Saturday, May 31, 2008

Gahan Wilson's Strange Beliefs of Children

© Gahan Wilson

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Barren Seafloor Teeming With Microbial Life

Once considered a barren plain with the odd hydrothermal vent, the seafloor appears to be teeming with microbial life.
“A 60,000 kilometer seam of basalt is exposed along the mid-ocean ridge spreading system, representing potentially the largest surface area for microbes to colonize on Earth,” said USC geomicrobiologist Katrina Edwards.

The scientists found higher microbial diversity on the rocks compared with other vibrant systems, such as those found at hydrothermal vents. Even compared with the microbial diversity of farm soil—viewed by many as the richest—diversity on the basalt is statistically equivalent.

These findings raise the question of where these bacteria find their energy.

With evidence that the oceanic crust supports more bacteria compared with overlying water, the scientists hypothesized that reactions with the rocks themselves might offer fuel for life. Back in the lab, they calculated how much biomass could theoretically be supported by chemical reactions with the basalt. “It was completely consistent,” Edwards said.

This lends support to the idea that bacteria survive on energy from the crust, a process that could affect our knowledge about the deep-sea carbon cycle and even evolution.

For example, many scientists believe that shallow water, not deep water, cradled the planet’s first life. They reason that the dark carbon-poor depths appear to offer little energy, and rich environments like hydrothermal vents are relatively sparse.

But the newfound abundance of seafloor microbes makes it theoretically possible that early life thrived—and maybe even began—on the seafloor. “Some might even favor the deep ocean for the emergence of life since it was a bastion of stability compared with the surface, which was constantly being blasted by comets and other objects,” Edwards suggested. link
Abundance and diversity of microbial life in ocean crust. 2008. Cara M. Santelli, et al. Nature 453: 653-656.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Today In History: Patent for “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die”

In 1987, a patent for "keeping a head alive" was issued to Chet Fleming (U.S. No. 4,666,425). A cabinet provides physical and biochemical support for an animal's head severed from its body.

Oxygenated blood and nutrients are circulated by means of tubes connected to arteries and veins that emerge from the neck. A series of processing components removes carbon dioxide and add oxygen to the blood. If desired, waste products and other metabolites may be removed from the blood, and nutrients, therapeutic or experimental drugs, anti-coagulants, and other substances may be added to the blood.

After being thoroughly tested on research animals, the patent suggests it might also be used on humans suffering from various terminal illnesses. From Today In Science History.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Cadmus Seed

From Shocking Tales Digest Magazine #1, October, 1981, comes a cautionary tale of genetic cloning by Jack Kirby. Not sure where it was originally published.


Wednesday, May 7, 2008

XMM-Newton Discovers Part of Missing Universe

ESA’s orbiting X-ray observatory XMM-Newton has been used by a team of international astronomers to uncover part of the missing matter in the universe.

10 years ago, scientists predicted that about half of the missing ‘ordinary’ or normal matter made of atoms exists in the form of low-density gas, filling vast spaces between galaxies.

All the matter in the universe is distributed in a web-like structure. At dense nodes of the cosmic web are clusters of galaxies, the largest objects in the universe. Astronomers suspected that the low-density gas permeates the filaments of the web.

The low density of the gas hampered many attempts to detect it in the past. With XMM-Newton’s high sensitivity, astronomers have discovered its hottest parts. The discovery will help them understand the evolution of the cosmic web.

Only about 5% of our universe is made of normal matter as we know it, consisting of protons and neutrons, or baryons, which along with electrons, form the building blocks of ordinary matter. The rest of our universe is composed of elusive dark matter (23%) and dark energy (72%).

Small as the percentage might be, half of the ordinary baryonic matter is unaccounted for. All the stars, galaxies and gas observable in the universe account for less than a half of all the baryons that should be around.

Astronomers using XMM-Newton were observing a pair of galaxy clusters, Abell 222 and Abell 223, situated at a distance of 2300 million light-years from Earth, when the images and spectra of the system revealed a bridge of hot gas connecting the clusters.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Science Behind Iron Man

Celeste Biever and Rowan Hooper at New Scientist discuss the real world science featured in the new (Ma8, 2008) movie:
1. Superhero skin – An ‘Iron Man’ suit does not exist but portions of a wearable exoskeleton does.

2. Flying machines - SoloTrek was a flying exoskeleton that was apparently capable of travelling more than 200 kilometres. (The project shut down after a crash in 2002.) UK inventor and pilot Stuart Ross reckons his Rocketbelt packs enough power to lift him 2500 metres in the air and plans to test fly the latest model this year.

3. Friendly bots - In the movie, Stark has a friendly robot to help him build his armour. It looks too clever to be true, but in fact it is highly reminiscent of AUR. Built last year by MIT scientists, AUR is a robotic desk lamp that calculates where you are looking and moves its flexible neck to shine light on that spot.

4. Cunning computing – 'Pepper' Potts real-time translation program.