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Israeli Nanotechnology Company Plans to Turn Jellyfish Into Paper Towels and Tampons

An Israeli nanotechnology company, named Cine'al, is developing a technology that can turn jellyfish into papers towels and other products. The Times of Israel reports that that the product Cine'al makes from jellyfish is called Hydromash. Hydromash is described as a dry, strong material that is super absorbent. It can also be used to make diapers, tampons and sponges.

The Times of Israel story says the company uses nanomaterials to convert jellyfish into Hydromash. Nanoparticles are also added during the conversion process. The company should have plenty of jellies to work with. Jellyfish are considered a growing pest in some regions. The National Science Foundation issued a report in 2008 called Jellyfish Gone Wild, which warned of the growing risk. The report says 500 million refrigerator-sized jellyfish float into the Sea of Japan daily during blooms. Jellyfish blooms can clog fishing lanes and fish farms. A nuclear reactor in Sweden had to shut down last year because jellyfish clogged up pipes that carry cooling water to the turbines.

Ofer Du-Nour, chairman and president of Cine'al, is not concerned about people not wanting to use diapers or tampons made from jellyfish. He says consumers probably won't even be aware their products are made from jellyfish. He tells The Times of Israel, "I'm not worried about this, and in many products it's likely that the consumer won't even know about it, similar to many other products with ingredients that are derived from animals and plants."

Du-Nuor also says, "There are too many jellyfish in the sea, and too many Pampers in landfills. Cine'al may have the ultimate answer to both those issues."

Here's a video about a giant swarm of jellyfish from National Geographic. Take a look:

Posted on April 19, 2014

Silly Putty Ingredient Could Advance Stem Cell Therapies Say Scientists

Stem Cells growing on a carpet made from a Silly Putty ingredient

Scientists at the University of Michigan say an ingredient in Silly Putty could help advance stem cell therapies. The researchers report that they coaxed human embryonic stem cells to turn into working spinal cord cells more efficiently by growing the cells on a soft, utrafine carpet made of a key ingredient in Silly Putty, an easily malleable and stretachable toy that can also lift ink from petroleum based newsprint. The Silly Putty component polydimethylsiloxane serves as the threads of the "carpets" the researchers developed.

The researchers were able to vary the microscopic posts of the carpets using polydimethylsiloxane. They found that stem cells that grew on the tall, softer micropost carpets turned into nerve cells faster and more often that those growing on stiffer surfaces. They also found stem cells growing on the softer micropost carpets were four times more pure and ten times larger than those grown on traditional or rigid carpets. This is the first research to link physical signals to human embryonic stem cell differentiation. The U-M team says the findings could lead to a more efficient method for guiding stem cells to differentiate.

Fu says in the announcement, "This is extremely exciting. To realize promising clinical applications of human embryonic stem cells, we need a better culture system that can reliably produce more target cells that function well. Our approach is a big step in that direction, by using synthetic microengineered surfaces to control mechanical environmental signals."

The research was published here in Nature Materials.

Image: Ye Tao, Rose Anderson, Yubing Sun, and Jianping Fu

Posted on April 18, 2014

MIT Researchers Say Floating Nuclear Plants Could Ride Out Tsunamis

Floating Nuclear Plant Design

MIT researchers have presented a design for a floating nuclear plant. The researchers say the floating plant could survive earthquakes and tsunamis and avoid disasters like the tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in 2011. The reactor concept is being presented this week at the Small Modular Reactors Symposium.

Interior view of Floating Nuclear Plant Design concept

Jacopo Buongiorno, Associate Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering at MIT, explains the concept in this video. He note that Russia is already building a floating nuclear plant. An underwater electric transmission line would deliver power to the plant. Buongiorno says the ocean could be used as an infinite heat sink for the reactor. Concerns about the reactor would be that if there is a leak it could contaminate the coastline and the water close to the shore. Buongiorno says the plant would be far enough away that people inland would not have to evacuate if there was an accident. Take a look:

Photo: Jake Jurewicz/MIT-NSE

Posted on April 18, 2014

Viper Gets Partially Eaten by a Centipede it Swallowed

Viper eaten by ingested centipede

A juvenile nose-horned viper swallowed a centipede only to have the centipede eats its way out of its lower abdomen. Both of the creatures perished. The centipede managed to make it partially out of the snake before dying.

NBC News reports that the discovery was made on the island of Golem Grad (aka Snake Island) in Macedonia by Ljiljana Tomović, a biology professor at the University of Belgrade. Tomovic and her colleagues write about (PDF) the snake and centipede discovery in the journal Ecologica Montenegrina. The journal article is called, "Two fangs good, a hundred legs better: juvenile viper devoured by an adult centipede it had ingested."

The scientists dissected the snake and found that the centipede was nearly as long as the viper. The dissection also revealed the absence of the snake's visceral organs. They researchers say this led them to "suppose that the prey caused chemical or mechanical damage to the predator's digestive organs."

The researchers note that the large centipede, Scolopendra cingulata, is a fearsome predator in its own right. The say, "In general, this invertebrate is extremely tough: it is very hard to kill a full-grown Scolopendra (personal observation). Therefore, we cannot dismiss the possibility that the snake had swallowed the centipede alive, and that, paradoxically, the prey has eaten its way through the snake, almost reaching its freedom."

Photo: Arsovski et al., Ecologica Montenegrina

Posted on April 18, 2014

Females Have Penises in Cave Insect Species, Copulation Lasts 40 to 70 Hours

Neotrogla aurora female penis

Scientists have discovered four species of cave insects with sex-reversed genitalia. Scientists say female insects insert an elaborate, penis-like organ into males' much-reduced, vagina-like opening. Copulation then lasts for 40 to 70 hours. The female penis of N. aurora is pictured above. The Brazilian insects all belong to the genus Neotrogla.

Kazunori Yoshizawa from Hokkaido University in Japan says in the announcement, "Although sex-role reversal has been identified in several different animals, Neotrogla is the only example in which the intromittent organ is also reversed."

The female's penis-like structure, the gynosome, is inserted into males and used to receive generous capsules of nourishment and sperm. Once inside a male, the membranous part of the female gynosome inflates and numerous spines internally anchor the two insects together. The researchers attempted to pull a male and female insect apart and the male's abdomen was ripped from the thorax without breaking the genital coupling. The scientists note that "it appears that females can hold males very tightly indeed."

Two Neotrogla curvata are copulating in the photograph below.

Neotrogla curvata copula

The research paper, "Female penis, male vagina, and their correlated evolution in a cave insect," is published here in Current Biology.

Photo: Current Biology, Yoshizawa et al.

Posted on April 17, 2014

NASA Confirms Discovery of First Earth-Sized Planet in Habitable Zone of its Star

Artist's concept of Kepler-186f

NASA has confirmed the discovery of the first Earth-sized planet in the habitable zone of its star. News of the planet's discovery first broke in March at the Search for Life Beyond the Solar System conference. NASA notes that planets have previously been found in the habitable zone, but they are all at least 40% bigger than Earth. This planet, Kepler-186f, is less than 10% larger than Earth in size. However, the mass and composition of the planet are not known.

NASA says, "If you could stand on the surface of Kepler-186f, the brightness of its star at high noon would appear as bright as our sun is about an hour before sunset on Earth."

Paul Hertz, NASA's Astrophysics Division director at the agency's headquarters in Washington, says in the announcement, "The discovery of Kepler-186f is a significant step toward finding worlds like our planet Earth. Future NASA missions, like the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite and the James Webb Space Telescope, will discover the nearest rocky exoplanets and determine their composition and atmospheric conditions, continuing humankind's quest to find truly Earth-like worlds."

Kepler-186f is located in the Kepler-186 system, which is about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. Its star is an M dwarf or red dwarf. Kepler-186f orbits the star once every 130 days. It gets about 1/3 of its energy from the star that Earth gets from the sun. The planet has four companion planets, Kepler-186b, Kepler-186c, Kepler-186d and Kepler-186e. The image below shows the Kepler-186 system and compares it our solar system. You can view a larger version of the image here.

Kepler 186 system compared to our solar system

First Image: NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech
Second Image: NASA/Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

Posted on April 17, 2014

Ancient Shark Fossil Reveals Modern Sharks are Evolutionarily Advanced

Ozarcus mapesae skull fossil

A ancient shark fossil reveals that modern sharks are evolutionary advanced despite having retained their "sharkiness" over millions of years. The fossil of a 325-million-year-old shark-like species also reveals new insights into the early evolution of jawed vertebrates. The study was led by scientists at the American Museum of Natural History.

Alan Pradel, a postdoctoral researcher at the Museum and the lead author of the study, says in a statement, "Sharks are traditionally thought to be one of the most primitive surviving jawed vertebrates. And most textbooks in schools today say that the internal jaw structures of modern sharks should look very similar to those in primitive shark-like fishes. But we've found that's not the case. The modern shark condition is very specialized, very derived, and not primitive."

High-resolution x-ray of Ozarcus mapesae skull fossil

The new study is based on an extremely well-preserved shark fossil collected by Ohio University professors Royal Mapes and Gene Mapes in Arkansas. An ocean basin in what is now Arkansas was once was home to a diverse marine ecosystem. The fossilized skull of the new species (Ozarcus mapesae) was part of a recent donation of 540,000 fossils from Ohio University to the Museum. Shark skeletons are made of cartilage (not bone) and their fossils are usually very fragile and found in flattened fragments. The Ozarcus mapesae is special because it was founded well-preserved in a nearly three-dimensional state. It was imaged with high-resolution x-rays with the help of scientists at the European Synchrotron, the ESRF.

John Maisey, a curator in the Museum's Division of Paleontology and one of the authors on the study, says, "This beautiful fossil offers one of the first complete looks at all of the gill arches and associated structures in an early shark. There are other shark fossils like this in existence, but this is the oldest one in which you can see everything. There's enough depth in this fossil to allow us to scan it and digitally dissect out the cartilage skeleton."

Maisey told Reuters in an interview that "we found the Model T of sharks."

Here is a video of museum curators Maisey and Neil Landman talking the new fossil sharks and ammonites added to the Museum's collection. Discussion of the Ozarcus mapesae fossil shark head fossil of starts at the 2:14 mark. A video of the X-ray synchrotron scan of the fossil rotating can be found here. Take a look:

The research paper was published here in the journal Nature.

Photos: AMNH / F. Ippolito

Posted on April 17, 2014

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