My name's Dan. I'm the Science Editor at Massive Science. I used to be a laboratory scientist. I would read paper after paper, wishing scientists would write like humans. Now, at Massive, I'm finding hidden science stories and trying to exterminate the word "furthermore". Email me!
On the 128th sol (Martian day) of its mission, NASA's InSight rover, using its seismometer pictured above, has captured evidence of an earthquake on Mars. Er, uh, a marsquake.
Hell yeah. "Marsquake" is the name of my garage band so this will only be a windfall for me.
In terms of rumble, this is a rather small seismic event (NASA notes that if this had happened in Southern California it would barely register on any given day against any of the many small shakes that happen every day). Read more about the event here at the Jet Propulsion Lab/NASA website.
Sydney Brenner died yesterday. That's him on the right, standing next to James Watson at the Asilomar Conference, 1975. I don't want to write a proper eulogy, because they've been done (here's a good one). It'll do to say that he was a scientist of a stratospheric status. I sometimes thought about him when I was in grad school and kept being surprised that we were both working in science at the same time. It was like reminding myself that a myth wasn't myth at all but real flesh and blood, like someone casually remarking that there were dragons in the parking lot. He won a Nobel Prize in 2002, rightfully so, but it should've been his second. He was a fulcrum of 20th century biology, a peer of essentially every famous biologist of the '50s, like Rosalind Franklin and Watson and Crick.
A lot of the focus from Brenner's career has been on his introducing Caenorhabditis elegans, a cute little flatworm into the biologist's repertoire. (It's okay, usually people just say "see el-uh-gans".) It should! He won a Nobel Prize for it. C. elegans was a great idea -- they're easy to work with, you can store them in the freezer (something you can't do with fruit flies or mice, other neuroscientist favorites), and they have a very low, very specific number of neurons -- 302. No more, no less. That makes them easy to study, easy to grow and maintain, and easy to learn on. If you walk into a C. elegans lab you might be lucky enough to see a scientist sitting at a microscope, plucking their own hairs off their arm or their eyebrows to use as hooks to pick up tiny worms. This is absolutely true.
It's astonishing to think about but Brenner should have already won a Nobel Prize by the time he actually got one for C. elegans. He was one of the last living members of the Phage Group, a collection of molecular biologists who used bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria, as models to discover the most basic fundamentals of genetics -- how DNA works, how proteins are made, and what the genetic code is. Earlier this week we published an article about Elisa Izaurralde, who worked out how messenger RNA (mRNA) gets distributed around the cell. Sydney Brenner invited the idea of mRNA more or less out of thin air. The idea is that mRNA acts as a temporary copy of the information encoded in DNA. A cell uses that copy to make a protein, instead of reading directly off of DNA. In the early 1960s there...wasn't much in the way of concrete evidence to support this idea. Brenner (and a few others, including Francis Crick) knew at the time that there was DNA, and there was protein, but there was something in the middle that was missing. They stuck RNA in the middle. Just like that.
*The Eighth Day of Creation: The Makers of the Revolution in Biology - Horace Freeland Judson
In the US, food regulation is split in two. As they put it, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates most "food or food additives" in the US, including the production, packaging, labeling, and sale of food besides meat and poultry. Meat and poultry are regulated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA regulates the production, slaughter, and sale of all meat and meat products. These agency's joint decision on cell-based meats will treat these new products as different things at different points along the process of turning cells into meat.
The FDA will oversee the growth and production of cells. At harvest time, when the cells are collected to be turned into meat, regulation will transfer to the USDA. The decision can be seen as a win for the companies that make cell based meat, which advocated for a similar set up in a letter to the White House in August.
Purple sea urchins are eating all the kelp in California. But in Pittsburgh, hundreds of miles from the ocean, we order them in the mail.
They arrive wrapped in wet newspaper with pieces of seaweed to snack on. We keep them in tanks, next to some sea star buddies, and study how they grow skeletons. When we're done, we bleach them (the university considers them a biohazard) and save them as extremely fragile decorations.
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