TED Science worth knowing newsletter

Image: Flickr / wherewerewe91 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Could llamas be the key to universal flu vaccine?

A multinational team of antibody engineers thinks so. They've developed a new vaccine that protects against all strains of human flu, albeit only in mice so far, by leveraging an unusually small protein made by llamas and other members of the camel family. By challenging these antibodies to combat human flu, the antibody engineers were able to craft a protein that could fight off the flu. Human testing remains -- so there's a long road ahead, including the chance that the human body might think the llama antibodies are an infectious agent -- but the test offers hope that a universal flu vaccine is possible. In the meantime, there's Xofluza -- the first new, effective flu treatment in years.

TED Talk: You have no idea where camels really come from

Image: Flickr / Tijs Zwinkels (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ancient Ecuadorians enjoyed chocolate thousands of years ago

More than 5,000 years ago, people living in the Amazon rainforest in present-day Ecuador cultivated and enjoyed cacao, the plant that gives us chocolate. That's several thousand years before the more famous cultivations in Mexico and Central America, and it suggests ancient South America may have been the source of the beloved snack, known to some as "the food of the gods."

Playlist: What's the future of food?

Image: Flickr / Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Climate change getting worse, and it’s time to start scrubbing CO2 out of the air

The oceans are much hotter, according to new measurements. And that means climate change is proceeding ever faster thanks to people dumping too much carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases into the sky, which affects the oceans and just about everything else here on Earth. That’s why the US National Academy of Sciences suggests in a new report that it’s time to start pulling CO2 back out of the air. There are many methods for doing so -- ranging from specialty machines to that amazing technology known as plants -- but they need to be scaled up massively and quickly, and we need to invent new ones too.

TED Talk: Can we stop climate change by removing CO2 from the air?

Recently discovered

Wildlife populations show 60 percent decline since 1970, report finds
This grim new estimate of declining wildlife is made in a major report produced by the World Wildlife Foundation and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else. "This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is," says Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. "This is actually now jeopardizing the future of people. Nature is not a 'nice to have' -- it is our life-support system." (The Guardian)

Tiny drones team up to open doors
In a move inspired by natural engineering, robotics researchers have demonstrated how tiny palm-size drones can forcefully tug objects 40 times their own mass by anchoring themselves to the ground or to walls. It's a glimpse into how small drones could more actively manipulate their environment in a way similar to that of humans or larger robots. (IEEE Spectrum)

The appendix implicated in Parkinson’s disease
The appendix, a once-dismissed organ now known to play a role in the immune system, may contribute to a person's chances of developing Parkinson’s disease. An analysis of data from nearly 1.7 million Swedes found that those who'd had their appendix removed had a lower overall risk of Parkinson's disease. Also, samples of appendix tissue from healthy individuals revealed protein clumps similar to those found in the brains of Parkinson’s patients, researchers report online on Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine. (Science News

Florida pythons could help them spread to cooler places, study finds
Fueled by bountiful swamps that provide a steady supply of marsh rabbits, deer, wading birds and other meals, Burmese pythons in Florida have rapidly adapted to become hardier and more resistant to cold than their Asian cousins, a new study has found. And that supercharged evolution should serve as a warning not just for Florida, but the entire US. (The Miami Herald)

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