Inverse Daily

Gut enzymes could make universal organ donation reality

Plus: This plastic fish swims with stem cells.

doctor checking chest x-ray film at ward hospital.
Prapass Pulsub/Moment/Getty Images

The human body is a little like a constellation, isn’t it? All our parts come together to form one recognizable, empathetic thing. Inverse Daily readers know their constellations well, and many of you responded to last week’s question praising Orion, Pleiades, Cassiopeia, and the Big Dipper.

Selena V. always felt like the hunter Orion was watching over her, and after moving out of the city and finally being able to see the stars, Henry C. made sure to point the constellations’ iconic three-star belt out to his daughter when she was growing up. Patrick F. is a big fan of the Big Dipper, which is “basically the only one [he] can identify without a star app” (same!). Read more about the body and the stars in today’s Inverse Daily. We hope today brings you clear skies.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for Tuesday, February 22, 2022. Subscribe for free and earn rewards for reading every day in your inbox. ✉️

Enzymes could change everything.


A pair of gut enzymes could be key to universal organ donation

Human organs are so high-maintenance — they need regular check-ups and care, but even if you provide them with it, they could decide to get lazy and stop working properly. If that happens, they’re difficult to replace. “One of the major factors preventing recipients from receiving available organs is blood type,” writes Inverse health writer Katie MacBride.

A new study in Science Translational Medicine aims to circumvent this issue by making every organ compatible across the board; it just requires a few gut enzymes.

In 2018, researchers found a group of enzymes produced by gut bacteria. Two of those enzymes, when combined, were able to remove sugars from A and B antigens on red blood cells and flip them into what are essentially O blood cells. With this in mind, researchers turned to the Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion (EVLP) system, which one researcher tells Inverse is an “ICU for the lungs”; it babysits a pair of donor lungs until they’re safe inside a new body.

The researchers theorized that if they ran the gut enzymes they discovered through the EVLP it could “‘scrub’ the antigens from lungs from a blood type A donor and turn them into lungs that could theoretically go to a recipient with any blood type,” writes MacBride. So far, study results seem to confirm their hypothesis.

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Gut instincts: The gut may be the human “first brain”

A stem cell here or there could fix you right up.

Little Hand Images/Moment/Getty Images

This human cell-powered robot fish is a huge medical breakthrough

“The line between human and machine is eroding,” writes card story editor Jennifer Walter, “We have humanoid robots that express emotions, ‘living’ robots that self-replicate, and implants that enable people to control prosthetics with their minds.” This might set your singularity senses tingling, but rest assured that many of these robots are designed with you in mind.

Take the brainless artificial fish, for example, which scientists built out of plastic, gelatin, and human stem cells like gods in an aquatic prologue. Walter writes that the fish is “a step up from past hybrid bots this team has made before out of cells and manmade materials,” easily miming real fish movement “thanks to the living cells that make up its muscle layers.”

Okay, fine, I know it’s terrifying. Do you think I like knowing there’s a biohybrid fish mindlessly flopping around in some scientists’ tank somewhere? I don’t, it has no eyeballs. But it’s for a good cause — Walter notes that the fish’s flops are very similar to how the human heart pumps, making it an important first step towards a working artificial heart. “Since anyone’s stem cells could theoretically be used to grow heart muscle,” writes Walter, researchers believe that this gummy fish “could open the door to a personalized approach for growing artificial hearts.”

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Fake it ‘til you make it: Why scientists are using psychopathy tests on fish

Caution: spheres ahead.

Mark Stevenson/Stocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

Astronomers looked at 260,000 stars to find alien megastructures

Aliens might be the universe’s best-kept secret, but that won’t stop scientists from searching for them in all of its hiding places, even the hypothetical ones. Case in point: a team of researchers recently decided to estimate how many Dyson Spheres (a theoretical megastructure that sucks energy from stars) shroud our Milky Way.

“Using optical data from the Gaia Observatory, a space telescope launched by the European Space Agency in 2013, and infrared data from the AllWISE program — which provides the most comprehensive view of the full mid-infrared sky — the researchers behind the new study analyzed 260,000 stars in the Milky Way,” writes Passant Rabie. “After putting together the brightness of these stars, the team then created models of Dyson Spheres that showed their potential temperature [...] and how much of the star they would cover.”

The researchers compared their Dyson Sphere models to recordings of the stars’ actual luminosity and temperature, ultimately determining that only a paltry sum of stars makes a good Dyson Sphere match. But that’s better than nothing, right?

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Do you mega-mind?: James Cameron ripped off ‘Alien’ before making ‘Aliens’

You can’t greenwash this.

Matt Mawson/Moment Unreleased/Getty Images

Fossil fuel companies’ green rhetoric betrays an ugly truth

Fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil and BP want you on their side, which is why they often publicly present “a transition to a green future amidst a looming climate crisis,” writes Tara Yarlagadda. “But new research suggests that [...] they are quietly maintaining oil and gas production and not investing significantly in renewable energy.”

That research was published in PLOS ONE on Wednesday, and it indicates that Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell are more like little green monsters than rosy-cheeked innocents, making astonishingly little effort between the years 2009 and 2020 to transition to clean energy. For example, “ExxonMobil [generated] no electricity from clean energy sources — like wind and solar — over the period studied.”

The study authors discovered this by analyzing “specific keywords pertaining to climate and clean energy in the companies' annual reports” and comparing it to public pledges, “assigning scores based on how well companies' operations transitioned away from fossil fuels,” writes Yarlagadda. The facts show that they didn’t.

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Money where your mouth is: Sea spray could be dousing you in toxic chemicals

Galileo was right!

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  • On this day in history: Landmark Italian astronomer Galileo published the book A Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems on this day in 1632. Sadly for Galileo, who rightly believed that planets orbit the sun, the publication led to censorship and house arrest (though he has been vindicated in death many times over).
  • Song of the day: House Arrest Tingz,” by NBA YoungBoy.
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