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Last Week on ResearchBlogging.org

Researchers observed tiny voids forming in silicon used for solar panels; these voids provide physical evidence of the Staebler-Wronski effect, “which reduces the solar cell efficiency by up to 15 percent within the first 1000 hours.”

Using an online avatar with a skin color other than your own makes you less racist in real life; playing a hero makes you less cruel, and playing a villain less benevolent.

Old mouse muscles exhibit “elevated levels of activity in a biological cascade called the p38 MAP kinase pathway” which prevents stem cells from dividing and repairing muscle damage.  By blocking this pathway with a drug, researchers grew a new generation of potent stem cells in a petri dish and transplanted them back into old mice.  “Two months after transplantation, these muscles exhibited forces equivalent to young, uninjured muscles.”

Continuing its exhaustive penetration into the ecosphere, plastic has been observed built into the hives of urban bees.  The researcher notes, “although cells made with plastic may not hold together as well—and might have other, unseen effects on developing bees—they could have advantages too” such as keeping parasites away from eggs.

A protein normally necessary to shut down inflammation is undetectable in triple-negative breast cancer cells.  Without the protein, these cells can proliferate rapidly, but a new drug treatment can prevent the protein degradation.

Boys playing football is not the only recipe for head trauma: girls playing soccer are also at risk.  A total of 351 players were observed for one full season, and cumulatively suffered 59 concussions, mostly from player-to-player contact, heading the ball, and goal-tending.

A study surveying “leaky valves and pipes in the rapidly growing natural gas industry” observed 50% more methane leakage than expected, but the extra atmospheric contribution still causes less global warming than coal.

An isopod that infects California fish is the only known parasite to functionally replace a host’s organ.  The bug latches on to a fish’s tongue and sucks out the blood, causing it to atrophy.  After latching on to the diminished tongue it settles in for a life of “holding food up against the small teeth on the roof of the fish’s mouth” while also getting first dibs on all that fish food.

In the courtroom, weak evidence is strengthened by arbitrary precision.  Precision (along with body language) communicates confidence, which makes people “more likely to believe what you are saying.”

Engineered viruses can deliver instructions for making crucial growth factors to stem cells; when seeded onto a polymer scaffold incorporating the viruses, stem cells can achieve self-sufficient growth and replace the scaffold with (for example) a tailored piece of cartilage.

Alternatively, we could soon be able to print a piece of cartilage: researchers have “successfully printed two types of rat neural cells from the retina” through a piezoelectric inkjet printer without killing or sterilizing the cells.

Why oil spills are bad for fish: crude oil interrupts a cellular pathway “that allows fish heart cells to beat effectively,” causing “slowed heart rate, reduced cardiac contractility and irregular heartbeats that can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death.”

Following a stroke, exercise confers a 91% reduction in mortality risk, versus anticoagulants and antiplatelet therapy, which showed no statistically significant benefit.

Silicon nanoparticles packed into a carbon shell like seeds in a pomegranate (so as to prevent silicon degradation) may power a new generation of hyper-efficient lithium-ion batteries.

New fuel cell design can convert any biomass into electricity with a little help from sunlight or waste heat.

When responding to “virtual customer service agents,” people showed equal social engagement with human images and animated helpers.  The VCSAs were regarded as most helpful when they seemed most social.

Like mercury, ionic silver can build up in ocean-dwelling organisms.  In algae cells, silver stows away on a transport protein usually used by copper, and once inside the cell membrane, continues to pose as copper, damaging many proteins including those critical to energy generation and photosynthesis.  The cells do their best to get rid of the silver, but with silver added to everything from “air sanitisers to cleansing face creams to odourless socks,” sea life may be fighting an upstream battle.

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