Cells Form Into ‘Xenobots’ on Their Own
Embryonic cells can self-assemble into new living forms that don’t resemble the bodies they usually generate, challenging old ideas of what defines an organism.
No One Is Prepared for Hagfish Slime
It expands by 10,000 times in a fraction of a second, it’s 100,000 times softer than Jell-O, and it fends off sharks and Priuses alike.
'Smallest reptile on earth' discovered in Madagascar
Two of the tiny lizards were discovered by a German-Madagascan expedition team in Madagascar. The male Brookesia nana, or nano-chameleon, has a body of just 13.5mm.
Exploring the Supply Chain of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines
The following text is a collection of notes I wrote down while exploring the process for manufacturing and distributing the two new vaccines that have appeared all over the news and in more and more people’s arms over the recent weeks. I started reading about mRNA but quickly found myself on tangents about glass vials and temperature tracking devices.
Researchers make their own enzyme pathway to get CO₂ out of the air
Before this century is over, we’re almost certainly going to need to pull massive amounts of carbon dioxide back out of the atmosphere. While we already know how to do carbon capture and storage, it takes a fair amount of energy and equipment, and someone has to pay for all that. It would be far more economical to pull CO2 out of the air if we could convert it to a useful product, like jet fuel. But processes like that also take a lot of energy, plus raw materials like hydrogen that take energy to create.
Plants and a huge range of microbes successfully pull carbon dioxide out of the air and use it to produce all sorts of complicated (and valuable!) chemicals. But the pathways they use to incorporate CO2 aren’t very efficient, so they can’t fix enough of the greenhouse gas or incorporate it into enough product to be especially useful. That has led a lot of people to look into re-engineering an enzyme that’s central to photosynthesis. But a team of European researchers has taken a radically different approach: engineering an entirely new biochemical pathway that incorporates the carbon of CO2 into molecules critical for the cell’s basic metabolism.
Reverse Engineering the source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine
In this post, we’ll be taking a character-by-character look at the source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine.
Now, these words may be somewhat jarring - the vaccine is a liquid that gets injected in your arm. How can we talk about source code? This is a good question, so let’s start off with a small part of the very source code of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine, also known as BNT162b2, also known as Tozinameran also known as Comirnaty.
When It Comes to Octopuses, Taste Is for Suckers
Brainiacs, not birdbrains: Crows possess higher intelligence long thought a primarily human attribute
Research unveiled on Thursday in Science finds that crows know what they know and can ponder the content of their own minds, a manifestation of higher intelligence and analytical thought long believed the sole province of humans and a few other higher mammals
How Apples Go Bad
Perhaps owing to these gonzo genetics, apples are remarkably susceptible to disease and rot. Their tender skin and light flesh are a haven for small creatures. Their trees embrace myriad molds, viruses, and fungi: apple scab, black pox, southern blight, union necrosis. For farmers and hobby gardeners, the business of apple-growing is not so much aiding the fruits in their growth as scrambling to ward off their demise. Blight spreads quickly, and it’s not always apparent on the fruit’s surface. Even without the influence of invader or infection, an apple abets its own spoilage: its skin, minutely porous, exhales ethylene, a gaseous compound that induces ripening, and the fruit has no interest in stopping at the point where it serves our needs.
Penguin poop creates a buttload of laughing gas
Gobs of guano from king penguins in the sub-Antarctic give rise to comical clouds of nitrous oxide—aka laughing gas—according to a recent study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
Black yeast symbionts compromise the efficiency of antibiotic defenses in fungus-growing ants
Multiplayer symbioses are common in nature, but our understanding of the ecological dynamics occurring in complex symbioses is limited. The tripartite mutualism between fungus-growing ants, their fungal cultivars, and antibiotic-producing bacteria exemplifies symbiotic complexity. Here we reveal how black yeasts, newly described symbionts of the ant-microbe system, compromise the efficiency of bacteria-derived antibiotic defense in fungus-growing ants. We found that symbiotic black yeasts acquire nutrients from the ants’ bacterial mutualist, and suppress bacterial growth. Experimental manipulation of ant colonies and their symbionts shows that ants infected with black yeasts are significantly less effective at defending their fungus garden from Escovopsis, a prevalent and specialized pathogen. The reduction of mutualistic bacterial biomass on ants, likely caused by black yeast symbionts, apparently reduces the quantity of antibiotics available to inhibit the garden pathogen. Success of the ant-fungal mutualism is directly dependent on fungus garden health. Thus our finding that black yeasts compromise the ants’ ability to deal with the garden parasite indicates that it is an integral component of the symbiosis. This is further evidence that a full understanding of symbiotic associations requires examining the direct and indirect interactions of symbionts in their ecological community context.
Coronavirus Mutations Map the Global Outbreak
For the first time during a global outbreak, scientists have been able to use genomic data in real time to track how a virus is traveling around the world, revealing sources of outbreaks and shedding light on cases with unknown origins.
By identifying mutations in the genetic sequence of samples of the coronavirus, which are markers for various strains, researchers have offered clues to whether some cases came from a local source or elsewhere in the world.
Researchers find an animal without mitochondria
Mitochondria, previously found in all animals, is now in all animals but one.
The Deep Sea
Takes a lot of scrolling to get to the bottom.
The Invention of Recombinant DNA Technology
In the early 1970s, a momentous series of events in the history of science unfolded at points around the San Francisco Bay. Lines of inquiry pursued at the Stanford University School of Medicine and the University of California, San Francisco converged on a set of discoveries that vastly expanded the productive capabilities of molecular genetics, disrupted the customary rhythms and routines of the scientific community, sparked bitter disputes about risks and responsibilities in scientific experimentation, and generated a tsunami of technological change that spread rapidly across multiple domains of productive activity and all around the globe.
The first recombinant molecule containing DNA from different organisms was assembled late in 1971, in Paul Berg’s laboratory at Stanford. Berg hoped to transduce bacterial and mammalian cells with a recombinant virus in order to study gene expression systems, but subsequently chose not to carry out the planned experiments. He was persuaded by scientific colleagues to consider potential biohazard risks before moving ahead.
The technology for propagating and expressing recombinant genes was invented by Stanley Cohen and Herbert Boyer in 1973. It enabled the transformation of bacterial cells into living factories for the directed manufacture of select proteins. The technology was immediately recognized as a tool without parallel in genetics research, and was soon applied to practical ends in a wide variety of fields including medicine, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, chemicals, and energy. It has since transformed the world in which we live.
The history is complicated.
A whole mangrove forest, lighting up all at once, plunging into darkness, then lighting up all again – in near-perfect synchrony. How do thousands of fireflies coordinate with each other? Who is the conductor of this silent symphony?
If you’re looking for gold, look in trees
Prospecting for gold by looking for it in leaves has finally proved itself commercially in Australia
The quantities are minuscule. In areas where there is no gold, leaves may have a background level of 0.15 parts per billion (ppb) of gold; on gold-rich sites that can rise to 4ppb.
Forced rhubarb – a vegetable deprived of sunlight for extra sweetness
A notoriously fickle vegetable to harvest, Yorkshire forced rhubarb is anything but easy to grow. It thrives in the county’s cold winters, but if the soil is too wet, it can’t be planted. If the temperature is too hot, it won’t grow; and 10 or more frosts are needed before a farmer can even think about forcing it. Only then can horticulturalists remove the heavy roots from the field, then clean and replant them inside the forcing sheds where photosynthesis is limited, encouraging glucose stored in the roots to stimulate growth. It demands patience, expertise and good fortune, and, ultimately, it is engineered for maximum taste: once deprived of light, the vegetable is forced to use the energy stored in its roots, making it far sweeter than the normal variety.
X-ray imaging reveals the secrets of termite mounds
Turner found that the assumptions of Pearce and others that the mounds’ complex tunnel systems serve to circulate air and remove heat to regulate interior temperatures isn’t accurate. The air mixing isn’t the result of the colony’s internal heat but air pressure from outside the mound. The termites build the mounds so tall to catch the wind, and their porous outer surface is what allows the air to move into and through the colony. Turner likens the effect to the alveoli in human lungs: the mound almost “breathes.”
The Plague Killing Frogs Everywhere Is Far Worse Than Scientists Thought
Writing in the journal Science, the researchers conclude that populations of more than 500 species of amphibians have declined significantly because of the outbreak — including at least 90 species presumed to have gone extinct. The figure is more than twice as large as earlier estimates.