October 13, 2021
Enjoy these interesting stories from the scientific community.
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*-- 'Star Trek' legend William Shatner set for launch into real space --*
Blue Origin plans to launch legendary Star Trek actor William Shatner into space with three other crew members from Texas on Wednesday.
Shatner, who played Captain James T. Kirk on the 1960s TV show, will travel as Blue Origin's invited guest with two businessmen who are paying customers and a company executive, Audrey Powers, the vice president of mission and flight operations.
Liftoff of the New Shepard rocket and capsule is planned at 9:30 p.m. EDT from the company's spaceport about 160 miles east of El Paso. The attempt will be the second crewed mission for Blue Origin, after Bezos flew July 20 with three crew members.
The paying passengers are Chris Boshuizen, a former NASA engineer and co-founder of San Francisco-based satellite company Planet Labs, and Glen de Vries, a French software firm executive and co-founder of New York clinical trials technology firm Medidata.
Shatner, 90, has been reminding people that he's never been to space before, despite the many trips his character made during 79 episodes of the television series aboard the USS Enterprise. He will become the oldest person to ever fly to space.
"I'm Captain Kirk, and I'm terrified of going to space," he told audience members during a New York Comic-Con panel Thursday. "You have three minutes to look into the vastness of space and the beauty of this oasis of Earth, and ... my only hope was I wouldn't see somebody else looking back."
Shatner got cheekier during a CNN interview with host Anderson Cooper, who mentioned the shape of the Blue Origin New Shepard rocket, which some have described as phallic.
"We're inseminating the space program," Shatner joked.
"I'm looking forward to the whole thing," he added. "I was there last week, rehearsing -- training I think is what they call it -- but I think it was rehearsal. I told them I want to go warp speed, and they said what?"
The mission, like all New Shepard flights, will ascend to about 62 miles above Earth, clearing the Karman Line that denotes the international definition of space.
Shatner said he's looking forward to the brief weightlessness at the peak of the flight before the capsule descends through the atmosphere and lands under parachutes not far from the launch pad in West Texas.
The inclusion of Shatner not only notches another record in spaceflight -- for oldest space flyer -- but it also brings a white-hot publicity spotlight to the mission, said Alan Ladwig, a former NASA employee and current adviser of a spaceflight training company, Virginia-based Star Harbor Academy.
"So they've been able to package this mission in an exciting way because of the popularity of Star Trek. I think it's quite a brilliant marketing move," Ladwig said.
He said Shatner and all passengers on such commercial spaceflights still sign waivers exempting the company from any liability should something go wrong.
"They've all worked with insurance companies to get as tight of a waiver as you could get," Ladwig said. "But, at the end of the day, I was told, you know, this waiver is as good as the next lawyer who takes you to court."
*-- Study: Medicinal properties of spider silk have no basis in science --*
The supposed healing properties of spider silk may have no basis in science, according to the authors of a study published Tuesday by iScience.
Earlier studies showing that extracts of spider silk, when applied to surgical sutures on skin, for example, can help protect against infection may have been compromised, the said.
In their analysis of silk from seven different spider species, the researchers said there was no evidence of antimicrobial activity, or the ability to prevent bacteria or fungi from causing infections.
Although this does not rule out that some spider silk, from species not included in the study, may have medicinal properties, it casts doubt on previous reports, they said.
"We were unable to detect antimicrobial activity of social spider silk, regardless of method or microbe, and this made us curious about why other studies were able to," co-author Trine Bilde said in a press release.
"We then started scrutinizing the papers reporting antimicrobial activity in fine detail and became aware of methodological shortcomings," said Bilde, a professor of biology at Aarhus University in Denmark.
Since the age of the Roman empire, spider silk has been used as a remedy to treat everything from skin lesions to warts, according to researchers at Utah State University.
Historically, doctors covered open wounds in cobwebs or advised patients to place cocoons on infected teeth, and synthetic forms of the material may also have technological applications.
Spiders use their silk to protect their eggs, which offer high nutritional content to microbes, Bilde and her colleagues said.
However, instead of warding off microbial threats with intrinsic antimicrobial activity, the silk casing around the eggs might function only as a physical barrier, she said.
"Spider silk has always been admired and almost has a mythical status," Bilde said.
However, "it's one of these myths that seems to have become 'established' by 'belief' and not by strong empirical support," she said.
In addition to testing the silk from seven spider species themselves, Bilde and her colleagues reviewed data from 15 previous studies designed to assess the antimicrobial activity of the material.
Three of the included studies found no evidence of antimicrobial activity in spider silk, and those that did failed to account for the risk for bacterial contamination of their samples, the researchers said.
Some of the studies may have inadvertently measured the effect of solvents such as acetone or ethyl acetate used to extract the spider silk instead of the spider silk itself, they suggested.
"Rather than assuming that spider silk is antimicrobial, we should now assume that it isn't," Bilde said.
"We can still test the idea in new species and with new organisms, but with a more cautious starting point," she said.