The “Planet Earth Report” provides descriptive links to headline news by leading science journalists about the extraordinary discoveries, technology, people, and events changing our knowledge of Planet Earth and the future of the human species. Today’s stories range from gravity works differently from how Einstein thought about it to ancient viruses from melting permafrost could cause the next pandemic to a billion years before sex, ancient cells were equipped for it, and much more.
A Billion Years Before Sex, Ancient Cells Were Equipped for It, reports Jake Buehler for Quanta –Molecular detective work is zeroing in on the origins of sexual reproduction. The protein tools for cell mergers seem to have long predated sex — so what were they doing?
Meet the robots that can reproduce, learn and evolve all by themselves –Machines that can mate and produce offspring can help us clean up nuclear sites, explore asteroids and terraform distant planets – but could they also prove a threat, asks Emma Hart, who is helping develop them, reports New Scientist.
We exist thanks to chirality and the asymmetry of life –Life is possible because of asymmetries, such as an imbalance between matter and antimatter and the “handedness” (chirality) of molecules, reports Big Think. “As Louis Pasteur discovered in the mid-1800s, the amino acids and sugars that make up living matter display a fundamental asymmetry: Life prefers “left-handed” amino acids and “right-handed” sugars. The resolution of this mystery will be essential for understanding the origin of life here and elsewhere in the Universe.”
The Metaverse Is Coming: We May Already Be in It –-As in the world of The Matrix, we may not be able to tell what’s real and what’s not reports Rizwan Virk a computer scientist and video game pioneer, founder of Play Labs @ MIT and author of The Simulation Hypothesis: An MIT Computer Scientist Shows Why AI, Quantum Physics and Eastern Mystics Agree We Are in a Video Game and The Simulated Multiverse for Scientific American.
Is Reddit a better search engine than Google? –A blog post making the argument that Google Search is dying shot to the top of Hacker News this week—and sparked a big debate, reports Mark Sullivan for Fast Company.
What brain-eating amoebae can tell us about the diversity of life on earth and evolutionary history, reports the University of Massachusetts Amherst –“An international team of researchers, led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, recently announced that an amoeba called Naegleria has evolved more distinct sets of tubulins, used for specific cellular processes. Their insight has a host of implications, which range from developing treatments for brain-eating infections to better understanding how life on earth evolved such enormous diversity.”
Does life flash before your eyes? Brain scan of dying man suggests it’s possible –Scientists report unexpected brain activity in patient, 87, as he died from heart attack, reports The Guardian. “When Harry Stamper sets off a bomb to save planet Earth in the film Armageddon, his life flashes before his eyes. Now research has revealed tantalizing clues that such recall may not be Hollywood hyperbole.”
In Search of Cracks in Albert Einstein’s Theory of Gravity –cosmologist Celia Escamilla-Rivera (see video below) is combining large data sets with supercomputers to test general relativity against its little-known competitors, reports Thomas Lewton for Quanta.com. “Invisible substances known as dark matter and dark energy seem to make up some 95% of the content of the universe. But it’s also possible that they are illusions that appear because gravity works differently from how Einstein thought about it.”
Could ancient viruses from melting permafrost cause the next pandemic? –”Alexander Volkovitskiy from the Russian Academy of Sciences recounted an alarming incident. It took place in 2016 on the Yamal peninsula on Russia’s northern coast where local people herd hundreds of thousands of reindeer. That summer, temperatures were unseasonably warm and some of the permafrost thawed. The bacterium that causes anthrax – which had been present on the peninsula for over a century – emerged from the soil and spread like wildfire,” reports New Scientist.
It is only human to treat the metaverse with skepticism – here’s why –Meta and Microsoft’s new virtual reality projects have been met with suspicion by many, but history has shown that people are often right to be wary of technological change, says James Ball for New Scientist. “Vodafone is predicting that smart devices could monitor our health and even our brains by 2030. And Elon Musk has claimed his Neuralink technology may be able to help people with paralysis walk and enable everyone to upload their memories to the cloud within the decade.
Largest bacterium ever discovered has unexpectedly complex cells –Giant microbe from a mangrove could be a missing link between single-celled organisms and the cells that make up humans, reports Science.com
The hidden melting of the most important ice on Earth, explained –The future of sea level rise is being written underneath Antarctica and Greenland, reports Vox. “New research finds that some of the most profound changes to Earth’s ice are largely invisible because they’re happening far beneath the surface. Land ice and ice shelves are wearing thin from below, and it’s happening much faster than previously expected.”
Will Russia’s invasion of Ukraine trigger a massive cyberwar? –Russia, Ukraine and many of the latter’s Western allies have the ability to launch cyberattacks on other nations, and both sides seem ready for digital skirmishes, reports New Scientist.
Most Complete Simulation of a Cell Probes Life’s Hidden Rules –A 3D digital model of a “minimal cell” leads scientists closer to understanding the barest requirements for life, reports Quanta.com. “From the bizarre creatures in the depths of the oceans to the bacteria inside our bodies, all life on Earth consists of cells. But we have only a very rough idea of how even the simplest of those cells function.”
Nuclear Fusion: Time to Get Excited? asks Paul Norman & Lee Packer for The Conversation –” Recent results from the Joint European Torus (JET) facility in the UK, hinting that the dream of nuclear fusion power is inching closer to reality. We know that fusion works – it is the process that powers the Sun, providing heat and light to the Earth. But for decades it has proved difficult to make the transition from scientific laboratory experiments to sustained power production.”
Springtime was the season the dinosaurs died, ancient fish fossils suggest Dinosaur-killing asteroid struck in Northern Hemisphere spring reports Science.com–“On a spring day 66 million years ago, as flowers bloomed and baby birds hatched in what is now North Dakota, a ball of fire streaked across the sky and wiped out nearly three-quarters of life on Earth. So says a new high-resolution study of fossilized fish bones, which pinpoints the season of the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction to the Northern Hemisphere spring.”
The animal ‘sixth sense’ for disaster –The animals that detect disasters–For millennia, people across the globe have reported alarmed animal behavior in the run-up to natural disasters. Could these signals be used to warn us of impending catastrophes?
Omicron’s lasting mysteries: four questions scientists are racing to answer –The fast-moving variant poses new puzzles in viral transmission, severity and evolution, reports Nature.com. “Infection rates with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 are plummeting in many countries around the world. But scientists are still struggling to understand how it spread so rapidly and what it might do next, especially because the subvariant known as BA.2 is rising in some places.”
Ancient DNA Helps Reveal Social Changes in Africa 50,000 Years Ago That Shaped the Human Story, reports Singularity Hub.
Discovery of New HIV Variant Sends Warning for COVID Pandemic –-Infectious disease expert William A. Haseltine cautions that a coronavirus variant could emerge with the transmissibility of Omicron and the deadliness of the original SARS, reports Scientific American.
The mystery of Mexico’s vanishing stream oaks, reports BBC Future. “By the banks of a seasonal riverbed in north-western Mexico, a collection of towering, gnarled oak trees stand guard. These trees descend from ancestors that lived more than 50 million years ago and their species has faced, and survived, any number of challenges. Today fewer than 5,000 of them are still standing.”
Contaminated kinship –If your hometown were beset with toxic dust, like Australia’s Broken Hill, would you feel any less connected to it? reports Aeon.
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