If you know anything about Enceladus, an icy moon in Saturn’s tow, it’s probably the amazing jets of water spurting off the satellite’s south pole. The image is one of the most stunning to come from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, orbiting within the Saturnian system for 10 years — not just because it looks cool, but because it showed that tiny Enceladus, just over 300 miles across, could harbor interesting activity.
Well that was just the start: new findings from Cassini indicate that Enceladus hosts a huge subsurface sea of liquid water beneath its south pole, possibly fueling those very jets.
The collapse of a polar ice shelf is one of the most impressive sights on Earth – and for those with an eye on our rising seas, one of the most worrying. And now, new research suggests that the disappearance of these frozen platforms could be even more hazardous than we thought.
German climatologists have shown that when an ice shelf collapses, its demise can trigger a chain reaction leading to the collapse of neighboring shelves. This finding challenges our understanding of how ice shelves behave, and could force scientists to increase their projections of future sea level rise.
The brain is an incredibly complex organ. The tiny mouse brain, for example, contains over 86 million neurons, each with over 1,000 different connections, clustered in different groupings. In a sense, the neural networks resemble a complex highway system between cities. To navigate the brain, researchers are going to need some maps, and two of the most detailed maps have just been created.
Scientists from the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle pored through massive data sets to build two new maps: one of gene expression in the developing human brain, and another of neural networks in a mouse brain. The maps, which are publicly available, will serve as resources for researchers around the world. Read More
Ever wonder why zebras have stripes? Scientists have too, and now they have an answer.
Researchers going as far back as Charles Darwin have offered a number of theories about how stripes might benefit zebras. Did they develop their unusual multi-hued coats as camouflage to help deter predators? To keep cool beneath the harsh African sun? Do their stripes help them identify each other? A new study topples all of those theories, leaving just one still standing. As it turns out, stripes are an excellent bug repellent—at least for zebras.
For years, marketers have promoted vitamin D as a weapon against everything from brittle bones to cancer — often citing one study or another to back up their claims.
But the real benefits of the vitamin are anything but clear, say authors of an “umbrella study” appearing in today’s British Medical Journal.
Researchers reviewed more than 260 previously published papers, including observational studies and clinical trials, about the possible benefits of vitamin D both in the diet and as an added supplement. The earlier research had focused on finding any role the vitamin played in preventing or mitigating 137 different conditions, including osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disorders.
Astronauts train for years to earn the opportunity to live and study in the microgravity environment of space. But do they have the hearts for space travel?
New research shows that an astronaut’s heart tends to form a more spherical shape while in outer space, which could lead to cardiovascular problems during missions, RedOrbit reports. The study shines a brighter light on the physical dangers associated with space travel, and will help scientists develop exercise regimens to keep astronauts healthy during extended spaceflights — such as a trip to Mars.
The zero gravity environment of space is known to take a physical toll on astronauts. Previous studies have shown that prolonged space trips are associated with muscle loss, decline in bone density, vision anomalies and could lead to Alzheimer’s disease later in life. Now, with the new findings in hand, scientists plan to further study the cardiovascular conditions that astronauts experience in space. Read More
After more than 660 years, rats may finally be off the hook for causing the Black Death pandemic, which claimed up to 100 million lives in just a few years during the 14th century.
The long-running assumption was that rats, infected with the bacterium Yersinia pestis, spread the infection to humans via fleas. However, DNA evidence from 25 skeletons of Black Death victims, uncovered last year during construction of a major rail line in northern London, indicates the plague spread too quickly to pin the blame on rats and fleas. Researchers now believe the plague spread from human to human via coughs and sneezes.
To truly see the ocean, scientists must be one with the ocean. This sage-like proverb isn’t printed in any ancient scrolls, but oceanic researchers from South Korea are certainly putting it to practice.
Taking a cue from crustaceans that scurry along the ocean floor, researchers from the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (KIOST) have built and tested a car-sized robotic crab to explore the seafloor. The six-legged robot — with a paint job strikingly similar to the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile — is aptly named the Crabster CR200.
The Crabster’s design doesn’t just mimic Mother Nature, it also helps the team from Korea literally see the ocean. Typically, underwater vehicles deployed by researchers utilize propulsion to troll the ocean’s depths, but that method of locomotion stirs up vision-impairing clouds of sediment. The Crabster crawls along the seabed without kicking up pesky sea sediment.
Doctors have struggled for decades to find a cause for a host of debilitating health problems experienced by veterans of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War. As many as a third of servicemen and women deployed overseas during the conflict have complained of symptoms such as chronic headaches and crippling fatigue.
Much of the most promising recent research, such as a 2013 study on pain processing, has focused on the brain, identifying significant differences between Gulf War syndrome (GWS) sufferers and the general population.
For the first time, however, researchers have now shown that individuals with GWS have impaired cellular components called mitochondria throughout their bodies.
In a significant step forward for synthetic biology, researchers have built a synthetic yeast chromosome—the first ever from a eukaryotic cell. This could help geneticists better understand how genomes work and stretch the existing limits of synthetic biology to make novel medications, more efficient biofuels and perhaps even better beer.
Unlike prokaryotic cells, such as bacteria, which just have a jumble of DNA in their middles, eukaryotic cells contain a nucleus and a much more complicated chromosome-based DNA arrangement. These cells make up all more complex life, including animals and plants. Researchers have previously synthesized bacterial DNA, but this is the first time they’ve been able to synthesize the larger and more complicated DNA of a eukaryote.
The chromosome in question belongs to good ol’ baker’s yeast, which is at the heart of many a synthetic biology experiment. The researchers focused on one of the yeast’s 16 chromosomes: Number 3, which controls mating and genetic change.