Tag: life

Strange Jellyfish-Like ‘Blobs’ Found In 600 Million Year Old Rocks In China Are Earliest Animals Ever Found

Strange “blobs” found in China could be evidence of the first animals that ever existed, experts say. Fossil evidence of the ancient creatures, which resemble jelly fish, was discovered in 600 million-year-old rocks.

The previously unknown animal doesn’t have a name yet but microscopic analysis showed similar features to comb jellies – including tentacles and mucous layers.

The carnivorous comb jelly species still exist today, feeding on small marine organisms.

The oldest animal to have ever lived was previously thought to be the Dickinsonia, an organism called an ediacaran, which lived 541 million years ago.

The origin and earliest evolution of animals is a fascinating question that has puzzled scientists for many decades,” said Dr Zhenbing She at the China University of Geosciences in Wuhan, who led the team behind the discovery.

Dr She’s team found fossils measuring around 0.7 millimetres across in a drill core taken from the Doushantuo Formation in China.

The discovery of the jellyfish – revealed in a report by Graham Lawton in New Scientist – existed more than 40 million years earlier than the Dickinsonia, researchers claim.

If the fossil is an ancient relative of a comb jelly, this would suggest that it was part of of a larger food web and a complex ecosystem.

Microscopic analysis of the rocks revealed what appear to be tentacles, muscle tissue, nerve cells, gonads, mucous layers and clusters of hairlike-structures.




Fossils dating as far back as 631 million years ago have already been found in these beds, but scientists have not been able to determine exactly what they are.

They are only visible through microscopes and may just be cells from algae or developing animal embryos.

Dr She said that the fossils’ features are similar to the comb jelly Ctenophora because the fossil’s hair clusters look like structures called ctenes that comb jellies use to swim.

The fossils most closely resemble the living genus of comb jellies called Pleurobrachia, or sea gooseberries.

If the new fossils are comb jellies, then it opens the door for more discoveries as the majority of comb jellies today feed on small marine species.

If the fossil was also a carnivore, it must have fed on other species which are yet to be revealed.

There are many other creatures in the deposit, but we are not sure what they are,” Dr. She added.

The 558-million-year-old Dickinsonia, which was discovered last year, was described as a combination of a jellyfish, a worm, a fungus and a lichen.

The oval-shaped lifeform existed at least 20 million years before the “Cambrian explosion” of animal life, according to the research.

The Cambrian explosion took place about 540 million years ago and saw the emergence of modern-looking animals such as snails, bivalves and arthropods.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Hundreds of Baby Penguins Became Mummified in Antarctica

In 2016, scientists made a gruesome discovery on East Antarctica’s Long Peninsula. Hundreds of mummified Adélie penguin bodies—most of them chicks—lying at the sites of abandoned colonies.

As Laura Geggel reports, recent analysis of some of the carcasses has revealed that the penguins died hundreds of years ago. The climactic forces that killed them, however, could threaten penguin colonies today.

A team of researchers led by Zhouqing Xie and Liguang Sun of the University of Science and Technology of China performed carbon dating on tissue from 14 of the mummified penguins, reports Nature.

They found that the animals died during two mass mortality events: one around 750 years ago and the other around 200 years ago.

The researchers also studied the sediment around the penguins, landscape features, geochemical data from lake sediment cores, and ice core accumulation records.

In a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, the team concludes that the die-offs were caused by “extreme climatic anomalies,” which led to several decades of unusually heavy rains and snow.

It is quite likely that global climate warming caused enhanced precipitation, which led to the tragedy,” Sun tells Geggel.




Though adult Adélie penguins thrive in the water, excessively wet conditions can be perilous to chicks that have yet to develop waterproof plumage.

If these downy little critters are exposed to too much rain or snow, they can suffer from hypothermia, which causes slow growth and death.

Snow accumulation can also make it difficult for adult penguins to find pebbles for their nests, and melting snow can drown penguin eggs.

Adélie penguins are found across the Antarctic coast, and unlike many other penguin species, they are not considered threatened; the IUCN Red List ranks them as being of “least concern” on its scale of conservation needs.

But in recent years, with global temperatures once again creeping upward, climatic fluctuations have put Adélie penguins in danger.

A 2016 study, for instance, predicted that one-third of Adélie penguin colonies could be in decline by 2060.

And last year, scientists were shocked to discover that in a colony of around 18,000 breeding pairs on Antarctica’s Petrels Island, only two Adélie chicks survived a recent breeding season.

The catastrophic failure was ascribed to a heavy rainfall and the 2010 breakup of the Mertz glacier, which caused an unusual amount of sea ice to form around the colony, making it more difficult for the penguins to find food.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Aliens? Or Alien Impostors? Finding Oxygen Might Not Mean Life

In our quest for life beyond the Solar System, it makes sense to look for a world like our own.

We’ve long hoped to find an Earth-sized world around a Sun-like star at the right distance for liquid water as our first step, and with thousands of planets in our coffers already, we’re extremely close.

But not every world with the right physical properties is going to have life; we need additional information to know whether a potentially habitable world is actually inhabited.

The follow-up would be to analyze the planet’s atmosphere for Earth-like signatures: potential signs of life.

Earth’s combination of atmospheric gases — nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, carbon dioxide and more — has been assumed to be a dead giveaway for a planet with life on it.

But a new study by planetary scientist Dr. Sarah Hörst’s team throws that into doubt. Even worlds rich in oxygen might not harbor aliens, but an impostor process that could fool us all.

The scientific story of how to even reach that point is fascinating, and closer to becoming a reality than ever before.

We can understand how this happens by imagining we were aliens, looking at our Sun from a large distance away, trying to determine if it possessed an inhabited world.




By measuring the slight variations in the frequency of the Sun’s light over long periods of time, we’d be able to deduce the gravitational influence of the planets on them.

This detection method is known either the radial velocity or the stellar wobble method, and can tell us information about a planet’s mass and orbital period.

Most of the early (pre-Kepler) exoplanets were discovered with this technique, and it’s still the best method we have for both determining planetary masses and confirming the existence of candidate exoplanets.

We also need to know the size of the planet. With the stellar wobble alone, we’ll only know what the mass of the world is relative to the angle-of-inclination of its orbit.

A world that’s the mass of Earth could be well-suited to life if it’s got an Earth-like atmosphere, but it could be disastrous for life if it’s an iron-like world with no atmosphere at all, or a low-density, puffy world with a large gaseous envelope.

Most of the planets we know of that are comparable to Earth in size have been found around cooler, smaller stars than the Sun. This makes sense with the limits of our instruments; these systems have larger planet-to-star size ratios than our Earth does with respect to the Sun.

Most of them orbit red dwarf stars — the most common class of star in the Universe — which means the forces should tidally lock them: the same side should always face the star. These stars flare often, posing a danger to any potential atmospheres on these worlds.

Historically, when we’ve looked to the skies for evidence of life beyond Earth, we’ve been biased by hope and what we know on Earth.

Theories of dinosaurs on Venus or canals on Mars still linger in our memories, and we must be careful that extraterrestial oxygen signatures don’t lead us to falsely optimistic conclusions.

We now know that both abiotic processes and life-dependent ones can create an oxygen-rich atmosphere.

The hard problem, then, will be disentangling the potential causes when we actually find our first oxygen-rich, Earth-like exoplanet.

Our reward, if we’re successful, will be the knowledge of whether or not we’ve actually found life around another star.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Treating Genetic Disorders Before Birth

Physicians may one day be able to treat genetic blood diseases before a child is even born.

In a study of mice that was published this week in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, have found that transplanting a mother’s own stem cells into her fetus populates its bone marrow with healthy cells while avoiding immune rejection.

If the findings hold true in humans, stem-cell transplants from mother to fetus could prime the fetus for a bone-marrow transplant from its mother—or a donor that is tissue-matched to the mother—after birth.




Diseases such as sickle cell anemia and beta thalassemia result from abnormal red blood cells and can be treated with bone-marrow transplants.

But it’s not always possible to find a match.

And standard bone-marrow transplants, even between tissue-matched donors, must be followed with a lengthy course of immunosuppressive drugs.

Scientists theorize that bone-marrow transplants performed when a fetus is still developing would override this problem.

They suspect that the fetus’s immature immune system could be tricked into adopting those foreign cells and recognizing them as its own.

The fetus is wired to tolerate cells—when it encounters cells from mom, it tolerates them,” says Tippi MacKenzie, the pediatric surgeon at UCSF who led the new research.

Research in animals has shown the promise of that approach.

But early tests in humans came up against a serious setback—the donor cells were being rejected and killed off before a fetus could assimilate them, and no one was quite sure why.

It’s a conundrum,” says MacKenzie.

The blame, it seems, may be mom’s. MacKenzie and her colleagues found that when they injected a fetus with hematopoietic stem cells that were not matched to the mother or fetus, the infusion prompted an influx of maternal immune cells into the fetus.

“What we saw was that it’s not the fetal immune system that’s rejecting the cells—it’s the mother’s,” MacKenzie says.

“And if it’s the mother’s immune system that’s rejecting them, we may be able to transplant maternal cells for some of these disorders and get them to engraft.”

Indeed, when researchers injected the fetus with stem cells from a donor that was tissue-matched to the mother, the cells happily took root in the fetus’s bone marrow.

But Flake, who pioneered the fetal-stem-cell transplant treatment for severe combined immunodeficiency disease (SCID), or “bubble boy syndrome,” says that although a single dose of maternal or maternally matched donor cells might not cure disease.

It could prime the fetus’s immune system into accepting a stem-cell transplant from the same person later in life.

The next step, MacKenzie says, will be to test the treatment in larger mammals and nonhuman primates.

But for now, her lab is more focused on understanding precisely what’s going on in the maternal-fetal immune system interactions.

We’re trying to figure out the mechanism by which the mother cells are exerting their effect. And we’re looking at the idea of immune-cell trafficking between mom and fetus—to what extent does it happen in human pregnancies?”

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Smart plants: Memory And Communication Without Brains

Evidence of remembering in plants is most evident in their movements. For example, the familiar ability of sunflower flowers to move in a manner that follows the sun is an obvious response to a diurnal light signal.

Their flowers are directed to the easterly direction in the morning and they follow the sun to the west in the evening. During the subsequent night period, the flowers return to face the east.

These return movements in the dark indicate that the flowers not only track the sun, but they anticipate the return of light, even when the light signal has not yet been restored.

The plants remember the coming of morning.

Kalanchoe flowers also show diurnal cycling – being oriented upward during the day and downward during the night. If the plants are transferred to continuous darkness, the flowers continue the diurnal movements for several cycles.




That plants continue cycling without a light signal indicates that the plants remember the daily light signal even after the signal has been discontinued. They remember the cycling of sunlight.

A similar situation is seen in the diurnal movements of leaves in many plants. For example, the leaves of Albizzia show diurnal changes in leaf position during the day and night.

Again, the positional cycling repeats itself, and if one transfers the plant into darkness the cycling of leaf position continues for several day intervals.

The cycling continues without the light signal, again indicating that the plants remember the cycling of light.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Mars 2020 Rover Will Land at Ancient Lakebed to Search for Signs of Life

Scientists have identified 24 ancient lakes on Mars that once overflowed and burst through their walls, forming steep-sided canyons — and NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will explore the neighborhood of one of these paleolakes, looking for traces of ancient life.

Jezero Crater is one of two dozen sites that a team of geologists examined for signs of how canyons formed: by massive individual flooding events or by slower flows over longer periods of time.

Their findings suggest that for the chosen canyons, the former occurred, with a sudden flood rapidly carving canyons across the Martian surface.

These breached lakes are fairly common and some of them are quite large, some as large as the Caspian Sea,” lead author Tim Goudge, a geoscientist at the University of Texas at Austin, said in a statement.

So we think this style of catastrophic overflow flooding and rapid incision of outlet canyons was probably quite important on early Mars’ surface.”




The team came to that conclusion by looking at the relationship between the canyon measurements and the crater rims that once enclosed all that water.

Because the canyon size increased in proportion to the size of the nearby lake, the team believes that all 24 lakes violently burst through their walls, carving the canyons in perhaps just a few weeks.

If they hadn’t seen such a correlation, they would have instead suspected that the canyons formed gradually from more gentle water flow.

And unlike geologic features here on Earth, lake beds and canyons remain etched on the surface of Mars, since there are no modern plate tectonics to shuffle crust around and destroy them.

That long-lived Martian surface offers scientists hope that they might be able to access ancient sediments that may hold the remains of any life that once existed on Mars.

That’s part of why NASA chose to send its Mars 2020 rover, due to touch down on the Red Planet in 2021, to Jezero Crater, where it can study five different types of rock and hunt for any remains of ancient life that could be hiding in such a formerly wet environment.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

How People Really Lived During the Stone Age

cave man

The Paleo diet is just the beginning. It’s the gateway to an entire suite of lifestyle prescriptions devoted to mimicking the way our ancestors ate, moved, slept, and bred nearly 10,000 years ago in the Paleolithic era of hunting and gathering, an era Paleo followers associate with strong bodies and minds.

Members of this modern-day caveman community believe the path to optimal health is through eating only what our ancestors ate before modern agriculture and a shift to more sedentary ways.




Devoted proponents of a Paleo lifestyle not only subsist primarily on meat and eschew carbs; they also exercise in short bursts of activity intended to mimic escaping prey.

Even blood donation has become a Paleo fad among the most dogmatic of 21st-century cavemen, based on the notion that our ancestors were often wounded, making blood loss a way of life.

But new research reveals flaws in the logic behind these trends. As evolutionary and genetic science show, humans, like all other living beings, have always been a work in progress and never completely in sync with the natural world.

Survive-in-the-wild

If we’re going to romanticize and emulate a particular point in our evolutionary history, why not go all the way back to when our ape ancestors spent their days swinging from tree to tree?

It is hard to argue that a simpler life with more exercise, fewer processed foods, and closer contact with our children may well be good for us, but rather than renouncing modern living for the sake of our Stone Age genes, we need to understand how evolution has—and hasn’t—suited us for the world we inhabit now.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Oldest Fossils Of Homo Sapiens Found in Morocco

jaw

Fossils discovered in Morocco are the oldest known remains of Homo sapiens, scientists reported, a finding that rewrites the story of mankind’s origins and suggests that our species evolved in multiple locations across the African continent.

Until now, the oldest known fossils of our species dated back just 195,000 years. The Moroccan fossils, by contrast, are roughly 300,000 years old.




Remarkably, they indicate that early Homo sapiens had faces much like our own, although their brains differed in fundamental ways.

Today, the closest living relatives to Homo sapiens are chimpanzees and bonobos, with whom we share a common ancestor that lived over six million years ago.

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Pass it on: Popular Science

Water On Mars: Exploration & Evidence

Liquid water may still flow on Mars, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to spot. The search for water on the Red Planet has taken more than 15 years to turn up definitive signs that liquid flows on the surface today.

In the past, however, rivers and oceans may have covered the land. Where did all of the liquid water go?

Why? How much of it still remains?




Liquid water appears to flow from some steep, relatively warm slopes on the Martian surface.

Features known as recurring slope lineae (RSL) were first identified in 2011in images taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

The dark streaks, which appear seasonally, were confirmed to be signs of salty water running on the surface of the planet.

If this is correct, then RSL on Mars may represent the surface expression of a far more significant ongoing drainage system on steep slopes in the mid-latitudes,” a research team member said.

In 2015, spectral analysis of RSL led scientists to conclude they are caused by salty liquid water.

When Mariner 9 became the first craft to orbit another planet in 1971, the photographs it returned of dry river beds and canyons seemed to indicate that water had once existed on the Martian surface.

Images from the Viking orbiters only strengthened the idea that many of the landforms may have been created by running water.

Data from the Viking landers pointed to the presence of water beneath the surface, but the experiments were deemed inconclusive.

The early ’90s kicked off a slew of Mars missions. Scientists were flooded with a wealth of information about Mars.

Three NASA orbiters and one sent by the European Space Agency studied the planet from above, mapping the surface and analyzing the minerals below.

Some detected the presence of minerals, indicating the presence of water. Other data measured enough subsurface ice to fill Lake Michigan twice.

They found evidence for the presence of hot springs on the surface and sustained precipitation at some areas. And they found patches of ice within some of the deeper craters.

Impact craters offer a view of the interior of the red planet.

Using the ESA’s Mars Express and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, scientists were able to study rocks ejected from the planet’s interior, finding minerals that suggested the presence of water.

Curiosity has found yet more evidence of water flowing on ancient Mars.

The 1-ton rover rolled through an ancient stream bed shortly after touching down in August 2012, and it has examined a number of rocks that were exposed to liquid water billions of years ago.

Mars missions aren’t the only way to search for water on Mars. Scientists studying rocks ejected from the Red Planet found signs that water lay beneath the surface in the past.

While robotic missions to Mars continue to shed light on the planet’s history, the only samples from Mars available for study on Earth are Martian meteorites,” lead author Lauren White, of the JPL, said in a statement.

On Earth, we can utilize multiple analytical techniques to take a more in-depth look at meteorites and shed light on the history of Mars.

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Pass it on: New Scientist

Meet The Snot-Dwelling Sea Creatures Who Help Move Food Through The Ocean

Hundreds of feet below the ocean’s surface, animals smaller than the palm of your hand make their houses out of snot.

These bizarro creatures called larvaceans keep the oceans teeming with life by gobbling up anything nutritious that’s floated down from the surface.

These little guys, which are shaped like tadpoles, filter a truly shocking amount of water in a single hour — between two and four of those giant five-gallon water jugs that get delivered to your office, according to a study in the journal Science Advances.




Giant larvaceans could push all of the water around them in Monterey Bay through their filters within 500 days; if a lot of them were all together and working as hard as they could, they could filter that same volume of water in just 13 days.

In order to find out exactly how these mysterious mucus-dwellers work, scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute outfitted a remote-controlled vehicle with an arm wielding a laser to light up the food particles, and trained it on the giant larvaceans as they pumped water through their mucus and into their mouths.

A video camera on the vehicle recorded the flow, and the scientists published their findings today in the journal Science Advances.

The nutrients that don’t go toward keeping these creatures alive and in luxurious mucus homes get pooped onto the seafloor. And if the snot houses get too clogged up, the larvaceans simply drop them.

There, the poop and old mucus-shrouds feed bottom-dwelling sea creatures. It’s like a giant, oceanic, digestive system where nothing gets wasted — and where food gets grosser as it travels downward.

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Pass it on: Popular Science