Weightless Plants in Space.
Science fiction stories almost always feature food being grown in a spaceship, presumably in a weightless environment. The question whether plants actually can do so successfully seems to have been answered by the plants taken aboard the international space station. In this experiment, plants were germinated from seeds and observed. They managed to grow roots into the soil just like normal plants on earth without any assistance from gravity. Indeed, the behavior of the plants, from its cells to its larger structures, was so much like those grown in earth gravity that now scientists would like to know how the plants do it.
Want a Better Hypodermic Needle? — Consider the Porcupine.
In yet another instance of how people adapt technology from nature, scientists have thoroughly analyzed porcupine quills to determine what makes them so good at penetrating the skin. With 30,000 quills, porcupines can certainly attest to the usefulness of their protective armor. The secret to the porcupine quills effectiveness in getting under our skin is in the many microscopic barbs that line its tip. Each barb faces backward and the force necessary to penetrate the skin is only half that necessary for a typical hypodermic needle tip. The benefit to humans is that more efficient needle tips make for less painful injections and who would argue against that?
New Coronavirus Can Jump Species.
A newly discovered coronavirus that has been linked to sickness in the Middle East has recently been categorized as “promiscuous.” In scientific terms, that means that it has the ability to affect multiple species of animals — people, pigs and bats. The infamous 2003 SARS virus epidemic also was based on a coronavirus, but once it made the transition to humans cells, it could not return to other species. Fortunately, it appears that this new virus does not use the same receptors on human cells that SARS utilized. Unfortunately, since it appears able to hop from species to species, it could become a constantly mutating moving target that will be difficult to completely arrest.
Insect Used Trash as a Disguise.
Green lacewings are insects that are known to attach debris to their bodies as a form of camouflage. It protects the insect from predators and also keeps it hidden so that its prey does not detect it. Scientists are surprised to learn from a recent larvae specimen caught in amber that the behavior of these insects is indeed ancient. The new specimen was dated to 110 million years ago and its habit even then of collecting small bits of trash can be seen through the microscope. Interestingly, the larvae seems to have been particular about just what trash to attach to itself — a behavior that is surprisingly complex given the insect’s small size.
Maps to Plot and Fight Ocean Noise Pollution.
The sources of ocean noise pollution are inevitably human. Oil rigs, ocean-going ships and military exercises across the globe reverberate in the oceans for hundreds of miles from their source, and are a danger to whales and other ocean denizens who must utilize hearing and sonar for survival. A new project launched by the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will attempt to measure and map noise pollution throughout the earth’s oceans with an eye toward providing better noise control for the future. It will take international cooperation to make a difference. The International Maritime Organization, a U.N. agency, is responsible for promoting marine safety and anti-pollution measures through voluntary cooperation of the U.N. member states. One look at the noise map generated so far demonstrates that there is much work to be done.
For Big Mouth Bass, Best Dads More Likely Hooked.
The big mouth bass is a favorite among fishermen. The males are larger than the females and have an important role in rearing the young. They protect the nest after egg laying and then chaperone the young swimmers so that they won’t become a snack for other fish. However, the vigilance that makes big mouth bass such good dads also makes it more likely that they will snap at the bait of fishermen. In a study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the most desirable males in terms of effective reproduction were also the ones more likely to be hooked at fishermen. The researchers conclude that here, as an environmental force, humans are also acting as an evolutionary force.
Live-Birthing Reptiles Dated to 280 Million Years Ago.
It is only natural that when we think of reptiles we also think of reptile eggs. But the changes that occurred over time show that the shifts between eggs and live birth as a method of reproduction has been an uneven one. Recent fossil discoveries point to the fact that even as far back as 280 million years ago, some reptiles, called mesosaurs, used live birth as a means of reproduction. Chickens and dinosaurs laid eggs for the protection it afforded the young; but live birth may offer other advantages, such as escape from predators.
Northeast Will Get Warmer and Wetter Winters By Mid-Century.
University of Massachusetts at Amherst climate scientists are predicting that if current trends in carbon dioxide emissions continue, and there is no sign that slowing is likely, the northeast will see significantly warmer and wetter winters by mid-century. The news is bad for skiers. Most of the excess precipitation will come in the form of rain, not snow. As one researcher put it, ”we’re losing the snow season. It is contracting, with more rain in early and late winter.” The changes are not uniform for every northeast region — some areas will see less warming than others, but the overall prediction is warmer and wetter winters.
It Takes a Village to Save a Tiger.
The better aspects of human nature came to the fore this week as a tiger became trapped on a barbed wire fence in the village of Nidugumba in Karnataka State in southwest India. Villages quickly alerted the authorities who sedated the tiger, freed her from the fence and later brought her to veterinary services for a thorough checkup. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always turn out this way. A couple of days earlier, a tiger was shot and killed because the large crowd that it attracted most likely made it impossible for officials to sedate the animal without risking human injuries.
Frost Flowers in the Arctic.
When conditions are just right in the Arctic, usually in the Spring, frost flowers “bloom.” Actually, these frosty delights are eruptions of ice that occurs when warmer water evaporates and then quickly freezes in the much colder air. They are ultimately broken up and scattered into the atmosphere by the wind, where they release stored up salts and even bacteria. While some scientists believe that frost flowers even add to ozone depletion, their beauty cannot be denied.
“The Dirt: This Week in Nature” curated and written by Robert Raciti.
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