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Talk about a "Distant Origin"

Back from Bacchanal? Get back in the spirit of science with more far out stories of the hubris of man, brought to you by your paleontologist pal Zach Kagan.

There comes a point in the career of any great scientist where he or she can get away with a lot. Legendary chemistry professor and arbiter of first year orgo, Ronald Breslow, knows exactly what position he’s in, that’s why he concluded his most recent paper with a paragraph describing ”
advanced versions of dinosaurs” that may have evolved on other planets. His statements have attracted media attention, to to the point where space dinosaurs are the biggest science story coming out of Columbia this week. See, Breslow’s been interested for years in the origins of life on Earth, with his personal belief being that life was seeded via a meteorite carrying biological material. The paper supported this theory, proposing that the reason most amino acids on Earth have left-chiralities and most sugars have right-chiralities (a term describing a type in asymmetry in molecular structure) is because those were the types present on whatever body seeded the earth millions of years ago. Breslow then speculates what life on other planets that have been seeded with similar molecules would look like, which is where he brings up the alien dinos. Of course evolution doesn’t work that way and life doesn’t inevitably go though a dinosaur phase. In all fairness, ol’ Breslow knew this and probably threw in the dinosaur bit to spice the writing up. Prof. Breslow, here’s a free piece of advice: next time throw in a line about zombies or vampires, then see how much media coverage your paper gets.

But despite what the internet will have you believe, Columbia Science was doing more than just making up shit about dinosaurs. This week Columbia Medical center researchers published a paper on a new approach to treating diabetes. Both insulin and glucagon are secreted by the pancreas and are major regulators of blood glucose levels. Insulin decreases glucose levels while glucagon elevates glucose levels. Diabetic patients usually lack or are unresponsive to insulin and thus develop the debilitating disease. Most of existing therapies focus on the regulating insulin levels. However, glucagon’s effects in diabetics forcefully increase the blood glucose levels and exacerbate diabetic symptoms. In this study, researchers blocked action of glucagon by interfering with a major glucagon-activated cellular enzyme in mice, alleviating some diabetic symptoms.

A small collaboration of astronomers, including Jeff Andrews repping Columbia, have discovered two white dwarf stars, 100 light years from Earth. That’s a short distance for an astronomer considering the diameter of our galaxy is 1000 times larger than that. White dwarves are some of the oldest stars around and the research team calculated these particular star’s to be around 11-12 billion years old (the universe is 13.75 billion years old). What’s such an ancient star doing so close to our humble edge of the galaxy? It turns out that one of them is actually on the move, presumably looking for a quite spot to retire after a long career of dissipating thermal energy.
The internet is a powerful force that can be harnessed to increase efficiency- no, not for students, you’ll waste time on cat videos. The correct answer was, of course, multicore computer chips. We’ve about hit the limit on how fast we can make a chip, so instead designers have been focusing on adding more computational cores to share the work. The problem comes with how the cores share information, a system of wires called a “bus.” Buses take up too much power and just can’t handle large numbers of cores at high speeds, so MIT Prof. Li-Shiuan Peh proposed using structural aspects of how computers talk to each other on the web to model how cores should best collaborate on chips. “The jury is always still out,” says Columbia Prof. and chip network researcher Luca Carloni, “the advantages of packet-switched networks on chip seem compelling.”