Science Saturday

It’s All in Your Head. Diagnostic testing for multiple sclerosis has been notoriously difficult and not entirely reliable over the years. New studies, however, may add to the tools available to neurologists. Traditionally, the disease is diagnosed through the use of MRIs and lumbar punctures (“spinal taps”), looking for brain lesions and abnormal spinal fluid, respectively. According to today’s Science Daily, “In their search for the cellular and molecular causes of multiple sclerosis, an Italian-German research team has identified a subgroup of protective immune cells (suppressor cells) which are strikingly reduced in number in patients with this nervous system disorder.” The researchers believe “that reduced numbers of CD39 suppressor cells may be indicative for the disease,” giving doctors a new method for identifying MS. Another study announced this week that advancements in understanding of T1 lesions may help to diagnose MS and identify its progression more accurately.

A Spider MySpace. Spiders may be building a social web in a Texas park, scientists say. According to yesterday’s New York Times, “Sheets of web have encased several mature oak trees and are thick enough in places to block out the sun along a nature trail at Lake Tawakoni State Park, near [Wills Point] about 50 miles east of Dallas.” The web is spread across several acres, trapping countless bugs and giving off an unpleasant odor. No one is certain, yet, how the web came to be. The NYT writes, “The web may be a combined effort of social cobweb spiders. But their large communal webs generally take years to build, experts say, and this web was formed in just a few months. Or it could be a striking example of what is known as ballooning, in which lightweight spiders throw out silk filaments to ride the air currents. Five years ago, in just that way, a mass dispersal of millions of tiny spiders covered 60 acres of clover field in British Columbia with thick webbing.” Eeewww. Ick.

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