Another week, another batch of sweet science summaries! Here’s What’s New(s) in science!
- Nike Narrowly Misses the Mark: 63 years to the day after the first sub 4 minute mile was accomplished, runners Lelisa Desisa, Eliud Kipchoge, and Zersenay Tadese attempted to be the first to run a sub 2 hour marathon. Let’s just remember that a marathon is 26.2 MILES LONG. To finish that in less than 2 hours, a runner would have to keep up a mile pace of just under 4 minutes and 35 seconds for the entire marathon. That is incredible. These men and Nike have been partnering for quite some time in an attempt to accomplish this feat. Nike researchers have been testing the human limits of exercise physiology and biomechanics. Figuring out how to reduce the amount of lactic acid buildup in the muscles, how to get the most oxygen per breath, angles of arms and legs while running, and shoe technology, have been the main focus. On May 5th, Desisa, Kipchoge, and Tadese set out on their run – Kipchoge was the first to cross the finish line, breaking the marathon world record by 2 and a half minutes, but was just 26 seconds short of the sub 2 hour marathon. Tadese and Desisa finished within two minutes of Kipchoge. Though the record-breaking run was incredible, more research must be done to shave off that last 26 seconds. Find out more about the research here, and more about the race, here.
- Mars May be More Mysterious: The crazy thing about science is that it’s true, whether or not you believe in it (Thanks Neil!). What’s even crazier is that it is always being changed and proven in different ways as new evidence evolves. The majority of current scientists believe that Mars was created during and shortly after the heavy bombardment period. It’s a terrestrial planet, much like Mercury, Venus, and Earth. Mars, however, has a very different chemical composition than Earth and the other inner planets. Scientists have proposed a new theory of its origins that might explain such differences. Between the inner and outer planets, there is a giant asteroid field that also orbits the sun – called the Asteroid Belt. Many of the asteroids in this belt are massive and can collide with each other. Some researchers believe that Mars may have originally formed in the asteroid belt and as it grew in size, may have been drawn in closer to the Sun’s gravitational pull. The evidence they have for this is the isotopic makeup of Mars compared to the asteroids in the belt, which are very similar. As usual, much more evidence would be needed to make this a valid theory, but it definitely holds promise!
- Icing the Ice Caps: Prior to the woes of climate change, ice in the arctic was able to replace itself as fast as it melted. This was incredibly important, as the ice in the arctic plays a key role in cooling the planet. However, now that climate change is impacting the Earth more than ever, ice is not reforming at a pace quick enough to keep up with the melting – a bad situation. Arctic ice usually forms on the bottom of preexisting ice. Since water is an insulator, it releases heat as it freezes. That heat must move up through the ice before it is released into the air. This is a slow process – hence the issue keeping up with current melting rates. Physicists and environmentalists came up with the idea to consistently pump freezing water from deeper depths of the ocean up to the surface during the winter – which is ridiculously cold in the arctic. Since the air is colder in the winter, the water will freeze faster at the surface. If they can build the ice up during the winter, it may help sustain it through the now warmer summers. In theory, this would work. Getting a system to perform this is the hard part. Now that we’ve hit critical points in the climate change devastation, this will be at the forefront of environmental research.
- Taming the Fox – 60 Years and Counting: I’ll be honest with you – this bit really isn’t “new.” It is, however, making a reappearance as its 60 year anniversary rounds the corner. This is something we’ve talked about in my Integrated Science class and I think it’s so interesting. In 1959, Lyudmila Trut, evolutionary biologistLee Alan Dugatkin, and geneticist Dmitry Belyaev set out to research how domestication of a wild animal works. Why would we care about something like this? Because our ancient ancestors did just this. You can thank them for the vast majority of your pets and the food you eat. Trut, Dugatkin, and Belyaev took silver foxes straight from the wild – aggressive, even tempered, and even mild ones – and bred only the tamest of the tame together generation after generation. Not only did they want to see how long it would take to truly “domesticate” a wild animal, but they wanted to study the changes in the organisms on a genetic level. What they found was astounding. After quite a few generations, traits that were never seen before in these foxes started to show up – curly tails, droopy ears, different coloration – along with the tamer personalities. What these researchers found out was that selecting for and breeding only the tame with the tame (less diverse personalities/brain function) actually altered the way tons of other traits were expressed. Wild Silver foxes are black with a gray/silver sheen throughout, pointy ears, and bushy tails. To see them take on spotted colorations, different eye colors, and curled tails, traits that literally did not exist in the wild, was an astounding discovery for genetics. Even more amazing, this study is still going on! With its 60 year anniversary right around the corner, Trut, now 80 years old, has co-wrote a book documenting this domestication journey. If this is something that interests you, here’s the link to the book.
- Swirling Nerve Cells Linked to Depression: As a mental illness, depression, along with many others, remain elusive as to their causes. We know how it works, what happens during it, but not necessarily the origin. Researchers from New York, St. Louis, and China believe they have found the link between a specific gene and depression. Neurons, brain cells that transmit messages and neurotransmitters, space themselves out appropriately in order to efficiently send & receive messages, as well as release neurotransmitters, like serotonin. In mice lacking the Pcdhαc2 gene, these neurons became coiled and too close to one another. This swirling pattern doesn’t allow the neurons to release the appropriate amount of serotonin, which lacks in people with depression. Understanding the link between mice with a properly functioning Pcdhαc2 gene and a dysfunctional one, could really help researchers better understand how depression forms in humans. For more information, visit Science News.