God’s jaw-dropping creation
Scientists find brand-new discoveries on the ocean floor
Even today, God’s creation produces surprises that awe and perplex scientists. In February, researchers discovered an other-worldly seascape 6,000 feet below the ocean’s surface in the Gulf of California. They explored the area in 2008 and found nothing unusual, but the return expedition found an underwater wonderland of thermal vents, crystallized gas bubbles, mirrorlike silver pools of hot fluids, and 75-foot-high mineral towers carpeted with mats of microbes in hues of pink, orange, white, yellow, and purple. Solidified minerals only a few inches in length that look like feathers baffled the scientists, who have no idea what they are or how their unusual shape formed.
Mandy Joye, a marine biologist at the University of Georgia and the lead researcher, told Live Science this month that the discovery stunned her. “I think my jaw literally hit the floor. It was just a constant barrage of, ‘You have got to be kidding me—that can’t be real,’” she said.
An increase in the number of hydrothermal vents, which spew jets of mineral-rich liquid at 690 degrees Fahrenheit, or a dramatic rise in the rate of the jets’ flow over the past decade likely caused the changes. Chemical reactions between dissolved minerals and metals spouting through the vents into the 36-degree seawater probably produced the gigantic mineral structures that now provide a home for colorful worms, marine species, and microbes. Some of the organisms represent species completely unknown to scientists. Joye noted that many of the life-forms live off the sulfur from the hypothermal vents or host microbes that digest sulfur for them.
The research team’s virologist will study the viruses that infect the microbes to see if they hold any secrets useful for biotechnology or medicine, Joye said.
Yale University researchers recently restored cell activity in the brain of a pig four hours after it was butchered at a meatpacking plant. The study, published April 17 in the journal Nature, challenges the assumption that lack of oxygen irreversibly damages the brains of animals. It also raises ethical questions regarding how long medical personnel should continue life support and resuscitation efforts for humans.
The neuroscientists designed a system that circulated artificial, cell-free blood through the pig brain. The procedure restored many basic brain cell functions generally believed to cease seconds or minutes after oxygen and blood flow to the brain stop. The discovery may help doctors find ways to reverse brain damage from lack of oxygen after a stroke or injury, but it remains unclear if the approach would work in humans. If it did, doctors might be able to revive people once considered brain dead, raising serious questions about when medical experts should consider a person dead and when organ donation becomes appropriate.
Although cells in the pig’s brain became active, the researchers stressed that the brain did not show any global electrical signals that would indicate consciousness or normal brain function.
At this point, the ability to restore cerebral function to a human still seems a fantasy, but Stuart Youngner and Insoo Hyun, bioethicists with the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, said it is not too early to begin discussing the delicate topic.
“Because brain resuscitation strategies are in their infancy and will surely trigger additional efforts, the scientific and ethics community needs to begin discussions now,” Hyun wrote in a commentary also published April 17 in Nature. —J.B.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel printed the first 3D bioengineered heart using human cells and biological material obtained from adult fatty tissue. The miniature heart contains blood vessels, ventricles, and chambers. Until now, researchers have successfully printed only simple tissue that did not include blood vessels.
The heart produced during the study, published April 15 in the journal Advanced Science, is small, about the size of a rabbit heart. But the procedure used the same technology that could one day produce full-sized human hearts.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and heart transplants are the only treatment available for end-stage heart failure patients. Donated hearts are in short supply, and the risk of the recipient’s immune system rejecting the organ presents a major hurdle. Printing a heart from the patient’s own cells and other biological materials could eliminate the problem of rejection, lead researcher Tal Dvir said in a statement.
Eventually, the scientists will transplant the engineered hearts into animals for further study. The technology has a long way to go before researchers can print a full human heart, but, Dvir said, “maybe in 10 years there will be organ printers in the finest hospitals around the world, and these procedures will be conducted routinely” —J.B.
About every 90 minutes, the sun belches out globs of charged particles hundreds of times larger than Earth and capable of engulfing an entire planet for minutes or hours at a time, according to a study published in JGR: Space Physics.
The masses of particles, made of gaslike solar plasma, “look like the blobs in a lava lamp,” Nicholeen Viall, a NASA research astrophysicist and co-author of the study, told Live Science.
Scientists first studied these solar blobs in the early 2000s and discovered that when they ooze over Earth, they can compress the magnetic field and interfere with communication signals for hours at a time. Researchers do not know why the blobs form, but results from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, launched in August 2018 and now about 15 million miles from the sun, may help to clear up some of the mystery. The probe will come within 4 million miles of the sun at its closest approach. This vantage point should enable it to observe the blobs “right after they’re born,” Viall said. —J.B.
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