This Week in Science

NASA announced its plan to robotically relocate an asteroid by first moving the asteroid closer to Earth and then moving it into orbit about the moon. The project aligns with current goals to learn how to change the course of asteroids headed toward Earth and how to send humans to an asteroid by 2025. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated that this summer’s efforts will focus on selecting an asteroid and determining how to move the asteroid to our moon’s orbit.
NASA predicts that the asteroid would need to weigh between 500 and 1,000 tons and have the consistency of dried mud, but it should also be on a path that already puts it close to Earth and our moon. Because asteroids are among the oldest objects in space, allowing astronauts to study them as they orbit the moon would give scientists insight into the early solar system. Putting astronauts on asteroids would also bring NASA closer to the ultimate goal of sending astronauts to Mars—a project proposed for the 2030s.

Atherosclerosis, the hardening or clogging of the arteries, may be caused in large part by the bacteria of the gut. Red meat is largely considered to have negative effects on heart health, and even lean meat can still lead to heart disease in too large of a quantity despite the low fat and cholesterol content. Stanley Hazen, the head of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, conducted a study in which volunteers were given the nutrient L-carnitine, contained in meat and dairy products.
Hazen correctly predicted that L-carnitine would increase blood levels of TMAO, a compound previously associated with increased risk of heart disease. Vegan and vegetarians taking the L-carnitine supplement experienced increased blood levels of TMAO, though their bodies normally produce significantly less TMAO than their meat-eating counterparts. Hazen’s work suggests that the conversion of the L-carnitine in red meat to TMAO is facilitated by intestinal bacteria. It is still unclear as to why TMAO promotes cardiovascular disease.

Karl Deisseroth and his team at Stanford have developed a new brain-imaging technique called CLARITY, which makes neural tissues transparent through chemical treatment. The technique allowed the team to view a mouse brain in its three-dimensional entirety.
Previous techniques were able to reveal neuron activity only in thin slices of tissue. The labor-intensive process of piecing together thin segments may eventually be replaced by Deisseroth’s process, which would enable scientists to view molecular level details of the brain as a whole. This technology could potentially provide information about brain structures in a way that could shed light on brain disorders and the aging process.

In South Sudan, a new genus of bat was discovered by a team of biologists led by DeeAnn Reeder from Bucknell University. The bat has markings reminiscent of a badger or panda, and Reeder initially classified the bat as Glauconycteris superba — a species previously found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Reeder soon realized, however, that the bat’s size, along with many physical characteristics of the wings, ears, and cranium, did not fit within currently existing genera. It was then reclassified under a new genus, Niumbaha, which means “rare” or “unusual” in Zande, the language of the people in Western Equatoria State.
Reeder believes that her discovery shows how conservation of biodiversity in the region must be managed. Following the discovery, the Woodtiger Fund granted Reeder and her colleagues $100,000 to continue their research and to Fauna & Flora International’s conservation efforts.

Samuel Ting of MIT recently presented data at a Switzerland conference that could suggest the existence of dark matter, after The International Space Station’s nearly $2-billion particle detector revealed a considerable amount of antimatter particles in space. Dark matter is hypothetical and believed to account for approximately 27% of the universe. While the newly observed particles may have originated from dark matter, it is also possible that they may have emerged from other sources, like superdense stars in the galaxy. The existence of dark matter is still highly debated, and the implications of Ting and colleagues’ findings unclear. The lab is currently planning an experiment to help in the determination of the antimatter’s origin.