Author Archives: Bella Allen

Neurons that allow three-dimensional vision to mantises discovered by scientist

The ways in which religious mantises are able to three-dimensionally perceive the world through their visual system have been partly clarified thanks to research by the Institute of Neuroscience of the University of Newcastle.

These insects, in fact, use a characteristic, known as stereopsis or stereoscopic vision, to perceive the world in three dimensions and therefore be more efficient especially for hunting prey. The religious mantises obtain it through two retinas that calculate the distances and activate the front legs when the prey is near.

This system is in turn activated by special neurons that the researchers identified in the brain of the mantis and which are divided into four classes. As Ronny Rosner, the scientist who recorded the activity of individual neurons, explains, “Despite their small size, mantis brains contain a surprising number of neurons that seem specialized for three-dimensional vision, which suggests that perception of depth mantis is more complex than we thought.”

The research represents the first case of identification of specific neurons for the perception of 3D space in the brain of a vertebrate. The discovery of these neurons relegated to the particular three-dimensional vision of mantids could be of help for the development of algorithms connected to artificial vision.

Moss on the walls of buildings could counter air pollution

How can we combat the increase in air pollution in cities? Carpeting the facades of buildings with moss. It is the idea that has come to a start-up of the Technische Universit├Ąt Kaiserslautern, Germany, in relation to the increasingly pressing needs to mitigate the effects of air pollution in cities, effects that become even heavier with the increase in temperatures.

The new concept is developed by German researchers does not require, according to the creators themselves, particular maintenance and once it has taken root the moss begins to implement a sort of “self-greening” of the surface, reaching to cover, without negative side effects, the whole facade.

The side effects are averted due to the fact that moss, unlike most other plants, has no roots and captures the nutrients it needs from the air. They are able to filter various dusts and above all CO 2 from the air and in general can be considered plants that are well suited even in difficult places.

The idea came when the botanist Tobias Graf, who has been studying these plants for many years, analyzed their evolution and their history, in particular that related to about 400 million years ago. At that time the mosses were forming on Earth in response to the increasing number of volcanic eruptions that released many types of dust and CO 2 into the atmosphere. The moss took advantage of this new condition to grow and spread in multiple environments by capturing carbon dioxide in the air.

The new technology was named by researchers BryoSYSTEM. The system includes a unit made of concrete about one meter high and 15 cm wide, only a few centimeters deep, which can be easily attached in series on the walls of buildings. The unit is also equipped with special grooves bordered for irrigation and the system is designed to reuse rainwater. Compared to other plants for greening building facades, moss is green all year round and does not require expensive care.

Neanderthals used resin to glue stone tools to the handles

An interesting discovery was made by a group of researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder, in collaboration with other international institutions including the University of Pisa, who examined some findings from two Italian caves.

Researchers have discovered one of the first known examples, in terms of findings in Europe, of using glue for the construction of more profitable stone tools. It is technological progress not to be underestimated.

The researchers found that Neanderthals living in Europe in the period between 55,000 and 40,000 years ago used to collect pine resin which they then used to glue stone tools with wooden or bone handles. The findings, represented by more than a thousand stone tools, were made in the Grotta del Fossellone and in the Grotta di Sant’Agostino, near the coast of Lazio in Italy.

In these caves many Neanderthals lived in the middle Paleolithic period, which is several thousand years before Homo sapiens placed foot on the European continent. During the research, Paola Villa found traces of what looked like an adhesive used to hold the instrument attached to its handle.

The analysis, carried out by Ilaria Degano of the University of Pisa, confirmed that it was local pine resin mixed with beeswax. This latest study shows how intelligent Neanderthals were, in the collective imagination, perhaps inappropriately, usually seen as cruder and less incapable than Homo sapiens.

A three-meter giant ostrich lived in Europe 1.8 million years ago

The fossil remains of a giant bird found in the Crimea were studied by a group of researchers from the Borissiak Paleontological Institute. The results confirm the enormous size of a bird lived during the Lower Pleistocene that had already been classified several years ago.

The research, published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, describes the Pachystruthio dmanisensis, a huge bird more than three and a half meters high that could reach a weight of more than 1,000 pounds, according to the analysis that the scientists made on a piece of femur found and described as early as 1990. But then, the real dimensions of this animal were not understood, something made possible today thanks to the new findings.

It would be a giant ostrich that lived between 1.7 and 1.8 million years ago, and the first fly-less giant bird described in paleontology with regard to the northern hemisphere. The fossil has been unearthed from a cave in Taurida, a locality located in the Crimean peninsula. Inside the cave, discovered only in June last year during some works for a new motorway, some remains of mammoth bones and teeth have been discovered but the most interesting finding is probably that related to the Pachystruthio dmanisensis, a species of large terrestrial bird.

This is an important discovery because it is the first evidence that these gigantic prehistoric birds also lived in Europe. This giant bird boasted remarkable robustness and resembled very much its present-day relative, the ostrich, from which it differs, in addition to its larger dimensions, also to the shape of some surfaces of the body and to a slightly different morphology.

It was a good runner and certainly not easy prey for the giant cheetahs and saber-toothed cats with which it divided its territory. And as the landscape became increasingly arid, as time went on, its body also grew more and more so that the digestive tract could digest harder foods. The Pachystruthio dmanisensis probably also lived with the first Homo erectus who arrived in Europe during the Lower Pleistocene.

And this makes one suspect that it may have been humans who determined their extinction. Although it is soon to be said because the data are substantially very few, the evidence regarding the fact that the giant birds that lived up to 1-2 million years ago may have been hunted by humans and therefore may have become extinct for this reason are different and not concern only these remains.

Cockroaches are developing resistance to insecticides

As bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics more and more efficiently over time, even cockroaches, to a lesser extent, are developing different degrees of resistance to the best insecticides. This was revealed by a study by Michael Scharf, a professor in the Entomology Department of Purdue University.

In his study, published in Scientific Reports, the researcher studied the German cockroaches, noting that it has become more difficult to eliminate them. This problem, which is more widespread in urban areas, opens up what could be one of the new challenges that will affect the future of humanity to combat pathogens of pathogenic bacteria, similar to what is done today with mosquitoes.

The cockroaches, in particular their saliva and their feces, carry several potentially dangerous bacteria that can cause, for example, allergies and asthma and several other conditions especially in children. In the future, it may be impossible to control the parasites of cockroaches with simple chemicals, those that are today contained in the most classic insecticides.

The researcher, together with his colleagues, tested three insecticides of different classes for repeated periods. In another phase, they used only one insecticide for which the cockroaches had developed an initial resistance, however of low level. In other phases, they still rotated the use of various insecticides of various classes. The result they have obtained is that in most cases they have had problems in containing populations and that the best result was obtained by using several insecticides of different classes simultaneously.

What the researchers observed is that insecticide resistance increased four to six times in a single generation, much faster than one might have thought. In fact the experiment lasted only six months: evidently, the same researchers believed that gender adaptations could have taken place only after years or in any case after many more generations.

Female cockroaches are characterized by a reproductive cycle of three months during which they can give birth to up to 50 children. This means that evolution can accelerate more easily: even if very few of the children show resistance to an insecticide or cross-resistance to more insecticides, the population can afford to re-explode after a few months with the advantage of resistance.