Science Scanner: Bacteria Go Dormant Until Antibiotics Wear Off, Spacecraft Dives by Saturn’s Ring, and Antartica’s Disappearing Penguins

Posted July 2nd, 2014 at 8:22 pm (UTC+0)
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NASA Launches Mission to Study Atmospheric C02

NASA's Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force base in California.

NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force base in California.

NASA’s successfully launched its Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base Wednesday morning.

OCO-2’s mission, which is expected to last at least two years, will study atmospheric carbon dioxide, which scientists say is not only an important element of Earth’s carbon-cycle, but also the primary human-produced greenhouse gas that’s been singled out as playing a role in global warming.

Throughout the course of its mission, the spacecraft’s lone instrument, which contains three high-resolution grating spectrometers, will collect space-based global measurements of atmospheric CO2 as well as locate sources of and storage places for this greenhouse gas.

Mission officials say OCO-2 will take the study of the global carbon cycle to a unique new level.  They said it will create the most thorough picture that’s ever been taken of Earth’s natural carbon dioxide sources and their “sinks”, which are areas where the CO2 is removed and stored.

Up to 50% of Antarctica’s Emperor Penguins Could Disappear by Century’s End

Emperor penguin family (Christopher Michel - Creative Commons via Flickr)

Emperor penguin family (Christopher Michel – Creative Commons via Flickr)

The population of Emperor penguins living in Antarctica is at risk of severe decline by the end of the century because of climate change, according to a new study by an international team of scientists.

Currently, the Emperor penguin is being considered for inclusion on the endangered species list, a move the study researchers support.

The researchers pointed out that since Emperor penguins depend so much on sea ice in their daily lives, any changes in the amount of local sea ice concentration (SIC) would have serious effects on their well-being.

In making their analysis of future Emperor penguin population, the researchers included all current and projected drops in sea ice concentration where the penguins maintain their colonies. They found that, due to ongoing climate change, the penguin numbers could drop as much as 50 percent by the end of the century.

Cassini Grand Finale

Artist's rendition of the Cassini spacecraft approaching the planet Saturn. (NASA)

Artist’s rendition of the Cassini spacecraft approaching the planet Saturn. (NASA)

NASA’s Cassini Mission, which has been studying Saturn, its famous rings and its moons for a decade, is readying for its final mission phase which is expected to begin sometime in 2016.

With help from 2,000 members of the public and those involved with the mission, the space agency has named the unmanned spacecraft’s swan song mission, “Cassini Grand Finale”.

In this final portion of the Cassini Mission, the spacecraft will be put through a “daring set of orbits” that in some ways will be like an entirely new mission, NASA says.

The spacecraft will frequently climb high above the ringed planet’s North Pole as it soars just outside of its narrow F ring. Mission officials said that Cassini will also study the water-rich geyser plumes found spouting high above the surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and will dive between the planet and innermost ring 22 times.

Fish Have Better Memories than Thought

Fish have better memories than thought (Benson Kua – Creative Commons via Flickr)

Fish have better memories than thought (Benson Kua – Creative Commons via Flickr)

Canadian scientists have found that fish have a better memory that was previously thought.   Fish were thought to have a memory span of only about 30 seconds, but the researchers said the fish they studied disproved that notion by remembering context and associations for as long as 12 days.

The African Cichlids (Labidochromis caeruleus), a species many people put in their aquariums, exhibited a number of intricate behaviors, including aggression. This led the scientists to think that the fish might be capable of performing some advanced memory tasks.

So, the researchers trained each of the fish used in their experiments to navigate itself into a specific area of the aquarium where it was given a food reward. Each training session lasted about 20 minutes over a three-day period. The fish were then removed from their training area and  allowed to rest for 12 days.

After this rest period, the fish were reintroduced back into their training environment where their movements were tracked with motion-tracking software.

The fish showed a preference for the area of the aquarium that had the previous food reward, which indicated that they were able to recall their previous training.

After the researchers put them through additional training, the fish were able to disassociate themselves from the original reward area in favor of a new location where the food was placed.

How Does Bacteria Become Antibiotic Resistant?

Scanning electron micrograph of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (yellow, round items) killing and escaping from a human white cell. (NIAID)

Scanning electron micrograph of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (yellow, round items) killing and escaping from a human white cell. (NIAID)

Have you ever wondered how bacteria mutate to a point where they build up a resistance to medication designed to kill them?

Researchers from Hebrew University of Jerusalem were able to precisely measure how bacteria respond to antibiotics, which allowed them to develop a mathematical model of the process.

The model they developed showed that giving the bacteria daily three-hour doses of an antibiotic provided it with the ability to predict just how long each dose was effective and then allowed it to go dormant for that period of time.  The bacteria were able to evolve to where it was able to develop biological timers so it could outlive the effectiveness of the antibiotic.

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