BBC: Sea urchins create their shells by using the metal nickel to turn carbon dioxide into calcium carbonate. In an article published in the journal Catalysis Science and Technology, Gaurav Bhaduri and Lidija Šiller of Newcastle University in the UK propose that a similar technique could be used to capture and store carbon generated in power and chemical plants. Current plans call for pumping the gas into underground storage, but there is a strong possibility that some of it could leak back into the environment. To avoid that, a method has been proposed to lock up the CO2 using an enzyme called carbon anhydrase, but it is extremely expensive. To be able to use nickel instead, as the sea urchins do, would be much cheaper and more environmentally sound.
Telegraph: The process of adding thin layers of material on top of each other to create a final product has been adapted for use with human embryonic stem cells (hESCs). Will Shu of Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and his colleagues created an adjustable microvalve that allowed them to produce clusters of hESCs. Shu says that the process is gentle enough that it doesn’t destroy the cells or cause them to lose their ability to differentiate into other types of cells, and it is accurate enough to create a variety of sizes of spheroids. The technology could be used to incorporate stem cells into transplant-ready lab-grown organs and tissues. By using stem cells cloned from the patient, the transplant should avoid triggering a dangerous immune system response. The technique could also be used to create tissues and organs for pharmaceutical testing.
Talking Points Memo: Masten Space Systems is ahead of schedule regarding test flights of its Xombie rocket system. The 730-lb rocket is a vertical takeoff and landing craft that Masten is making available to host scientific equipment. The company is offering customers two possible short, low-altitude flights: a 500-m vertical climb or a 51-m horizontal flight across the launch site. Xombie has previously demonstrated its capabilities by claiming second in the Lunar Lander Challenge X Prize. It also has the unique ability to shut off and re-light its engine in midflight. Masten currently operates two heavier rockets as well and has a fourth one in development. All of the craft are designed as landing test beds and for suborbital flights. The company, which was founded in 2009, is primarily funded by customers and private investors, according to Colin Ake, Masten’s director of business development.
Science News: Improved radiocarbon techniques suggest that Neanderthal cave sites may be at least 10 000 years older than earlier studies have indicated. If so, scientists may also have to revise their understanding of how and why the early hominids vanished. In a paper published online yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Rachel Wood of the Australian National University in Canberra and colleagues explain that the organic material on which radiocarbon dating depends can become contaminated with modern material. To remove possible impurities, Wood’s team used new ultrafiltration methods to reassess bones and other artifacts found on the Iberian Peninsula, the last known region the Neanderthals inhabited. However, the number of specimens that Wood’s team was able to test was severely limited because ultrafiltration relies on well-preserved fossils, which are rare in warm climates such as those of Spain and Gibraltar.