So, there’s an upside for arctic fish that retain ice crystals in their bodies?

ice crystalsWell that’s not exactly true, but it is an evolutionary tradeoff that allows some fish to live in arctic waters. Wait, wait. Let’s take a step back. In McMurdo Sound and in the seas surrounding Antarctica there are fish that survive in water temperatures well below freezing. As reported in the New York Times, these fish have been discovered to possess a protein that prevents ice crystals that form in the fish’s body from growing—think naturally occurring antifreeze.

Okay, back to the ice crystals. So, while this evolutionary advantage that allows these fish, known as notothenioids, to live in the arctic by preventing their bodies from freezing, it also prevents the ice crystals from ever melting. Researches from the United States and New Zealand reported in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that even when warmed beyond the expected melting point, the antifreezing proteins found in the fish prevented the ice crystals from melting.

That means that these arctic fish will swim around with little groups of ice crystals, neither growing nor shrinking, in their bodies for the rest of their lives. The upside to these fish retaining ice crystals in their bodies, in only the most academic of senses: living in the arctic.

Research on Space Sex is Not Getting Anywhere

geckoThere has been some curiosity as to why geckos sent to outer space to have sex died. While some have, humorously, suggested that gravity-free sex will kill you, in reality, the geckos died because the heat was turned off by accident.

This incident, however, does bring up the question as to why there have been no longitudinal studies on the effects of lower- or no-gravity on human reproduction and development using higher order animals. Sure, experiments have been carried out with frog eggs and some plants, but nothing remotely approximating human complex systems. Some scientists insist that if we were to ever seriously consider living, or spending considerable time, in space, the long-term effects of gravity that is only 38% of that on Earth should be researched extensively, including the effects this will have on reproduction.

While this field of research is certainly prone to make people snicker, the truth is that the absence or reduction of gravity can seriously impact how our systems work; it could very well render us sterile, or cause other problems and complications. Nobody really knows, which is entirely the point of those arguing for a long-term study.

Any volunteers?

Zombie Attack!

ant attack!There are millions of them! Millions! And they’re out to get everyone!

Okay, okay, put down that shotgun. We’re not talking about reanimated humans (at least not yet) but, rather, redirected ants. There is a fungus called Ophiocordyceps camponoti-rufipedis that targets carpenter ants (Camponotus rufipes), and apparently it isn’t the only one. No less than 4 distinct species of fungus have been found in the rainforests of Brazil that apparently exist for no other reason than to turn ants into zombies and their personal chauffeurs. Scientists speculate that these are only a small portion of this type of fungus, and each one probably targets a specific type of ant.

The ants become victims of the fungi’s diabolical schemes when it comes in contact with the spores and within a week, Zombie-land. The fungus takes over the infected ant’s body and makes it go up a plant or tree where it attaches itself to the underside of a leaf before dying. The dangling corpse’s neck soon sprouts a stalk that disperses spores down to the floor of the rainforest in search of fresh meat.

While this is a clever and effective way of propagation, it does seem to be a tough break for the ants, who were just minding their own business.

Short People Have More Reason to Live

shortThere have been a lot of jokes made about short people, but research shows that short people may have the last laugh after all. At least when compared to tall women.

A study of more than 140,000 women past menopause indicate that tall women may have a higher risk of cancer than their shorter counterparts. The study, entitled Adult Stature and Risk of Cancer at Different Anatomic Sites in a Cohort of Postmenopausal Women was first published online in July 2013 in the scientific journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

The data suggest that cancer risk was increased from 13 to 29% for some cancers (kidney, thyroid, blood, rectum, ovary, breast, colon, endometrium) for every 3.94 inch height increment. This means that an older woman who is 5 feet 8 inches tall is more likely to die of colon cancer than a woman who is 5 feet 4 inches, all things being equal. That’s bad news for aging supermodels.

The brainiacs behind the study explained that this relationship may be because cancer is basically cell growth gone wild, so women who are genetically predisposed to more growth are equally predisposed to cancer. If you follow this logic, it would explain the expression “long in the tooth” to imply that a person is old, although human teeth doesn’t actually grow longer with age, unlike horses. But that’s another story.

Never Do Laundry Again

stained shirtCan you imagine never (well, almost never) having to have your clothes washed because they never get dirty? Imagine how much money, time, and effort you could save, as well as how good that would be for the environment. Unfortunately, though, this latest consumer miracle product is not exactly dirt-proof, so “self-cleaning” shirt may be a bit misleading.

The maker of the silic shirt that was supposed to released by May 2014, but isn’t yet, claims that the superhydrophobic nanotechnology applied to the fabric makes it self-cleaning. A more accurate, though less elegant, descriptor would have been “water-rolls-off-so-Gatorade-won’t-stain-your-favorite-shirt”. The silicone-based technology increases the surface tension of the fabric, creating a layer of air between the surface and the outside world, something like a force field but effective against water-based substances instead of laser death rays and such. If you’re smeared with cake icing or victimized by the attack of the condiments, your shirt will get dirty and you will have to wash it.

Still, it’s a pretty neat development, a distinct improvement over those superhydrophobic spray products that not only makes fabric sticky and washes out but will probably make you sick. The product’s creator, college student Aamir Patel, stated in his Kickstarter campaign that the shirt is comfortable to wear, guaranteed to retain its water-repelling properties for 80 washes, and that the bonding process used will not cause cancer or birth defects.

So really, the $64,000 question is, does it work? As soon as the shirt is available for purchase, we’ll gladly fork over $48 and see for ourselves.

Now Showing: The Invisible Mouse

x-rayNope, it’s not yet another weird adaptation of the H.G. Wells 1897 novella “The Invisible Man.” Scientists have actually managed to make an entire mouse invisible by making the soft tissue and internal organs colorless, leaving only the bones intact. Is it only a matter of time before they can make a man just as invisible? Sure, if the subject is willing to die first and then be skinned, because that’s what happened to the mouse.

Scientist weren’t aiming to set a lively, frisky mouse-shaped pile of bones scampering through the maze; at least, not yet. Their main purpose was to more clearly see how disease develops in mice, which are easy to breed and sufficiently similar to humans biologically to make them the ideal “guinea pigs.” So are guinea pigs, for that matter. Making them transparent revealed a lot more than a typical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or other X-ray scan would.

They accomplished this feat by using the blood vessels to pump in a cocktail of chemicals, some of which created a framework to hold the soft tissue together while others dissolve and wash out the fat that prevents light from passing through. The latter sounds like a great idea, a surefire multi-billion dollar hit in the weight-loss industry, but it would probably kill you, which is probably why the concoction is only being used on dead mice with advanced cancer.

Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee, Listen Like a…Fly?

the flyNature has once again proven that whatever humans can conceive, it has already been achieved. We humans can more or less tell where a sound is coming from because our ears are placed relatively far apart, so sound will be weaker in one ear than the other. This gives us a clue where the sound is coming from, which is why we tend to turn towards the ear where the sound is louder. But what if sound hits a receptor such as a head on all sides at the same time?

A close investigation of how a tiny, yellow parasitic fly (Ormia ochracea) can so exactly pinpoint the source of the mating call of a male cricket (which the flies use as a living buffet for their young) revealed the ingenious mechanism of its ear structure. Its design is the basis for a hypersensitive hearing aid made of silicone which mimics what engineers refer to as a “teeter-totter.”

This teeter-totter in the fly’s ear is about 1.5 millimeters long and tilts towards the source of sound vibrations. The silicone replica is only a little larger at 2 millimeters, and the tips are made of piezoelectrical material which transmits mechanical energy, i.e. sound waves, into electrical signals. The invention can enhance and isolate specific sounds as well as filter them out. The practical applications of such a finely-tuned sound locator are many, ranging from military tactics to smart phone improvements. And while they won’t turn you in to a Jeff Goldblum-esque monster, they do stand to dramatically improve the quality of life for many who experience hearing impairment.

Whoever Said Lying was Lying was Lying

lyingFrom as far back as most of us can remember, we were taught that lying was a bad thing. And whenever we try to justify it, we are told that “lying is lying.” As it turns out, however, lying might not be such a bad thing overall. According to the study Effects of deception in social networks, people who told the most lies were pivotal in keeping a social group together and in expanding it.

It would probably be important to mention that the study differentiated between prosocial lies (white lies, or lies you tell to promote goodwill) and antisocial lies (lies you tell to get the better of others). It is the prosocial lies that foster positive social interaction, while antisocial lies serve to eventually fragment social groups.

Apparently, society as we know it today would not have been the same if we all told the truth all the time. White lies serve to smooth down ruffled feathers and encourage lagging spirits. For example, if a colleague comes in looking like death, saying so can only make things worse for the poor thing. A judicious white lie would be something like “You look great!”

It doesn’t mean that you should start teaching your kids to lie, though. You can tell them that they should be polite and discreet; those sound better.

Scientific Study, Which Was Probably Expensive, Proves What Everybody Already Knows

mixed drinkCollege students and 20-somethings around the world were in no way shocked to find out that an Australian research team now has scientific proof that drinking a combination of booze and energy drinks makes you want….you guessed it….more booze. The study found that something in the makeup of energy drinks increased a person’s desire to continue drinking more than if they were drinking alcohol combined with other mixers. While an increased desire to continue drinking does not necessarily mean that a person will continue drinking, researchers note that this hazard does pose a notable threat to the public.

Even before these findings were established, several countries across the world took steps to try and eliminate some of the dangers that can result from combining energy drinks and alcohol. New regulations were recently imposed on caffeinated beverages in Canada that capped the amount of allowable caffeine in these drinks, and quite notably, the United States required a recipe change in a wildly popular malt beverage, Four Loco, that combined alcohol and caffeine in a 23.5 oz tallboy can. While such recipe changes may alleviate the concerns of everyone from law enforcement officials to Austin personal injury lawyers to medical professionals, who regularly have to deal with the negative consequences of binge drinking, the aforementioned Australian study revealed that despite such regulations, the number of individuals coming into emergency rooms after consuming energy drinks had increased notably. Not surprisingly, many of these instances involved individuals who had consumed energy drinks in combination with drugs and/or alcohol.


Lightsaber Technology a Reality

Light SaberCome on! Who among us wouldn’t kill for a real-life lightsaber of Star Wars fame that makes that cool sound? Thanks to the prequels, even kids today know what a lightsaber looks like, and if the MIT and Harvard geeks get it right, they might actually get to see one. Maybe even (gasp!) get one!

Did we get you all excited? Well, maybe we exaggerated a little. Okay, a lot. The brains from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University that make up the Harvard-MIT Center for Ultracold Atoms really have collaboratively stumbled upon a way to make photons interact with instead of simply passing through each other.

Photons, in case you didn’t know, are light particles that have no mass. This is the reason they don’t interact; they don’t actually have anything to work with. But researchers found that with the use of laser beams, the photons cooled down enough to harden and bounce of each other, much like lightsabers, in fact.

The applications of a hardened and interactive photon molecule are yet to be determined, and the lightsaber is certainly one of those being considered. However, the main focus of researchers was using this new development to finally crack the concept of quantum computing.

Not as exciting as a lightsaber, but it is still in the cards, never fear. Researchers call this a “new state of matter.” Well, it is light made solid, after all. That’s pretty cool in itself.