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April 14, 2024

Science news in review: April 16

By KAIYUAN DU | April 16, 2023

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MORTEN BREKKEVOLD / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Among other science news, a study published in Nature last week showed that octopuses have taste receptors on their tentacles. 

With only two weeks left this semester, let us pause for a moment amid the flurry of exams and projects to explore the fascinating scientific breakthroughs from the past week. Recent advances provide further insights into areas of cancer biology, geoscience, zoology, physics and astronomy.

Aging affects five animals in the same way on cellular levels

Scientists from Germany have discovered the cellular mechanism of aging shared by five species: humans, fruit flies, rats, mice and worms. Previous research has shown that aging has negative effects on various cellular processes including DNA transcription, which is a crucial step in gene expression. In this recent study, researchers investigated how aging impacts the behavior of RNA polymerase II (Pol II), the enzyme that is responsible for transcription. They found that, with aging, Pol II tends to work faster but becomes less accurate and more prone to errors across all five species studied.

The study's findings highlight the universality of aging mechanisms even among distantly related species, such as fruit flies and humans, and suggest that Pol II could be a viable target for anti-aging medications.

James Webb Space Telescope images stress the existing model of universe evolution

A recent study published in Nature Astronomy presents a novel approach to stress testing the Lambda Cold Dark Matter (ΛCDM) model using high-redshift galaxy candidates, which are located at significant distances from the Earth and can provide information about the early universe. 

By analyzing the distribution and properties of these galaxies, the researchers sought to test the predictions of the ΛCDM model. The study found that the observed properties of the high-redshift galaxy candidates challenged the predictions of the model, providing observational evidence for the current understanding of the early universe.

Sea-level rising makes the U.S. Atlantic coast vulnerable to sinking

New evidence helped explain the connection between the impact of climate change and the sinking of the U.S. Atlantic coast relative to the rising sea level. Researchers at the Virginia Institute of Technology examined satellite images and created some of the world's first high-resolution depictions of land subsidence, which is a geological phenomenon of sinking land. The study found a high subsidence rate, exceeding three millimeters per year, that affects most coastal areas, including wetlands, forests, agricultural areas and developed regions. 

These results led researchers to predict the potential natural disasters along the coastline in the next few decades. The vulnerability assessment, as geoscientists call it, estimates that more than half of coastal marshes are losing elevation relative to sea level. According to the scientists, previous studies substantially underestimated marsh vulnerability because they did not fully account for subsidence.

Octopuses can grasp with their arms, but can they taste?

Based on a recent study published in Nature, octopuses use their arms to taste the environment around them and gather information about the taste and texture of objects. Researchers conducted experiments on octopuses and found that the suckers on their arms contain taste receptors, allowing them to taste objects that they come into contact with. The octopuses would extend their arms towards objects of interest, touch them with their suckers and then retract their arms to their mouths to taste the object. This suggests that octopuses rely on their arms not only for touch and manipulation but also for gustatory information gathering. 

Further research is needed to better understand the complex sensory and neurological mechanisms that octopuses use to explore and perceive their environment, which could have implications for the fields of marine biology and neuroscience.

New research challenges traditional views on early ape diets and environments

Two new studies challenge the long-held belief that early apes were fruit eaters living in thick forests. Instead, the studies suggest that they lived in open, seasonally dry environments and had a more diverse diet that included leaves. 

As a part of the Research on Eastern African Catarrhine and Hominoid Evolution Project, the studies focused on a 21-million-year-old site called Moroto in eastern Uganda. The researchers used fossils, ancient soils and phytoliths — small particles of silica formed in plants — to reconstruct the ancient environment of Morotopithecus, the oldest known ape. They found that it lived in an open woodland with broken canopy forests composed of trees and shrubs. Researchers also analyzed the apes' dental enamel and identified evidence of a diet that included water-stressed plants common in open woodland environments. 

These findings could have implications for our understanding of human evolution; for example, early hominids emerged in a drier and more irregular environment than was previously believed.


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