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This week we look at mice developing taste buds in their lungs, a university that has recruited robots to deliver breakfast, the antibiotic properties of fish slime, and so much more. 

A taste of fresh air

Those who have suffered through a bout of the flu often experience dysgeusia, or distortion of the tongue’s ability to sense flavor. However, recent research has found that this isn’t the only possible taste-related side effect of influenza. Scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have discovered taste bud cells in the lungs of mice who were previously sick with the flu. 

<strong>Tongues and lungs?</strong> Scientists have found taste-bud cells in the lungs of mice who were previously sick with the flu. This may help explain why children who recover from respiratory infections are predisposed to suffer from asthma later in life.Also called solitary chemosensory cells or tuft cells, these rogue cells share lineage with those known to cause detrimental lung remodeling. Although taste bud cells may normally be found as far down as the trachea, their presence in the lungs is unusual and may be responsible for sustained inflammation in restructured lung tissue.

The appearance of tuft cells in the lungs could also help explain why children who recover from severe respiratory infections are predisposed to asthma later in life.  On the other hand, tuft cells that stray into the intestines may confer immunity to certain diseases. Clearly, when taste bud cells roam beyond the tongue, they deserve further research.

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The most important meal

Bringing you breakfast. A fleet of food-delivery robots at George Mason University have increased breakfast orders on campus—and decreased the number of students missing the most important meal of the day. Courtesy CBS News.

It’s no secret that a good breakfast can completely change your day. In fact, research shows that kids who eat a hearty meal in the morning are twice as likely to score well on tests. However, college students regularly skip the bacon-and-eggs routine. Could robots be the solution?  

George Mason University’s 800-acre campus is now home to 25 robots tasked with the sole mission of getting food to students. They carry up to 20 pounds, charge a delivery fee of $1.99—and their presence has resulted in an additional 1,500 breakfast orders.

Students can order food at any time of day, but breakfast has become the go-to meal for automated delivery. If you’re running late for class, you can order on the way out the door and have the robot meet you at your destination. Now if they could only do something about finding a clean shirt to wear.

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Slimy savior

<strong>The secret of slime.</strong> The slime that covers juvenile fish and protects them from harmful bacteria and fungi may hold promise for the development of new antibiotics. Antibiotics aren’t what they used to be. Overprescribing and an abundant presence in our food supply is leading to antibiotic resistance—which makes many illnesses more difficult to cure and more expensive to treat. While scientists all over the globe are scrambling to discover new solutions, one group of researchers is investigating a compound that may hold part of the answer — fish slime.

It turns out that the viscous material anglers feel on the scales of their catch has antibacterial qualities. It contains both polysaccharides and peptides, which protect the fish from infection. What’s more, the slime traps bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that may cause harm. In all, scientists found five bacterial extracts that inhibited the growth of methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) and may prove useful for future antibiotics. 

Walking 1,000 miles in someone else’s paws

<strong>Evolved eyes.</strong> The tiny tarsier is a nocturnal primate with huge eyes that evolved to help it see in dim light. Tarsier Goggles is a virtual reality experience that hopes to teach students about evolution by showing them the world through a tarsier’s eyes—literally. Courtesy David Haring.The tarsier is an adorable primate native to the islands of Southeast Asia. Ranging between 3.5-6 inches (9-16 cm) in length, these tiny, furry creatures are nocturnal. As a result, they’ve developed enormous eyes relative to their body size. In fact, each eye is as big as the animal’s whole brain.

The Dartmouth Applied Learning and Innovation (DALI) Lab created Tarsier Goggles, virtual reality software that simulates the tarsier’s unique vision. While simply experiencing the ability to see in very dim light is cool enough, the creators of this tool intend it to demonstrate the role evolution plays in sight development. They hope to be able to teach students about how and why a tiny animal would need such enormous eyes. 

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Supercomputing on a smartphone

<strong>Streamlined simulations.</strong> Scientists have found a way to run complex biological simulations on a smartphone, opening the door to real-time clinical use. Courtesy Allison Carter, Georgia Tech.Real-time supercomputer simulations of the heart’s electrophysiology can help study and treat heart problems like arrhythmias. Problem is, supercomputing resources can be expensive and hard to come by. But a recent development might allow doctors to model complex biological systems with nothing more than a desktop computer or even a smartphone.  

Scientists at Rochester Institute of Technology and Georgia Tech have found a way to redirect graphic card resources to perform calculations that streamline the methodology. Now users can solve complex problems as fast as a supercomputer but with the convenience of a familiar interface. This brings the possibility of employing complex simulations in clinical use much closer, potentially leading the way to patient-specific simulations which would enbale a more personalized approach to any treatment.

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