Discovered: A camouflage robot; judges give shorter sentences when they believe in the science behind psychopathy; a contraceptive pill for men; developing 3D printers for test-tube meat.
A contraceptive pill for men. A drug currently in cancer trials has been shown to offer non-hormonal contraception in male mice. It's a reversible treatment and doesn't affect sex drive. The hormonal treatments currently being offered to men have a harsh side effect, and James Bradner, one of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute physicians behind the research on a drug called JQ1, says, "Non-hormonal targets are urgently needed." This male pill works by inhibiting a protein called BRDT found in the testes that plays a crucial role in fertility. "It's like removing the Post-it note that reminds the cell to turn into a sperm cell," Bradner says. More than 100 million of the world's women currently use the pill. [New Scientist]
Sympathy for psychopaths. A new survey indicates that judges dole out easier sentences for psychopathic criminals when they are given a biological reason for the defendant's behavior. A psychologist (Lisa Aspinwall), a lawyer (Teneille Brown), and a philosopher (James Tabery) have teamed up to study how scientific understandings of psychopathy might affect judicial rulings. The study presented judges with a hypothetical scenario in which a fictional psychopath committed aggravated battery. When the researchers, all from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, supplied judges with scientific information about the theorized brain deficits of psychopathic criminals, judges reduced their average sentences from 14 to 13 years. [Science News]
Printing a steak. PayPal co-founder and all-around kooky person Peter Thiel has supported some pretty wacky initiatives. There was the attempt to foster a business haven on an offshore, jurisdiction-free barge. Then there was his fellowship, which required recipients to drop out of college. Now, the Thiel Foundation is funding an effort to create printable synthetic meat. A six-figure grant has gone to Modern Meadow, a Missouri-based startup working to manufacture a 3D printer which can churn out in-vitro fertilized meat. "If you look at the resource intensity of everything that goes into a hamburger, it is an environmental train wreck," they argue. Modern Meadow is aware that some eaters might be turned off by test-tube meat, but they remain optimistic: "We expect it will first appeal to culinary early-adopter consumers and the segment of the vegetarian community that rejects meat for ethical reasons. With reduction in price, it can reach the masses with religious restrictions on meat consumption (people restricted to Hindu, Kosher, Halal diets) and finally populations with limited access to safe meat production." [Wired UK]
Undercover robot. Taking inspiration from certain sea creatures' ability to alter their skin color depending on their surroundings, Stephen Morin and his colleagues at Harvard University have designed a robot programmed to shift through a series of hues to blend in with its background. The soft-shelled, hue-shifting, mobile machine doesn't have perfect camouflage, but it has taught Morin a lot about the mechanics behind octopi's ability to hide in plain sight. The machine is filled with a network of minuscule tubes, or "microfluidic channels," that infuse the robot with coloured liquids that can match surroundings in approximately 30 seconds. Morin is also considering designing ways for the machine to boldly stand out from its backdrop, a useful application for anyone who has struggled to find a stray cell phone. Take a look at an earlier version of this machine in the video below. [Discover]