This week, science holds the answer to Minority Report-style profiling, showing us that you really can tell if someone is going to commit a crime, but whether that's a good or a bad thing, we don't know.
Science has also developed cancer-battering super T cells, to wreak havoc on unsuspecting, malicious leukemia, while it's also shown us that evolution is nowhere near perfect.
Meanwhile, we've also seen that, yes, we really could produce fuel from thin, carbon-dioxide-rich air, and help out climate change in the process. What's more the holy grail of physics, the invisibility cloak, has taken one big, natural step towards reality. All in another exciting Week in Science.
Not quite Minority Report but close -- Sounding like something out of a dystopian science fiction novel, researchers have found a link between activity in a particular region of the brain and the likelihood criminals will reoffend. A study of 96 male inmates just before their release from prison using fMRI showed that those prisoners who displayed little activity in a region of their brain called the anterior cingulate cortex, which deals with executive functions such as decision-making, and motor control, were 2.6 times more likely to be rearrested, and 4.3 times more likely to be involved in nonviolent crimes. The study marks some of the first steps into correlating brain function to real-world outcomes, and although it needs much further research and development to mitigate a myriad of other factors, could result in something akin to brain-scan profiling, which is either a scary thought or a useful tool, depending on how you look at it. [Nature (opens in new tab)]
Super-hard weeds have one killer gene -- When you're dealing with weeds in your garden, the most effective way to deal with them is just to yank them out of the ground, but when you're dealing with weeds on an industrial scale, weed killer is the only answer. The problem is, weeds are hardy little blighters, and now we know why some are so tough to eradicate from our fields.
A new gene, called AmGSTF1, has been identified as a master gene that makes plants resistant to herbicides. The gene produces a protein called glutathione transferase, which creates a load of protective antioxidants that neutralise a myriad of toxins including weed killers. Now that we've identified the troublesome gene in super-weeds, there's hope that a safe-for-use chemical could be derived from a toxic drug which has been found to neutralise glutathione transferase and make the hardly pests weak to herbicides again. The days of super-weeds like ryegrass and black-grass could be numbered. [New Scientist (opens in new tab)]
Genetically engineered super-T-cells seek and destroy cancer -- One of the things that makes cancer so difficult to treat is that it's essentially your own cells going crazy. Normally your own immune system is great at keeping unruly cells in check, but when things go wrong, cancer forms. A new therapy aims to upgrade your own immune cells and send them into the fight.
A small clinical trial using genetically modified T cells from patients with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia has shown that the cells, reintroduced into the body, can force an aggressive cancer into retreat. The T cells are engineered to express a receptor for another type of immune cell, a B cell, which tricks the T cells into recognising the cancer. One side effect is that the modified T cells also kill healthy B cells, however patients can live without B cells and have them replaced at a later stage. After this success against such a rapidly growing and aggressive cancer, the next step will be to roll out the treatment on a slightly larger clinical trial scale, which means it'll be a little way off from widespread use for the time being. However, this kind of self-cell engineering could become common practice in the near future, should the results continue to look as promising. [Science Translational Medicine]