Sex with time-travellers might kill you.

When time travel finally becomes possible, we might want to think twice about getting it on. According to a new study on tiny shrimp (Artemia franciscana), sex with partners from a different time could kill you.

Researchers at the Center for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE) in Montpellier, France, collected preserved brine shrimp eggs from various generations, and then reanimated them with water. Nicolas Rode and colleagues mated pairs of brine shrimp that had been reanimated from eggs preserved since 1985, 1996 and 2007, a period representing roughly 160 generations. They found that females that mated with males from the past or future died off sooner than those that mated with their own generation. The longer the time-shift, the earlier they died: The 22-year time difference shortened female lifetimes by 12 percent; the effect was 3 percent for the 11-year time-shift.

Interestingly, this didn’t affect the females’ reproductive success. Those that lived shorter lives produced the same average number of offspring, they just did it at a faster pace. “Females’ life histories are complex and are constantly adjusted,” explains study co-author Thomas Lenormand. These adjustments reflect the trade-offs between survival and reproduction in nature.

Brine shrimp are part of an interesting class of animal whose eggs can survive decades of drought in a form of dormancy known as cryptobiosis. Once the eggs are reintroduced to water—either in nature or in the lab—they hatch. The species therefore makes an ideal subject for a time-traveling experiment like this one.

What makes time-shifting sex hazardous to health is something called antagonistic coevolution, a way that different species (parasites and hosts, for example) or members of the same species (males and females) adapt to each other to promote their own individual reproductive interests. In nature’s sex wars, males campaign for more offspring—the proverbial seed-spreading—while females play hard-to-get because they bear most of the burden of reproduction and parenthood.

Evolutionary biologists say these conflicts are common in nature, and could occur either as an arms race, with each side’s weapons getting bigger and better, or as a fluctuation, where the two sides take turns dominating each other over time with novel adaptations.

If males and females coevolve their sex organs in tandem, mating with a partner from a different time could leave you unprepared—sort of like heading into modern war with 17th-century armor. The brine shrimp experiment shows just this.

Unfortunately, the researchers couldn’t determine whether there were arms-race-style or fluctuation-style adaptations at work in this experiment. They’d need a longer time-shift to figure that out, which would test the limits of brine shrimp cryptobiosis. They also don’t know what traits made the time-shifting males more deadly. Lenormand and Rode say they’d like to investigate these traits in the future. It could have something to do with amplexus, in which male brine shrimp grasp their partners for hours or even days after sex to keep them from mating with others. A byproduct of this so-called mate guarding is that the females can’t feed, which could shorten their lifetimes. The researchers would also like to flip the experiment on its head, studying the effects of time-shifting sex on males instead of females.

So what does shrimp sex have to do with us? Sexual conflicts and antagonistic coevolution are “probably central to understanding male/female behavior,” Lenormand says. In fact, it turns out that antagonistic coevolution is hard at work in humans today. I’ve previously written about the possible antidepressant properties of seminal fluid. But there’s a dark side to semen, too. Gordon Gallup, an evolutionary biologist as SUNY Albany explained it thus:

“At the level of semen chemistry and vaginal chemistry, there’s competition. The vagina is a very hostile environment for sperm. When a female is inseminated, the presence of the semen triggers an immune reaction, so semen—and particularly the sperm—are treated as pathogens. Male seminal plasma contains all kinds of chemicals that are designed to take this into account. Seminal plasma is alkaline, and a couple seconds after ejaculation the pH of the vagina approaches neutrality, which makes it a friendly environment for sperm. Sperm also contains a lot of immunosuppressants that suppress the female’s immune system and counteract this immune reaction to semen.”

The amazing fire ant.

Fire ants might be infuriating little beasts, an invasive species we’d all be pleased to see banished to its native Brazil, but it turns out a fire ant colony has some pretty amazing properties. In groups, they knit together, more like a fabric than anything else, and are waterproof, totally flexible, and nearly indestructible. A mechanical engineer describes these groups as behaving like a thick liquid.

Nobody has really bothered to study fire ants before, having been generally more interested in cursing at them and running quickly away from them, but a couple of mechanical engineers at the Georgia Institute of Technology noticed some pretty incredible properties upon examination. Turns out fire ants, when in groups, grasp onto each other using their mandibles, forming an intricate and precise pattern something like a Gore-Tex fabric.

This fabric-like bunching is even weirder than it sounds: The group of ants can be molded almost like a thick liquid (Wired compares it to honey or ketchup), and it will retain that shape even when manipulated. To undergo a waterproofing test, the engineers simply spun a bunch of ants in a cylinder, forming them into a near-perfect sphere in the same way you might form a meatball, if you used scientific equipment and not your hands while cooking. These ant-balls, with about 500-8,000 stinging bugs per ball, were dropped into a vat of water, where they assuredly did not drown.

Instead, the ant-ball almost instantly spread out into a raft, enhancing the ants’ already hydrophobic waterproofing. Ants can survive for days on the water in this way, never at risk of drowning. In fact, the engineers even poked this ant-raft with a stick (which would have been your first instinct too, don’t lie) and found that it was so hydrophobic that it merely bent the surface of the water rather than pushing the ants underneath it.

So how is this useful? Well, given how much we love biomimicry, we could easily see some of the properties of these ants used for commercial fabrics, but the engineers suggest military microbots could have a lot to learn from these ants as well.

Oh, and if you’re concerned about a bunch of engineers manhandling, poking, and doing their damnedest to drown these animals, don’t be. The fire ants, collected from the Georgia road-side, are a highly overpopulated invasive species in that region, and the engineers say they further “lost sympathy for them” after more than a few bites.

Trees as streetlights.

Taiwanese researchers have come up with the elegant idea of replacing streetlights with trees, by implanting their leaves with gold nanoparticles. This causes the leaves to give off a red glow, lighting the road for passersby without the need for electric power. This ingenious triple threat of an idea could simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, cut electricity costs and reduce light pollution, without sacrificing the safety that streetlights bring.

As many good things do, this discovery came about by accident when the researchers were trying to create lighting as efficient as LEDs without using the toxic, expensive phosphor powder that LEDs rely on. The gold nanoparticles, shaped like sea urchins, put into the leaves of Bacopa caroliniana plants cause chlorophyll to produce the reddish luminescence.

In an added bonus, the luminescence will cause the leaves’ chloroplasts to photosynthesize, which will result in more carbon being captured from the air while the streets are lit. The next steps are to improve the efficiency of the bioluminescence and apply the technology to other biomolecules.

Mutant mouse tweets like a bird.

A laboratory at the University of Osaka running an ongoing study on evolution has revealed that they’ve produced a genetically engineered mouse that tweets like a bird. They’ve produced more than 100 of them actually, as well as a mouse with short limbs and one with a tail like a dachshund. It’s all part of a larger study into how genetic mutations drive evolutions and diverse outcomes that can come about as a result of miscopying DNA.

The researchers didn’t engineer the mouse to tweet, though there was some genetic tinkering that led to the singing mouse’s arrival. The lab created the mouse as part of its “Evolved Mouse Project,” which genetically modifies mice to be prone to miscopying DNA. From there, the outcomes are left to chance as the team has cross-bred the mutation prone mice for generations.

According to the lead researcher at the lab, they were checking their newborn mice one at a time and one day came across a mouse that was singing just like a bird – a point that is significant beyond being both weird and interesting. Scientists already know that birds don’t sing haphazardly, but in a way that is governed by a set of linguistic rules that form strings of sounds. In other words it’s ordered noise, much like human speech.

The team now hopes their tweeting mice will lend insight on how human language evolved over history. Mice, after all, are much closer to humans in terms of biology and brain, and by seeing how they chirp in the company of other mice and when placed in certain situations, they might learn how human linguistics came to be as well as how they were shared among groups.

One can dream…

I really want super powers. Telekinesis, pyrokinesis, telepathy or even lactokinesis (check out Misfits, a british tv show if you don´t know what lactokinesis is). Of course, most of all – I want to be immortal, not invincible, just immortal. Because if you heal fast etc, you can´t even get drunk anymore! And then what are you going to do for ETERNITY! But to be immortal would be nice, like if you die you wake up all healed up some time later. That would be nice.

I often fantasizes about that everyone actually got super powers, but few have unlocked that part of the brain yet. Like those cases where people seem to have burned from the inside out, spontaneous combustion or what it´s called, what if they just unlocked their super power and couldn´t control it. That their power were pyrokinesis. And that some psychics actually are what they say they are. And of course the new age crap of healing hands, might be true, that their power is healing, but they can´t control it properly so they can´t heal everything.

Anyway… That would be awesome. And science will take us there, I´m sure – or at least I like to think so! 🙂

The future for gay parents?

Mice with two genetic fathers and no biological mother have been created by scientists in the United States.

According to the study published in the journal Biology of Reproduction, the offspring was conceived in Texas by genetically manipulating egg cells to only contain male material.

By restructuring cell content from XX to XY, it meant that when the sperm fertilised the egg, it was done using male sperm and a ‘male’ egg. And now, according to the pioneer behind the stem cell research, it could create a blueprint for two men to have their own children without women.
The study was led by Richard R. Berhringer at the MD Anderson Cancer Center.

It has been a weird project, but we wanted to see if it could be done, he told the Evening Standard.
Some day two men could produce their own genetic sons and daughters.”

Why so sad?

This got to be the saddest living thing ever. Look at it, there are no joy at all – not even a twinkle in its eye. But I kind of like it, I like weird animals. It´s awesome how cruel evolution has been in some cases, like the case is with this blobfish.

The blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) is a deep-sea fish of the family Psychrolutidae. Inhabiting the deep waters off the coasts of mainland Australia and Tasmania, it is rarely seen by humans.

Blobfish live at depths where the pressure is several dozen times higher than at sea level, which would likely make gas bladders inefficient for maintaining buoyancy. Instead, the flesh of the blobfish is primarily a gelatinous mass with a density slightly less than water; this allows the fish to float above the sea floor without expending energy on swimming. Its relative lack of muscle is not a disadvantage as it primarily swallows edible matter that floats by in front of it.

Blobfish can be caught by bottom trawling with nets as bycatch. Such trawling in the waters off Australia may threaten the blobfish in what may be its only habitat.

The Blobfish is currently facing extinction due to deep-sea fishing