This week in ideas: Saying goodbye to lab rats and replacing bees with drones

Welcome back to This Week in Ideas, a roundup of the articles that had the Freethink staff talking. This week’s edition features rats and bees so you know you’re in for a treat. If there is anything you came across that blew your mind, drop us a line at [email protected]. Let’s dive in…

Lab rats could become a relic of the past. Wired brings us a story of scientists combining tiny lab-grown organs with biochips to make “some of the best organ simulations ever. Using these mashups, the idea is that scientists will be able to take a few of your skin cells, grow miniature versions of all your major organs, and put them on a chip. Then doctors can test out the best compounds for whatever disease you might have—not in a mouse, but in a mini-you.” This is a particularly notable development for studying diseases that only affect humans. “Take enteroviruses. Each year they cause over 10 million nasty infections—they’re particularly deadly for newborns—but none of their 71 strains naturally infect mice or rats.”

Will scientists soon leave lab rats in the past? (Image via Flickr user Tatiana Bulyonkova)

A look at violent crime. Quartz ’s chart of the day captures a pretty stunning drop in violent crime in the U.S. over the last 20-ish years. Certainly not a trend that’s captured in the common narrative that the world is becoming less safe.

Chart via Quartz

Could drones replace bees? We might need them to. New Scientist writes: “About three-quarters of global crop species, from apples to almonds, rely on pollination by bees and other insects. But pesticides, land clearing and climate change have caused declines in many of these creatures, creating problems for farmers.” But researchers at Japan’s National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology have created a drone that can carry pollen from flower to flower. (Also, it doesn’t sting.)

And for the lightning round…

Mental Floss says: if you thought “shotgun” as a term for the front seat came from the shotgun-toting person who rode in the front seat of a stagecoach next to the driver, you’re only half right.

Major League baseball introduces a pretty drastic extra innings rule change to make baseball more exciting. (Ed. note: That’s a tall task.)

Tyler Cowen ruins magic.

Feature image via Flickr user Tatiana Bulyonkova

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New drug candidates found in an unlikely place
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Scientists figure out why tardigrades are nearly indestructible
Tardigrades have been frozen, boiled, exposed to extreme doses of radiation, and remarkably still survive. How?
Scientists train ants to sniff out cancer in just 30 minutes
Ants were just as accurate as cancer-sniffing dogs. Better yet, they could be trained in minutes rather than months.
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