First up, two important new species of fungi have been discovered in Northern Canada, at the front of a melting glacier. The fungi are thought to be adapted to growing in icy conditions and are therefore vital for the polar ecosystem. As glaciers melt the soil is left lacking in nutrients, but the cold-adapted fungi process the soil into nutrient-rich compounds, which microbes and plants can feed on. Researchers are worried that global temperature rises mean the fungi will lose their habitat, affecting the whole ecosystem that relies on them for nutrients.
Next, in a world first, scientists have successfully grown functional human blood vessels in a petri dish. The team from the University of British Columbia worked out what cocktail of chemicals is needed to make dividing stem cells develop into blood vessels. This exciting development opens the door to research into the causes and treatments of many vascular diseases, including diabetes. Many diabetic symptoms are caused by changes in our blood vessels that prevent oxygen from easily being delivered to body cells. Further research that transplants these blood vessels into mice is currently underway, paving the way for potential new drug treatments.
Finally, after ten years alone in captivity, Romeo, the world’s loneliest frog, will finally have a girlfriend, as five Sehuencas (“say-when-cuss”) water frogs were recently found deep in the Bolivian cloud forest. The Sehuencas frog is just one of the forty percent of amphibian species in danger of extinction. While just five or six of these frogs are not enough to maintain a population in the wild, researchers are hoping that Romeo and his new friend, the aptly named Juliet, will hit it off, and that a successful breeding programme in captivity could lead to re-establishing Sehuencas frogs in the wild
This week’s news was presented by Madeleine Openshaw, Gina Degtyareva, Dani Ellenby, Harry Lampert, and Julia Langer, who are studying for a MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London.
Banner image: Fungi of Australia; Wikipedia