Did you ever wake up from a long nap feeling a little disoriented, not quite knowing where you were? Now, imagine getting a wake-up call after being “asleep” for 42,000 years.
In Siberia, melting permafrost is releasing nematodes — microscopic worms that live in soil — that have been suspended in a deep freeze since the Pleistocene. Despite being frozen for tens of thousands of years, two species of these worms were successfully revived, scientists recently reported in a new study.
Though nematodes are tiny — typically measuring about 1 millimeter in length — they are known to possess impressive abilities. Some are found living 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers) below Earth’s surface, deeper than any other multicellular animal. Certain worms that live on an island in the Indian Ocean can develop one of five different mouths, depending on what type of food is available. Others are adapted to thrive inside slug intestines and travel on slimy highways of slug poop.
For the new study, researchers analyzed 300 samples of Arctic permafrost deposits and found two that held several well-preserved nematodes. One sample was collected from a fossil squirrel burrow near the Alazeya River in the northeastern part of Yakutia, Russia, from deposits estimated to be about 32,000 years old. The other permafrost sample came from the Kolyma River in northeastern Siberia, and the age of nearby deposits was around 42,000 years old, the scientists reported.
They isolated the worms — all females — from the permafrost samples, finding they represented two known nematode species: Panagrolaimus detritophagus and Plectus parvus. After defrosting the worms, the researchers saw them moving and eating, making this the first evidence of “natural cryopreservation” of multicellular animals, according to the study.
However, the nematodes weren’t the first organism to awaken from millennia in icy suspension. Previously, another group of scientists had identified a giant virus that was resuscitated after spending 30,000 years frozen in Siberian permafrost. (Don’t panic; amoebas are the only animal affected by this ancient attacker.)
Further study will be needed to unravel the mechanisms in the ancient nematodes that enabled them to survive such lengthy freezing; pinpointing how those adaptations work could have implications in many scientific areas, “such as cryomedicine, cryobiology, and astrobiology,” the researchers concluded.
If you walk across a carpet in wool socks, there’s a pretty good chance that the next doorknob you touch is going to surprise you with a spark. Static electricity is so common that it’s easy to forget how weird it is.
But what’s actually happening when you encounter those sparks?
The ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician Thales of Miletus was the first to describe static electricity, in the sixth century B.C., but scientists have struggled for decades to answer that basic question. However, researchers working at the nanoscale have just made a huge step forward in the quest to understand why rubbing two surfaces together can lead to a shock.
No matter how smooth a surface may look, when you zoom in close enough, you’ll notice bumps and pits. Scientists call these imperfections “asperities.” Every surface, from balloons to fibers like wool or hair, is covered in microscopic asperities. And these features are responsible for producing static electricity, said Christopher Mizzi, a doctoral candidate in materials science and engineering at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
In a study published in September in the journal Physical Review Letters, Mizzi and his co-authors compared the invisible imperfections on everyday objects to the surface of the Earth. If you look at Earth from far away, the planet “looks very smooth, like a perfect sphere,” Mizzi said. We know, however, that in reality, Earth is far from smooth, but you have to look at it closely to see that. It’s only when “you zoom in far enough you notice that there are mountains and hills,” he said. Similarly, familiar objects look smooth until viewed up close.
When the surfaces of two objects rub against one another, their asperities scrape together, creating friction. Scientists have known for a long time that friction plays a role in static electricity. (In fact, the scientific term for static electricity, triboelectricity, shares a root with tribology, which is the study of friction.)
In the new study, Mizzi and his co-authors showed how the asperities that cause friction also cause a shocking difference in electric charge.
Something unusual about static electricity is that it’s easiest to produce using electricity-restricting materials known as insulators; these include rubber, wool and hair. In current electricity — the everyday form of electricity that powers phones, lights and almost all other electronics — electrons create currents by flowing across atoms in conductive materials, like copper wire. But insulators’ atoms don’t let electrons come and go easily; they earn their name by inhibiting electron flow
Mizzi and his colleagues discovered that static electricity is produced when the asperities in insulators rub against each other and interfere with the electron clouds. Since the electrons in insulators can’t move around easily, that rubbing can bend the electron clouds out of shape.
But if you squeeze that electron cloud, it deforms, becoming asymmetrical. Under the right circumstances, that new shape can distribute voltage unevenly across the material, Mizzi explained.
What does this have to do with wool socks on carpet? As you walk in such footwear, the combination of your body’s weight and your striding motion causes the fibers in your socks to slide against the fibers in the carpet. When the two materials rub against each other like this, the bumps on one surface drag along the asperities on the opposing surface, causing them to bend. When this bending happens, the electron clouds in the atoms that make up the asperities get squished into asymmetrical shapes, causing a very, very small difference in voltage.
Though small, these changes in voltage add up. Asperities are so numerous that the squishing of electron clouds causes a significant buildup of static electricity — one powerful enough for you to feel it when you touch a doorknob or shake someone’s hand.
This newfound understanding of static electricity could influence scientists developing fabrics that produce friction-generated power for charging wearable devices, which could make products more efficient. And with a better understanding of which materials fail to create static electricity easily, engineers can work to create safer manufacturing environments, for example by eliminating dust particles that can spark fires by rubbing against each other.
“When you have a model, you can start making predictions,” Mizzi said.
Huge bacteria-killing viruses lurk in ecosystems around the world from hot springs to freshwater lakes and rivers. Now, a group of researchers has discovered some of these so-called bacteriophages that are so large and so complex that they blur the line between living and nonliving, according to new findings.
Bacteriophages, or “phages” for short, are viruses that specifically infect bacteria. Phages and other viruses are not considered living organisms because they can’t carry out biological processes without the help and cellular machinery of another organism.
That doesn’t mean they are innocuous: Phages are major drivers of ecosystem change because they prey on populations of bacteria, alter their metabolism, spread antibiotic resistance and carry compounds that cause disease in animals and humans, according to the researchers in a new study, published Feb. 12 in the journal Nature.
To learn more about these sneaky invaders, the researchers searched through a DNA database that they created from samples they and their colleagues collected from nearly 30 different environments around the world, ranging from the guts of people and Alaskan moose to a South African bioreactor and a Tibetan hot spring, according to a statement.
From that DNA, they discovered 351 huge phages that had genomes four or more times larger than the average genome of phages. Among those was the largest phage found to date with a genome of 735,000 base pairs — the pairs of nucleotides that make up the rungs of the DNA molecule’s “ladder” structure — or nearly 15 times larger than the average phage. (The human genome contains about 3 billion base pairs.)
These phages are “hybrids between what we think of as traditional viruses and traditional living organisms,” such as bacteria and archaea, senior author Jill Banfield, a University of California, Berkeley, professor of Earth and planetary science and of environmental science, policy and management, said in the statement. This huge phages’ genome is much larger than the genomes of many bacteria, according to the statement.
The authors found that many of the genes coded for proteins that are yet unknown to us. They found that the phages had a number of genes that are not typical of viruses but are typical of bacteria, according to the statement. Some of these genes are part of a system that bacteria use to fight viruses (and was later adapted by humans to edit genes, a technique called CRISPR-Cas9).
Scientists don’t know for sure, but they think that once these phages inject their DNA into bacteria, the phages’ own CRISPR system strengthens the CRISPR system of the bacteria. In that way, the combined CRISPR system could help to target other phages (getting rid of the competition).
What’s more, they found that some of the phages had genes that coded for proteins necessary for the functioning of ribosomes — a cellular machine that translates genetic material into proteins (the proteins are the molecules that carry out DNA’s instructions). These proteins aren’t typically found in viruses, but they are found in bacteria and archaea, according to the statement.
Some of these newfound phages may also use the ribosomes in their bacteria host to make more copies of their own proteins, according to the statement.
“Typically, what separates life from nonlife is to have ribosomes and the ability to do translation; that is one of the major defining features that separate viruses and bacteria, nonlife and life,” co-lead author Rohan Sachdeva, a research associate at UC Berkeley, said in the statement. “Some large phages have a lot of this translational machinery, so they are blurring the line a bit.”
When you think of DNA, odds are, you picture the famous double helix, a ladder-like structure elegantly twisted like a corkscrew.
But DNA doesn’t always assume this form. The existence of one shape of DNA in humans, in particular — a four-stranded knot of genetic code — has been controversial among scientists for years. Because this so-called i-motif loves acidic environments (a condition that scientists can create in the lab but doesn’t naturally occur in the body), many scientists thought that it couldn’t possibly exist in human cells.
But in recent years, studies have pointed to the possibility that this bizarre form of DNA could, in fact, exist in living humans. Now, a new study published today (April 23) in the journal Nature Chemistry provides the first direct evidence that it does exist and that it may play an important role in regulating our genes. [Unraveling the Human Genome: 6 Molecular Milestones]
“Before this, it was kind of an academic idea that DNA could [fold like this], but it wasn’t known at all what it meant for biology,” said senior study author Marcel Dinger, head of the Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney. Watching these i-motifs appear in living human cells “was pretty spectacular,” he said.
To spot the i-motifs, Dinger and his team designed an antibody — a protein that targets foreign invaders in the body — to specifically find and latch onto i-motifs. They tagged these antibodies with a fluorescent dye and then injected them into human cells in the lab. Using powerful microscopes, they spotted a bunch of tiny, glowing, green dots — colored antibodies holding onto elusive i-motifs.
According to Dinger, the hardest part about publishing this paper was proving that the antibody latched only onto i-motifs and not onto other shapes of DNA. They did this by testing how the antibody interacted with other forms of DNA, such as the classic double helix and a better-studied structure related to the i-motif, called the G4 quadruplex. Sure enough, the antibody proved faithful — it didn’t bind to either of these other forms.
“This is a very exciting discovery,” said Zoe Waller, a senior lecturer in chemical biology at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom who was not involved with the study. “This work is the icing on what is now quite a large cake of evidence that these [forms of DNA] do exist in vivo and are worthy of further study.”
A role in regulation
What really fascinated the team, Dinger told Live Science, was not only that these i-motifs existed in living cells but that these green lights twinkled on and off — meaning the i-motifs folded into existence and then unfurled, repeatedly. In particular, the researchers found that the DNA folded into i-motifs at higher rates during a specific stage of transcription — the process that kicks off the translation of genes into proteins — when the DNA was just beginning to actively transcribe. Later, the DNA unfolded back into its usual form, and the i-motifs disappeared. According to Dinger, this probably means the i-motifs play a very specific role in regulating the transcription process.
Indeed, this study supports previous research in lab dishes that these folds occur in areas that regulate genes. These areas include the very ends of chromosomes called “telomeres” that are thought to play a role in aging and regions called promoters which are tasked with turning genes on and off.
But despite knowing some of the regions in which these folds can appear, the researchers don’t yet know which genes the folds control or what happens when you disturb the cell so that it can’t form these structures.
“There’s so much of the genome that we don’t understand, probably like 99 percent of it,” Dinger said. Seeing DNA folded like this in living cells “makes it possible to decode those parts of the genome and understand what they do.”
Indeed, these weird folds are probably present in every one of our cells, Dinger said. And because the genome has fewer folds like this compared with regularly shaped DNA, drugs that target DNA may be able to bind more specifically, compared with non-folded regions, he said.
These types of drugs could be helpful for cancer treatment, for example. One problem with certain cancer treatments is that they aren’t selective enough in targeting the problematic stretches of DNA, said Laurence Hurley, a professor at the University of Arizona and the chief scientific officer of Reglagene, a company that designs therapeutic molecules to target four-stranded DNA like i-motifs. Instead, cancer drugs may attach to other parts of DNA as well, leading to possibly harmful side effects, said Hurley, who was not part of the new study.
“I’ve been waiting for a paper like this to come out for a long time,” Hurley told Live Science. “This provides a firm foundation for a major therapeutic effort around these new structures, and it takes away the doubt that people have had [about] whether these structures were real and had any biological significance.”
Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week
By LiveScience Staff 2 days ago
Each week we find the most interesting and informative articles we can and along the way we uncover amazing and cool images. Here you’ll discover incredible photos and the stories behind them.
In October 2019, two huge cracks split across the edge of Pine Island Glacier — one of the fastest-shrinking glaciers in Antarctica (seen here). Earlier this week, those cracks finally met. A chunk of ice with twice the area of Washington, D.C., split off of the glacier and spilled into the sea. The city-sized slab won’t raise sea levels (it was already floating in the water to begin with), but it does continue an alarming trend at Pine Island Glacier, which is seeing its edges retreat much faster than fresh ice can form. Scientists worry the whole glacier could collapse, and the neighboring Thwaites glacier could be close behind. The two regions hold enough ice to raise the ocean by 4 feet (1.2 meters).
Two mice dance the tango after a romantic night out in London… is what we wish this photo was about. Actually, this incredible action shot taken by UK-based photographer Sam Rowley shows two of the London Underground’s 500,000 resident mice fighting over a scrap of food on a subway platform. Earlier this week, the photo won the people’s choice award for the London Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition. Hopefully that’s just desserts for Rowley; to get the shot, he spent a week’s-worth of nights scouting around various subway platforms — on his stomach.
The surreal-looking brown and green spheres flowing around Mars in this image depict particles from a projectile’s core and mantle, respectively. These particles would have assimilated into the Martian mantle.
A new computer simulation suggests that planetesimals (projectiles) likely slammed into Mars as the Red Planet was just forming. These impacts would have carried “iron-loving” elements — such as tungsten, platinum and gold — to Mars, something that would have influenced how fast the planet matured into the chilly, terrestrial orb we know and love today. From this simulation, the researchers at the Southwest Research Institute think Mars formed more slowly than was previously thought.
Jaguar duo snag anaconda
Lebanon-based photographer Michel Zoghzoghi was filming jaguars in Brazil when he saw an unexpected case of cross-species coordination. Two jaguars — a mother and her baby — stepped out of a nearby river carrying a large, spotted anaconda between their teeth. Because the snake’s pattern closely matched the jaguars’, Zoghzoghi titled this photo “Matching outfits.” The photo was selected as a runner-up in the people’s choice award category of the London Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest.
The largest complete turtle shell on record belongs to Stupendemys geographicus, a beast that lived 8 million years ago. The shell is nearly 8 feet (2.4 meters) long, meaning its owner weighed an estimated 2,500 lbs. (1,145 kilograms), twice that of the largest living turtle, the marine leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea). A new look at S. geographicus revealed that the males had pointed horns near their necks, which likely helped them in combat.
A primitive female bee got trapped in sticky resin some 100 million years ago. That resin hardened into an amber tomb that preserved the bee’s last moments as if frozen in time. Several pollen grains are still clinging to the bee’s body, indicating the insect had likely just visited one or more flowers, the researchers who identified the bee said. This mid-Cretaceous fossil, which was discovered in Myanmar, is considered the oldest record of a bee with pollen, said George Poinar Jr. of Oregon State University. Poinar found that the bee fits into a new family, genus and species, he reported in the journal BioOne Complete. Attached to the bee are four beetle parasites, which plague bees to this day
Scientists finally discovered the source of mysterious “stinging water” that zaps the skin of people swimming in tropical lagoons around the world: A mix of jellyfish mucus and venom-filled “bombs.” The upside-down jellyfish (Cassiopea xamachana) rests top-down on the ocean floor and secretes viscous mucus into the water above. When researchers examined the snot under the microscope, they saw tiny spheres spinning around in the fluid. Stinging cells coat the spheres and deposit venom on creatures that run into them. Unwary swimmers develop an irritating itch after touching the toxin, while tiny animals like brine shrimp perish on contact.
At first glance, this image might look more psychedelic than scientific, but take a closer look and you’ll see: Two millipedes are mating under UV light. The millipedes, in the Pseudopolydesmus genus, don’t have an affinity to ultraviolet light. Rather, scientists wanted to understand details of the millipedes’ genitals, which start glowing under black light. With that imaging combined with other techniques such as CT scanning, the researchers were able to see, for the first time, pairs’ sexual organs interact. They described the findings in the journal Arthropod Structure and Development.
This is one of the first-ever images of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that has sickened tens of thousands of people and killed over 1,000 in an outbreak that began in Wuhan, China. Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories (RML) imaged samples of the virus and cells taken from a U.S. patient infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.
The infamous Tyrannosaurus rex has a new cousin! And this beast may have been just as fierce. Partial skulls and jaws of the 79.5-million-year-old species were discovered in Alberta, Canada. From those bones, paleontologists think the beast would have sported a monstrous face with a mouthful of serrated teeth, each more than 2.7 inches (7 centimeters) long. They named the tyrannosaur Thanatotheristes degrootorum, or “reaper of death” — “Thanatos” is the Greek god of death and “theristes” is Greek for “reaper.” When alive, the dinosaur would have been quite a sight, measuring 26 feet (8 meters) long from snout to tail, the researchers estimated.
A criminal trial has begun of an archaeologist accused of forging a trove of Roman artifacts that allegedly show a third-century depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion, Egyptian hieroglyphics and the early use of the Basque language. [Read more about the event.]
Amazing Images: The Best Science Photos of the Week
By LiveScience Staff 4 hours ago
Each week we find the most interesting and informative articles we can and along the way we uncover amazing and cool images. Here you’ll discover incredible photos and the stories behind them.
A hardy grey feline in Russia got a new lease on life after suffering from frostbite. The female cat, named “Dymka” (Russian for “mist”) was found in 2018, buried in the Siberian snow, with four frostbitten paws, ears and a tail.
The frostbite was so extensive that veterinarians had to amputate those limbs. But researchers at the Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU) in Tomsk, Russia created specially-designed titanium paws for the cat, then fused them to her leg bones. The cyborg-like appendages combine titanium rods with flexible black “feet” with textured, grippy bottoms. The new limbs were implanted in July 2019. Just 7 months-later, scientists posted adorable video of Dymka stretching, playing and strolling.
The world’s largest telescope just took the highest resolution picture ever of our home star, and it looks just like caramel corn. The incredibly detailed image revealed details about the sun’s roiling magnetic field that previously only showed up as tiny specks. This gorgeous image of the sun was captured with the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST), perched high on the Haleakala mountain on the Hawaiian island of Maui.
The new telescope isn’t even fully completed yet, but when it comes online, it will delve into one of the sun’s biggest mysteries: Why the sun’s outer layer, called the corona, is hotter than its visible surface. Researchers unveiled the image during a news conference on Friday, Jan. 24.
Asking what’s the world’s tiniest dinosaur is a bit of a trick question. (Hint: birds are actually dinosaurs). But the tiniest known extinct dino was the wee feathered creature known as Ambopteryx longibrachium. This pint-sized specimen, found in northeastern China, measured a mere 13 inches (32 centimeters) long and weighed just 11 ounces (306 grams).
The Jurassic era creature sported thin, membranous wings like a bat. And it may not have prowled Jurassic skies alone; another bat-winged dino, Yi qi, also known the “dark knight” of the Jurassic, was also discovered in China. Yi qi had a wingspan of 23 inches (60 cm) and a weight of 13 ounces (380 grams).
When skygazers in Finland trained their eyes on the heavens in 2018, they never expected to discover an entirely new phenomenon. But that’s exactly what happened when they noticed eerie, undulating waves of glowing green light.
The enthusiasts were part of a Facebook group dedicated to cataloguing and discussing aurora, and contacted an expert about the luminous light shows — Minna Palmroth, a professor of computational space physics at the University of Helsinki. When Palmroth saw images of these mesmerizing green dunes, she soon realized they had identified an entirely new type of aurora.
These gorgeous light shows, known as “the dunes,” occur when disturbances in the upper atmosphere, known as gravity waves, interact with aurora. Gravity waves move the molecules in the atmosphere around, creating alternating folds of oxygen-rich and oxygen-depleted sky. As charged particles from the sun slam into the atmosphere, the areas with more oxygen glow green, creating the alternating stripes characteristic of the dunes.
Paleontologists in Utah uncovered the missing skull of a towering, meat-eating dinosaur.
The skeleton of this massive carnivore was first found in a hunk of rock so huge they needed explosives to excavate it and a helicopter to transport it. But when first discovered, the skeleton was missing its head. Scientists only found the skull later, using a radiation detector.
Dubbed Allosaurus jimmadseni, after paleontologist James Madsen Jr. (1932-2009), the primeval monster had horns over its eyes and 80 razor-sharp teeth.The fearsome predator grew up to 29 feet long (9 meters) and weighed 4,000 lbs. (1.8 metric tons). A. jimmadseni is the oldest allosaurs known to paleontologists, predating the other North American species by 5 million years. Researchers described the allosaurus in a Jan. 24 study in the journal PeerJ.
A torpedo-like robot named Icefin has ventured to Antarctica’s most dangerous glacier, and found something extremely troubling. The Thwaites glacier, nicknamed the Doomsday glacier because it is melting so fast, is bathing its underbelly in a sea of surprisingly warm water.
The water at the sea’s boundary is more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) warmer than freezing, according to news reports. That’s even worse than climate scientists expected, and spells trouble because Thwaites glacier not only accounts for a huge amount of sea level rise, but its floating ice sheets also keep the rest of the glacier from flowing into the sea.
NASA’s best infrared eye in the sky, the Spitzer Space Telescope, was officially turned off on Thursday (Jan. 30) It winked on in 2003 and was meant to run for only 2.5 years, but ran more than a decade longer than that. During its 16-year run, the iconic telescope captured stunning images of the cosmos, discovered never-before seen rings around Saturn, and spotted exoplanets circling around the cool, red-dwarf star known as Trappist-1.
One of its most gorgeous snapshots is this ethereal image of the Orion nebula, taken in 2006.
This massive star factory, located 1500 light-years away from Earth, shows young hot stars glowing in red, along with still forming stars in a reddish hue.
Puffs of smoke
A camera onboard the Landsat-8 satellite captured this gorgeous image of ash and steam billowing out of Japan’s Nishinoshima volcanic island, about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) south of Tokyo, NASA’s Earth Observatory reported. During this recent activity, seen on Jan. 26, lava oozed into the ocean and sent steam plumes into the air near the coastline. Emissions from the volcanic island continued from Jan. 15 to Jan. 21. The tiny island is actually the submerged caldera (a volcanic depression) of the northern Volcano Islands of Japan. Calderas form as a result of giant eruptions, when loads of magma from below come to the surface and the land once held up by that mass sinks under its own weight.
Neon green spider
Scientists recently discovered a brilliant-green spider that uses math to weave its web. Because of the stunningly precise geometry of its webs, the team decided to name it after the “Lady Gaga of mathematics.”
The newly discovered spider, Araniella villanii, got its moniker from French mathematician Cédric Villani. Villani, who won math’s prestigious Fields medal in 2010, is known not only for his genius, but also for his sense of style.
The researchers who discovered the neon green spider decided to honor Villani in part because he always wears a spider pin on his lapel. The bright new spider was described Jan. 22 in the journal ZooKeys.
The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation just released a report on the health of coral reefs along the Kingdom of Tonga, a Polynesian archipelago made up of some 170 South Pacific islands. Many of the islands are uninhabited and surrounded by coral reefs. The extensive survey found that those reefs are “moderately healthy,” but the reef fish and the communities of invertebrates are in need of attention.
The scientists found that although the fish species appeared diverse, most were small, with very few large, commercially valuable fish, the researchers said in a statement. The teams also made recommendations, including the education of local fishermen about the importance of specially managed areas, as well as better documentation of fish catch and the fostering of sustainable fishing practices.
Researchers reporting in the journal Science on Jan. 24 have created essentially mini brains, more specifically 3D models showing the development of the human forebrain (the front part of the brain that includes the thalamus and hypothalamus). They created these cool-looking models to study a process involving chromatin, which is the stuff our chromosomes are made of. They also looked at how genes were expressed in the forebrain. Their results mapped out the genetic risk of neurodevelopmental disease in certain cells during development.
[Read more about the research in the journal Science.]