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Agência Brasil Fotografias via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Agência Brasil Fotografias via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

How Much Do the Olympic Gymnastics Uniforms Cost?

Agência Brasil Fotografias via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Agência Brasil Fotografias via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

The competition leotards worn by the Team USA gymnasts at the 2016 Olympics are the most expensive the team has ever seen, according to TIME. Each is worth up to $1200—thanks largely to the swirls of as many as 5000 Swarovski crystals bedazzling the tops and arms. 

Other factors contribute to the price, too. The leotards—made by Under Armour and gymnastics outfitter GK Elite—take two years to design, and each one is custom-made for the athlete using a process that requires three fittings. Because the gymnasts' bodies are unique, and sticking or bulging fabric could cost them at the competition, there’s no one standard cut for the design.

But really, it’s all about the bedazzling. “It’s difficult for me to imagine how we could get more crystals on,” Kelly McKeown, executive vice president for design and corporate relations at GK Elite, told The New York Times. At this year’s Olympics, “we may have hit peak crystal,” McKeown says.

As the Times points out, there’s good reason for all that flash: The light-catching crystals help small girls stand out in a huge stadium. Women’s gymnastics is one of the most-watched Olympic sports, and this year, Simone Biles’s performances are some of the most-anticipated of the entire games. Plus, Martha Karolyi, coordinator for the U.S. women’s team, is reportedly a big fan of sparkle. And as CNNMoney notes, GK Elite has a relatively new machine with robotic arms to sew on the crystals—which makes achieving significant sparkle much faster and more painless. 

Each Team USA gymnast receives eight competition leotards and 12 training leotards. Of course, the $1200 cost is what the leotards would fetch on the open market. (They’d likely earn more once worn by the Olympians.) However, the gymnasts don’t pay for their own uniforms. USA Gymnastics, the national governing board, covers the cost.

You can also get your own replica version from GK Elite for $59.99 or $79.99—much less pricey, but also much less sparkly.

They’re not the only Olympics uniforms costing a pretty penny. The preppy Ralph Lauren-designed ensembles for the U.S. athletes at the Opening Ceremonies would cost you more than $1500 if you bought the retail versions online. Sadly, the light-up jacket Michael Phelps wore at the opening ceremonies isn’t currently available for purchase—and no word on the cost. 

[h/t CNN Money]

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Big Questions
How Are Speed Limits Set?
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When driving down a road where speed limits are oppressively low, or high enough to let drivers get away with reckless behavior, it's easy to blame the government for getting it wrong. But you and your fellow drivers play a bigger a role in determining speed limits than you might think.

Before cities can come up with speed limit figures, they first need to look at how fast motorists drive down certain roads when there are no limitations. According to The Sacramento Bee, officials conduct speed surveys on two types of roads: arterial roads (typically four-lane highways) and collector streets (two-lane roads connecting residential areas to arterials). Once the data has been collected, they toss out the fastest 15 percent of drivers. The thinking is that this group is probably going faster than what's safe and isn't representative of the average driver. The sweet spot, according to the state, is the 85th percentile: Drivers in this group are thought to occupy the Goldilocks zone of safety and efficiency.

Officials use whatever speed falls in the 85th percentile to set limits for that street, but they do have some wiggle room. If the average speed is 33 mph, for example, they’d normally round up to 35 or down to 30 to reach the nearest 5-mph increment. Whether they decide to make the number higher or lower depends on other information they know about that area. If there’s a risky turn, they might decide to round down and keep drivers on the slow side.

A road’s crash rate also comes into play: If the number of collisions per million miles traveled for that stretch of road is higher than average, officials might lower the speed limit regardless of the 85th percentile rule. Roads that have a history of accidents might also warrant a special signal or sign to reinforce the new speed limit.

For other types of roads, setting speed limits is more of a cut-and-dry process. Streets that run through school zones, business districts, and residential areas are all assigned standard speed limits that are much lower than what drivers might hit if given free rein.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
Do Bacteria Have Bacteria?
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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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