It’s a microbial blast from the past.
Researchers from the University College of Southeast Norway painstakingly recreated the labyrinth from Pac-Man and populated it with real-life Pac-Men and Ghosts — in the form of microscopic organisms. In the maze, which measures less than a millimeter across, euglena and ciliates take on the title character’s role, while rotifers act as Ghosts, chasing and eventually eating the Pac-Microbes.
Nostalgia aside, the tongue-in-cheek experiment actually functions as a fairly good simulation of the peat and moss environments where these organisms typically live. Unlike the two-dimensional petri dishes where they are usually studied, a 3-dimensional maze recreates the tunnels and pathways where rotifers chase their prey outside of the laboratory, allowing the researchers to study their interactions with greater accuracy.
They hope that the universally-recognized structure will help to stir public interest in organisms that are too small for the naked eye to see — but who act out a shockingly faithful simulacrum of a decades-old video game.
Erik Andrew Johannessen, who led the project, observed the rotifers getting better over time as they navigated the maze. He thinks that this may be a result of chemical trails that the organisms leave behind as they hunt, helping them to find their way in familiar territory. He hopes to continue using the maze to find out if there is some element of logic at play in the rotifers hunting decisions — perhaps making them a little more like the virtual Ghosts whose role they play.
Pac-Man may have been a colorful distraction (and one of the highest-grossing arcade games of all time), but its simple premise is actually a fairly good recreation of predator-prey interactions out in the real world. No word yet on which euglena or ciliate holds the current top score.
NASA’s Juno mission will arrive at Jupiter on the Fourth of July, after traveling some 1.7 billion miles through the solar system, and prepare to insert itself into orbit around the gas giant.
If everything goes smoothly, it will orbit the planet pole-to-pole 37 times, gathering data on Jupiter’s composition, magnetic field, core, poles and much more. And then, with its mission over, it will point itself at the planet and dive to a fiery death within the churning maelstrom that is Jupiter’s upper atmosphere.
Unlike some of its space-exploring brethren, the Juno probe is not meant to wander ever further into interstellar space, or lie dormant on the surface of a distant planet, generating data years after its mission is over. Instead, Juno takes a more rock n’ roll approach to life, living fast and hard and burning out before it has a chance to fade away. Read More
A study of 54 dead babies was not all bad news.
In the Journal of Anatomy, University of Cambridge biological anthropologists reported on fetal and infant cadavers, dissected by anatomists between 1768-1913 and now stored in the university’s collections. The study found that child cadavers were both more common than previously thought and handled differently than adults, reflecting their importance in medical education. Read More
On Monday, after a five-year journey, NASA’s Juno probe will finally enter orbit around Jupiter, becoming the first orbiter to Jupiter since 2003. The craft will study the planet for two years in a very eccentric orbit to protect it from Jupiter’s harsh radiation, swooping by the planet every 14 days. With the start of the mission nearly underway, here’s what you need to know. Read More
There may finally be some good climate news.
A paper published today in Science details the the first strong evidence that the hole in the ozone layer is beginning to heal. In 1987, the Montreal Protocol banned the class of ozone-gobbling chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in developed countries around the world, and it appears that the policy is, perhaps, starting to pay off. Since 2000, the hole has shrunk by some 2.5 million square miles and could close completely by the middle of the century, according to the researchers. Read More
Ancient astronomers may have used tombs to probe the heavens.
New research suggests that prehistoric humans may have relied on long dark chambers in igloo-shaped structures known as ‘passage graves’ to see the rising stars. The extended narrow entrances of the graves, which are scattered across Europe, may have amplified a viewer’s night vision, allowing them to detect stars rising at twilight sooner than they would otherwise be able to. Read More
Move over Maverick, there’s a new Top Gun in town.
A new program developed by researchers at the University of Cincinnati could give real-life fighter pilots a run for their money. Called ALPHA, the artificial intelligence has proven itself by repeatedly besting an experienced fighter pilot in a dogfight simulator without once being shot down. And, instead of a requiring a room-sized supercomputer, the program ran on a laptop.
The asteroid belt hides lots of mysteries of the solar system’s past, but perhaps no place holds more mysteries than Ceres. It’s an oddball place — a dwarf planet in the midst of our solar system’s belt of smaller debris. And it’s an ancient world possibly left over from the era when the planets first came together.
NASA on Tuesday completed the second and final test of the solid rocket booster that’s expected to take humans to Mars.
The booster is one of two that will power the space agency’s Space Launch System (SLS), along with four liquid propellant engines. NASA hopes to launch an unmanned version of the SLS by 2018, taking their Orion spacecraft on a journey beyond the moon and back. A previous test of the rocket in March 2015 at higher temperatures went off without a hitch — Tuesday’s trial run took place around 40 degrees Fahrenheit to test the lower limits of the rocket’s expected range as well as a new nozzle configuration. Read More
When cities light up the night, it confuses the trees.
In places where night-time light pollution is at its worst, trees burst into bloom a week earlier than trees rooted under dark skies, according to a 13-year study from researchers at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Ringing in spring earlier in urban areas could have important ramifications for entire ecosystems, as changes in tree health send ripples throughout local food chains. Read More