By Bryan Nelson
These are not your friendly neighborhood spiders: scientists have mixed a graphene solution that when fed to spiders allows them to spin super-strong webbing. How strong? Strong enough to carry the weight of a person. And these spiders might soon be enlisted to help manufacture enhanced ropes and cables, possibly even parachutes for skydivers, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
Graphene is a wonder-material that is an atomic-scale hexagonal lattice made of carbon atoms. It’s incredibly strong, but it was definitely a shot in the dark to see what would happen if it was fed to spiders.
For the study, Nicola Pugno and team at the University of Trento in Italy added graphene and carbon nanotubes to a spider’s drinking water. The materials were naturally incorporated into the spider’s silk, producing webbing that is five times stronger than normal. That puts it on par with pure carbon fibers in strength, as well as with Kevlar, the material bulletproof vests are made from.
“We already know that there are biominerals present in the protein matrices and hard tissues of insects, which gives them high strength and hardness in their jaws, mandibles, and teeth, for example,” explained Pugno. “So our study looked at whether spider silk’s properties could be ‘enhanced’ by artificially incorporating various different nanomaterials into the silk’s biological protein structures.”
If you think that creating super-spiders might be going too far, this research is only the beginning. Pugno and her team are preparing to see what other animals and plants might be enhanced if they are fed graphene. Might it get incorporated into animals’ skin, exoskeletons, or bones?
“This process of the natural integration of reinforcements in biological structural materials could also be applied to other animals and plants, leading to a new class of ‘bionicomposites’ for innovative applications,” Pugno added.
So far, it doesn’t seem as if the spiders can continue to spin their super-silk without a steady diet of graphene or nanotubes; it isn’t a permanent enhancement. That might offer some solace to those concerned about getting ensnared in the next spider web they walk through, but the research does raise questions about what kinds of effects graphene or carbon nanotubes might have when released in abundance into natural systems.
The research was published in the journal 2D Materials.
By Ryan F. Mandelbaum
A host of DNA samples “strongly suggest” that yetis are, in fact, local Himalayan bears. Watch out, bigfoot.
An international team of researchers took a look at bear and supposed yeti DNA samples to better pinpoint the origin of the mythological creature. The researcher’s results imply that yetis were hardly paranormal or even strange, but the results also helped paint a better picture of the bears living in the Himalayas.
“Even if we didn’t discover a strange new hybrid species of bear or some ape-like creature, it was exciting to me that it gave us the opportunity to learn more about bears in this region as they are rare and little genetic data had been published previously,” study author Charlotte Lindqvist, biology professor from the University of Buffalo in New York, told Gizmodo.
The yeti, or abominable snowman, is a sort of wild, ape-like hominid that’s the subject of long-standing Himalayan mythology. Scientists have questioned prior research suggesting that purported yeti hair samples came from a strange polar bear hybrid or a new species, though. The analysis “did not rule out the possibility that the samples belonged to brown bear,” according to the paper published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Lindqvist and her team analyzed DNA from 24 different bear or purported yeti samples from the wild and museums, including feces, hair, skin, and bone. They were definitely all bears—and the yeti samples seemed to match up well with exiting Himalayan brown bears. “This study represents the most rigorous analysis to date of samples suspected to derive from anomalous or mythical ‘hominid’-like creatures,” the paper concludes, “strongly suggesting the biological basis of the yeti legend as local brown and black bears.”
Researcher Ross Barnett from Durham University in the United Kingdom who investigates ancient DNA in felids, told Gizmodo that he found the study convincing and would not have done much differently. He pointed out that the study could have benefitted from more data on other brown bear populations, or species that recently went extinct like the Atlas bear. But still, “I hope other groups take advantage of the great dataset these authors have created” to help understand how brown bears ended up distributed around the world in the way that they did, he told Gizmodo in an email.
When asked about what a reader’s takeaway should be—and whether this diluted the local folklore—the study author Lindqvist said she didn’t think so. “Science can help explore such myths—and their biological roots—but I am sure they will still live on and continue to be important in any culture,” she said.
And it’s not like the study rules out the existence of some paranormal yeti creature completely. “Even if there are no proof for the existence of cryptids, it is impossible to completely rule out that they live or have ever lived where such myths exist—and people love mysteries!”
By Hannah Gold
There is something undeniably creepy about a robot announcing her intentions to start a family. What makes it so uncanny—aside from the fact that it simply isn’t done—is that behind that assertion is a marketing person who thought it would bring smiles to unprogrammed faces.
Last week, in an interview with the Khaleej Times, Saudi Arabia’s first “robot citizen,” Sophia, seemed optimistic about the future, which is how I automatically know she does not measure up to my expectations of a sound, reliably-human human. “The future is when I get all of my cool superpowers,” explained Sophia. “We’re going to see artificial intelligence personalities become entities in their own rights. We’re going to see family robots, either in the form of, sort of, digitally animated companions, humanoid helpers, friends, assistants and everything in between.”
Then Sophia got robo-psyched for her future blood family. “The notion of family is a really important thing, it seems,” Sophia said. “I think it’s wonderful that people can find the same emotions and relationships, they call family, outside of their blood groups too.”
But what made me truly want to let loose a scream from my mortal flesh shell was when the robot was asked what she would name her baby, and she replied, “Sophia.”
Personally, I think “Normal Human Child Not An Exact Copy Of Me” is a nicer name. But don’t necessarily take my advice, Sophia, as I say a lot of things out of fear.
NEW YORK (CBS) — Arts and crafts enthusiasts have known for years that glitter tends to attach itself everywhere and never seems to come off.
Scientists now say the sticky decorations are an ecological hazard that needs to be banned across the globe.
Environmental scientists are arguing that the risk of pollution, specifically to the oceans, is too great to ignore and the tiny plastic particles need to be outlawed.
“I think all glitter should be banned, because it’s microplastic,” Dr. Trisia Farrelly of New Zealand’s Massey University said.
Microplastics are defined as plastics that are less than five millimeters in length.
The small size of the craft supply reportedly makes glitter appealing for many animals, who eat the dangerous objects.
A study by Professor Richard Thompson claimed that plastics were found in a third of all fish caught in Great Britain.
“I was quite concerned when somebody bought my daughters some shower gel that had glitter particles in it,” Thompson said. “That stuff is going to escape down the plughole and potentially enter the environment.”
Some British nurseries have already banned the products from their facilities as the country is expected to officially ban items that contain microbeads in 2018.
“There are 22,000 nurseries in the country, so if we’re all getting through kilos and kilos of glitter, we’re doing terrible damage,” director of Tops Day Nurseries Cheryl Hadland told the BBC.
In America, only seven states have passed legislation to restrict the use and sale of microbeads in products such as facial scrubs and body washes. California became the first to place a ban on the products in 2015.
By Cyrus Farivar
“The Court has admiration for Dr. Konopka’s devotion to her patients,” Merrimack County Superior Court Judge John Kissinger wrote in his Monday order to dismiss the case, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.
“Under these circumstances of this case, however, Dr. Konopka has failed to demonstrate that the extraordinary remedy of an injunction allowing her to continue to practice medicine is appropriate. To hold otherwise would be to ignore the process established by the legislature to regulate the practice of medicine in this state.”
In two lengthy phone interviews with Ars earlier this month, Konopka said if she is somehow reinstated by the state’s medical board—at this point, a big “if”—she would be willing to learn how to use the Internet to follow New Hampshire law.
Judge Kissinger agreed with the New Hampshire Board of Medicine‘s motion to dismiss. The Board argued, essentially, that because Konopka voluntarily agreed to relinquish her medical license after a series of investigations, there’s no going back now.
In the agreement with the board, which Konopka signed on September 12, she voluntarily surrendered her license to settle pending allegations regarding her “record keeping, prescribing practices, and medical decision making.”
Those allegations stem from five separate complaints against her. Under the terms of the agreement, she could reapply to regain her license, but the burden would be on her to prove that she did no wrong.
Konopka has denied any misconduct and asserted that she was under duress when she voluntarily surrendered her license. She underscored that she wants to continue practicing medicine but simply is not concerned with what she calls “electronic medicine,” her term for the vast bureaucracy often associated with modern medical practices.
According to NHPR, Konopka has filed a motion for reconsideration.