Israel: In possible climate breakthrough, Israel scientists engineer bacteria to eat CO₂

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

In possible climate breakthrough, Israel scientists engineer bacteria to eat CO₂

Decade-long research at Weizmann Institute could pave way for low-emissions production of carbon for use in biofuels, food, and help remove excess global warming CO₂ from air

E. coli bacteria. (NIAID/Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY 2.0)

E. coli bacteria. (NIAID/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0)

In a remarkable breakthrough that could pave the way toward carbon-neutral fuels, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have produced a genetically engineered bacteria that can live on carbon dioxide rather than sugar.

The extraordinary leap — reported Wednesday in Cell, and quickly picked up by prestigious publications such as Nature — could lead to the low-emissions production of carbon for use in biofuels or food that would also help to remove excess CO₂ from the atmosphere, where it is helping to drive global warming.

Plants and ocean-living cyanobacteria perform photosynthesis, taking the energy from light to transform CO₂ into a form of organic carbon that can be used to build DNA, proteins and fats.

As these photosynthesizers can be difficult to moderate genetically, the Weizmann team, under Prof. Ron Milo, took E. coli bacteria — more commonly associated with food poisoning — and spent ten years weaning them off sugar and training them to “eat” carbon dioxide instead.

Through genetic engineering, they enabled the bacteria to convert CO₂ into organic carbon, substituting the energy of the sun — a vital ingredient in the photosynthesis process — with a substance called formate, which is also attracting attention as a potential generator of clean electricity.

Prof Ron Milo of the Weizmann Institute of Sciences. (Screenshot)

To get the bacteria to move from a sugar to a carbon dioxide diet, the team, which also included Roee Ben-Nissan, Yinon Bar-On and others in the institute’s Plant and Environmental Sciences Department, then almost starved the bacteria of sugar (glucose), while giving them plenty of carbon dioxide and formate, and bred several generations to test whether evolution would allow some of the bacteria to mutate and be able to survive solely on CO₂.

After a year, some of the bacteria descendants made the complete switch to CO₂, following evolutionary changes in just 11 genes.

The lab bacteria that moved over to a CO₂ diet were fed very high amounts of the gas. However, under regular atmospheric conditions, they would still need sugar, as well, to live.

“Our lab was the first to pursue the idea of changing the diet of a normal heterotroph [one that eats organic substances] to convert it to autotrophism [‘living on air’],” said Milo. “It sounded impossible at first, but it has taught us numerous lessons along the way, and in the end we showed it indeed can be done. Our findings are a significant milestone toward our goal of efficient, green scientific applications.”

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Scientists discover body’s protection shield

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF PHYSICS.ORG)

 

Scientists discover body’s protection shield

Scientists discover body’s protection shield
Image of a fly wound and inflammation. Credit: Helen Weavers

Scientists have discovered a way to manipulate the body’s own immune response to boost tissue repair. The findings, published in Current Biology today, reveal a new network of protective factors to shield cells against damage. This discovery, made by University of Bristol researchers, could significantly benefit patients undergoing surgery by speeding recovery times and lowering the risk of complication.

When a  is damaged, (either accidentally or through surgery), the body quickly recruits  to the injury site where they fight infection by engulfing and killing invading pathogens, through the release of toxic factors (such as unstable molecules containing oxygen known as “reactive oxygen species” e.g. peroxides). However, these bactericidal products are also highly toxic to the host tissue and can disrupt the repair process. To counteract these  the repairing tissue activates powerful protective machinery to “shield” itself from the damage.

Now, researchers from Bristol’s School of Biochemistry studying , have mapped the exact identities of these protective pathways and identified how to stimulate this process in naïve tissues.

Dr. Helen Weavers from Bristol’s Faculty of Life Sciences, and the study’s lead author, explains: “In healthy individuals, injured tissues normally quickly repair themselves following damage. Within a healing skin wound, a stress-response is activated that recruits , which in turn release a multitude of bacteriocidal factors, including  (ROS), to eliminate invading pathogens.

“In this study we used translucent fruit flies to watch wound repair live as it happens and follow the behavior of the recruited immune cells. In doing so, we uncovered a network of protective pathways which shield tissues from inflammatory damage and make repairing tissues more ‘resilient’ to stress. We also demonstrated that ectopic activation of these pathways further enhanced tissue protection, whilst their inhibition led to significant delays in wound closure.

“Now we know their identities and how they are activated, we hope to develop ways to stimulate this protective machinery in patients prior to elective surgery.”

The findings have clear clinical relevance to patients because therapeutic activation of these cyto-protective pathways in the clinic could also offer an exciting approach to ‘precondition’ patient tissues prior to elective surgery.

Dr. Weavers added: “We are now uncovering even more ‘resilience’ pathways that help to protect our body tissues from stress, both at sites of wounding and in other vulnerable organs that are often exposed to similar stressors. Since we find that the protection machinery is activated by the same pathways that also initiate the inflammatory response, we think the resilience machinery has evolved as a fail-safe mechanism for tissue protection each time inflammation is triggered.


Explore further

 

Adult fly intestine could help understand intestinal regeneration


More information: Helen Weavers et al. Injury Activates a Dynamic Cytoprotective Network to Confer Stress Resilience and Drive Repair, Current Biology (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.09.035

Journal information: Current Biology

The mysterious ‘Tully Monster’ fossil just got more mysterious

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF PHYSICS.ORG)

 

The mysterious ‘Tully Monster’ fossil just got more mysterious

The mysterious 'Tully Monster' fossil just got more mysterious
Artist’s impression of Tullimonstrum. Credit: PaleoEquii/WikipediaCC BY-SA

Every now and again, scientists discover fossils that are so bizarre they defy classification, their body plans unlike any other living animals or plants. Tullimonstrum (also known as the Tully Monster), a 300 m-year-old fossil discovered in the Mazon Creek fossil beds in Illinois, US, is one such creature.

At first glance, Tully looks superficially slug-like. But where you would expect its mouth to be, the creature has a long thin appendage ending in what looks like a pair of grasping claws. Then there are its eyes, which protrude outward from its body on stalks.

Tully is so strange that scientists have even been unable to agree on whether it is a vertebrate (with a backbone, like mammals, birds, reptiles and fish) or an invertebrate (without a backbone, like insects, crustaceans, octopuses and all other ). In 2016, a group of scientists claimed to have solved the mystery of Tully, providing the strongest evidence yet that it was a vertebrate. But my colleagues and I have conducted a new study that calls this conclusion into question, meaning this monster is as mysterious as ever.

The Tully Monster was originally discovered in the 1950s by a fossil collector named Francis Tully. Ever since its discovery scientists have puzzled over which group of modern animals Tully belongs to. The enigma of Tully’s true evolutionary relationships has added to its popularity, ultimately leading it to become the state fossil of Illinois.

The mysterious 'Tully Monster' fossil just got more mysterious
The Tullimonstrum fossil. Credit: Ghedoghedo/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

There have been many attempts to classify the Tully Monster. The majority of these studies have focused on the appearance of some of its more prominent features. These include a linear feature in the fossil interpreted as evidence of a gut, the light and dark banding of the fossil and the peculiar grasping claws of its mouth. The body plan of the Tully Monster is so unusual in it’s entirety that it will greatly expand the diversity of of whatever group it ultimately belongs to, changing the way we think about that group of animals.

The 2016 research argued the animal should be grouped with vertebrates because its eyes contain  called melanosomes, which are arranged by shape and size in the same way as those in vertebrate eyes. But our research shows that the eyes of some invertebrates such as octopus and squid also contain melanosomes partitioned by shape and size in a similar way to Tully’s eyes, and that these an also be preserved in fossils.

Particle accelerator research

To do this, we used a type of particle accelerator called a  light source located at Stanford University in California. This allowed us to explore the chemical makeup of samples from fossils and from animals living today. The synchrotron bombards specimens with intense bursts of radiation to “excite” the elements within them. When excited, each element releases X-rays with a specific signature. By detecting the emitted X-ray signatures, we can tell what elements were excited and ultimately what the specimen we’re interested in is made of.

The mysterious 'Tully Monster' fossil just got more mysterious
Another possible look for the Tully Monster. Credit: Nobu Tamura/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

First we found that melanosomes from the eyes of modern vertebrates have a higher ratio of zinc to copper than the modern invertebrates we studied. To our surprise, we then found the same pattern could be seen in fossilized vertebrates and invertebrates found at Mazon Creek.

We then analysed the chemistry of Tully’s eyes and the ratio of zinc to copper was more similar to that of invertebrates than vertebrates. This suggests the animal may not have been a vertebrate, contradicting previous efforts to classify it.

We also found that Tully’s eyes contain different type of copper to that found in vertebrate eyes. But the copper also wasn’t identical to that in the invertebrates we studied. So while our work adds weight to the idea that Tully is not a vertebrate, it doesn’t clearly identify it as an invertebrate either.

Where do we go from here? A broader analysis of the chemistry of melanosomes and other pigments in the eyes of a wider range of invertebrates would be a good next step. This may help to further narrow down the group of animals to which Tully belongs.

Ultimately the riddle of what kind of creature the Tully Monster is continues. But our research demonstrates how studying fossils at the chemical and molecular levels can play an important part in figuring out the identity of this and other enigmatic creature.

NASA Scientist: Dinosaurs roamed the Earth on the other side of the Milky Way galaxy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BUSINESS INSIDER)

 

A NASA scientist’s incredible animation shows how dinosaurs roamed the Earth on the other side of the Milky Way galaxy

dinosaur park snow serbia dinosaurs
A dinosaur park sees freezing weather and snowfall in Belgrade, Serbia, February 26, 2018. 
REUTERS/Djordje Kojadinovic

When dinosaurs ruled the Earth, the planet was on a completely different side of the galaxy.

A new animation by NASA scientist Jessie Christiansen shows just how long the dinosaurs’ reign lasted, and how short the era of humans has been in comparison, by tracing our solar system’s movement through the Milky Way.

Our sun orbits the galaxy’s center, completing its rotation every 250 million years or so. So Christiansen’s animation shows that last time our solar system was at its current point in the galaxy, the Triassic Period was in full swing and dinosaurs were just beginning to emerge. Many of the most iconic dinosaurs roamed Earth when the planet was in a very different part of the Milky Way.

Christiansen got the idea to illustrate this history when she was leading a stargazing party at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. Attendees were astonished when she mentioned that our solar system had been across the galaxy when dinosaurs roamed.

“That was the first time I realized that those time scales — archaeological, fossil record time scales and astronomical time scales — actually kind of match along together,” Christiansen told Business Insider. “Then I had this idea that I could map out dinosaur evolution through the galaxy’s rotation.”

The resulting video puts both timelines in perspective:

Dr. Jessie Christiansen

@aussiastronomer

I have always been interested in galactic archaeology, but I don’t think this is what they meant.

Did you know that dinosaurs lived on the other side of the Galaxy?

Embedded video

1,158 people are talking about this

 

Christiansen said it took her about four hours to make the film using timed animations in PowerPoint. She also noted a couple minor corrections to the text in her video: plesiosaurs are not dinosaurs, and we complete a galactic orbit every 250 million years (not 200 million years).

‘A spiral through space’

Galactic movement is more complicated than the video shows, though. The other stars and planetary systems in the galaxy are also moving, at different speeds and in different orbits. The inner portions spin faster than the outer regions.

What’s more, the galaxy itself is moving through space, slowly approaching the nearby Andromeda galaxy.

“The animation kind of makes it seem like we’ve come back to the same spot, but in reality the whole galaxy has moved a very long way,” Christiansen said. “It’s more like we’re doing a spiral through space. As the whole galaxy’s moving and we’re rotating around the center, it kind of creates this spiral.”

milky way galaxy center spitzer infrared
The center of our Milky Way galaxy, imaged by the Spitzer Space Telescope’s infrared cameras, October 9, 2019. 
NASA, JPL-Caltech, Susan Stolovy (SSC/Caltech) et al.

So in the solar system’s rotation around the galactic center, we’re not returning to a fixed point. The neighborhood is different from the last time we were here.

Earth, however, is not drastically different; it still supports complex life. That’s partially thanks to the path of our sun’s galactic orbit.

“Our solar system doesn’t travel to the center of the galaxy and then back again. We always stay about this distance away,” Christiansen said.

In other words, even as our solar system travels through the Milky Way, it doesn’t approach the inhospitable center, where life probably wouldn’t survive.

“There’s a lot of stars, it’s dynamically unstable, there’s a lot of radiation,” Christiansen said. “Our solar system certainly doesn’t pass through that.”

That’s a huge part of why dinosaurs, mammals, or any other form of life can exist on Earth.

SEE ALSO: A huge explosion sliced through our galaxy just 3.5 million years ago, as human ancestors walked the Earth. Scientists think it was nuclear activity in the black hole at the Milky Way’s center.

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More: Space dinosaurs Milky Way Galaxy

German Scientists Engineer Low-Nicotine Tobacco

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

German Scientists Engineer Low-Nicotine Tobacco

Friday, 20 September, 2019 – 10:30
A tobacco flower waves in a dew-covered field outside Rolesville, N.C., on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Allen G.Breed)
London- Asharq Al-Awsat
German researchers have engineered new low-nicotine tobacco. For this purpose, scientists at the Technical University of Dortmund applied the gene-editing technique on the Virginia tobacco plant and managed to reduce nicotine in it from 400 percent to one percent.

“While each gram of regular tobacco contains 16 milligrams of nicotine, the newly edited version contains only 0.04 percent,” said the study’s lead author Felix Stehle.

“No one in the world has ever managed to reduce nicotine to this level,” he added.

The researchers published their study in the Plant Biotechnology journal.

The tobacco plant is not used to make cigarettes only, but also as a living sample in main research fields.

The researchers explained they used gene cutting to alter the genetic characteristics of this plant. They omitted six genes that play a major role in nicotine production. Although the plant regrouped these genes, it did so in a wrong way, which stopped the production of nicotine. The researchers assured that this process can be used with almost all types of tobacco.

Nicotine is the substance that leads to smoking addiction, in addition to the 4800 substances found in cigarettes, of which 70 substances cause cancer, or suspected to develop cancer.

Antarctica breakthrough: Scientists discover NEW species ‘like nothing seen before’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE UK EXPRESS NEWS)

 

Antarctica breakthrough: Scientists discover NEW species ‘like nothing seen before’

ANTARCTICA scientists discovered a new species of fish after heading deep below the frozen continent, a documentary revealed.

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Antarctica is of great interest to scientists as it is a totally unspoiled landscape where they can study the history of the Earth and the effects of climate change. Thousands of scientists reside there, drilling below the ice to get a better idea of the icy continent’s past. However, one group took things a step further.

Expedition Antarctica embarked on a journey through the surrounding waters of Antarctica to uncover some of the most bizarre marine life known to man.

They documented their journey, which saw them pull out a number of strange fish from the depths of the ocean.

Andrew Stewart, a leading scientist in the excavation was left stunned by some of the species.

He said last month: “This is why I came to Antarctica, to see things like this.

Antarctica scientists found a new species

Antarctica scientists found a new species (Image: YOUTUBE)

The expedition headed around the continent

The expedition headed around the continent (Image: YOUTUBE)

This is why I came to Antarctica

Andrew Stewart

“We now have whole families of fish found nowhere else in the world, except the Southern Ocean and these are fascinating animals.

“These are the ice fish, temperatures above five degrees are too hot for them.”

However, the narrator of the show went on to reveal how one discovery stood out from the rest.

He said: “The sea holds a dizzying variety of fish to baffle and thrill marine biologists.

“Nature even saw fit to make about 115 species of snailfish.

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The team then pulled fish up from the depths of the ocean

The team then pulled fish up from the depths of the ocean (Image: YOUTUBE)

“Then, along comes the type of discovery that blows biologists out of the water.

“Most scientists hope to find something truly new, but only a few actually accomplish it.

“Andrew has discovered another new species, making him the first human to lay eyes on this creature, that has evolved over millions of years.”

Dr Stewart held the creature up to the camera.

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A number of strange creatures emerged

A number of strange creatures emerged (Image: YOUTUBE)

There was one fish more bizarre than the rest

There was one fish more bizarre than the rest (Image: YOUTUBE)

The team plan to scour the rest of the ocean

The team plan to scour the rest of the ocean (Image: YOUTUBE)

Antarctica: Scientists discover when continent froze over

Play Video

He then exclaimed: “I have to look at such features as the shape of the teeth, the jaws, the shape of the gill rakers, as well as counts of the vertebrae [to determine what it is].

“Now I have no idea what species this is.

“The colour pattern on the fins is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

Scientists also discovered a four-million-year-old piece of wood that has helped researchers to map out Antarctica’s past.

Territorial claims in Antarctica

Territorial claims in Antarctica (Image: DX)

Great White Sharks Have A Secret ‘Cafe,’ And They Led Scientists Right To It

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR)

 

Great White Sharks Have A Secret ‘Cafe,’ And They Led Scientists Right To It

Scientists tagged over 30 great white sharks last fall — more than they had ever done in a single season.

Courtesy Stanford University — Block Lab Hopkins Marine Station

Great white sharks have a “hidden life” that is becoming a lot less hidden thanks to a scientific expedition that has been years in the making.

Scientists used to think the apex predators moved up and down the western coast of North America, snacking in waters with lots of food close to shore. Almost 20 years ago, Stanford marine biologist Barbara Block started putting tags on the sharks that could track their movements.

She and other researchers noticed something surprising — the tags showed that the sharks were moving away from these food-rich waters and heading more than a thousand miles off the coast of Baja California in Mexico.

Satellite images suggested the area was an ocean desert, a place with very little life.

The mystery of what was drawing the sharks to this strange place set new research into motion.

“We wanted to know if there was a hidden oasis that was formed by the currents that we couldn’t see from space,” Block said.

To find out, the scientists tagged over 30 great white sharks last fall — more than they had ever done in a single season. They’ve already gotten to know some of these animals from years of research. They’ve even given them names, such as Eugene, Tilden and Leona.

Then this spring, the research team set off on a state-of-the-art ship called the research vessel Falkor toward the mysterious area, hoping to find the sharks they tagged.

“There’s a lot of expectation when you put technology on an animal and then you take an expensive ship like the Falkor with 40 people to a box in the middle of the ocean and expect that these white sharks are going to be there,” Block said, speaking from the ship.

Sure enough, the animals were indeed swimming to this remote place, which the researchers have nicknamed the “White Shark Cafe.”

“Just as we predicted, the sharks showed up right in the cruise box,” Block added.

Schmidt Ocean Institute YouTube

The tags were programmed to pop off and float to the surface right when the Falkor was there. Each tag that reached the surface gave off a signal — and kicked off what Block called an “open-ocean treasure hunt,” as the team tried to find something the size of a small microphone in an area about the size of Colorado. These sophisticated tags record temperature, pressure, light and time.

“We doubled our current 20-year data set in three weeks,” Block said. The tags have 2,500 days of data at one- to three-second intervals, allowing researchers to see how the white sharks move up and down through the water with unprecedented detail.

In early March, two months before Falkor departed for the same mission, two saildrones were deployed from San Francisco. They have been transmitting data in real time, listening for the acoustic tags that researchers attached to great white sharks and using sonar to detect other creatures deep under the surface.

SOI/Monika Naranjo Gonzalez

The scientists will need time to parse all of this information, including new mysteries such as why male and female sharks move differently through the water. The males move up and down rapidly — sometimes 120 times a day. Females will go up to the shallow water at night, then down much deeper in the day.

“The male white shark and the female white shark are doing completely different things, and that’s not something we’ve seen so much before,” Block said. “We have to spend some time studying these behaviors to try to understand if this is courtship behavior or is this really a feeding or foraging behavior.”

And after the tags popped up, the scientists used a range of techniques to learn about the water nearby. They had a couple of saildrones, which are surface vehicles that can locate plankton and fish. They also gathered DNA from the water to figure out what is moving down there and observed creatures using a remotely operated underwater vehicle and by pulling them up in nets.

“We expected it to be the desert that the textbooks sort of advertised it would be,” said Bruce Robison, a senior scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

But this was no desert.

A layer of nutrient-rich plant life exists deeper under the ocean than satellites could detect. Tiny creatures feed on it, and larger creatures feed on them. And up and up. It represents “a complete food chain, a ladder of consumption, that made us believe that there was an adequate food supply out here for big animals like tunas and the sharks,” Robison said.

The scientists found that the “White Shark Cafe,” originally thought to be an ocean desert, actually is home to a diverse food chain.

Schmidt Ocean Institute

Robison was surprised by how diverse the area was, with animals such as fish, squids, crustaceans and jellyfish. They saw totally different patterns of life in sites just a few miles away from one another, an indication of the area’s complexity.

The fact that scientists didn’t even know this area existed until sharks led them there speaks to how much we still don’t know about the ocean. In fact, according to NOAA’s National Ocean Service, humans have explored just 5 percent of it.

“People don’t really get is why it’s like that — it’s because it’s really hard to do,” Block said. She added that there could be more ocean hot spots out there that scientists are not yet aware of.

And Robison said all the information they gathered could help build a case for why the White Shark Cafe should be officially protected by the U.N. cultural agency. UNESCO is considering recognizing and protecting it by making it a World Heritage Site.

New Earth Found?

New Earth Found?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF SPACE.COM)

Habitable planet found outside solar system

SCIENTISTS on Wednesday announced the discovery of an Earth-sized planet orbiting the star nearest our Sun, opening up the glittering prospect of a habitable world that may one day be explored by robots.

Named Proxima b, the planet is in a “temperate” zone compatible with the presence of liquid water — a key ingredient for life.

The findings, based on data collected over 16 years, were reported in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

“We have finally succeeded in showing that a small-mass planet, most likely rocky, is orbiting the star closest to our solar system,” said co-author Julien Morin, an astrophysicist at the University of Montpellier in southern France.

“Proxima b would probably be the first exoplanet visited by a probe made by humans,” he said.

An exoplanet is any planet outside our Solar System.

Lead author Guillem Anglada-Escude, an astronomer at Queen Mary University London, described the find as the “experience of a lifetime.”

Working with European Southern Observatory telescopes in the north Chilean desert, his team used the so-called Doppler method to detect Proxima b and describe its properties.

The professional star-gazers spent 60 consecutive days earlier this year looking for signs of gravitational pull on its host star, Proxima Centauri.

Regular shifts in the star’s light spectrum — repeating every 11.2 days — gave a tantalising clue.

They revealed that the star alternately moved towards and away from our Solar System at the pace of a leisurely stroll, about five kilometers per hour.

Goldilocks zone

After cross-checking an inconclusive 2000-2014 dataset and eliminating other possible causes, the researchers determined that the tug of an orbiting planet was responsible for this tiny to-and-fro.

“Statistically, there is no doubt,” Anglada-Escude told journalists in a briefing.

“We have found a planet around Proxima Centauri.”

Proxima b is a mere four light years from the Solar System, meaning that it is essentially in our back yard on the scale of our galaxy, the Milky Way.

It has a mass around 1.3 times that of Earth, and orbits about seven million kilometers from its star.

A planet so near to our Sun — 21 times closer than Earth — would be an unlivable white-hot ball of fire.

But Proxima Centauri is a so-called red dwarf, meaning a star that burns at a lower temperature.

As a result, the newly discovered planet is in a “Goldilocks” sweet spot: neither so hot that water evaporates, nor so cold that it freezes solid.

But liquid water is not the only essential ingredient for the emergence of life.

An atmosphere is also required, and on that score the researchers are still in the dark. It all depends, they say, on how Proxima b evolved as a planet.

“You can come up with formation scenarios that end up with and Earth-like atmosphere, a Venus-like atmosphere” — 96 percent carbon dioxide — “or no atmosphere at all,” said co-author Ansgar Reiners, an expert on “cold” stars at the University of Goettingen’s Institute of Astrophysics in Germany.

Computer models suggest the planet’s temperature, with an atmosphere, could be “in the range of minus 30 Celsius on the dark side, and 30C on the light side,” Reiners said.

Like the Moon in relation to Earth, Proxima b is “tidally locked,” with one face always exposed to its star and the other perpetually in shadow.

Emerging life forms would also have to cope with ultraviolet and X-rays bombarding Proxima b 100 times more intensely than on Earth.

Search for life

An atmosphere would help deflect these rays, as would a strong magnetic field.

But even high doses of radiation do not preclude life, especially if we think outside the box, scientists say.

“We have to be very open-minded as to what we call ‘life’,” Jean Schneider, an expert on exoplanets at the Observatoire de Paris, said.

Last year, NASA unveiled Kepler 452b, a planet about 60 percent larger than Earth that could have active volcanoes, oceans, sunshine like ours, and a year lasting 385 days.

But at a distance of 1,400 light-years, humankind would have little hope of reaching this Earth-twin any time soon.

By comparison, Proxima b is a stone’s throw away, though still too far away for humans to visit with present-generation chemical rockets.

“This is a dream for astronomers if we think about follow up observations,” said Reiners.

Scientists are unlocking the secrets of the Earth’s mysterious hum

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Scientists are slowly unlocking the secrets of the Earth’s mysterious hum

 December 8 at 5:57 PM

(NASA via AFP/Getty Images)

“In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

— Cormac McCarthy, “The Road”

The world hums. It shivers endlessly.

It’s a low, ceaseless droning of unclear origin that rolls imperceptibly beneath our feet, impossible to hear with human ears. A researcher once described it to HuffPost as the sound of static on an old TV, slowed down 10,000 times.

It’s comforting to think of Earth as solid and immovable, but that’s false. The world is vibrating, stretching and compressing. We’re shaking right along with it.

“The earth is ringing like a bell all the time,” said Spahr Webb, a seismologist at Columbia University.

The hum is everywhere. Its ultralow frequencies have been recorded in Antarctica and Algeria, and — as announced this week by the American Geophysical Union — on the floor of the Indian Ocean. We still don’t know what causes it. Some have theorized that it’s the echo of colliding ocean waves, or the movements of the atmosphere, or vibrations born of sea and sky alike.

But if we could hear this music more clearly, scientists around the world say, it could reveal deep secrets about the earth beneath us, or even teach us to map out alien planets.

And the hum is getting clearer all the time.

It rings at different frequencies and amplitudes, for different reasons. Earthquakes are like huge gong bangs. When an enormous quake hit Japan in 2011, Webb said, the globe kept ringing for a month afterward. People sitting on the other side of the world bounced up and down about a centimeter, though so slowly they didn’t feel a thing.

In 1998, a team of researchers analyzed data from a gravimeter in east Antarctica and realized that some of these vibrations never actually stop.

“They discovered features in the data that suggested . . . continuous signals,” a University of California at Santa Barbara researcher recounted in 2001. These seismic waves ranged from 2 to 7 millihertz — thousands of times lower than the human hearing range — and continued endlessly, regardless of earthquakes.

The phenomenon became popularly known as the “hum of the Earth.”

Webb was one of many researchers who searched for the hum’s cause in the 21st century. Some thought interactions between the atmosphere and solid ground caused the shaking, though he discounts the idea.

Rather, Webb said, most recent research suggests the primary cause is ocean waves — “banging on the sea floor pretty much all the way around the Earth.”

Sometimes waves sloshing in opposite directions intersect, sending vibrations deep down into Earth’s crust. Sometimes a wave on a shallow coast somewhere ripples over the rough sea floor and adds its own frequencies to the hum.

“I think our result is an important step in the transformation of mysterious noise into an understood signal,” an oceanographer with the French Research Institute for Exploitation of the Sea told Live Science after publishing a 2015 paper detailing the ocean wave theories.

Whatever the origin, the result is a harmony of ultralow frequencies that resonate almost identically all over the globe — and that’s potentially invaluable to those who want to know what goes on beneath its surface, where the core spins and tectonic plates shift.

Scientists already measure how fast earthquake waves travel through different regions of the underground to make detailed subterranean maps.

But earthquakes come randomly and briefly, like flashes of lightning on a dark night. A constant, uniform vibration could act like a floodlight into the underworld.

Some researchers believe the hum extends all the way down to the Earth’s core, and some have even fantasized about using hums on other planets to map out alien geography.

And yet we’re still only beginning to understand our planet’s hum. And scientists have been limited for years because they only knew how to measure it from land, while nearly three-quarters of the globe is underwater.

That’s where a team led by French researchers comes in, as described in a paper published last month in the American Geophysical Union’s journal.

The scientists collected data from seismometer stations that had been placed in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar several years ago. These stations were meant to study volcanic hot spots — nothing to do with the hum — but the team worked out a method to clean the data of ocean currents, waves, glitches and other noise.

They “were able to reduce the noise level to approximately the same level as a quiet land station,” the Geophysical Union said in an accompanying article.

And when they were done, they were left with the first-ever underwater recording of the hum.

It peaked between 2.9 and 4.5 millihertz, they said — a tighter range than the first hum researchers in the 1990s had recorded. It was also similar to measurements taken from a land-based station in Algeria.

So — more evidence that the hum goes all the way around the world; and more hope that we may one day reveal all that goes on beneath it.

Heavy Screen Time Rewires Young Brains, For Better And Worse

(THIS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

Heavy Screen Time Rewires Young Brains, For Better And Worse

Young human brains need loads of stimulation to learn and grow, pediatricians have long known. But a mouse study shows overstimulation also rewires the brain in ways that can interfere with learning.

Ippei Naoi/Getty Images

There’s new evidence that excessive screen time early in life can change the circuits in a growing brain.

Scientists disagree, though, about whether those changes are helpful, or just cause problems. Both views emerged during the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego this week.

The debate centered on a study of young mice exposed to six hours daily of a sound and light show reminiscent of a video game. The mice showed “dramatic changes everywhere in the brain,” said Jan-Marino Ramirez, director of the Center for Integrative Brain Research at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

“Many of those changes suggest that you have a brain that is wired up at a much more baseline excited level,” Ramirez reported. “You need much more sensory stimulation to get [the brain’s] attention.”

So is that a problem?

On the plus side, it meant that these mice were able to stay calm in an environment that would have stressed out a typical mouse, Ramirez explained. But it also meant they acted like they had an attention deficit disorder, showed signs of learning problems, and were prone to risky behavior.

Overall, the results add to the evidence that parents should be very cautious about screen time for young children, Ramirez said. “I would minimize it.”

A more optimistic interpretation came from Leah Krubitzer, an evolutionary neurobiologists at the University of California, Davis. “The benefits may outweigh the negative sides to this,” Krubitzer said, adding that a less sensitive brain might thrive in a world where overstimulation is a common problem.

The debate came just weeks after the American Academy of Pediatrics relaxed its longstanding rule against any screen time for kids under two. And it reflected an evolution in our understanding of how sensory stimulation affects developing brains.

Researchers learned many decades ago that young brains need a lot of stimulation to develop normally. So, for a long time parents were encouraged to give kids as many sensory experiences as possible.

“The idea was, basically, the more you are exposed to sensory stimulation, the better you are cognitively,” Ramirez said.

Then studies began to suggest that children who spent too much time watching TV or playing video games were more likely to develop ADHD. So scientists began studying rats and mice to see whether intense audio-visual stimulation early in life really can change brain circuits.

Studies like the one Ramirez presented confirm that it can. The next question is what that means for children and screen time.

“The big question is, was our brain set up to be exposed to such a fast pace,” Ramirez said. “If you think about nature, you would run on the savanna and you would maybe once in your lifetime meet a lion.”

In a video game, he said, you can meet the equivalent of a lion every few seconds. And human brains probably haven’t evolved to handle that sort of stimulation, he said.

Krubitzer, and many other scientists, said they aren’t so sure. It’s true this sort of stimulation may desensitize a child’s brain in some ways, they said. But it also may prepare the brain for an increasingly fast-paced world.

“Less than 300 years ago we had an industrial revolution and today we’re using mobile phones and we interact on a regular basis with machines,” Krubitzer said. “So the brain must have changed.”

Krubitzer rejected the idea that the best solution is to somehow turn back the clock.

“There’s a tendency to think of the good old days, when you were a kid, and [say], ‘I didn’t do that and I didn’t have TV and look how great I turned out,’ ” Krubitzer said.

Gina Turrigiano, a brain researcher at Brandeis University, thinks lots of screen time may be fine for some young brains, but a problem for others.

“Parents have to be really aware of the fact that each kid is going to respond very, very differently to the same kinds of environments,” she said.

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