Some of the Best Fossils are Tiny Little Things #biology #fossils #fossilfriday

The detail preserved in some fossils is amazing. At a newly described site in Australia, New South Wales, individual cells and even organelles from plants and animals (like I said, amazing) offer a glimpse into ecosystems of the distant past.

Perhaps a modern Australian descendant of the fossilized mygalomorph spider found at McGraths Flat.

The fossilized spiders, cicadas, wasps, plants and fish, which date back to between 11 million and 16 million years ago during the Miocene Epoch, are painting a vivid picture. CNN

One “extremely beautiful specimen” is the best-preserved spider fossil ever found in Australia.

While I admire fossils of dramatic dinosaurs and massive mammoths, lots can be learned from tiny creatures. It takes special circumstances to preserve such fine detail, so sites like these are precious. Some of these little fossils are quite pretty too. Maybe the feathers more so than the spiders.

Thanks to Matthew McCurry, paleontologist, Australian Museum Research Institute.

That’s Not Spring in the Air – It’s DNA! #zoo #conservation #biology

Funny how a discovery’s time seems to come… two research groups independently tried sampling for DNA in the air and they both tried it in a zoo. Great location: exotic animals and an exact inventory too. When the groups eventually found each other, they decided to issue their papers as a pair. Discovery and confirmation, all in one.

It sounds like a nutty idea, but it worked.

The zoo was custom-built for this experiment: Most of the animals are non-native, so they really stick out in a DNA analysis. If we detect a flamingo, we’re sure that it’s not coming from anywhere else but that flamingo enclosure. NPR

The technique might one day track locations and populations of endangered and secretive species in the wild, but it’s not perfect yet. DNA from some very prominent zoo residents, like hippos, didn’t get picked up. But the concept looks sound, so they’ll figure out the details.

This boggles my mind. I think of DNA as so fragile and difficult to sequence. Furthermore, without a wide-ranging and accessible data base of animal DNA analyses, there would be nothing to compare to new samples. New discoveries rest on foundations laid by many scientists over many years, and on cooperation. I’m also impressed by the evolution of zoos from animal jails to research, conservation, and educational institutions.

Congratulations to Kristine Bohmann’s team (with the GLOBE Institute, University of Copenhagen in Denmark) and to Elizabeth Clare’s team (affiliated with Queen Mary University of London.) See their papers in the journal Current Biology

New Year’s Resolution You’ll Love – Read More Books – Start With Scifi #scifibooks #sciencefiction

Now available: The complete Titan trilogy in a value-priced kindle box set.

Technology fails,
Society shatters.
Trapped on a frozen moon…

Titan Trilogy - scifi - Book covers for Box Set

Can a young engineer save himself, his family, and friends? When Fynn and chosen members of the Kin awaken from stasis, there’s no way back to Earth. With survival at stake, will colonists leave old conflicts behind? Or carry them into a deadly dystopia? Fynn must hold the colony together, whatever the sacrifice, or they’re all lost.

Join Fynn and his family in a battle over the cult’s fate. Explore Titan’s methane lake shoreline and interior dunes. Visit the surface habitat and orbiting space station. Search the Saturn system for resources vital to survival.

NASA’s Cassini probe showed us Saturn’s moon, Titan – larger than the planet Mercury and shrouded in a thick lethal atmosphere. A world where hydrocarbons rain down into lakes of liquid methane. Can humans endure in such a dreadful place? Today, you’ll only discover the answer in science fiction.

“Twists and turns keep things moving… young, engaging characters.” Diane Goudreau
“Faced with overwhelming challenges… We are pulled into a dark spiral.” June Randolph
“Loved the characters.” Irishgrammy
“The cult aspect of the series is fascinating, added an interesting dynamic. Kate is an expert at world building.” Mary E. Young
“A fantastic story.” Traci Haes Vass, Write On! Four Corners KSJE 90.0 FM and podcast
“This tense tale delivers on an ambitious premise, a science fiction psychological thriller.” HL, Liminal Fiction

Click now for this complete trilogy. Discover the Kin’s destiny.

Remote Control Greenhouse with More than Radishes

Astronauts have grown loads of plants in space, including lettuce, radishes, peas, zinnias, pak choi, and sunflowers. Also potatoes, which is a good thing, because if future Moon or Mars residents hope to eat off their efforts, they need to grow plants that produce calories.

Proof of concept is important, and I’m sure ISS astronauts enjoyed something fresh and green, but what about actual production?

The South Pole may be as close as we’ll get to a realistic experiment for a while. At a polar research outpost on the eastern coast of Antarctica, the German Aerospace Center and an international team planted a range of vegetables and greens in the fully automated greenhouse: broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, chard, chilli peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and spices.

The greenhouse grows plants without soil, using a technique called aeroponics, which sprays a nutrient-rich solution onto the plants’ roots, which are suspended in the air. The greenhouse is fully artificially lit, as it has to operate throughout the pitch-black nine weeks of the Antarctic winter… We are collecting large amounts of data on system performance and resiliency, crop health and production, environment and crop microbiology, food safety, nutrition, crew psychology and the required inputs such as power, water and crew time.

Since the surface tension of water – the property that makes water bead up on your countertop – must make it hard for plants to absorb mists in space, on the International Space Station, gardeners use pillows filled with a clay-based growth media and fertilizer. The Moon’s gravity may be low enough to require something like that too, but maybe Mars can allow hydro and aeroponics.

Artist’s concept of a greenhouse on Mars, attached to a habitat

The Antarctic greenhouse was managed by researchers overwintering at the pole, but storms kept people inside the main structure, leaving the greenhouse reliant on remote control for days at a time.

Real space farmers will need to grow calories too. We humans are mostly grass-fed today on Earth. Wheat, rice, corn, sugar… all grasses, and grasses take up space. Beans are different, and so are potatoes. They certainly contribute to our diets, and I wonder if they’ll become even more important in space.