A scientist who won the Nobel Prize for revolutionizing how we treat cancer says young scientists shouldn’t set out to cure the disease

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Jim allison immunotherapy cancer

  • Jim Allison won the Nobel Prize last year for transforming the way that cancer is treated, along with Tasuku Honjo, a scientist at Kyoto University.
  • At the start of his career, Allison didn’t set out to cure cancer. Instead, he wanted to better understand how a part of the human immune system worked in the body. 
  • That led to immunotherapy treatments that fight cancer by using the body’s built-in immune system. 
  • His advice for young scientists is: "work on what really interests you, and you care about. Don’t worry if it has any impact on cancer, at least not when you’re working on it." 
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For Jim Allison, cancer has always been at the back of his mind. He’d lost many family members to the disease, including his mother when he was young, and is himself a cancer survivor.

But when Allison started off his scientific career decades ago, "I didn’t set out saying, ‘I’m going to cure cancer,’" Allison told Business Insider.

Instead, the scientist pursued something he found fascinating: the human immune system, which naturally fends off infections and disease.

Allison’s work in this area would pave the way for immunotherapy treatments, which use the body’s natural immune system to fend off cancer and transformed the way the disease is treated. For that, Allison and Tasuku Honjo won the Nobel Prize last year. 

So his advice for young scientists is to "work on what really interests you," Allison says. "Don’t worry about if it has any impact on cancer, at least not when you’re working on it."

Instead, "study the fundamental mechanisms until you really learn how things work," Allison added, speaking with Business Insider after a panel about cancer immunotherapy last month that was hosted by the nonprofit Cancer Research Institute

Read more: How the researchers who won the Nobel Prize in medicine transformed the way we treat cancer

Cancer cell

Allison, who holds a doctorate in biological sciences from The University of Texas at Austin, has long worked in academia conducting research about a component of the immune system called T cells.

A Texan and scientist through and through, he’s now the chair of the immunology department at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas and director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, which was set up by the internet billionaire Sean Parker

At the most basic level, Allison’s passion has been to understand how diseased cells get noticed in the body by T cells. T cells then kill those sick cells.

"And that has nothing to do with cancer. Or everything, depending on how you look at it," he says. 

That scientific work was then harnessed for drugs that stimulate the immune system to fight cancer.

In any case, Allison says he wasn’t worried about where that research would lead. 

"Well, the immune system is important in many kinds of disease. I figured it would go somewhere," he said.

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A newly discovered species of African fish with gleaming purple scales has been named after Wakanda, the fictional home of Marvel’s Black Panther

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wakanda fish

  • Divers have discovered a new species of wrasse — a brightly-colored marine fish — in the waters off Zanzibar, Tanzania.
  • They named the fish Cirrhilabrus wakanda, after the fictional country that’s home to Marvel superhero Black Panther.
  • The fish’s common name is "vibranium fairy wrasse," after the powerful metal that lines the Black Panther’s suit. The scientists said the creature’s gleaming purple scales reminded them of the vibranium-laced outfit.
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Deep in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania, swims a tiny, reclusive, and colorful fish.

Its deep purple scales, set in a chain-link pattern, reminded scientists of the high-tech suit worn by the superhero Black Panther.

So they named the previously-undiscovered, 2-inch-long fish Cirrhilabrus wakanda, after the Black Panther’s mythical African country, Wakanda.

In a new study, researchers describe the creature, whose common name is "vibranium fairy wrasse" — a moniker that gives a nod to the fantastical, near-indestructible metal that lines the Black Panther’s superhero suit.

Read More: All the futuristic technologies in ‘Black Panther,’ and how close they are to becoming reality

"When we thought about the secretive and isolated nature of these unexplored African reefs, we knew we had to name this new species after Wakanda," Yi-Kai Tea, lead author of the new study, said in a press release. "We’ve known about other related fairy wrasses from the Indian Ocean, but always thought there was a missing species along the continent’s eastern edge. When I saw this amazing purple fish, I knew instantly we were dealing with the missing piece of the puzzle."

Diving to reefs up to 260 feet below the surface

zanzibar dive site

The vibranium fairy wrasse prefers the remote, dimly lit waters of the "twilight zone," hiding among tropical coral reefs up to 260 feet below the surface.

That depth is far below recreational diving limits and extremely challenging for humans to access, which is why the fish has gone undiscovered for so long, the scientists said.

Tea’s team, used special gear in order to dive hundreds of feet down. Their closed-circuit, multi-tank diving equipment recycles their breath to use every last bit of oxygen, but even that technology only allows them a few minutes to explore and document the deep before they have to swim back to the surface. 

"When we reach these reefs and find unknown species as spectacular as this fairy wrasse, it feels like our hard work is paying off," Luiz Rocha, another study author and a diver, said in a press release.

Colorful males and females

In their deep dives, scientists were able to scoop up sample fish and return them to the surface. 

Under a microscope, they analyzed the fish’s scales, fins, body structure, and DNA, and determined that it was a new species previously unknown to science. Both male and female wrasses boast a vibrant purple color with a pair of facial stripes above their eyes. Their fins and tails are also a beautiful two-toned color.

wakanda fish

Surprisingly, the wrasse’s purple scales stayed vibrant and gleaming even after being preserved in alcohol for future research. Usually fish scales lose their color during that process.

The vibranium fairy wrasse joins a family of seven other fairy wrasse species in the western Indian Ocean, with some extended fishy relatives in the Pacific.

But as the planet and its oceans warm — last year was the hottest on record for the world’s oceans — the coral reefs where these fish live are at risk of extinction. Oceans absorb 93% of the extra heat that man-made greenhouse gases trap in Earth’s atmosphere, and warmer oceans lead corals to expel the algae living in their tissues and turn white. That process is known as coral bleaching.

As a consequence, coral reefs, and the marine ecosystems they support, are dying. Around the world, about 50% of the world’s reefs have died over the past 30 years.

"It’s a time of global crisis for coral reefs, and exploring little-known habitats and the life they support is now more important than ever," Rocha said. "Because they are out of sight, these deeper reefs are often left out of marine reserves, so we hope our discoveries inspire their protection."

SEE ALSO: A science adviser for ‘Avengers: Endgame’ describes the real physics of time travel and multiple universes that underpin the movie

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An incredible new 60-second animation shows where 4,000 planets beyond our solar system are located in deep space

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exoplanet extrasolar planet locations night sky nasa kepler tess data animated map milky way galaxy apod system sounds russo santaguida

Earth is not alone, and a stunning new animation created using NASA data beautifully illustrates that point.

There may be trillions of other planets in our galaxy, the Milky Way (which itself is one of hundreds of billions of other galaxies in the universe). But finding such extrasolar planets, or exoplanets, is not easy — even when they’re relatively close by.

In fact, it takes more than four years for light to travel from the nearest star to our solar system. Meanwhile, exoplanets are both small and dim, and the Milky Way is a 100,000 light-year-wide haystack for astronomers to scour.

Despite their long odds, however, astronomers have logged thousands of exoplanets since a team confirmed the existence of the first one in October 1991. This June, in fact, marked a milestone: researchers logged the 4,000th discovery in an ever-growing NASA archive of exoplanets.

To celebrate the achievement, two artists pulled all of that data and compiled it into a short animated map and timeline called "4000 Exoplanets," shown below.

The animation was created by artist Matt Russo and scored by musician Andrew Santaguida, who both work with a science-art outreach project called System Sound. The short film was published to YouTube on Sunday and described on Wednesday by NASA’s Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) site.

What the animated exoplanet timeline shows

The video shows a flattened map of the 360-degree night sky as seen from Earth. The bright band of stars in the center is a cross-cut view of the Milky Way; it looks this way because our solar system drifts within the spiral galaxy.

milky way galaxy sun solar system earth location nasa labeled 1200

Each circle that appears represents a confirmed exoplanet discovery. The main method used to find each world is shown as one of seven colors.

For example, purple circles show a planet found by its transit, or passage in front of a parent star; this is detectable because it causes periodic, subtle drops in the parent star’s brightness level relative to Earth. Pink, meanwhile, shows distant worlds that were located because their gravitational pull was strong enough to make their star "wiggle" sufficiently for astronomers to detect.

Read more: Jupiter is so big it does not actually orbit the sun

The pace of discoveries in the 60-second timeline starts off slowly, with only about 70 extrasolar worlds located in the first decade of discoveries. That’s because finding and confirming the existence of exoplanets was extraordinarily difficult without advanced tools and resources.

But as funding grows, techniques improve, more ground telescopes help with the search, and new space observatories launch into space, the rate at which exoplanets have been found has increased. The pace of discovery really exploded after 2009, when NASA launched its Kepler Space Telescope.

Kepler focused its search on a small patch of the sky and used the transit method of exoplanet detection on 150,000 stars. This is why, in the animation, a big purple blob suddenly begins to appear around 2010 (at top-left) and the exoplanet count skyrockets.

NASA deactivated Kepler in late 2018, but in April 2018, NASA launched a similar planet hunter called the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS).

TESS is expected to scan 200,000 nearby stars across 85% of the night sky, revealing thousands of additional planets. Below is an animation of TESS’ planned survey.

Around 50 of the planets TESS detects should be Earth-size and potentially habitable, creating promising targets for more detailed observations by telescopes that can image objects much deeper in space.

The first pictures of Earth-like worlds may come from enormous ground-based observatories, including the Giant Magellan Telescope in Chile, which are poised to come online starting in the mid-2020s. Astronomers hope such telescopes can take raw exoplanet discoveries a step further by picking up light from their atmospheres — and potentially "sniffing" out biosignatures that may indicate the presence of alien life.

SEE ALSO: Smart aliens might live within 33,000 light-years of Earth. A new study explains why we haven’t found them yet.

DON’T MISS: NASA has Googled the stars — and found new rocky planets in a ‘major discovery’

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Cannabis processing startups hope to unlock new chemicals and treatments

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Jeff Ubersax knows yeast.

The chief executive officer of Demetrix studied yeast genetics and biochemistry in school and was an early employee at Amyris Biotechnologies, a technology company that was using fermentation to make biofuels back in the early days of the first clean technology boom back in 2008. 

Now, the same technology that Ubersax and Jay Keasling, the celebrated professor from the University of California at Berkeley who co-founded Amyris and Demetrix, used to make biofuels is being applied to the production of cannabis.

The company launched with an $11 million seed round led by Horizons Ventures, a Hong Kong-based investment fund backed by the multi-billionaire real estate mogul Li Ka-shing, to begin commercializing the technology that Keasling had been researching in his lab.

The goal was to refine a process that would enable yeasts to make a range of cannabinoids that are found in the marijuana plant which could be used to develop new pharmaceuticals, additives and supplements for use in clinical and consumer applications. The technology works much the same way as brewing beer. Except instead of fermenting to produce alcohol, the fermentation process produces cannabinoids from genetically modified yeast cells.

While the technology holds promise, it’s still got a long way to go before it becomes competitive with extracts from the marijuana plant, but given new capital infusions the tide is turning.

Demetrix, for instance, has raised another $50 million from Horizons Ventures and Tuatara Capital, an investment firm focused on the legal cannabis industry, to significantly expand its production while simultaneously pursuing initial tests on the efficacy of rare strains of cannabinoids as treatments for certain illnesses.

“Natural cannabinoids have been used for a really long time,” says Ubersax. And last June the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first pharmaceutical derived from cannabis, Epidiolex, as a treatment for patients with epilepsy.

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