Editor's choice: Robot flashmob, sperm defences and prostate cancer hopes

A round-up from the scientific and technical journals.

Working together, the small robots can form into pre-programmed shapes. – Michael Rubenstein, Harvard University

Harvard unleashes a robot flashmob

Harvard University researchers have unleashed a 1,000-strong robot swarm. They might not be ready for world domination, but they can work together to assemble themselves into patterns on a tabletop. Each "kilobot" is about the size of a large coin and not terribly smart, but by working together they can achieve quite impressive feats. The researchers program the robots with the shape they would like the swarm to form into, and then each kilobot communicates by infrared transmitter with its immediate neighbours to shuffle into position. The work is inspired by self-assembling systems in nature, such as cells assembling into organs and ants into colonies, and is a small step toward self-assembly of greater complexity.

Sperm defensive shields affect performance

Boosting sperms’ protective shields of "defensin" proteins might offer a new way to treat male infertility, new research suggests. Poor sperm motility and seminal tract infection are two conditions commonly linked with infertility – and researchers have now shown that the sperm of men with either condition have much lower levels of defensins than normal. When sperm from these men were treated with the protein their ability to fight off infection was restored and their motility improved as did their egg-penetrating ability. If the therapy passes safety tests, it could offer a new treatment option for infertile men wanting to become fathers.

New hope for prostate cancer treatment

A new prostate cancer combination treatment can reduce the spread of aggressive but apparently localised tumours by more than 40%, according to Australian and New Zealand researchers in a study published in The Lancet. Five-year follow-up results of a trial of the treatment showed men had a better chance of survival without increased long-term side effects. During the trial all men received six months of testosterone suppression therapy, using the drug leuprorelin, followed by radiotherapy.

  1. http://www.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/science.1254295
  2. http://stm.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/scitranslmed.3009071
  3. http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(14)70328-6/fulltext
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