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ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy
ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

Your Vegetables Know What Time It Is

ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy
ThinkStock/Erin McCarthy

The fruits and veggies in your crisper right now might look pretty dead, but they’re actually still alive—and they’re keeping track of time. 

Some parts of plants can continue certain metabolic functions even after being separated from the rest of the plant. A new study conducted by plant biologists at Rice University and the University of California found that internal clocks of some harvested vegetables and fruits continue to function and that the time of day we try to eat them has some effect on what we get out of it.  

Over the course of day and night, harvested fruits and vegetables continue to perceive and respond to light, so their biological clocks keep running and they can change their biology to meet certain demands. Some plants, for example, begin building up defense hormones and metabolites early in the day in preparation for the daily attacks from plant-eating bugs. At dusk, the levels of these chemicals decrease rapidly. This matters to us because these products can influence the flavors of produce, and some of them are known to have anti-cancer properties. 

The researchers found that even after harvest, cabbage and other vegetables and fruits in the lab maintained this sort of schedule when exposed to light and dark cycles. 

Timing the preservation, preparation and consumption of produce to coincide with the peak storage of certain biochemicals, the researchers suggest, might enhance their flavor and nutritional value. 

“For example,” the authors write, “cabbage stored under 12 [hour] light-dark cycles may provide as much as 2- to 3-fold more 4MSO phytochemical [compounds that research has identified as anticarcinogens] if the cabbage were ingested 4 to 8 [hours] after initiation of the light period than if the cabbage were stored under constant light or darkness.” 

One veggie schedule question sadly left unaddressed in the study is whether or not the celery stalks at midnight

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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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iStock

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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