Watch any science fiction movie and you’ll quickly get the impression that weapon of choice in the future will be little more than a flash of light. Whether it’s a tiny pistol or a cannon capable of bringing down entire spaceships, lasers seem to define war in centuries yet to come.
We mightn’t have spacecraft shooting bolts of light at each other quite yet, but going on a recent demonstration in California we might be blasting slightly smaller enemies from the sky. The mosquito is set to be the first real-life victim of the laser gun.
Microsoft’s billionaire founder, Bill Gates, and his wife Melinda, set scientists a challenge to find cost-efficient ways of reducing the number of deaths from the parasitic disease malaria. The research company ‘Intellectual Ventures Laboratory’ took up the challenge and began work on a device that used a tiny laser to quickly zap any mosquito unlucky enough to get too close. Continue reading What’s the buzz about lasers?
If a cyclone tore through a book shop, how would you react if you were told it was your job to glue all of the books back together again? With ripped-up pages scattered all over the place, where would you start? A team of French microbiologists faced a similar dilemma when studying the diversity of bacteria in the human gut.
The long tube that is your digestive system is home to an immense zoo of microscopic organisms. Researchers from the National Institute of Agricultural Research in France wanted to know if we all shared similar zoos, or if the ‘animals’ in each of us varied.
Telling the difference between animals in a real life zoo is easy. Lions don’t look much like chimpanzees, and penguins are easy to pick out from the seals. Bacteria, on the other hand, can often be hard to categorise. So the microbiologists ripped them up and looked at a soup of their genes. Continue reading There’s a zoo in my belly
Competitions can be found everywhere in nature. Even the tiniest cells often need to fight, play hide and seek or run marathons, where winning can mean the difference between life and death. Most animals’ lives even begin with a race between competing cells, where the winner is literally awarded with the opportunity of a lifetime.
Every single sperm cell produced by a male animal holds a random selection of his genes, resulting in a multitude of cells containing different combinations of DNA. Some will have groups of genes that will help the animal survive in its environment, while others won’t work as well. A race is a good way to make sure only functional sperm have a chance at fertilising the egg at the end and creating a new life. Continue reading Winning sperm a glowing success
Seeing a colour happens in a blink of an eye. Although for us humans, that’s pretty slow, at least compared with the bumblebee. The speed at which your eyes process colour images might seem pretty quick, but researchers at the University of London have found the bee is hard to beat.
Vision relies on special cells that line the inside of the back of your eyeball. One type of these cells – referred to as ‘rods’ – detects how bright light is, while the other – shaped a little more like cones – responds to different wavelengths of light to allow us to see colours. ssage to the brain, which takes about a tenth of a second in humans. This might not seem very long, but for bees this could mean the difference between finding food or being food. Their cellular chemistry is therefore five times faster than ours. Continue reading Busy bees quick on colours
Last week we saw a picture on the Internet that showed that the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull (pronounced ?ay-uh-fee-at-luh-yo-koot-luh/span>?) was emitting less carbon dioxide than would have been emitted by the thousands of planes that usually fly in Europe each day. So in the short term the volcano?s eruption saved the skies from tonnes of carbon dioxide because so many flights were grounded due to the volcano?s ash. Science by Email decided to investigate. Continue reading Eyjafjallajökull, it’s not over till it’s over
A spectacular new jellyfish has recently been found off the CSIRO wharf at Battery Point in Hobart, Tasmania, and has been given the name Csiromedusa medeopolis. This newly discovered life form is full of surprises, as it represents not only a new species but also a new family.
The jellyfish was discovered by researchers from the Queen Victoria Museum and Gallery in Launceston and the South Australian Museum. They used a specially-designed plankton net to catch the jellyfish off the CSIRO wharf. When they pulled up the net and looked at what they had caught under a microscope they found an amazing and unique jellyfish that had never been seen before. Continue reading CSIRO harbours new jellyfish