Plastic Bags Are a Feast for This Caterpillar

By Charles Choi | April 24, 2017 11:00 am
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A chunk of plastic after 10 worms spent about 30 minutes feasting. (Credit: CSIC Communications Department)

A caterpillar that can eat plastic and produce an industrially useful compound while doing so could take a bite out of the global scourge of plastic trash, a new study finds.

Plastics typically resist breaking down, and as plastic use has risen exponentially over the past 50 years, plastic garbage is piling up in landfills and could wreak havoc on wildlife and the environment for centuries. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

The Hobbit: A Lineage More Ancient Than Once Thought?

By John Wenz | April 21, 2017 12:02 pm
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An artists impression of Homo floresiensis. (Credit: Katrina Kenny, SA Museum)

The 2003 discovery of the Homo floresiensis added a new, weird branch to the human family tree. At the same time humans were spreading across Asia and Neanderthals were inching toward extinction in Europe (and the mysterious Denisovans were doing … something), this three-and-a-half foot human relative was carving out an existence on the Flores island in what is now Indonesia. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
MORE ABOUT: archaeology

Naked Mole-rats Can Go 18 Minutes Without Oxygen

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 20, 2017 3:52 pm
Art Naked mole-rats at UIC

Naked mole-rats in Thomas Park’s laboratory. (Credit: Thomas Park/UIC)

Though they may look ugly to us, naked mole-rats never want for friendship. The hairless rodents live in large colonies under the earth, inhabiting byzantine warrens under the soil of their native East Africa. They send foraging parties out through the dirt in search of the tree roots and tubers that sustain them, and when it comes time to rest, they gather together in a massive pile to sleep.

Their isolation offers security, but being cut off from the surface poses its own dangers. Even basic essentials, like oxygen, are in short supply underground. Naked mole-rats are hardy creatures though, and their subterranean preferences have occasioned some intriguing evolutionary divergences. They are cold-blooded, for starters, rarely get cancer, live decades longer than other rodents, don’t feel most kinds of pain and, as a new study from an international team of researchers shows, they can survive without oxygen for up to 18 minutes. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Potentially Balmy Super-Earth Is a Tempting Case Study in Habitability

By John Wenz | April 20, 2017 9:31 am
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(Credit: M. Weiss/CfA)

A new, nearby exoplanet could be just the boilerplate needed to find out if life could exist in untold numbers of star systems.

The planet, LHS 1140b, is 39 light years away. It orbits a small M-dwarf star every 24 days. The planet itself is 1.4 times larger and 6.6 times more massive than Earth, and the principal investigators of the study published today in Nature believe it to be rocky. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts
MORE ABOUT: exoplanets

Untangling the Ancient Inca Code of Strings

By Bridget Alex | April 19, 2017 10:00 am
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Village authorities insisted on handling the khipus without gloves to feel the fibre differences. (Credit: William Hyland)

Two vibrant bundles of string, over 10,000 feet high in the Peruvian Andes, may hold clues for deciphering the ancient code of the Inca civilization.

Kept as heirlooms by the community of San Juan de Collata, the strings are khipus, devices of twisted and tied cords once used by indigenous Andeans for record keeping. Anthropologists have long debated whether khipus were simply memory aids — akin to rosary beads — or a three-dimensional writing system. The latter seems more possible, and decipherment more feasible, according to new research on the Collata khipus, published Wednesday in Current Anthropology. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts

Indian Frog Secretes Virus-destroying Compound Through Its Skin

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 18, 2017 3:42 pm
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The South Indian frog Hydrophylax bahuvistara. A peptide secreted from its skin fights the influenza virus. (Credit: Sanil George and Jessica Shartouny)

A peptide secreted by a species of Indian frog can destroy variants of the influenza virus.

Frogs, with little defensive weaponry to rely on, have armed themselves with a chemical arsenal that gets leached out through their skins. In some frogs, this takes the form of deadly poisons; in others, the chemicals have been known to possess psychoactive properties. Hydrophylax bahuvistara, a species of fungoid frog found in India, secretes a substance that protects against viruses. Read More

Eye Movements Betray ‘Eureka!’ Moments

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 17, 2017 3:56 pm
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(Credit: Dmitry Guzhanin/Shutterstock)

You’ve likely seen some version of the scenario on television or in the halls of a university: A researcher runs out of the lab in a frenzy, electrified after suddenly arriving at the solution to an impossible problem. “Eureka!”

These “aha!” moments are supremely satisfying, whether you’re a scientist, a hard-bitten detective or an unlucky horror movie actress realizing that something’s just not right.

But what happens to us in the moments just before the light bulb turns on? New research from Ohio State University suggests that our gaze broadcasts moments of inspiration before we even realize a solution is close at hand. By tracking people’s eye movements as they tried to figure out the best strategy to win a simple game, the researchers found that our brains piece together bits and pieces of the puzzle without us necessarily being aware of it. Only when the relevant information reaches a critical mass does it break through in a rush of understanding. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, top posts
MORE ABOUT: memory & learning

New Material Sucks Drinking Water Out Of Thin Air

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 13, 2017 3:27 pm
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Senior author Omar Yaghi demonstrates how the MOF works using a model.

A thin lattice of metals and organic compounds could turn moisture trapped in the atmosphere into drinkable water using only the power of the sun.

By optimizing what they call a metal-organic framework (MOF) to hang on to water molecules, researchers at MIT and the University of California-Berkeley have created a system that passively catches water vapor and releases it later when exposed to heat from sunlight. Their device could offer a low-cost, sustainable means to deliver drinkable water to arid regions of the world. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, top posts

Tarzan-inspired Robot Swings Like a Champion

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 13, 2017 1:17 pm

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As robots take on greater roles in society, one simple question remains without a satisfying answer: How are they going to move around?

Researchers have devised robots that run, walk, roll, hop and slither, but each method of locomotion comes with advantages and inherent drawbacks. Wheeled robots are great indoors, but get stuck when faced with even a single step. Legged robots are good at navigating rough terrain, but have difficulty moving quickly and efficiently. There won’t be one solution, in all likelihood, but rather a range of robots adapted to specific environments. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: robots

Hydrothermal Vents on Enceladus Hint at Life Beyond Earth

By John Wenz | April 13, 2017 1:00 pm
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Enceladus (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute)

In 1977, a group of marine researchers discovered something they’d only before theorized: cracks in the ocean floor releasing heat, warming up (and often boiling) the ocean around it. They also found mollusks in them, and subsequent vents have yielded heat resistant microbes, giant tube worms, and more fantastic creatures living in what are essentially small, underwater volcanoes.

Now, NASA has announced that they have indirect evidence for hydrothermal vents beyond Earth. In its encounters with Saturn’s moon Enceladus, the Cassini craft found chemicals associated with these events. The results were published today in Science. It adds to the body of evidence that Enceladus could be ripe for life. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, top posts
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