This science isn't fiction
Fanged frogs. Mutant fruit flies. The Black Death.
They sound like the plots of Hollywood horror films, but in fact they’re just a few of the things McMaster University researchers study.
From developing futuristic technologies to discovering the downright strange, McMaster faculty and students are working on things that once existed only in sci-fi movies. But this science is definitely not fiction.
With Halloween around the corner, we take a look at a few of the sci-fi-esque projects University researchers are working on, and look back at a few from the past.
Turning skin into blood
Mick Bhatia, scientific director of McMaster’s Stem Cell and Cancer Research Institute, and his team discovered how to make human blood out of human skin in 2010. The work could mean that, in the foreseeable future, people needing blood for surgery, cancer treatment or treatment of other blood conditions will be able to create blood from a patch of their own skin to provide transfusions.
An island of fanged frogs and nearly toothless rats
Biologist Ben Evans and his team reported the finding of 13 species of fanged frogs on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi last year – including 9 that had never before been described by science.
Though the frog’s bony protrusions aren’t true teeth, Evans said they could be used for fighting, capturing fish or other frogs or defending against predators.
This year, post-doctoral fellow Jacob Esselstyn discovered a new type of shrew rat on the same island. The rat is lacking all of its molars, and has just incisors – meaning, unlike all other rats, it cannot gnaw. Instead, its diet consists exclusively of soft, easy-to-eat earthworms.
Reconstructing the genome of the Black Death
An international team led by McMaster sequenced the entire genome of the Black Death – which killed an estimated 50 million people in Europe between 1347 and 1351 – in 2011. It was the first time scientists were able to reconstruct the genome of any ancient pathogen, and will allow researchers to track changes in its evolution and virulence over time.
Mutant fruit flies
With the help of funding from a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council grant, Cecile Fradin is able to study mutant fruit files. By adding a fluorescent tag to a protein involved in embryonic development, the Canada Research Chair in molecular biophysics is able to better understand how cells differentiate in the flies, which are genetically similar to humans.
Slowing down aging
It’s not quite a “cure” for aging, but biologist David Rollo’s cocktail of supplements helped mice live longer and become smarter and more agile. The supplement included vitamins B and D, ginseng and garlic, all of which are suspected of being able to offset five key mechanisms involved in aging.
Microneedles in your eye
Early this year, chemical engineering professor Heather Sheardown led the development of a flexible patch of “microneedles” that could painlessly deliver drugs to the back of the eye. The system could offer more effective treatment while sparing patients with vision-related diseases the excruciating routine of having drugs injected directly into their eyes by syringe.
Performing surgery in space – from Earth
One of the first surgeons in Canada to use robotics in surgery, Mehran Anvari, scientific director of the Centre for Surgical Invention and Innovation, established the world’s first telerobotic surgical service, linking hospitals in Hamilton and North Bay, Ont. The technology allows surgical experts to physically assist in procedures taking place in operating rooms hundreds of kilometers away.
In 2004 and 2006, Anvari served as chief scientific officer for joint projects between McMaster, the Canadian Space Agency and NASA, which were tasked with testing the ability of robotic and telesurgical technology in conditions that simulated space.