Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo takes one giant leap towards space tourism

Master gene controls what your brain looks like -- Researchers have found a master gene that seems to control the look and structure of your grey matter. The gene TRNP1 controls the expansion and proliferation of stem cells in the brain. Either the cells expand and create a balloon-like structure, or compress and fold into the complex and dense structures found in the human brain.

Inhibition of the gene seems to create more complex brain structures, leading to the hypothesis that these structural differences allow for higher-level brain function in humans when compared to animals. By artificially varying the level of expression of the gene in mice, researchers found structures develop similar to those found in the human brain. This surprising find could shine a light on brain structure-based diseases and possibly offer treatment for things like autism and epilepsy, which are caused by abnormal brain development. [Cell]


[Image credit: micahb37 via Flickr]

Mind-reading tattoo could also monitor your baby bump -- A new electronic tattoo has been developed that is capable of reading complex brain activity similar to an EEG, and could have applications for monitoring the developing foetus in the mother's womb. The temporary tattoo can be applied to your forehead to measure things such as focus or other complex brainwave patterns.

With some optimisation, the same tattoo could also be used to monitor the growth and development of babies in the womb, allowing real-time feedback on the health of your future little sprog. Having fine-tuned the tattoo, and managed to manufacture it with mass-produced components, which makes it cheap, the next stage is to make the data transmission wireless. In a few years we could all be wearing patches to monitor our thoughts, which is either a fantastic or scary proposition, depending on how you look at it. [New Scientist]

Converting white fat to brown fat could make you thin -- There are two types of fat cells in your body: White fat is the traditional fat you know and love, storing energy to be burnt when you run dry of glucose and glycogen. That's the fat that you put on and plagues the obese. Then there's brown fat, or brown adipose tissue, which is responsible for maintaining body temperature, burning energy to produce heat. We form small deposits of brown adipose within white fat depots in response to colder climates, helping maintain our constant 37 degrees Celsius body temperature.


[Image credit: puuikibeach via Flickr]

Now researchers have discovered that fat cells have the ability to convert white fat into brown adipocytes. Although the mechanism isn't yet fully understood, this fat conversion could be used to help obese people, converting their large deposits of white fat into brown adipose tissue and burning the excess energy off as heat. More research into the specifics of this cellular conversion are needed, but researchers seem positive that a technique like this could be used to literally heat yourself thin. [Nature Cell Biology]