PHEW! The school year is officially over and I finally have some time to dedicate to the blog. Seriously, this May was a doozy! I’ve only been off for 4 days, but I have already written curriculum for next year and revamped my class website. I am beyond excited for next year!
Since I’ve been MIA for the past two weeks, I’m doubling up on my weekly news roundup – so here are the top 5 scientific news stories of the past TWO weeks!
- Jupiter’s Rings: Though Saturn is most famous for its incredible rings, it’s not the only planet that has them. Thanks to NASA’s Juno Mission, we now have some new UNBELIEVABLE images of the gas giant, it’s poles, and it’s rings. Along with the spectacular images, the data received from the Juno spacecraft really throws a wrench at what was previously thought about Jupiter. From all the past images of planet, its different storm patterns look like horizontal bands around the giant. Scientists believed the same would appear at the poles, but what they saw they did not expect! Rather than banded patterns, they saw total chaos. Check it out for yourself! For more info, check out sciencenews.org.
- Sleep Deprivation & Brain Cannibalism: In a paper published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers found that in sleep deprived mice (up to 5 days), the brain cells in charge of ingesting and breaking down neural “waste material” go into overdrive. Another set of important cells, called astrocytes, whose job it is to get rid of unnecessary synapses as well as rewire the brain depending on the person, go into overdrive during sleep deprivation and literally can’t stop pruning synapses, therefore getting rid of synapses that we actually need. It’s known that sleep deprivation can be as or even more dangerous than being under the influence of alcohol, but now it seems as though it literally causes the brain to start “eating” itself! Moral of the story? Get your 8 hours!
- Move Over, Africa: For quite some time now, evolutionary biologists trace the human race back to hominid groups in Africa between 8 and 6 million years ago. From there, hominid groups spread out into Asia, Europe, and everywhere else. A jaw bone found in Europe, however, could shake things up. A jaw bone from the great ape species Graecopithecus shows some serious evidence that it may not in fact be an ape after all, but a hominid ancestor instead. The second lower premolar has two fused roots, which is a trait of ancient hominids, not of ancient apes. The premolar dates to about 7.24 million years ago – and since it was found in Europe, it creates some serious dissonance about where hominids could have originated. This is the only current piece of evidence, however, that scientists have in this case, so it isn’t hugely convincing. Either they have found a hominid ancestor in Europe, or they have found a species of ancient ape that shared this uniquely hominid trait. Regardless, it’s a pretty cool evolutionary find!
- Glass Frogs: A new species of glass frog has been found in the rain forests of Ecuador. Similar species of glass frogs have been found before, but this one is unique. They get their name due to their transparent undersides – however most glass frogs have a white film that covers the organs, so it can be difficult to see any detail. This new species has no filmy substance, so you can actually see the blood in its veins, the blood pumping through its heart, as well as its bones. The females also lay eggs on the underside of leaves while the males stand guard. Unfortunately, researchers are pessimistic about the species’ future. Oil exploration is destroying the only known habitat of the species. Let’s hope green energy takes hold soon so we can learn more about this magnificent species.
- Your Gut-Brain Connection: Researchers at Farncombe Family Digestive Health Research Institute published a study showing decreased depression scores with the use of specific probiotics. It is common knowledge that the microbiome of the human body, specifically in the intestine, is an essential part of one’s immune system and brain function. It is sometimes referred to as the “gut-brain connection,” and this study supports just how strong a connection there really is. Participants with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with co-existing depression took either a probiotic (Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001) or a placebo. After just six weeks of daily probiotic/placebo treatment, 64% of the probiotic group showed decreased depression scores compared to just 32% in the placebo group. This study is incredibly important not only for gastroenterology, but the mental health field as well. If probiotics can help IBS symptoms and depression, we may have a strong case for the use of probiotic treatment over the typical depression medications, which usually come with a plethora of side effects. For more information, check out Science Daily and the infographic below!