Good News! Worms Make Babies in ‘Martian’ Soil

By Lauren Sigfusson | December 4, 2017 3:42 pm
worms-mars-babies-reproduce-martian-soil-simulant-nasa-weiger-wamelink

After putting only adult worms into mock Martian soil, two babies were discovered. It’s safe to say the worms got down and dirty. (Credit: Wieger Wamelink)

Worms can not only survive in faux Martian soil — they can start a new generation. That’s the conclusion from biologist Wieger Wamelink who recently discovered two baby worms in his simulated Mars soil experiment.

Since 2013, scientists from Wageningen University & Research have been growing crops in Mars and moon soil simulants designed by NASA. They’ve been successful in growing edible crops (including green beans, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and more), according to a news release. That’s great, but it needs to become a sustainable agricultural ecosystem. Read More

MORE ABOUT: animals, mars, plants

If You Stuck Your Head in a Particle Accelerator…

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 4, 2017 3:38 pm
A technician works on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. (Credit: CERN)

A technician works on the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. (Credit: Anna Pantelia/CERN)

What happens when you stick your head inside a particle accelerator and get hit with a beam of trillions of protons? Well, if you’re Anatoli Bugorski, you go on to finish your PhD.

Bugorski is the only person known to have been exposed to a particle accelerator beam, the result of an accident that occurred while he was working at the Institute for High Energy Physics in Russia. On July 13, 1978, he leaned into the path of the U-70 synchrotron while it was still on and a burst of high-energy protons traveled through the back of his head and exited near his nose. He felt no pain, but experienced a flash of light “brighter than a thousand suns.”  Read More

MORE ABOUT: physics

Voyager 1 Fires Dormant Thrusters for the First Time in 37 Years

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 1, 2017 4:44 pm
Going bravely where no spacecraft has gone before. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Going bravely where no spacecraft has gone before. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Man, they just don’t build ’em like they used to. The Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched in 1977, has fired up a pair of thrusters that haven’t been used for 37 years. Meanwhile, I’m on my third car in two years.

The set of four small thrusters came online Wednesday after NASA engineers noticed the spacecraft’s attitude control thrusters had been degrading for several years. Those served to make minute adjustments to the craft’s orientation to keep its antenna pointed back at Earth and maintain communications with us as it flies through space. Thankfully, Voyager also has another similar set, called trajectory control maneuver thrusters, that were used in the years after its launch to guide the craft around the various planets it passed on the way out of the solar system. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, top posts

‘Uptown’ and ‘Downtown’ NYC Rats Are Genetically Distinct

By Nathaniel Scharping | December 1, 2017 1:48 pm
(Credit: Gallinago_media/Shutterstock)

(Credit: Gallinago_media/Shutterstock)

If you’re an uptown rat, you don’t associate with the downtown kind.

Segregation is real if you’re a rat in New York City, though likely for more prosaic reasons than in their human counterparts. A recent genetic study of NYC rats found unique populations living in uptown and downtown Manhattan, indicating that they probably don’t interact with each other all that much.  Read More

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

Artificial DNA Base Pair Expands Life’s Vocabulary

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 30, 2017 3:57 pm
A DNA sequence. The first cell with a working artificial addition to its DNA has been created. (Credit: Gio.tto/Shutterstock)

A DNA sequence. The first cell with a working artificial addition to its DNA has been created. (Credit: Gio.tto/Shutterstock)

Scientists have taken another step towards putting two additional letters in the dictionary of life to work.

Researchers at the Scripps Institute have engineered cells to successfully transcribe a brand new artificial DNA base pair and make a never-before-seen protein with it. The breakthrough is part of an effort to expand the library of amino acids that animal cells can work with, potentially leading to the creation of compounds entirely different from those life can produce now. Read More

Smile, Your Car Is on Google Street View

By Mark Barna | November 30, 2017 2:48 pm
google-street-view

(Credit: Shutterstock)

When sedans outnumber pickup trucks, chances are the community votes Democrat. When pickup trucks rule, the community leans Republican.

What you drive matters, at least when it comes to revealing the nuts and bolts of American demographics. That’s the assertion by researchers in a paper published in November in the journal the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology, top posts
MORE ABOUT: computers

Heart-Stopping Sex? Forget About It

By Mark Barna | November 30, 2017 12:53 pm
sex-heart

(Credit: Shutterstock)

During sex, the heart races, blood pressure rises and the breath quickens, sometimes to a pant. Muscles tense and euphoric feelings flood the brain.

This is not a time to be thinking, “I hope my heart doesn’t stop.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health

Shell Shape Helps Tortoises Get Up

By Matt Benoit | November 30, 2017 8:59 am
tortoise-shell-galapagos-island-fall-get-up

A tortoise’s shell shape can help determine how quickly it can turn right side up after falling on its back. (Credit: YouTube/Bio Insider)

It’s tough being an adult giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands—they’re always one step away from flipping upside down. Whether it’s from a fight for male dominance or treading over a jagged field of lava rocks, being unable to get back up is among the most common ways these giant tortoises can die.

There is no Life Alert button to press for help. Instead, these animals must rely on their ability to flip over and keep on living. Luckily, many Galapagos tortoises are successful at doing so. It’s referred to as “self-righting,” and is the focus of a new study published Thursday in Nature Scientific Reports.

Ylenia Chiari, an evolutionary biologist at the University of South Alabama, led a group of scientists that tested several tortoise shell varieties to note the differences in how these creatures right themselves. This is the first study of its kind to show two different shell types differing in the energy required for the tortoises to self-right.

Shell Shape Matters

Chiari and her colleagues used 3D shell reconstructions of 89 adult tortoises–three species of domed tortoises and two species of saddleback tortoises–to compare the self-righting potential of the two shell types and see which would require less energy to overturn.

They realized that ones with the same shell shape used similar strategies to get back up. The domed tortoises, with more rounded shell shapes, wave their legs around. Saddlebacks, with flatter shells, also wave their legs, but are thought to use their neck to push against the ground to give them momentum to turn over.

tortoise-shell-shape-turn

The domed shells are more rounded, while the saddlebacks are flatter. (Credit: YouTube/Bio Insider)

Chiari says these two types of tortoises provide an ideal system to study, because when born, the two appear identical. But as they grow, their shell shapes and adaptive traits emerge.

“You have all these different species on the Galapagos, and you have these different shells that basically evolve multiple times,” she says. “So, it’s a very neat system, because it means, probably, these different shells work well for something. The question is: what is this something? And the real answer is we still don’t know.”

Which Came First: The Tortoise or Its Shell

Chiari says they hypothesized that the saddleback, because of their drier, lower-elevation environment, would fall on their backs more often. Because of a higher temperature climate, she says they were expected to flip more easily and more often.

But that wasn’t the case. Instead, the saddlebacks required more energy to right themselves than the domed tortoises, suggesting that several traits with the saddleback shell type could have evolved to help them flip over.

Is that due to the shell itself? Chiari says it may not be, because on data alone, scientists haven’t established which came first: the saddleback’s longer neck, or the shape of the shell itself, which has a taller anterior opening for its neck. This allows the tortoise greater movement, and helps them self-right more quickly.

And Chiari says there is still more data to analyze with regard to tortoise shells.

“We still don’t know how the shells perform differently for a bunch of other functions,” she says.

In the future, Chiari hopes to explore the differences of tortoises on a genetic and molecular level. She compares these shell variations to the variations in the height of people. Some are tall, some are short, but regardless of that fact, each adapts to carry out the same tasks in different ways.

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

Prehistoric Females Were Strong As Hell

By Leah Froats | November 29, 2017 1:00 pm
A Sri Lankan woman grinds flour by hand, similar to how prehistoric women may have. (Credit: By Adam P/Shutterstock)

A Sri Lankan woman grinds flour by hand, similar to how prehistoric women may have. (Credit: Adam P/Shutterstock)

Compared to hunting and gathering, farming can seem like pretty easy work. But the skeletons of Central European women who lived during agriculture’s earliest days would like to tell you otherwise.

An analysis of prehistoric women’s upper arm bones shows they took on formidable tasks of manual labor, likely during the course of tilling, harvesting and otherwise managing farm fields.

And the hard work left them pretty beasty — it was enough to make them stronger even than modern female competitive athletes today, researchers say.

Bad to the Bone 

Cambridge archaeologist Alison Macintosh led a team of scientists who published a study Wednesday in Science Advances comparing the bone structure of modern female athletes to female farmers in the Neolithic period and Bronze and Iron Ages.

Not only is this the first study to compare the bones of ancient women to those of women today, but the research is also notable for not using male skeletons as a comparison point.

Previous bioarchaeological studies of prehistoric behavior compared the skeletons of women directly to the skeletons of men. Because men’s bones bulk up more noticeably in response to strain, these studies made it appear as though women weren’t doing a lot of the heavy lifting — both literally and figuratively.

The researchers say these unequal male-to-female skeletal comparisons have resulted in an underestimation of the physical tasks women took on in ancient times. It’s also obscured some of the differences in how men and women worked.

With laser scans and molds, the researchers analyzed arm and leg bones from female skeletons thousands of years old. Assessing the bones’ shape and rigidity let them ascertain the amount and type of physical strain endured by prehistoric women. Things like tilling soil, harvesting crops, and grinding grain for as much as five hours a day to make flour made them exceptionally strong, the researchers say.

This is in comparison to ancient men, whose leg bones show signs of increased strain, indicating a focus on hunting and gathering.

“By interpreting women’s bones in a female-specific context we can start to see how intensive, variable and laborious their behaviors were, hinting at a hidden history of women’s work over thousands of years,” said Macintosh.

Bone density and content is widely variable depending on factors such as diet and age, so we should be a bit cautious in our interpretations, but the researchers’ findings are clear — prehistoric women shouldered a much greater load than we thought.

A Contemporary Comparison

To get a more accurate picture of how ancient females stacked up, the researchers then compared them to the bones of contemporary female athletes, instead of men.

The researchers took CT scans of modern sedentary women as well as female rowers, endurance runners, and soccer players at Cambridge.

They found that Neolithic women’s leg bones were about as strong as those of modern rowers, but their arm bones were significantly stronger — about 11-16 percent. Compared to sedentary students, the gap was as high as 30 percent.

But other than the fact that these women were quite strong, there are other useful findings as well. Women’s leg bone strength appears to decrease between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, indicating that men and women’s activities began to increasingly diverge. Women became less mobile as they focused on agriculture, shifting the load to their arms instead.

It’s an indication that women played an integral role in the development of agriculture across Europe. In addition, the study highlights the importance of comparing prehistoric female behavior to that of other females, bringing new light to the lived experience of women through the ages.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World
MORE ABOUT: archaeology

Two Teams Create “Quantum Simulators”

By Bill Andrews | November 29, 2017 12:00 pm
Each horizontal line is a snapshot of a single atom, the dark and light indicating its magnetic state. (Credit: Data: J. Zhang et al.; graphic: E. Edwards)

Each horizontal line is a snapshot of a single atom, whether its lit up or not indicates the atom’s magnetic state. (Credit: Data: J. Zhang et al.; graphic: E. Edwards)

Science, especially these days, can move slowly. The days of big leaps in our understanding are mostly behind us, and the progress of scientists is typically slow, but steady. That’s why something like quantum computers, which you’ve probably heard a lot about, have been so slow to actually arrive. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space & Physics, Technology
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