Author Archives: Luke Foster

Rebirth of plants and bacteria was rapid after Chicxulub asteroid

By carrying out analysis of rock samples taken from the bottom of the sea in the area of the centre of the Chicxulub crater, an area where 66 million years ago there was a huge meteorite impact, a team of researchers suggests that terrestrial plants, fungi and microbes were transported over great distances as a result of wave activity.

This was due to the giant tsunami that occurred as a result of the impact. The same study shows that the rebirth of terrestrial plants, dinoflagellates, cyanobacteria and all anaerobic bacteria was quite rapid as Bettina Schaefer, researcher at Curtin University and author of the study, explains.

“Our research shows that when the dust from the asteroid impact stabilized and sunlight returned to ideal levels, there was a rapid rebirth of terrestrial plants, dinoflagellates, cyanobacteria and all forms of anaerobic photosynthetic bacteria, including those from microbial carpets in the crater area,” says the researcher.

The same analysis also seems to suggest that it was also the phytoplankton communities in the impact area that evolved and continued to reproduce at a rapid rate.

“So many things were happening in such a short time, it was really as if a post-apocalyptic microbial chaos was happening in the Chicxulub crater,” says the researcher suggesting how this impact cost, which has led to global mass extinctions in the medium and long term, has, especially for smaller life forms for microorganisms, all in all represented an important transition or even a phase of accelerated growth.

Cicada infected with fungus become “zombies” and try to mate with anything

A strange behavior was discovered by a group of researchers from the University of West Virginia concerning a group of cicadas. The latter can be infected by a fungus called Massopora which injects into the body of the insect chemical substances very similar to those of hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Once infected, the cicadas lose their limbs and genitals and take on behavior that the researchers themselves define as eccentric: they try to mate “with everything they encounter” wandering like “zombies” and infecting other group cicadas.

“Zombie” is the word used by Matt Kasson, assistant professor of biology at the university and principal author of the study: these cicadas, once infected, seem to lose control of their body, control that passes, in a sense, to the fungus pathogen. The cicadas are infected during the period they pass under the ground, a period that can last several years, before they emerge on the surface and become adult.

Once infected, the cicada’s body begins to fall apart but not to a level that does not allow them to move anymore. Before death, for a certain period they continue to fly, despite the fact that the fungus is “eating” their limbs and their reproductive system and in this way, the same fungus can spread better and spread to the other cicadas.

In the same way, the hypersexual behavior that the cicada assumes once infected and once in flight helps to better spread the fungus thanks to a greater number of physical contacts.

The researchers now intend to acquire the genome of the fungus also to better understand its action and the possible presence of potentially important secondary pharmacological metabolites.

Bats also use a visual system in addition to echolocation

A study published in Science Advances focused on the particular visual system of bats, notoriously one of the most active and most skilled animals at exploiting the darkness. These animals, in fact, know how to exploit their very sensitive hearing to hunt prey but also for other basic operations such as mating.

A study, produced by researchers at the University of Tel Aviv, reveals that bats integrate their echolocation system with the visual system provided naturally by their eyes to maximize the profitability of their movements during the night, in environments often very dark such as those of the caves. Yossi Yovel and Sasha Danilovich analyzed different aspects of this visual system, particularly in fruit bats, a species of bat belonging to the Pteropodid family.

These animals are able to transform an echo into a visual image thanks to which they can find the way out even from a completely dark labyrinth, being able to determine the shapes and structures of objects with a high level of precision. This means that they use, perhaps at a level never deduced before, massively even their eyes, notoriously scarce in terms of visual power.

During the experiments, they trained various bats and landed them on one of two objects hidden in complete darkness. They also trained them to understand the differences between a smooth and a perforated object. When they switched on the lights, the researchers discovered that bats used the visual system to manipulate the data provided by the auditory system to find the way out or to learn the shape of an object, which they were unable to do in total darkness.

Machine learning algorithm that predicts lightning developed by German computer scientists

Lightning can have serious consequences not only for people and structures but also because they can upset the environment by triggering fires. Predicting thunderstorms with greater precision, even with regard to location, therefore remains of primary importance.

Jens Dittrich, professor of computer science at the University of Saarland, together with his student Christian Schön, therefore thought of developing software that could help in this regard. The two have thus developed a new algorithm that turns out to be more powerful than the previous ones and can predict thunderstorms with greater precision.

Beyond the precision level of this algorithm, this research is important because it explores the possibility of using artificial intelligence as regards the localized prediction of meteorological phenomena. And this is even more true for thunderstorms, a considerable precision is needed when they must be provided for in a specific region: the movement of cold and hot air masses must be detected in advance and with great precision.

The software is capable of using two-dimensional images, those produced by satellites, to detect movements of three-dimensional air masses. Lofa thanks to a new algorithm that basically calculates a future image. The algorithm has been trained with the machine learning technique to minimize errors. In the end, it turned out to be so precise that researchers are now able to calculate lightning and thunder with relative accuracy.

As the scientist reports, the algorithm, based only on satellite images, can predict lightning with a 96% accuracy in a forecast window that can last 15 minutes. In a five-hour forecast window, the degree of precision remains above 83%.

As Professor Dittrich explains, these are the results when the large masses of data that today’s tools, in this case the satellites, can provide us with today’s computational power are combined: computers are now able to recognize patterns that would remain entirely hidden from our eyes.

Scientists discover how plants breathe

A team of scientists from the University of Sheffield has produced a new study, published in Nature Communications, which shows “how plants breathe,” that is how they manage to provide a constant flow of air to every cell.

The presence of so-called stomata, tiny pores on the leaves and stems of plants, had already been discovered by botanists during the 19th century. These pores form a network of very complex air channels and therefore it was always difficult to understand how the flow of carbon dioxide could propagate to every cell of the plant.

Researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Food at the University of Sheffield think they understand this complex system using genetic manipulation techniques. Scientists have discovered that the greater the number of stomata on a leaf, the more air space the leaf itself can form. This means that these small pores are like the bronchioles, the passages that allow the area to propagate in the lungs.

And it is the very movement of air through the leaves that shapes the structure of these pores and their internal functioning, something new with regard to the evolution of plants. Among other things, in understanding this, researchers have also discovered that over the course of generations humans have cultivated wheat plants that had fewer and fewer pores on the leaves and therefore fewer channels to let the air pass.

This artificial routing of the evolution of wheat plants unknowingly provoked by human beings, in fact, makes the leaves denser allowing among other things to the same plant to be able to grow with a smaller quantity of water.