In the next selection of interesting scientific news of the week:
Protein flown in a meteorite can mean extraterrestrial life
Scientists from Harvard reported the discovery of the first protein of extraterrestrial origin: it was found in the Acfer 086 meteorite. This meteorite was found in Algeria back in 1990 and has since been waiting in the wings for storage.
It has long been known that meteorites may contain amino acids – the organic substances from which any protein is built. But in order to find out that a complete protein is in the meteorite, a team led by Julia McGeoch needed to isolate a potential protein from the sample, make its chemical analysis and reveal the molecular structure.
This was successfully done using the latest mass spectrometer.
To make sure that the protein, called hemolitin, did not get into the meteorite already on Earth, scientists calculated the ratio of deuterium and ordinary hydrogen in it, which turned out to be “clearly extraterrestrial.” Apparently, the protein was formed even in the protoplanetary disk or even earlier, in the interstellar molecular clouds that existed even before the birth of our Sun.
Given that some meteorites contain stardust, which is older than our solar system, it can be assumed that they can also retain billions of years old protein.
Hemolithin is particularly interesting in that it may have the ability to break down water into oxygen and hydrogen.
So far, according to McGeoch, this is only an assumption, “but if this turns out to be true, then we have discovered a source of chemical energy, the main part of the biochemical process leading to the origin of life.”
When the earth went without land
More than 3 billion years ago, our planet was truly blue, because its entire surface was covered by the ocean, as in the simple apocalyptic film “Water World“.
This conclusion was made by scientists during the study of more than 100 rock samples from the Panorama area in Australia – today it is a desert, but this was not always the case.
- Scientists: half of the Earth’s oceans “flew from space”
“Today there are endless bare rocks strewn with beds of dried up rivers, this is a crazy place where nothing reminds of the ancient ocean,” says Benjamin Johnson, head of work at Iowa University. “But we still found rocks that saw sea water and remember her”.
This “memory” of the ancient ocean is expressed in terms of the oxygen-18 isotope. It is also present in modern oceans, but 3 billion years ago its level was much higher.
Comparing the decrease in the level of this isotope with its content in marine sediments of 2.5-3 billion years old, scientists came to the conclusion that the water cycle in nature and its effect on the formation of continents on the surface of our planet were a much more complicated process than previously thought since So, it is possible that the cycle underwent two “stable cycles”: one before the formation of the Earth’s continents, and the other after.
The new data suggest that life forms could inhabit the water world 3 billion years ago, and also do not exclude that some pieces of land could exist at that time.
“Our studies do not exclude that microcontinent stuck out from somewhere in the ocean,” says co-author of the work, associate professor at the University of Colorado, Boswell Wing. “But we do not think that at that time there were vast tracts of land that we see today.”
How caterpillars can solve the problem of plastic waste
Every year, mankind produces about 300 million tons of plastic waste, which not only settles in landfills, but penetrates everywhere: into the oceans, global ecosystems, even our body, and so far we have not found reliable ways to get rid of this plastic.
However, there is hope, and living organisms serve it, which scientists call plastic eaters.
Today, more than 50 species of such organisms are known – mainly bacteria and fungi, but recently researchers have been attracted by insects that process plastic, especially caterpillars of a large wax moth, or bee moths.
Scientists from the University of Manitoba have found out how, thanks to a “very close cooperation” between the caterpillar and the microbes living in its pathway, the plastic is split and absorbed by the body – and so successfully that the caterpillar can live on one plastic for a whole year.
In fact, these caterpillars are considered parasites. They live in beehives and feed on wax. But wax, like plastic, is made up of hydrocarbons.
“Bacteria that break down the long chains of hydrocarbons that make up wax live in the digestive tract of wax moth caterpillars,” says Christophe Lemoyne, leader of the research team. “And since plastic has a similar molecular structure, the same mechanism makes it possible to use polyethylene as food.”
In fact, as scientists have found out, bacteria (caterpillars were not asked) like plastic even more than wax.
But how many caterpillars do you need to rid the world of mountains of plastic debris if 60 worms eat a matchbox in a week?
“Caterpillars themselves are, of course, not a solution to the problem of plastic pollution,” admits Lemoyne. “But understanding the mechanism of successful interactions between caterpillars and bacteria can lead to the creation of an ideal biodegradation system for plastic waste.”
Is an expensive car a bad driver?
This opinion is not the result of the black envy of those who can’t afford an expensive car, but the conclusion of experts who unequivocally say: drivers of prestigious cars are the worst.
Researchers at the University of Nevada asked volunteers – two men, black and white, and two women – to cross the street at the crosswalk, and they filmed it themselves on video. When analyzing the results, it turned out that the more expensive the car, the less willingly the drivers slowed down, with priority being given to the white man and woman.
According to scientists, this behavior of drivers is explained by “a false sense of superiority over pedestrians.”
“The detachment and reduced ability to perceive the feelings of others, coupled with narcissism and a sense of permissiveness among drivers of expensive cars lead to a lack of empathy with pedestrians,” conclude the authors of the study.
The connection between the cost of the car and the characteristics of the driver’s personality is also confirmed by the Finns, who also came to the conclusion that owners of status cars are most often “stubborn, unpleasant in communication and indifferent to others.”
“I was convinced that people who most often pass the red light do not let pedestrians pass and generally behave dangerously on the road – these are usually drivers of expensive and fast German cars,” said study author Jan-Eric Longqvist from Helsinki University.
But at the same time, he admits that respectable citizens often also choose expensive models.
“Such people, as a rule, are respected in society, ambitious and well organized,” Longquist says. “They care about themselves, their comfort, health and safety, and this explains their choice of expensive and prestigious brands.”