Water everywhere

Water ice was found on the moon according to a paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

water

The ice, that is likely ancient, was found at both the lunar North and South Poles and was discovered by an instrument on India’s Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, that was active from 2008 to 2009. The Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) identified ice deposits mostly in craters at the South Pole, with sparser and more widely spread ice deposits at the lunar North Pole. The instrument can identify water ice by three specific signatures, including reflective properties and direct measurements of the distinct way in which infrared light is absorbed by water ice. These measurements also allowed it to distinguish between liquid water, vapour and ice. While the temperature on the moon’s surface can reach up to 100° Celsius, other areas are in permanent darkness as the moon is slightly tilted on its axis and temperatures there do not rise above -157° Celsius. These results support earlier indirect detection of ice at the lunar South Pole and if there is enough water ice on the surface, it might help to support future missions to the moon, providing a source of drinking water, or, when “split”, a source of oxygen and rocket fuel. Water ice has also been found on the north pole of Mercury and the dwarf planet Ceres, with latest missions indicating the presence of water ice on Mars.

Taking clues from lazy ants

 A study published in Science found a way that ants avoid traffic jams while building narrow tunnels. The group of researchers studied invasive fire ants by marking their abdomens with oil-based markers to monitor which ants were actually helping with the tunnel building. It turned out that only 30% of ants were actively digging, accomplishing about 70% of the work, while the rest sat idly, appearing to do not much at all. Upon removing the highly active ants, others took their place, indicating that the most active ants are not automatically the most specialised ones for tunnel digging.

antsThe unequal distribution of labour actually helps the ants as a collective, as more ants in the narrow tunnels would likely lead to traffic jams and an overall reduced productivity.

To test this the researchers programmed digging robots to one of three settings; either they were programmed to be “idle” (like the ants), “eager” (every robot does as much digging as possible) or “reversing” (when they notice an obstacle they would reverse). While the “eager” robots got entangled and stuck pretty quickly, the “reversing” group did quite well, but the “idle” group had the best results in terms of energy consumption and rate of digging. The results could assist programmers in the future to optimize e.g. disaster relief robots, which might be working in confined environments.

Gut bacteria enzyme helps with blood donations

blood

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have successfully used enzymes extracted from microbes in our gut to transform type-A human blood into type-O blood.

This is an important discovery, as type-O blood is a universal donor blood type, meaning that it can be donated to anyone, regardless of their own blood type. This is possible because type-O blood does not contain specific antigens on the surface of red blood cells that lead the host immune system to attack. Red blood cells in type-A, -B and -AB blood all have specific antigens on their surface, which, if given to another person with a different blood group, means that the host immune system attacks the red blood cells of the donor blood, as it would be seen as a foreign invader. In the worst case this immune reaction can be fatal. As type-O blood circumvents this problem, it is in very high demand by the health services. While only about 7-8% of the UK population have type-O rhesus negative blood, the demand for it makes up 13% of all hospital requests.

The idea of changing the blood type with the help of enzymes is not new, but the newly discovered enzymes coming from gut microbes are much more efficient at converting type-A into type-O by “digesting” the sugar molecules of the antigens and therefore creating the type-O type without any attached antigens. So far, the enzymes have only been tested on blood samples, but might enter clinical trials soon. Having more type-O blood available would be especially useful for emergency situations, in which there might not be enough time to do a blood type test before a blood transfusion.

 

Written by Charlott Repschlager

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