Science Images Of The Week: Origami Zipper-Tube Tower, A Gold Sponge And More


Science isn't all about examining graphs and charts. In this weekly column, staff writer Andrea Alfano puts together the most striking science images from the past week's news for your viewing pleasure. Scroll down to find phenomenal images and fascinating facts about the science behind them.

Scientists folded papers into complex origami towers and grew blobs of lung tissue in dishes with beautiful results that they shared with the world this week. Plus, a nanopourous gold sponge and brightly-colored avian survivor. 

The balls of lung stem cells shown above, known as lung spheroids, may one day help doctors treat patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, according to a report published this week in the journal Stem Cells Translational Medicine. The disease causes tissues in the lungs to thicken, and is often fatal.

An origami technique called Miura-ori gives paper – and other materials such as plastic – unusual properties such as uncharacterstic strength. Scientists adapted the technique to create these strong yet collapsible "zipper-tubes," described in a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. They hope to apply the design to a variety of materials for purposes as diverse as pop-up infrastructure for disaster areas and microscopic parts for medical devices.

This slimy critter is a root-knot nematode, a type of parasitic roundworm that destroys billions of dollars worth of crops each year. As a group, roundworms cause a staggering $100 billion of crop damage each year. Researchers at the University of New Hampshire announced this week that a particular enzyme called phosphodiesterase seems to keep the pests in check.

The pores in this piece of gold are extremely tiny, small enough that protein molecules can't fit through them. However, nucleic acids – the key components of DNA – can fit through the pores, making this material appealing for use as in diagnostic devices, according to a report in the journal Analytical Chemistry. These nanoporous gold sponges can be used to detect disease-causing agents such as viruses in blood.

Bright in plumage and bold in behavior, this little white-bellied kingfisher represents one of the few species that has not declined in response to rising demands for timber in Africa. A report in the journal Biological Conservation published this week showed that many bird populations have experienced dramatic declines as loggers – many of whom are acting illegally – destroy their habitat. The icterine greenbul, for example, has declined by 90 percent, according to the study.

The optic nerve is the communication line between the brain and the retina that senses light in the eye. In patients with primary open angle glaucoma, such as the owner of the optic nerve shown above, the nerve fiber layer deteriorates and the cup and disk mechanism that holds things in place becomes distorted. Primary open angle glaucoma is the most common form of the disease, and this week, researchers published a paper in the journal Molecular Cell that identifies its molecular causes.

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