Eat Your Tardigrades or You Don’t Get Dessert!
You know this little guy, right? It’s the mighty tardigrade, as featured in the new Cosmos. Tardigrades, also known as water bears, also known as FREAKIN’ MOSS PIGLETS, are microscopic eight-legged animals that can withstand temperatures from near absolute zero to boiling water, absorb extreme doses of radiation, go without food or water for ten years, and even survive the vacuum of space. They can even be completely dried out and ride on the wind to a new home, where they rehydrate and go about their tardibusiness. Tardigrade rain, folks.
In other words, they are BAMFs (bad-ass microfauna).
Oh, and you’ve probably eaten them. Thanks to Meg Lowman, I found out that these water-dwelling super-critters live not only on wild mosses and wet plants, but on grocery store produce like lettuce and spinach. Do you think that a mere rinse or shake under the faucet (or even cooking) is enough to dislodge a radiation-eating space pig? Ha! Not by a long shot, according to Lowman.
So yeah… trying to go strictly vegetarian? You’ve almost certainly eaten some tardigrades. Sorry. Don’t worry, though. They’re totally harmless. I like to imagine that when I eat them, I absorb their power, and become a little bit mightier.
New motto: For strength, eat your vegetables and eat your tardigrades.
Meg Lowman has more about your local tardigrade friends. Also check out Lowman’s awesome research project that helps wheelchair-bound students climb to the top of the forest canopy where they help study tardigrade biodiversity. Science is for everyone!
i love its stupid face
did you know england sent them in to space and called it tardigrades in space and shortened it down to tardis
UPDATE: I just looked that last part up and yes, the European Space Agency did launch tardigrades into space to test their supposed invincibility as part of a mission called “Tardigrades In Space” that they did abbreviate as TARDIS.
Well played, Europe.
One of my favorite bands of all time.
When fast-aging elderly mice with a usual lifespan of 21 days were injected with stem cells from younger mice at the Institute for Regenerative Medicine in Pittsburgh, the results were staggering. Given the injection approximately four days before they were expected to die, not only did the elderly mice live — they lived threefold their normal lifespan, sticking around for 71 days. In human terms, that would be the equivalent of an 80-year-old living to be 200.
While all the donor cells were from rhesus monkeys, the researchers combined up to six distinct embryos into three baby monkeys. According to Dr. Mitalipov, “The cells never fuse, but they stay together and work together to form tissues and organs.” Chimera species are used in order to understand the role specific genes play in embryonic development and may lead to a better understanding of genetic mutation in humans.
Catalog of Habitable Planets
The idea of what makes a planet “habitable” is one of temperature, distance from its parent star, composition, etc. It’s not really one of utility, i.e. “actually being able to go live there”.
The search for exoplanets via NASA’s Kepler project and others has perhaps not discovered life-rich alien worlds (the equipment they use couldn’t do that if they tried), but it has reinforced the idea that there are a TON of planets out there. Planets, like or unlike our own, are very common.
The Planetary Habitability Laboratory at Puerto Rico’s Aricebo observatory (the big crater telescope from Contact) put together this catalog of potentially habitable known exoplanets ranked by their “Earth Similarity”. Visit the link for a load more details.
As our techniques and equipment advance, this list will surely grow by leaps and bounds. It doesn’t mean that any of them will harbor extraterrestrial life, but it reminds us that while the scientific characteristics of our home might not be uncommon, the ability for one species on Earth to search for others like it surely is something special.
Biologists at Bielefeld University have trained honey bees to stick out their tongues when their antennae touch an object.
The tactile conditioning study was conducted by a team from the lab of Volker Dürr, professor for biological cybernetics at Bielefeld, and will allow researchers to investigate how the honey bees use touch in pattern recognition and sense memory.
“We work with honey bees because they are an important model system for behavioural biology and neurobiology,” explained Dürr. “They can be trained. If you can train an insect to respond to a certain stimulus, then you can ask the bees questions in the form of ‘Is A like B? If so, stick your tongue out’.”
The process by which a bee sticks out its tongue when faced with a stimulus is known as the proboscis extension response. It can be conditioned in the bees as a response to a particular textured surface using sugar water. Each time a harnessed honey bee’s antennae touched the surface, the bee was given sugar water. Eventually the bee extends its tongue whenever it touches the right surface.
Currently the biologists are hoping to use the response to find out more about how bees use antennae movements to gather information about their surroundings.
“It is clear that if a bee touches something with an antenna, a finely textured structure, the bee has to move it to get the information it wants,” adds Dürr. “We don’t fully understand the relevance of this movement.”
Electronic brain hacks are turning insects into robotic helpersWe’re a long way from directly controlling human minds remotely, but recent years have seen a string of breakthroughs in hacking the minds of insects. Insect brains are probably the simplest interesting brains, as insects can perform a range of tasks (flying, smelling, carrying, etc.) with brains that have numbers of neurons orders of magnitude less than those in complex vertebrates. A fruit fly has around 100,00 neurons, compared to 85 billion in humans.
So at the conjunction of neuroscience and robotics lie insects — their tiny brains still too complex to model completely, but offering an easy way into modelling certain parts of the brain. It’s how engineers from Sheffield and Sussex universities can claim they’re preparing to upload the smell and sight parts of a bee’s brain into a bee-like flying robot, enmeshed with human-created software to create a completely new “brain”.
The hope is that the bee-bot could fly in areas that other robots can’t fit, like a collapsed building. And it makes sense to use nature’s own smell modules instead of developing new ones — their combination of efficiency in size and operation is so far unmatched by anything synthetic. A bee-bot could smell out explosives in a warzone, or drugs in shipping containers, or any of many other myriad uses, and actually go investigate. They can even be used as little spies. Who would notice a fly sitting on the wall of a meeting room?
A lot of research in the area of bug brains is being funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa), the Pentagon agency which seeks out new technologies for military use. It’s not hard to imagine a future where drones are grown on farms, with extra controls implanted at the larval stage — a process developed by bionic researchers at North Carolina State University.
Snapped this photo right as he was walking on stage. Still feels like I hallucinated playing MSG with those guys. I remember learning Dream On when I was 11 in summer camp.