to come from snakes.

Big thinking

by Adam Frank

Is Buddhism a religion?

The conflict between science and religion is an old story. It goes all the way back to Galileo, who faced the Inquisition for his heretical opinion that the Earth revolved around the Sun, not the other way around. In its modern incarnation, the conflict revolves around Christian fundamentalism and its views on evolution. (It’s worth noting that the Catholic Church has no problem with Darwinian evolution.)

In all the battles pitting science against religion, Buddhism mostly gets a pass. Indeed, Buddhism is often presented as consonant with scientific discoveries in disciplines such as quantum physics or neuroscience. Buddhism’s supposed scientific approach has even led some to argue that it is not really a religion and should instead be seen as a method of empirical research. Therefore, today we will ask two questions. First, is Buddhism a religion? Second, what is the relationship of Buddhism to science?


by Brendan Hesse

You should probably delete your Google data – here’s how

Google collects a lot of data that is used to prepare content recommendations on services such as Google Play and YouTube, as well as to market advertisements to you based on your activity.

We have talked about this practice much, but to Google’s credit, the company has given users more control over the ultimate fate of the data it collects. This includes the ability to automatically delete this data at regular, recurring intervals. We’ve covered some of this in the past, but in light of some updates to your privacy options in late 2019, we’ll show you how to automatically delete your data in as many Google services as possible.

The bright side

by Laura Coverson

Zinc repairs lung damage and significantly improves patient survival

Researchers at the Women’s Guild Lung Institute at Cedars-Sinai have found that zinc, a common mineral, can reverse lung damage and improve survival in patients with a deadly age-related condition known as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). .

Their findings, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, have the potential to change the landscape of treatment for patients with this disease, which most commonly affects those over the age of 50.

Big thinking

by Matthew W. Johnson

Why psychedelics change your reality

Humans have consumed psychedelics for millennia, but only in the last century have we made significant progress in understanding how they affect the brain and our psychology.

We have learned, for example, that psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin, LSD, and DMT cause psychedelic experiences primarily by affecting a certain type of serotonin receptor, while other drugs such as ketamine and PCP primarily affect the glutamate system.

But questions remain about how these biological effects contribute to profound psychological changes in people who take psychedelics. One answer appears to center on how drugs trigger communication between different areas of the brain. What’s more, psychedelics appear to promote greater neuroplasticity, meaning that the brain is primed to learn new things as a result of a psychedelic experience.

Check out this Big Think interview with Matthew Johnson, professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, who explains how psychedelics work and what researchers hope to uncover about the substances in the future.

This is an open thread where everyone is welcome, especially night birds and early birds, to share and discuss the day’s events. Please feel free to share your articles and stories in the comments.

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