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Chocolate Toothpaste, Paper-thin Batteries and the Resurgence of the Dodo (the bird, not your neighbor)?

A Toothpaste Cathy Would Love

Picture 21.pngI didn't think it could get any better than the day my dental hygienist told me that beer cleaned teeth (a fact I've never bothered to verify because I just don't want it to be wrong). But now it turns out that chocolate may be the best ingredient to add to toothpaste. A doctoral candidate at Tulane University has shown that cocoa extract is more effective at fighting cavities than fluoride, having done animal tests and developed a peppermint toothpaste with cocoa instead of fluoride. It could be another 2-4 years before the chocolate toothpaste is commercially available, and until then you should probably just stick to regular, foul-tasting paste; something tells me brushing with Hershey's and gargling with Yoo-hoo wasn't what he had in mind

Madly in Love

say anything.jpgWe've all heard that love makes us do crazy things, but we never realized how true that actually was. A scientist in Switzerland surveyed a group of adolescents and found that those who claimed to be in love actually exhibited signs of hypomania, a mild form of bipolar disorder. For example, the love-struck teens needed one hour less of sleep every night than their counterparts and were also twice as likely to say they had creative energy. The researchers concluded that adolescent love is a "psychopathologically prominent stage," and that psychologists should take this into account when treating teens. Anyone looking to study this subject more should look into the collected works of John Hughes.

Paper-thin Batteries

PaperBattery.jpgBatteries almost always make devices twice as heavy as they need to be. However, a group of scientists from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and MIT have created a new technique of creating batteries that results in paper-thin power cells. The process is mighty complex, but the crux of it is in carbon nanotubes. As of now, the batteries are pretty weak, but they are able to fit in unusual shapes and could be made bigger and better. If they get more powerful, just imagine how thin cell-phones can be.

MORE: Astronaut Stress Tests, life-extending wines and Dodos (who're squawking not to call it a comeback), all after the break!

Use Fossil Fuels, Save the Earth

Yes, you read that headline correctly. As strange as it seems, some scientists around the world are presenting evidence that using biofuels won't do a whole lot to save the environment. A representative of the International Energy Agency says that creating biofuels will require cutting down forests to grow more corn, so, in the end, the net carbon reduction will be negligent. Scientists at the University of Leeds in Britain agree, saying that we wouldn't see any different for 50-100 years, which is far too long to wait. Instead, they are arguing that governments focus on replanting forests and making fossil fuels more efficient.

Space-age Stress Balls

Since no one can hear you scream in space, it must be difficult to figure out how stressed people are. And unlike in the easy-going world I live in, where I can easily go back and edit out stress-induced errors, stress for astronauts can cause costly and life-threatening problems (see: Mir Space Station). That's why NASA has designed a handheld device with a three-minute test to alert astronauts when they're too stressed to perform tasks.. The psychomotor vigilance task tests how quickly the subject can react to a flashing light to test sleep deprivation and mental fatigue. It will replace the ten-minute, multi-part test that includes pattern matching and repeating numbers that, while it sounds more fun, hasn't been effectively validated.

Dodo's Making a Comeback

dodo.jpgThe dodo was a flightless bird that laid its eggs on the ground and went extinct 400 years ago. But now we have a chance at studying its DNA, thanks to a discovery on an island off of Africa. Scientists looking for cave cockroaches stumbled upon a skeleton of a dodo that had been preserved nicely because of the environment in the cave. The discoverers theorize that the dodo, which they have christened "Fred," ended up in the cave because it had been trying to escape a storm and fell down a hole. If my wildest dreams come true, that means we could soon have a lame, dodo-filled version of Jurassic Park, which will assuredly make a less exciting movie.

Is the Fountain of Youth filled with Red Wine?

A professor at Harvard is purporting to be a modern-day Ponce de Leon with his research in resveratrol, a chemical he says can slow aging. David Sinclair says that resveratrol, which is found in red wine, extended the life span of mice by 24 percent and other animals by 59 percent. There's an understandable amount of skepticism around his research, but Sinclair says he believes the chemical could work on humans and has gathered a good deal of funding. Even though the research sounds exciting, I can't help but feel shades of the immensely unsettling Tuck Everlasting.

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Hawaii's Kilauea Volcano Is Causing Another Explosive Problem: Laze
Mario Tama, Getty Images
Mario Tama, Getty Images

Rivers of molten rock aren't the only thing residents near Hawaii's Kilauea volcano have to worry about. Lava from recent volcanic activity has reached the Pacific Ocean and is generating toxic, glass-laced "laze," according to Honolulu-based KITV. Just what is this dangerous substance?

Molten lava has a temperature of about 2000°F, while the surrounding seawater in Hawaii is closer to 80°F. When this super-hot lava hits the colder ocean, the heat makes the water boil, creating powerful explosions of steam, scalding hot water, and projectile rock fragments known as tephra. These plumes are called lava haze, or laze.

Though it looks like regular steam, laze is much more dangerous. When the water and lava combine, and hot lava vaporizes seawater, a series of reactions causes the formation of toxic gas. Chloride from the sea salt mixes with hydrogen in the steam to create a dense, corrosive mixture of hydrochloric acid. The vapor forms clouds that then turn into acid rain.

Laze blows out of the ocean near a lava flow
USGS

That’s not the only danger. The lava cools down rapidly, forming volcanic glass—tiny shards of which explode into the air along with the gases.

Even the slightest encounter with a wisp of laze can be problematic. The hot, acidic mixture can irritate the skin, eyes, and respiratory system. It's particularly hazardous to those with breathing problems, like people with asthma.

In 2000, two people died in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park from inhaling laze coming from an active lava flow.

The problem spreads far beyond where the lava itself is flowing, pushing the problem downwind. Due to the amount of lava flowing into the ocean and the strength of the winds, laze currently being generated by the Kilauea eruptions could spread up to 15 miles away, a USGS geologist told Reuters.

[h/t Forbes]

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Big Questions
Do Bacteria Have Bacteria?
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iStock

Drew Smith:

Do bacteria have bacteria? Yes.

We know that bacteria range in size from 0.2 micrometers to nearly one millimeter. That’s more than a thousand-fold difference, easily enough to accommodate a small bacterium inside a larger one.

Nothing forbids bacteria from invading other bacteria, and in biology, that which is not forbidden is inevitable.

We have at least one example: Like many mealybugs, Planococcus citri has a bacterial endosymbiont, in this case the β-proteobacterium Tremblaya princeps. And this endosymbiont in turn has the γ-proteobacterium Moranella endobia living inside it. See for yourself:

Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization confirming that intrabacterial symbionts reside inside Tremblaya cells in (A) M. hirsutus and (B) P. marginatus mealybugs. Tremblaya cells are in green, and γ-proteobacterial symbionts are in red. (Scale bar: 10 μm.)
Fluorescent In-Situ Hybridization confirming that intrabacterial symbionts reside inside Tremblaya cells in (A) M. hirsutus and (B) P. marginatus mealybugs. Tremblaya cells are in green, and γ-proteobacterial symbionts are in red. (Scale bar: 10 μm.)

I don’t know of examples of free-living bacteria hosting other bacteria within them, but that reflects either my ignorance or the likelihood that we haven’t looked hard enough for them. I’m sure they are out there.

Most (not all) scientists studying the origin of eukaryotic cells believe that they are descended from Archaea.

All scientists accept that the mitochondria which live inside eukaryotic cells are descendants of invasive alpha-proteobacteria. What’s not clear is whether archeal cells became eukaryotic in nature—that is, acquired internal membranes and transport systems—before or after acquiring mitochondria. The two scenarios can be sketched out like this:


The two hypotheses on the origin of eukaryotes:

(A) Archaezoan hypothesis.

(B) Symbiotic hypothesis.

The shapes within the eukaryotic cell denote the nucleus, the endomembrane system, and the cytoskeleton. The irregular gray shape denotes a putative wall-less archaeon that could have been the host of the alpha-proteobacterial endosymbiont, whereas the oblong red shape denotes a typical archaeon with a cell wall. A: archaea; B: bacteria; E: eukaryote; LUCA: last universal common ancestor of cellular life forms; LECA: last eukaryotic common ancestor; E-arch: putative archaezoan (primitive amitochondrial eukaryote); E-mit: primitive mitochondrial eukaryote; alpha:alpha-proteobacterium, ancestor of the mitochondrion.

The Archaezoan hypothesis has been given a bit of a boost by the discovery of Lokiarcheota. This complex Archaean has genes for phagocytosis, intracellular membrane formation and intracellular transport and signaling—hallmark activities of eukaryotic cells. The Lokiarcheotan genes are clearly related to eukaryotic genes, indicating a common origin.

Bacteria-within-bacteria is not only not a crazy idea, it probably accounts for the origin of Eucarya, and thus our own species.

We don’t know how common this arrangement is—we mostly study bacteria these days by sequencing their DNA. This is great for detecting uncultivatable species (which are 99 percent of them), but doesn’t tell us whether they are free-living or are some kind of symbiont. For that, someone would have to spend a lot of time prepping environmental samples for close examination by microscopic methods, a tedious project indeed. But one well worth doing, as it may shed more light on the history of life—which is often a history of conflict turned to cooperation. That’s a story which never gets old or stale.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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