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Airline delays flight, changes route to catch solar eclipse

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A very excited passenger on an Alaska Airlines flight captured video of a solar eclipse.

From 36,000 feet in the sky, the astronomer convinced the airline to delay and adjust one of its flights so passengers could see it.

One of the passengers also brought specially filtered sunglasses for everyone on board.

According to NASA the eclipse produced a 90-mile-wide total solar eclipse Tuesday night over portions of the Pacific Ocean.

Alaska Airlines says passengers were able to view the event for just under two minutes before emerging from the shadow.

Experimental Ebola vaccine due in 2015: Why the wait?

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The World Health Organization announced Saturday that a British drug company is fast-tracking an experimental Ebola vaccine. It's set to go through clinical testing as early as next month and be ready for use in early 2015.

British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline is working with the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to create a preventative vaccine to try and thwart the worst Ebola outbreak in history. (Video via Arirang)

CBS reports the experimental vaccine has worked on monkeys and is set for to be tried out on humans this fall. One health official said, if tests are successful, "by January we should be able to scale up in its production."

Currently, there is no known cure for the deadly virus, and it's killed nearly 1,000 people during this latest outbreak in West Africa.

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WHO declared the epidemic a public health emergency last Friday. As the death toll continues to mount, health officials are searching for ways to contain the massive outbreak. (Video via ABC)

The chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt Medical Center told The Wall Street Journal Ebola's spread has a lot to do with population density.

VANDERBILT MEDICAL CENTER'S DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER: "Previous outbreaks of Ebola occurred in remote villages. ... But it's now gotten into larger urban areas and it's much more difficult to contain."

Still, 2015 seems like a long time to wait for a vaccine to be used in an outbreak that has already killed so many. So what's the hang-up?  

One bioethics professor tells CBC the scientists first need to know if there'll be any potential side effects.

"You need to know, for instance, whether a couple of months or maybe a half of year or a year down the track there are suddenly series side effects. ... If you think about giving something to large number of people you have to be really sure about what it will do eventually."

WHO's announcement comes a week after an two American workers in Liberia showed significant improvement when given a dose of a so-called "secret serum" developed by MAPP Pharmaceutical.

CNN speculated those two cases fell under the FDA's "compassionate use" regulation which allows drugs to bypass outside clinical trials.

The results prompted Nigeria to ask for some of the experimental serum, but the United States denied the request. A CDC spokesperson said "there are virtually no doses available."

This video contains images from Getty Images.

Did life on Earth really come from Mars?

A new scientific theory made headlines Thursday — and they’re some headlines.

“Earth life ‘may have come from Mars’” (Via BBC)

“Life On Earth, From Mars? Why We Might All Be Alien Invaders” (Via International Business Times)

And “All humans may be ‘Martians’?” (Via National Post)

The story comes from biochemist Dr. Steven Benner, who gave a talk Thursday at the Goldschmidt Conference in Florence, Italy. (Via Foundation for Applied Molecular EvolutionGeochemical Society)

Benner argues several materials necessary for life to form wouldn’t have been available on Earth 3 billion years ago when life first arose — but there would have been plenty of them on Mars.

But is this just another wild theory meant to generate publicity? Well, that depends on who you ask. (Via Vanity Fair)

Benner has his supporters, such as prominent biologist Richard Dawkins, who said the idea is “not totally silly.” That’s some high praise.

And NBC science writer Alan Boyle said: “One thing’s for sure: Benner is not a kook. He was one of the first chemists to voice skepticism about the claims for arsenic-based life, which stirred up such a fuss in 2010.”

Even Benner’s critics say he does great work and that his ideas are plausible.

More than 100 meteorites found on Earth have been traced to Mars, most likely thrown into space by an asteroid strike. (Via NASA)

 And it’s long been thought certain hardy microbes could actually survive for a while in the vacuum of space. (Via National Science Foundation)

 So the critics admit much of what Benner says is possible, but they do take issue with the sensationalist press release.

 Scientific American’s Caleb Scharf points out Benner’s explanation for how life arose is just one of many possible theories — and most others don’t require material from Mars.

 Astrobiologist David Grinspoon says so much about the origin of life is still up in the air, it’s just as likely Earth was seeded by life from Venus as from Mars.

 So at this point, the answer to the question “Are we all Martians?” is a not-so-sensational “maybe” — although it does make for a good headline.

See more at Newsy.com

Scientists build tiny human brains in the lab

For the first time, scientists have grown miniature human brains in a lab — pea-sized models that could hold the key to understanding developmental disorders like autism.

The scientists took skin cells, turned them into stem cells, then grew them into tiny versions of human brains, complete with some basic brain organization and structure. (Via New Scientist)

They call them “organoids,” lab-grown clumps of cells that are almost organs, but not quite. And these neural organoids are the closest thing to a functioning human brain ever grown in the lab. (Via Nature)

The researchers say these mini brains are roughly equivalent to the brain of a 9-week-old fetus.

One of them even developed retinal tissue, which in a normal brain would go on to form part of the eye. (Via LiveScience)

But the researchers aren’t just trying to build a brain in a jar. The mini brains don’t think or feel or have anything like a neural network. That’s because the goal, according to one researcher, is to understand the brain, not rebuild it.

“What’s important here is that we’re trying to understand how the cells behave during development — not that we’re trying to recreate organs or large fragments of tissue.” (Via BBC)

In fact, they’ve already helped scientists understand at least one disorder.

Microcephaly is a condition when the brain and head are smaller than normal. A writer for The Scientist explains how the researchers studied the disorder in one Scottish patient. (Via Wikipedia

“They took skin cells from the patient, reprogrammed them into a stem-like state, and used them to grow organoids that ended up much smaller than usual. By dissecting the organoids, the team discovered the reason for this stunted size.” (Via The Scientist)

Basically, an important step in brain development came too early, brought on by a mutation in a particular gene. Scientists can now use the same techniques to study the effects of other mutations.

And eventually, if the teams can grow somewhat larger brains, they may be able to study the causes of the more common disorders schizophrenia and autism. (Via MIT Technology Review)

See more at Newsy.com

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