Tracking the Movement of Cyborg Cockroaches

New research from North Carolina State University offers insights into how far and how fast cyborg cockroaches – or biobots – move when exploring new spaces. The work moves researchers closer to their goal of using biobots to explore collapsed buildings and other spaces in order to identify survivors.

NC State researchers have developed cockroach biobots that can be remotely controlled and carry technology that may be used to map disaster areas and identify survivors in the wake of a calamity.

For this technology to become viable, the researchers needed to answer fundamental questions about how and where the biobots move in unfamiliar territory. Two forthcoming papers address those questions.

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Chemical Engineers Boost Bacteria’s Productivity

MIT chemical engineers have designed a novel genetic switch that allows them to dramatically boost bacteria’s production of useful chemicals by shutting down competing metabolic pathways in the cells.

“The challenge is to engineer a system where we get enough growth to have a productive microbial ‘ chemical factory’ but not so much that we can’ t channel enough of the sugars into a pathway to make large quantities of our target molecules,”says Kristala Prather, an associate professor of chemical engineering at MIT.

In a paper appearing in the Feb. 13 issue of Nature Biotechnology, the researchers showed that they could significantly enhance the yield of glucaric acid, a chemical that is a precursor to products such as nylons and detergents. This genetic switch could also be easily swapped into bacteria that generate other products, the researchers say.

“We can engineer microbial cells to produce many different chemicals from simple sugars, but the cells would rather use those sugars to grow and reproduce. The challenge is to engineer a system where we get enough growth to have a productive microbial ‘chemical factory’ but not so much that we can’t channel enough of the sugars into a pathway to make large quantities of our target molecules,” says Kristala Prather, an associate professor of chemical engineering at MIT and the senior author of the study.

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How Dragonfish Open Their Fearsome Mouths So Wide

How Dragonfish Open Their Fearsome Mouths So Wide

Barbeled dragonfish — predatory fish with long, dark bodies that inhabit the deep sea — are unnerving to look at. Their name refers to glowing barbell-shaped lures that dangle from their oversize lower jaws and attract unsuspecting prey in the cold, dark ocean depths. Those jaws, studded with prominent, sharp teeth, can swing wide enough to gulp down large fish whole — even prey larger than the swallower.

And a new study has discovered one of the secrets to their exceptional gape — a specialized head joint that is unique to dragonfish. Read more

New Technique Uses Immune Cells to Deliver Anti-Cancer Drugs

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Some researchers are working to discover new, safer ways to deliver cancer-fighting drugs to tumors without damaging healthy cells. Others are finding ways to boost the body’s own immune system to attack cancer cells. Researchers at Penn State have combined the two approaches by taking biodegradable polymer nanoparticles encapsulated with cancer-fighting drugs and incorporating them into immune cells to create a smart, targeted system to attack cancers of specific types.

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Our Closest Worm Kin Regrow Body Parts

Our closest worm kin regrow body parts, raising hopes of regeneration in humans

What if humans could regrow an amputated arm or leg, or completely restore nervous system function after a spinal cord injury?

A new study of one of our closest invertebrate relatives, the acorn worm, reveals that this feat might one day be possible. Acorn worms burrow in the sand around coral reefs, but their ancestral relationship to chordates means they have a genetic makeup and body plan surprisingly similar to ours.

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Each Animal Species Hosts a Unique Microbial Community and Benefits

Each animal species hosts a unique microbial community and benefits from it

Each animal species hosts its own, unique community of microbes that can significantly improve its health and fitness.

That is the implication of a laboratory study that investigated four different animal groups and their associated microbiota. The research found that each species within the group has a distinctive microbial community.

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The Forest Through the Fog

The atmosphere within Northern California’s coast redwood forests is humid, the air pungent and loamy, smelling at once like the sea and earth. This olfactory fusion is appropriate; scientists have discovered that redwood forests thrive on a sea-sourced fog that carries nutrient-rich coastal ocean water. However, uncovering the numerous processes that make it possible for the sea to nourish the trees requires novel approaches and multiple disciplines to uncover.

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Shark Swims Up To Diver For a Cuddle Every Time She Sees Him

To visit his friend, Rick Anderson has to strap on an oxygen tank, put a regulator into his mouth and dive into the ocean off the coast of Nobbys Beach in New South Wales, Australia.
Anderson’s friend is a 6-foot female Port Jackson shark. She doesn’t have a name, but Anderson recognizes her by her markings.

And she always recognizes him, according to Anderson.
“I started playing with her about seven years ago when she was just a pup about 6 inches long,” Anderson told The Dodo. “I approached her carefully so as not to spook her, then began to gently pat her. Once she got used to me, I would cradle her in my hand and talk soothingly to her through my regulator.”

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Mythical Ruby Seadragon Seen In The Wild For The First Time

Known only from old museum specimens, scientists have now found the magnificently bizarre ruby seadragon swimming in the sea.

I never understand why we are so obsessed with life on other planets when we have the mysterious universe of the sea right here on our own spinning orb. The creatures that dwell in the deep are so outrageously strange compared to us, and most of them remain unknown.

Case in point: Seadragons. The truly wonderfully odd creatures are relatives of the seahorse and up until recently have come in the form of two species – leafy and weedy, both from Australia. Admired for their flamboyant camouflaging appendages that mimic leaves and weeds, combined with a graceful yet somewhat helpless-seeming swimming style, they are as enchanting as they are peculiar. A leafy seadragon below, see what I mean?

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New, Complex Call Recorded in Mariana Trench Believed to Be From Baleen whale

New, Complex Call Recorded in Mariana Trench Believed to Be From Baleen whale

A sound in the Mariana Trench notable for its complexity and wide frequency range likely represents the discovery of a new baleen whale call, according to the Oregon State University researchers who recorded and analyzed it.

Scientists at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center named it the “Western Pacific Biotwang.”

Lasting between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds, the five-part call includes deep moans at frequencies as low as 38 hertz and a metallic finale that pushes as high as 8,000 hertz.

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