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Microscope 2

Nature creates plastic-eating bugs to save itself from pollution - study

plastic garbage
© Reuters / Eloisa Lopez
Global plastic pollution is forcing our planet to adapt, growing microorganisms that can degrade the accumulating waste, a new study claims. Living organisms with the potential to diminish 10 types of plastic have been discovered.

Bugs producing plastic-degrading enzymes both on land and in oceans are growing in quantity and diversity, the study from the Swedish Chalmers University of Technology shows. Researchers have discovered over 30,000 enzyme homologues - members of protein sequences sharing similar properties - that live all around the planet and have the potential to degrade the 10 types of plastic most widely used by humans.

Around 12,000 such organisms were found in the ocean, and 18,000 in the soil, researchers revealed, adding that their habitats correlate with local levels of plastic pollution. The highest amounts of plastic-degrading bugs were discovered in "notoriously highly polluted areas," including the South Pacific Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.

Comment: Mother nature adapts.

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Astronomers spot double-helix structure in Messier 87 galaxy

double helix messier 87 galaxy
© Sophia Dagnello / NRAO / AUI / NSF / Pasetto et al.
VLA image of the Messier 87 radio jet, made at multiple radio frequencies. The jet seen in this image is about 8,000 light-years long. This image clearly shows the corkscrew-like helical structure in the inner part of the jet, which originates at the bright spot at the left, at the core of the galaxy, where a supermassive black hole resides.
Astronomers using NSF's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array have captured unprecedented high-fidelity radio images of a jet of material propelled from the core of the giant elliptical galaxy Messier 87.

Messier 87 is an elliptical galaxy located some 53 million light-years from us in the constellation of Virgo.

Also known as M87, NGC 4486 or Virgo A, it hosts a black hole some 6.5 billion times more massive than the Sun at its center. Messier 87's black hole is the first one ever to be imaged — an achievement done with the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) and announced in 2019.

Earlier this year, new EHT images traced the magnetic field in the vicinity of the black hole event horizon.

Comment: Messier 87 seems to be the galaxy that keeps on giving. It has also produced this gem.

Black hole imaged in ground-breaking photo now spotted spitting out matter at nearly the speed of light


New supernova remnant detected by astronomers

Supernova Remnant
© Araya et al., 2021
Region surrounding G 17.8 + 16.7 as seen at 1.4 GHz (left) and 2.3 GHz (right).
Astronomers from Costa Rica and Australia have reported the detection of a new supernova remnant (SNR) by inspecting a gamma-ray source known as FHES J1723.5−0501. The researchers found that this source is an SNR and it has been designated G17.8+16.7. The finding is detailed in a paper published December 3 on arXiv.org.

SNRs are diffuse, expanding structures resulting from a supernova explosion. They contain ejected material expanding from the explosion and other interstellar material that has been swept up by the passage of the shockwave from the exploded star.

Studies of supernova remnants are important for astronomers, as they play a key role in the evolution of galaxies, dispersing the heavy elements made in the supernova explosion and providing the energy needed for heating up the interstellar medium. SNRs are also believed to be responsible for the acceleration of galactic cosmic rays.

FHES J1723.5−0501 (also known as 4FGL J 1723.5−0501e) is a gamma-ray source detected outside the galactic plane with NASA's Fermi spacecraft. Previous observations have revealed the presence of an unclassified radio shell along the southwestern edge of this source, suggesting that FHES J1723.5−0501 may be potentially associated to an SNR or a pulsar wind nebula (PWN).


Vaccine to eliminate cells behind aging developed by Japanese scientist

Juntendo University campus
© Kyodo
Juntendo University campus in Tokyo Bunkyo ward.
A Japanese research team said it developed a vaccine to remove so-called zombie cells that accumulate with age and damage nearby cells, causing aging-related diseases including arterial stiffening.

The team, including Juntendo University professor Toru Minamino, confirmed that mice administered with the vaccine showed decreases in the zombie cells, medically known as senescent cells, and in areas affected by arterial stiffening.

"We can expect that (the vaccine) will be applied to the treatment of arterial stiffening, diabetes and other aging-related diseases," Minamino said.

The results of the team's research were published in the online version of the journal Nature Aging on Friday.

Senescent cells refer to those that have stopped dividing but do not die. They damage nearby healthy cells by releasing chemicals that cause inflammation.

Blue Planet

The miraculous spider web

spider web blade of grass
© Alex Stemmer/Shutterstoc
"What's miraculous about a spider's web?" said Mrs. Arable. "I don't see why you say a web is a miracle — it's just a web."

"Ever try to spin one?" asked Dr. Dorian. — E. B. White, Charlotte's Web
Spiders are another of nature's master engineers. About half of known spider species (order Araneae) construct webs made of silk. Spiders can make different types of silk, depending upon its function. For example, the golden orb-weaver spider has seven kinds of silk glands, with six spinnerets.1 Some is used for spinning webs, of course, but other types are used for wrapping prey and encasing eggs. Silk can be stronger than steel of the same thickness, can stretch more than rubber, and is stickier than most tape.2 The Goulds describe silk as "easily the most remarkable building material on the planet, and it has one source: arthropods."3 Despite great effort, humans have yet to produce anything functionally equivalent to silk. Through genetic engineering, attempts have been made to duplicate it without success. The main challenge is replicating the sophisticated and information-rich protein molecules found in the silk produced by spiders and other silk-producing arthropods such as silkworms — proteins that are nearly double the size of average human proteins.4Smaller proteins do not have the strength or flexibility of spider silk. Given the advanced genetic and manufacturing technologies available today, it is remarkable that spider silk still cannot be duplicated. This illustrates just how advanced the engineering design of spider silk is.


Remarkable new type of sound wave discovered

Sound vortex
© Wang, S., Zhang, G., Wang, X. et al. / DOI number: 10.1038/s41467-021-26375-9
Sound vortex generation enabled by the spin-orbit interaction in real space.
Can you imagine sound travels in the same way as light does? A research team at City University of Hong Kong (CityU) discovered a new type of sound wave: the airborne sound wave vibrates transversely and carries both spin and orbital angular momentum like light does. The findings shattered scientists' previous beliefs about the sound wave, opening an avenue to the development of novel applications in acoustic communications, acoustic sensing, and imaging.

The research was initiated and co-led by Dr. Wang Shubo, Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics at CityU, and conducted in collaboration with scientists from Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). It was published in Nature Communications, titled "Spin-orbit interactions of transverse sound."

Comment: See also: Genes can respond to coded information in light signals - or filter them out entirely


Detailed brain mapping outlines what we can — and can't — know

human brain map
Recently, a cubic millimetre (one millionth) of the human brain was imaged in sections via an electron microscope and found to contain 1.4 petabytes of data of nerve cells, blood cells, etc. A petabyte would be like taking over 4,000 digital photos per day through your entire life, as Monique Brouilette reports.

But that wasn't the big surprise: Cells were seen that were never seen in other animals, for example,
"It is like discovering a new continent," said Jeff Lichtman of Harvard, the senior author of the paper that presented these results. He described a menagerie of puzzling features that his team had already spotted in the human tissue, including new types of cells never seen in other animals, such as neurons with axons that curl up and spiral atop each other and neurons with two axons instead of one. These findings just scratched the surface: To search the sample completely, he said, would be a task akin to driving every road in North America.

Monique Brouillette, "New Brain Maps Can Predict Behaviors" at Quanta Magazine (December 6, 2021)

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Comet 2

Comet Leonard, the brightest of the year, is fading and 'acting strange'

Comet Leonard
Comet Leonard shines bright in this image from the European Space Agency's Near-Earth Object Coordination Centre using the Calar Alto Schmidt telescope in Spain. It was created by stacking 90 5-second exposure images of the comet taken on Dec. 7, 2021 on top of each other.
Something strange is happening to skywatchers' most anticipated comet of the year.

Astronomers first spotted what's been dubbed Comet Leonard in January 2021, and soon skywatchers were eagerly anticipating December and January, when the comet was due to pass by first Earth, then the sun. But by late November, observers noticed something strange. The comet should be getting brighter as it approaches the sun — and it is, but apparently only because it's getting closer to Earth, not because it's becoming inherently brighter.

Instead, it seems to be fading.

Comment: Another image of Comet Leonard from the 5th December shows it with "2 streamers":

See also: And check out SOTT radio's:


Russia's push to mine Arctic metals is fueled by nuclear power

Akademik Lomonosov
© The Economic Times
The Akademik Lomonosov, Russia's floating nuclear reactor
When news first broke a few years ago that Russia's state nuclear energy company was working on a floating nuclear power plant, some took it as a joke. Others mocked it as the worst idea ever.

But it turns out it wasn't such an outlandish idea after all. The Akademik Lomonosov started operating in 2019. It looks like what it was meant to be: a source of reliable energy in a region so harsh that building any other kind of power supply system would be a challenge.

The Akademik Lomonosov sits off the town ot Pevek in Chukotka. Chukotka is an autonomous region in the northern part of Russia's Far East.

It also happens to be full of gold, copper, and lithium, among other metals.

Blue Planet

More Cambrian Woes for Evolution

Fossil bryozoans from the Upper Ordovician
© Wikimedia Commons.
Fossil bryozoans from the Upper Ordovician, by Wilson44691, CC BY-SA 3.0
If new fossils were able to rescue Darwin from his Doubt and Dilemma, they would have turned up by now. Instead, they continue illustrating an alternate picture: abrupt appearance and intelligent design.

Et tu, Bryozoa?

Stephen Meyer can add another phylum to his chart of body plans in the Cambrian Explosion (Darwin's Doubt, p. 32): phylum Bryozoa.

Bryozoans, earlier called Ectoprocta but now Bryozoa again, are small animals that live in colonies. The colonies resemble moss in texture, from whence the name Bryozoa, "moss animals." Growing only to about 4 mm in size, the individuals (called zooids) bind together in tissue-like structures up to 3 feet in width. Zooids carry out differing functions to support the colony: filter feeding, defense, and reproduction. Some 5,000 species are known, inhabiting both fresh and salt water, and in tide pools all the way down to deep ocean trenches. Animal Fact Files has some video clips of living bryozoans on YouTube.

Bryozoa may look simple, but they are capable of sexual reproduction as well as hermaphroditism and budding. Despite their small size, they possess digestive systems and motile cilia. Long thought to have first appeared in the Ordovician (485 mya, the oldest fossils from China), bryozoans have now been confirmed in the early Cambrian. In Nature News and Views, Andrej Ernst and Mark A. Wilson write, "Bryozoan fossils found at last in deposits from the Cambrian period." They had been "conspicuously absent" till now. Why so? Thinking Darwinly, Ernst and Wilson point out that "bryozoans have a complex form (morphology), and must therefore have already had a long evolutionary history." Molecular studies had also suggested to evolutionists an earlier emergence.

Comment: See also: