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Seeds in Space

After picking up a new African Violet at the grocery store, I noticed a little tag on the plant -- the tag had a picture of the Space Shuttle, surrounded by flowers. Eh? A quick trip to Google, and I learned all about the Optimara EverFloris "Space Violet" program. From the site:

...the development of EverFloris Violets began in 1984, when Optimara launched 25,000 Optimara seeds into space aboard one of NASA's space shuttles. The seeds remained in space, orbiting the Earth, for nearly six years. (The Long Duration Exposure Facility, on which the seeds orbited, is shown at right. [Blogger's note:  see below for an LDEF link]) The program was conceived to test the effect of long-term exposure to cosmic radiation and lack of gravity. When the seeds were retrieved in 1990, many mutations soon became apparent. One such mutation resulted in a new characteristic which Optimara has dubbed 'multiflorescence.' This characteristic gives Optimara Violets an extraordinary abundance of flowers which never stop blooming. Compared with PMA standards, which define a finished African Violet as having five to seven open blooms, a multiflorescent Optimara variety will have at least 20 open blooms.

Um...wow? (Before we move on: more on the Long Duration Exposure Facility.) After consulting my friendly neighborhood geneticist, I was informed that mutations induced by extraterrestrial radiation are no different from mutations created in the lab. But, dude, SPACE.

More stories of seeds in space after the jump.

The Shenzhou VI space mission (China's second manned space expedition) carried sweet potato seeds to orbit in October 2006. The experiment resulted in a variety called the "Purple Orchid III" potato. Yum, space potato!

On the Apollo 14 mission, crewmember Stuart Roosa carried canisters containing 400-500 tree seeds of various types. The canisters got pretty close to the moon, staying with Roosa as he piloted the command module above the lunar surface. Upon returning to earth, the canisters burst open during the decontamination process, the seeds mixed, and were presumed no longer viable. However, most of the seeds germinated and many were planted around the world. NASA maintains a page listing the resulting "Moon Trees."

Further reading: a nice description of seeds in space from the Park Seed Company.

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
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Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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The Prehistoric Bacteria That Helped Create Our Cells Billions of Years Ago
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We owe the existence of our cells—the very building blocks of life—to a chance relationship between bacteria that occurred more than 2 billion years ago. Flash back to Bio 101, and you might remember that humans, plants, and animals have complex eukaryotic cells, with nucleus-bound DNA, instead of single-celled prokaryotic cells. These contain specialized organelles such as the mitochondria—the cell’s powerhouse—and the chloroplast, which converts sunlight into sugar in plants.

Mitochondria and chloroplasts both look and behave a lot like bacteria, and they also share similar genes. This isn’t a coincidence: Scientists believe these specialized cell subunits are descendants of free-living prehistoric bacteria that somehow merged together to form one. Over time, they became part of our basic biological units—and you can learn how by watching PBS Eons’s latest video below.

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