On Christmas day the British Antarctic Survey announced that it is pulling out of the race to drill into the pristine waters of an underwater lake in Antarctica, but Russia and the United States are hot on their heels to explore similar subglacial waters.
These underground bodies of water are sealed below two miles of glacial ice and, in some cases, have existed unperturbed for tens of millions of years. Researchers from the three nations aim to drill into these hidden lakes in hopes of finding brand new forms of microbial life. The adaptations of these resilient organisms to
harsh conditions may shed light on the evolution of life on Earth, and potentially other planets, too.
Concrete cracks for many reasons: just for starters, the heating and cooling of changing seasons make it expand and contract, and the stress produced as the freshly poured goo dries and shrinks in volume, pulling against its underlying metal supports, can also cause cracks. But Dutch researchers are testing a new way to deal with the problem of cracking concrete: bacteria that, when exposed to water, form limestone.
The USA Patriot Act and the Bioterrorism Preparedness Act, both enacted not long after the 9/11 attacks, contained measures to make it harder for anybody to get their hands on the kind of pathogens one might need to launch a bioterror attack. There was just one problem: The rules also slowed down and constrained our own scientists’ abilities to learn about those pathogens, according to a study out this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
To be specific, lead researcher Elizabeth Casman found while there was a touch of good news—the laws didn’t appear to deter new scientists from entering the field—the major effect of those acts has been to make research on ebola virus and anthrax much more expensive, and much slower.
The researchers did find an increase in the total number of papers published. But before the laws, 17 anthrax papers appeared per million dollars of funding. With the restrictions, only three papers appeared per million dollars of funding. For ebola, the numbers dropped from 14 to six papers per million dollars. Figures for the control stayed the same [Scientific American].
Trinidad, the larger island of the Caribbean duo Trinidad and Tobago, is home to Pitch Lake. This 100-acre pool of hot liquid asphalt is the largest of its kind on our planet, but microbiologist Steven Hallam thought it could tell us something about another world: the Saturnian moon of Titan. If anything could live in the toxic stew of Lake Pitch, he thought, perhaps there’s hope for the hydrocarbon lakes and rivers of that distant moon. He found that the earthly lake teems with life. “Water is scarce in the lake and certainly below the levels normally thought of as a threshold for life to exist,” he says. “Yet on average, each gram of ‘goo’ in the lake contains tens of millions of living cells” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation].
This week brings more vindication for a childhood full of bumps, bruises, and going outside, rather than sterile modern living. In a long-term study published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B, U.S. researchers suggest that over-cleanliness could make babies more prone to inflammation later in life, and in turn raise the risk for stroke and heart disease.
Thomas McDade’s team studied more than 1,500 people in the Philippines who had health surveys at age two and then again at age 20. The team tested them for C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation. They found that the more pathogens the people had encountered before age 2, the less CRP they had at age 20. Every episode of diarrhoea back then cut the chance of higher CRP later by 11 per cent; every two months spent in a place with animal faeces cut it by 13 per cent. Being born in the dusty, dirty dry season cut the chance by a third [New Scientist].