Science

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Modern humans hold ancient DNA

For a long time, we believed that Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens (modern humans) were two separate species. With the advent of DNA sequencing, however, it was discovered that Sapiens interbred with Neanderthals as they migrated from Africa 60,000 years ago. Another previously unknown hominid species, known as Denisovans, was also discovered at that time, and it interbred with Sapiens and Neanderthals, too.

Gene sequencing shows that non-African genomes today contain about 2% Neanderthal DNA, and people from Papua, New Guinea, and Australia are about 3% Denisovan. Studies on modern African DNA are taking longer because climate, geography and politics make locating skeletons much more difficult.

Do trees talk to each other?

People generally think of trees as disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients, and sunlight, with winners shading out losers and sucking them dry. But evidence to the contrary is coming to light. Forest trees are, in fact, cooperative and live in interdependent relationships maintained by communication and collective intelligence similar to an insect colony.

Unlike other organisms, most of the communication between trees happens underground, through a system known as the “Wood Wide Web”. “[Trees] in every forest that is not too damaged”, explains Peter Wohlleben, a German forester and author, “are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behaviour when they receive these messages.”

Diversity of research sources

According to PhysOrg, a scientific publication, scientific knowledge used in international studies is predominantly sourced from English-language documents, as it is assumed that all scientific knowledge is available in English. However, according to research scrutinizing over 400,000 peer-reviewed papers in 326 journals, published in 16 languages, scientific papers written in languages other than English may hold untapped information crucial to the conservation of global biodiversity.

These findings have important implications for global efforts tackling the biodiversity crisis, where lack of evidence is an issue commonly faced when trying to implement evidence-based conservation. The authors demonstrate that incorporating non-English-language studies can expand the availability of scientific evidence on species and ecosystems into 12%–25% more areas and 5%–32% more species.

Visuals: Vaccination inequality

Our world is unequal. The distribution of the vaccines shows that. Rich countries have more doses than they need, while poor countries can’t buy enough. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) says that this situation is slowing global economic recovery. Economists predict that low-income countries will lose at least $38 billion of their GDP in 2021 because of low vaccination rates. 

Low vaccination rates also put a lot of pressure on the healthcare systems of poor countries. Hospitals can’t treat other illnesses because of Covid.

The Director-General of the World Health Organization said that “Vaccine inequity is the world's biggest obstacle to ending this pandemic and recovering from COVID-19”.

Please have a look at the chart below and discuss it with your teacher.

Video: Portals link the world

A public art installation makes it possible for people far apart to interact with each other. It links the cities of Vilnius, Lithuania, and Lublin, Poland, which are 376 miles (605 km) apart. The ongoing project, "Portal—a Bridge to the United Planet", consists of huge orbs with cameras that transmit real-time video between them. So before you hop on your commuter train in the morning, you can greet commuters and other passersby in the other city. 

The goal of the project is to create a bridge between people across geographical, national, and cultural boundaries. Benediktas Gylys, who designed and funds the project, puts it like this, "Every day there is less room left for dialogue, empathy, and compassion, for feeling and being united in our home—a tiny spaceship Earth.... It is so easy to believe we are each a wave and forget we are also the ocean."

Watch the short video below and discuss it with your teacher.

 

The ancient giant shrimp

According to Shape of Life, an online resource on everything related to animals, the Anomalocaris (ah-NOM-ah-LAH-kariss), from the Greek meaning “unusual shrimp”, was a major predator of the ancient seas during the Cambrian Explosion 530 million years ago. 

It grew up to 182 centimetres (almost 6 feet) long and had eyes with thousands of lenses, which gave the Anomalocaris extremely sharp vision. It was a fast swimmer, and once it caught up to its prey, the creature could grab it using front limbs equipped with sharp spikes on each segment. This combination of excellent vision, speed and spiky front arms would have made it a formidable predator.

The Anomalocaris’ mouth was composed of 32 overlapping plates. Some scientists interpret this as meaning that it could easily crush prey.

Visuals: Researchers in the world

For years researchers argued about the "Nature vs Nurture" question. Is a person talented because they were born that way, or did people and circumstances in their environment cause them to develop certain skills?

While this question stays open, there is little doubt that living conditions do matter. Could Steve Jobs have created Apple if he was born in a village in Africa? How much new technology or how many groundbreaking discoveries are we losing because talented children in poor areas don't have access to adequate education?

Please have a look at the graph below and discuss what you see with your teacher.

Warp speed—"Make it so!"

"Prepare for warp speed." If you're a Trekkie or Star Wars fan, and maybe even if you're not, you've heard about warp drives and probably dreamed of being able to travel faster than the speed of light. It seemed like the stuff of fantasy—until now. Physicist Erik Lentz has come up with a theoretical model of a warp drive that would shorten a trip to the star Proxima Centauri, the closest star beyond our solar system, from 50,000–70,000 years using rocket fuel, or 100 years using nuclear fuel, to just 4 years and 3 months.

Where art and science meet

When you hear the word "artist", you might not think at first of the person who drew the pictures in your science textbook, or created the images of the coronavirus we've been looking at for the past year. But medical and scientific illustrators are definitely artists. The job requires equal amounts of scientific research and artistic skill. Just look at works by Cynthia Turner, or Bryan Christie. They're gorgeous enough to frame and hang on your wall.