July 13, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

Round up of this week's news: First plane with no moving parts; possible treatment for Alzheimer's disease; life expectancy declining; and new report on US climate change.

First up, engineers at MIT have built and flown the first-ever plane with no moving parts. The light aircraft is powered by an ‘ionic wind’ – a silent but mighty flow of charged molecules that is produced aboard the plane, and this alone generates enough thrust to propel the plane over a sustained, steady flight. Unlike turbine-powered planes, the aircraft does not depend on fossil fuels to fly. And unlike propeller-driven drones, the new design is completely silent. So, it’s good news for the environment, and also individuals, like myself, who live under a flight path!


Next, Californian scientists have discovered that neurones in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease contain distinct new forms of the gene, APP, which is linked to the toxic accumulation of certain proteins. The genetic variant is formed by recombination, which involves sections of the gene being copied and inserted back into the genome by the enzyme reverse transcriptase. Drugs that target reverse transcriptase could be used to block this gene recombination, potentially providing a novel treatment for Alzheimer’s.


In other news closer to home, researchers here at Imperial College have found that the gap between the life expectancy of the richest and poorest sectors of society in England is in fact increasing. The research, funded by the Wellcome Trust and published this week in the journal Lancet Public Health, analysed 7.65 million death records in England between 2001 and 2016. The study also found that the life expectancy of England’s poorest women has fallen since 2011, in what researchers say is a “deeply worrying” trend.


Finally, a major federal report produced by the US Global Change Research Program was delivered to Congress and the President last Friday. It concluded that climate change is already being felt in communities across the United States, and will cause growing harm to the economy, infrastructure, and human and ecological health — unless the U.S. and other nations take concerted action to reduce emissions of warming gases and adapt to a warmer world. However, whether or not President Trump plans to act on this important warning is yet to be seen.

This week’s news was presented by Madeleine Openshaw, Julia Langer, Danielle Ellenby, Kathy Grenville and Nur Pirbhai.  They are all studying for a MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London.

Banner image: NIH Image Gallery, Flickr