National Geographic : 2017 Jun
IMAGES: MORIAH E. THOMASON, WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE (ALL) | EXPLORE | PROGRESS MRI scans of human fetuses in utero—here, between 27 and 29 weeks of gestation— show the development of the brain and other organs and body parts. creating a groundbreaking snapshot of how well the organ is functioning. They focus on cases where there’s dan ger of premature birth, Thomason says, because “we know that preterm children are at higher risk for developmental de lays.” Such delays are often blamed on stress or lack of oxygen during birth. Thomason’s work suggests impairment may start in the womb, possibly with an undetected infection. A clearer understanding will take time. The field moves rapidly, though, says Thomason. After all, it’s only in the past few decades that prenatal ultra sounds have become routine. Imagine if autism could be diagnosed before a baby is born. Rather than finding out around the child’s third birthday, when developmental issues usually become noticeable, parents would get a head start on grasping the condition— and doctors would have an opportunity to strategize care in advance. Diagnosis in utero is on the far hori zon, says pediatric neuroscientist Moriah Thomason, whose research aims to solve some of the mysteries of the fetal brain. At Detroit’s Wayne State University, she and her team use MRI technology to check the growth of a fetus’s brain and map the neural connectivity within it, BABY STEPS By Catherine Zuckerman THE SCIENCE OF PROGRESS Water is pouring out of the sunny sky thanks to start-up Zero Mass Water, which invented a solar panel system to turn the air’s moisture into potable drinking water. Panels can each produce five liters of water a day, and they’ve been installed in five thirsty countries. An international team of scientists used mo- bile phone data to map poverty in Bangladesh. The type of phone, number of sent texts, and call minutes—all economic indicators— were combined with satellite imagery to produce a measure of the country’s poverty. Minuscule backpacks may transform dragonflies into tiny drones. Solar-powered devices developed for the DragonflEye project are strapped onto the insects and steer them by manipulating their nervous systems. Dragonflies can fly for thousands of miles and gather data out of reach of standard tools. To boost vaccination rates, particularly in re- mote areas, scientists have been experiment- ing with administering vaccines more easily, from an inhalable dry powder for measles to a disk of dissolving microneedles for trial HIV vaccines.