In a study published in Nature Chemical Biology, MIT researchers wired Escherichia coli with a synthetic network of 18 genes that allows them to sense and respond to red, green, and blue. Once excited by the colors, the genetic circuitry activates and inspires the bacteria to produce corresponding pigments or fluorescent proteins. Mats of microbes then turn their petri dishes into canvases, creating vivid replicas of patterns and artwork.
Right now, the bright bacteria simply demonstrate how far synthetic biologists have come in genetic tinkering. But, in the future, the researchers, led by MIT’s Christopher Voigt, hope that the RGB microbes could find a variety of applications. “Colored light offers many channels to pattern cells to build tissues or materials, control cells at a distance, or serve as a means of communication between electronic and biological systems,” Voigt and his colleagues write.
This month, teams from Japan and China have successfully extracted methane hydrate, a hydrocarbon gas trapped in a structure of water molecules, off the seafloor. The substance looks like ice but can be set on fire, and it’s energy-dense—one cubic meter of methane hydrate can contain 160 cubic meters of gas.
This makes searching for methane hydrate an attractive research project for several countries. According to the Department of Energy, methane hydrates are abundant on the seafloor and under permafrost, and they contain “perhaps more organic carbon that all the world’s oil, gas, and coal combined.”
Such vast reserves of fossil fuels are untapped because of how difficult it is to extract them. As a 2012 post from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) stated, until recently, methane hydrates “provided more problems than solutions.” Preventing their formation around deepwater oil and gas drilling operations has been a crucial part of planning ocean wells. The “ice” substance that contains the gas generally can’t just be picked up off the seafloor because it disintegrates outside of its high-pressure environment. The South China Morning Post wrote that current extraction efforts involve machinery “to depressurize or melt [the methane hydrate] on the sea bed and channel the gas to the surface.”
From the slimy backs of a South Indian frog comes a new way to blast influenza viruses.
A compound in the frog’s mucus—long known to have germ-killing properties—can latch onto flu virus particles and cause them to burst apart, researchers report in Immunity. The peptide is a potent and precise killer, able to demolish a whole class of flu viruses while leaving other viruses and cells unharmed. But scientists don’t know exactly how it pulls off the viral eviscerations. No other antiviral peptide of its ilk seems to work the same way.
The study authors, led by researchers at Emory University, note that the peptide appears uniquely nontoxic—something that can’t be said of many other frog-based compounds. Thus, the peptide on its own holds promise of being a potential therapy someday. But simply figuring out how it works could move researchers closer to a vaccine or therapy that could take out all flus, ditching the need for yearly vaccinations for each season’s flavor of flu.
One of the earliest indications of the existence of dark matter came from an examination of the rotation of nearby galaxies. The study showed that stars orbit the galaxy at speeds that indicate there's more mass there than the visible matter would indicate. Now, researchers have taken this analysis back in time, to a period when the Universe was only a couple billion years old, and the ancestors of today's large galaxies were forming stars at a rapid clip.
Oddly, the researchers find no need for dark matter to explain the rotation of these early galaxies. While there are a number of plausible explanations for dark matter's absence at this early stage of galaxy formation, it does suggest our models of the early Universe could use some refining.
The measurements at issue here are what are called the "galaxy rotation curves." These curves track the speed at which stars rotate as a function of their distance from the center of the galaxy. If regular matter were all that was present, it would be easy to predict what we'd see. Close to the galaxy's center, stars would only feel a portion of the total galactic mass, so they would orbit at a relatively sedate speed. Any faster, and their orbits would shift outward.
According to the White House Office of the Press Secretary, a recent Executive Order on Border Security and Immigration Enforcement was intended to address the issue of “significant increase in violent crime” due to immigration driven by “transnational criminal organizations.” These claims directly contradict the results of academic work on immigration and crime, and a recent study published in the Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice reinforces that. It shows that immigration is not linked to increases in crime—in fact, this study suggests it's linked to reductions in certain types of crimes.
This study builds on previous findings on arrests and criminal offenses. That previous data showed that foreign-born residents of the US were less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. The new study looked at 200 major metropolitan areas as defined by the US Census Bureau. The researchers then used Census data and FBI crime reporting data from 1970-2010 to look at trends for these regions.
The authors were interested in increases in crimes that might be attributable to an influx of immigrants who decreased economic opportunities or ended up in jobs that might otherwise have gone to local-born residents. To that end, they looked at violent crimes and property crimes, including rates of murder, non-negligent manslaughter, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, and larceny.
Scientists don't know much about the mysterious, powerful electric discharges that sometimes occur in the upper levels of the atmosphere in conjunction with thunderstorms. The first photograph of the phenomenon—which can occur as high as about 90km above the surface of the Earth and are known variously as sprites, pixies, elves, or jets—was only taken from Earth in 1989.
Fortunately for scientists interested in these storms, the International Space Station offers an excellent vantage point at an altitude of about 400km. So Danish researchers devised a "Thor experiment"—named after the hammer-wielding Norse god—to study the phenomenon. As part of the experiment, an astronaut on board the station would image thunderstorms under certain conditions, and these observations would be correlated with data collected by satellites and ground-based radar and lightning detection systems.
Part of why we struggle to understand school shootings is because there isn’t enough data available about these extremely rare events. A recent study published in Nature Human Behavior describes a carefully curated dataset for US school shootings between 1990-2013, created from existing data and original data sources.
In their analysis, the authors of this paper found that the rate of school shootings increased from 2007-2013. They also found data that suggested increased shooting rates were correlated with increases in unemployment rates. This finding indicates that high levels of economic distress may lead to increases in school-related gun violence.
Previous research on school shootings has resulted in contradictory claims because there hasn’t been a single, coherent dataset. Instead, multiple datasets with different inclusion criteria have made the resulting findings difficult or impossible to compare since they analyze fundamentally different information. To solve this problem, the authors made a new collection of school shooting data, which resulted in the inclusion of almost 400 events. Their criteria for inclusion in this dataset are:
You may not notice it, but our Milky Way galaxy is cruising along at 630 kilometers (~391 miles) per second. That speed is often attributed to the influence of a single gravitational source. But in a new study, a group of researchers has found that the motions of the Local Group—the cluster of galaxies that includes the Milky Way—are being driven by two primary sources: the previously known and incredibly massive Shapley Supercluster and a newly discovered repeller, which the researchers dub the Dipole Repeller.
Shapley’s contribution was already known, but the Dipole Repeller’s hadn't been recognized prior to this study.
The researchers plotted the motions of many galaxies in the nearby Universe in a 3D model, using data from the Cosmicflows-2 database. Since the Universe is expanding, most galaxies are moving away from ours, creating a red-shift in the light they emit. But since the researchers were more interested in the other influences on a galaxy’s motion, they simply subtracted the expansion’s contribution. The resulting plot shows what the motions of galaxies would look like if space wasn’t expanding.
Everyone, at some point in their lives, wonders why they are here. Existential questions don't stop at the personal level, though. Why is there a Universe, and why is it filled with matter? The last question is a puzzle that has gainfully occupied the minds of and employed physicists for many years. The time spent pondering such questions has not been wasted, as it turns out, as researchers from the LHCb detector report that one of the theoretical paths that allows matter to outnumber antimatter is open for business.
An overly simple reading of the Standard Model of physics predicts that matter will be produced at the same rate as antimatter. The antimatter and matter should, through simple statistics, collide and wipe each other out, leaving only energy. But that didn't happen. The substance we label matter was, somehow, produced in greater abundance than antimatter. In the beginnings of the Universe, antimatter was eliminated, leaving only matter.
A closer look at the Standard Model reveals that some imbalance is expected. But it also predicts a Universe with much less matter than we observe. And, experimentally, we've only observed the relevant matter/antimatter asymmetry for a particular class of particles, called mesons. That notably leaves out the particles that make up the Universe, called baryons. Luckily, baryon asymmetry is exactly what one of the LHC detectors, called LHCb, is designed to investigate.
This weekend Japan tried to launch a 3kg cubesat into orbit aboard its multi-stage, SS-520 rocket. Were it to have succeeded, the SS-520 would have become the smallest rocket to ever deliver a payload into orbit. Alas, the rocket did not make it.
According to the Japanese Exploration Agency, or JAXA, the sounding rocket launched on Sunday morning from the Uchinoura Space Center on the country's southernmost main island, Kyushu. Although the first stage fired normally, a preplanned check between first-stage separation and the second ignition did not show consistent telemetry data. This prevented the firing of the second stage, and the rocket fell into the Pacific Ocean, southeast of the spaceport.
High in the trees on the Fiji islands, ants in the species Philidris nagasau are doing something extraordinary. They've brought in seeds from several species of a large, lumpy fruit from a plant known as Squamellaria and carefully planted them in the nooks and crannies of the tree bark. Once the plant takes root in the tree and begins to grow, the ants climb inside its young stalks and fertilize it. But then the real action starts. As the fruit swells, the ants move inside, carving tunnels and rooms into the fleshy interior. When the colony expands, it may include dozens of these fruits, which look like strange tumors sprouting from tree branches.
Though researchers have known for a while that ant colonies can live inside fruits, a new study in Nature Plants reveals that this housing arrangement is far more complex and ancient than we knew. University of Munich biologists Guillaume Chomicki and Susanne S. Renner went to Fiji to observe the ants and found that they inhabited six different species of Squamellaria. Each of these species evolved to grow in tree bark using a specialized root system called a foot. When the plants are still young, the ants enter a small cavity in the stalk called a domatium to fertilize it. Though the researchers never directly observed how the ants did the fertilizing, they speculate that basically the ants are pooping in there.
Even before the international Paris Agreement was completed last December, we had some encouraging news about greenhouse gas emissions. Despite an increase in global GDP, emissions were basically unchanged from 2014 to 2015. Previously, only recessions interrupted the relentless year-over-year rise of emissions. Now, an early projection for 2016 looks just about as good.
Keeping the books on global emissions and the rising concentration of atmospheric CO2 is an incredibly complex undertaking—it’s not as easy as checking your electric utility statement. The overall carbon budget for our atmosphere involves all the carbon exchanged with land ecosystems and the oceans, and there are lots of human emissions beyond energy. In the end, you can figure out how much human activities released and how much ended up in the atmosphere.
In a new paper, a huge team of researchers led by the University of East Anglia’s Corinne Le Quéré has published the latest update to the state of Earth’s carbon budget. This effort involves many sources of information, including tracking fossil fuel use for power, industry, and in homes, as well as items like the production of cement (which releases CO2 directly) and global trade. On top of that, there are data and models used to monitor the world’s ecosystems.
For most species we see, evolution is a slow process, requiring generations to show its effects. But the species we can't see—bacteria and other microbes—can go through dozens of generations in a single day. For them, evolution can be a rapid process, as antibiotic resistance has made us painfully aware.
That's why researchers often use bacteria to study evolutionary processes. In perhaps the most famous experiment, a single lab has now sent E. coli through tens of thousands of generations of competing with each other for limited resources and has tracked the resulting changes on the DNA level.
But evolution isn't always a constant competition of all against all, as takes place in these experiments. Instead, you get migrations and exploitation of new habitats, allowing rare founders to spawn entire populations. Now, a research team has figured out a nice way to study founder dynamics in a bacterial culture and has consequently allowed the branching of evolutionary lineages to be watched like a movie.
For the past several years, a group of researchers has been observing a seemingly impossible wood ant colony living in an abandoned nuclear weapons bunker in Templewo, Poland, near the German border. Completely isolated from the outside world, these members of the species Formica polyctena have created an ant society unlike anything we've seen before.
The Soviets built the bunker during the Cold War to store nuclear weapons, sinking it below ground and planting trees on top as camouflage. Eventually a massive colony of wood ants took up residence in the soil over the bunker. There was just one problem: the ants built their nest directly over a vertical ventilation pipe. When the metal covering on the pipe finally rusted away, it left a dangerous, open hole. Every year when the nest expands, thousands of worker ants fall down the pipe and cannot climb back out. The survivors have nevertheless carried on for years underground, building a nest from soil and maintaining it in typical wood ant fashion. Except, of course, that this situation is far from normal.
Polish Academy of Sciences zoologist Wojciech Czechowski and his colleagues discovered the nest after a group of other zoologists found that bats were living in the bunker. Though it was technically not legal to go inside, the bat researchers figured out a way to squeeze into the small, confined space and observe the animals inside. Czechowski's team followed suit when they heard that the place was swarming with ants. What they found, over two seasons of observation, was a group of almost a million worker ants whose lives are so strange that they hesitate to call them a "colony" in the observations they just published in The Journal of Hymenoptera. Because conditions in the bunker are so harsh, constantly cold, and mostly barren, the ants seem to live in a state of near-starvation. They produce no queens, no males, and no offspring. The massive group tending the nest is entirely composed of non-reproductive female workers, supplemented every year by a new rain of unfortunate ants falling down the ventilation shaft.
Facebook's Connectivity Lab announced today that the company has for the first time test-flown a full-scale version of Aquila, the solar-powered high-altitude drone that Facebook hopes to use to deliver Internet connectivity to the remotest populated corners of the Earth. The test flight took place June 28 but was only announced today by Facebook.
The low-altitude test flight was originally intended only as a 30-minute “functional check” flight. "It was so successful that we ended up flying Aquila for more than 90 minutes—three times longer than originally planned," wrote Jay Parikh, Facebook's vice president of infrastructure engineering, in a post to Facebook's Newsroom blog published today.
The initial test goals were simply to ensure that the huge Aquila drone—with a wingspan comparable to a Boeing 737 and mass more like an automobile—could even get airborne. To minimize its weight, Aquila doesn't have "traditional landing gear," according to Martin Gomez and Andy Cox of the Aquila team. "We attached the airplane to a dolly structure using four straps, then accelerated the dolly to takeoff speed. Once the autopilot sensed that the plane had reached the right speed, the straps were cut simultaneously by pyrotechnic cable cutters known as 'squibs.'"