Science!: Fat and Force Fields


First Amphibious Insect Found in Hawaii

The freshwater streams of Hawaii host a strange sort of insect: a caterpillar of the genus Hyposmocoma, that is happy both under water and on land. So far, this is the only insect we know of that is truly amphibious.

“When you put these guys in water, they run around and eat,” explains study co-author Daniel Rubinoff. “You take them out, and they’re perfectly fine too. No other insect that we’re aware of can do that. Actually, no other animal that I’m aware of can do that.”

There are a few examples of animals with amphibian-like qualities: Some beetles can survive underwater by entering into a dormant state, and lungfish can breathe on land by forming mucus lined cocoons, but neither functions normally when out of their preferred environment.

It’s unknown how the Hyposmocoma caterpillars are able to function so well underwater. They spend their lives in a cocoon of hardened silk, and it was believed that air pockets were forming within it, allowing them to survive underwater for an undetermined amount of time. However, when the cocoons were dissected underwater, no bubbles rose to the surface, indicating that the supposed air pockets did not exist. The caterpillars must use some other way to breathe underwater.

“It may be a specialized organ that we haven’t found, or it may be that their skin is thinner than terrestrial [caterpillars], which permits them to breathe directly through their skin,” Rubinoff said.

If thin skin is the reason behind their amphibious nature, it might explain why they are only found in fast-flowing streams, which carry highly oxygenated water.

Source: National Geographic

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New Human Species Discovered

DNA extracted from an ancient Siberian pinky finger revealed a new species of human that lived 30,000 years ago alongside modern day humans and Neanderthals. The finger comes from the remains of a woman dubbed “Woman X,” and appears to be distantly related to modern humans.

The DNA “looked like something we had never seen before,” explains Johannes Krause of the Max Planck Institute. “It was a sequence that looked something like humans but really quite different.”

The DNA sequence shows that the “Woman X” line of hominins diverged from both humans and Neanderthals about a million years ago. It also lived in the same general area as both species, which were once considered to be the only hominins to occupy the area. This opinion had been disrupted earlier, when the “Hobbit,” Homo floresiensis was found, though some anthropologists still view it as an anomaly.

The DNA sample was tiny, and so researchers are hesitant to make any speculation on what the species looked like. They hope to extract more DNA to complete a larger sequence. In particular, they will be looking for the FOXP2 gene, which helps to determine the ability for speech and language.

Source: Yahoo



Army Looks to Star Trek for Force Field-Style Protection

Force field-style armor that can repel rockets, shrapnel and other ammunition is being developed by British military scientists at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. By incorporating supercapacitor material into the armor of a vehicle, it can essentially be turned into a large battery. Whenever the tank comes under fire, energy stored in the supercapacitor can be dumped onto the metal plating, producing a strong electromagnetic field.

This field would last for barely a second, but if it was well-timed, rockets and ammunition would be easily deflected. Further, this electric armor would also dramatically reduce the weight of current military tanks. At the moment, military vehicles can only carry enough armor to resist RPG rounds, which form molten jets of copper upon impact and can easily penetrate more than a foot of solid steel.

Professor Bryn James, head of DSTL’s Armor and Protection Science and Technology Center explains, “You would think this would require huge amounts of energy, but we have found it can be done with surprisingly small amounts of electrical power.” This means that tanks could easily don a suit of thin, force field armor underneath the regular, heavy armor without significantly increasing the vehicle’s weight.

Apparently this technology has been long coming. During a test in 2002, the charged force field armor was able to survive repeated RPG attacks, sustaining only minor damage.

Source: Telegraph



Fat Could Be Helpful in Future Stem Cell Research

Fat is often thought of as the “Big Bad” these days, and it’s rare to find an article that doesn’t immediately denounce it. However, a scientist from Rice University, Deepak Nagrath, has found that adipose cells -fat – could play an important role in future stem cell research.

While trying to grow cells in a scaffold (which helps promote cell attachment and tissue creation), Nagrath was consistently infuriated by what was seemingly contamination: the cells would start to secrete a sticky substance, and he was forced to throw the culture away and try again.

Eventually, Nagrath realized that the sticky substance was derived from adipose cells and was actually forming the exact kind of scaffolding necessary to grow cells – except this matrix was natural, and not synthetic. A natural scaffold could provide researchers a way to more easily transport grown lab cells into organs that need repair.

Companies typically use something called Matrigel to grow living cells into tissues for testing purposes. However, the Matrigel comes from mice, and thus could not be used to transport tissues into patients.

The substance that comes from fat cells secretes what is known as a “basement membrane,” which acts as a framework that cells can attach to while they form tissues. After the tissue has formed, the framework naturally breaks down and destroys the scaffolding.

“Fat is one thing that is in excess in the body. We can always lose it,” Nagrath explained. “You can use this matrix as an adipogenic scaffold for stem cells and transplant it into the body where an organ is damaged. Then, we hope, these cells and the Adipogel can take over and improve their functionality.”

Source: Eureka Alert

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