122 Searching for Mars Fossils and Finding Lost Species

On This Week’s Show

  • Science News with Chris MacAlister

Science News with Chris MacAlister

Mars 2020 Rover is Going to a Place on Mars That’s Perfect for Preserving Fossils

Chris MacAlister

  • Life on Mars! Bloody life on Mars! People keep on going on about it. It may be living on Mars? Okay it isn’t. But it may be living in Mars! Can we have a look? No, not yet. But it may have been living on the surface in the past. Great, have we found any signs of it yet? We’ve found signs of water. Brilliant, any signs of past life? Nope, not yet.
  • It feels like we are so close to somewhat confidently saying that Mars had life on it at some point in the past despite the not unsubstantial fact that we have precisely zero evidence for the existence of life on Mars. Okay, maybe that is a tad unfair, but the level of evidence that we are dealing with here is akin to being somewhat confident about the tooth-fairy’s existence because that incisor under your pillow mysteriously vanished in the night, only to be replaced by a coin.
  • And it’s not just Mars, the moons Europa and Enceladus get people excited because they possibly could contain life, but we haven’t seen any direct signs of it yet; only data that doesn’t rule it out. Yet despite this, there are real life Astrobiologists. There is a whole field of science and scientists dedicated to stuff that may not even exist. No wonder mystics get their knickers all in a twist! Although to be fair, they are mystic, that may just be part of one of their rituals.
  • But thankfully we are dealing with scientists here so there is always hope. The quest to discover life within Mars is not only technically daunting but here is also the huge risk of interplanetary contamination to consider if we go looking for it. War of the World’s only worked as a story because the Martians were invading us. Imagine how much it would have sucked if we’d have taken the common cold to Mars and wiped them out on their home planet. Apologies for the spoiler but the book’s been out for 120 years, you’ve had your chance.
  • So NASA is now attempting to go the other way. Next year their Mars 2020 rover is going to the martian Jurassic coast. They are sending a rover to a site that should have been ideal for fossilisation, an area known as the Jezero Crater. Now we do have pretty good evidence that this area contained a lake some 3.5 billion years ago, and considering that we can find the fossils of primitive life on Earth from that long ago, fingers crossed that Mars could offer us similar.
  • This marks a new generation of NASA exploration with a real focus on Astrobiology. Here we could possibly answer the question of whether we are alone in the universe without compromising any life that may still be there.

 JPL NASA, Universe Today

Stunning Amber Discovery Just Pushed Evidence of Pollination Back 50 Million Years

Chris MacAlister

  • People often wonder what Charles Darwin would think if could see the world today and where the legacy of his work has taken us. Personally, I’d like to think that he would be more fascinated in the answers that we have discovered since his death. He’d be chuffed to bits to learn about the Morgan’s sphinx moth; the moth whose existence he predicted 40 years before it was discovered. He’d be tickled pink to learn where all the energy comes from to sustain the amount of fish that live on coral reefs (as we covered earlier in the year). And we’d probably have to sit him down before we introduce him to DNA and genetics. The poor man’s already died once, we wouldn’t want to finish him off again so quickly.
  • But there are still plenty of Darwin’s enigmas that we still have not been able to solve yet. Like the “abominable mystery” as he described it, of how flowering plants, or angiosperms, suddenly bloomed into the fossil record in the early cretaceous period. 
  • The first evidence we have for angiosperms is 130 million years ago. Around 112 to 94 million years ago, the angiosperms blossomed to a level of dominance that they retain today. This correlates with the rise of beetles as well so it has long been thought that the two co-evolved.
  • Now, this is where I wish that we had some creationist listeners. Who knows, maybe we do and if so, good for you and get a load of this. We’ve changed our mind! A new fossil, a beetle preserved in amber, has been discovered in Myanmar and published in PNAS. It completely discredits the picture of the co-evolution that I mentioned, so we’re scraping it, because that’s how science works.
  • The reason that we are scrapping it is because this preserved beetle, dubbed Angimordella burmitina, is 99 million years old and it has been caught in the act. Angimordella has been linked to the modern tumbling flower beetle family, the Mordellidae. Like it’s modern ancestors it has a “humpbacked body, deflexed head, pointed abdomen, and stout hind legs,” and most of the modern species feed on angiosperm pollen – which is how the researchers were able to recognise the mouthparts. And if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well then there’s still some residual uncertainty at play that needs to be addressed.
  • The smoking gun in this case was that the beetle was carrying 62 grains of angiosperm pollen at the time that it died. So not only is the beetle already perfectly evolved to transport pollen at this stage of history but analysis of the pollen also confirms that that was evolved to facilitate transportation via beetle. It pushes the earliest confirmed date of insect pollination back by 50 million years.

PNAS, ScienceAlert

In Other Science News this Week

Vietnamese Mouse Deer
Southern Institute of Ecology/Global Wildlife Conservation/Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research/NCNP

In Closing

This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team.

Our hosts today were Chris MacAlister, and me.

I’m JD Goodwin.  

Thank you for joining us. 

And remember…follow the science!

121 Cosmological Crisis

The more you know, the more you don’t know. Ain’t that the truth! The more we know about the universe the more confusing and contradictory it seems to get. Nevena talks about this crisis in cosmology in today’s episode of Blue Streak Science.

Oh, there’s so much more than that. Join us.

120 Wildfire…again!

In California we’ve noticed that winegrape harvests have shifted to earlier and earlier due to a warmer climate over the past few decades. Along with this shift in agriculture we’ve also experienced extended and more catastrophic fire seasons.
Last week the huge Kincade fire swept through Sonoma County, and threatened several towns, including a neighborhood that was incinerated only two years ago.

In today’s episode we learn of JD’s experience in this “new normal” of climate change.

119 The Blob!

Every one of you listening to this podcast — look out because soon, very soon, the most horrifying monster menace every conceived will be oozing into this podcast. There’s no stopping the blob as it spreads from town to town. It’s indestructible! It’s indescribable! Nothing can stop it! Mob hysteria sweeps one city, before long the nation, and then the world could fall before the blood-curdling threat of — The Blob!

118 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Paleo Soup Cans, and Good News from the UK

As science news went this week, it was all over the map. Continuing from last week’s Nobel Prizes, we moved to Pleistocene food storage, and a green milestone for the UK.

117 In Praise of the Negative

Knowledge of failure is knowledge nonetheless. Chris MacAlister talks about why scientists and journals should share negative results as well as confirmatory results.

116 A Bad Case of the Vapers

I do declare. I believe I have a case of the vapers! Or is it vapors? In either case hospitals are seeing an influx of hipsters, and some are even dying because of vaping. Also, we introduce “Meme Busters” in today’s episode.

115 How Dare You!

In a tumultuous week on the world stage the science story of the week was brought to us by a 16 year old kid.

114 Going Bananas!

The world is going bananas! What? Bananas could die out from one disease? Say it ain’t so!

113 Apollo 11

Fifty years since Apollo 11 first brought humankind to the Moon? No, it doesn’t seem like yesterday. It’s been way too long since we’ve left the comfort and safety of Earth orbit. Let’s go back to the Moon and beyond!

On This Week’s Show

  • A recent visit to an asteroid
  • Why catching a cold may not be such a bad thing after all
  • And a not-so-recent visit to the moon

Science News with Chris MacAlister and JD Goodwin

Hayabusa-2: Japanese spacecraft makes final touchdown on asteroid

Science News, The New York Times, Science

  • It was only a few years ago that we were getting so excited by NASA’s Rosetta mission which orbited a comet, and its Philae lander which (kind of) successfully landed on it.
  • As if this isn’t impressive enough, Haybusba-2 is basically showboating now because it’s not just gone down to the asteroid once, it’s now done it twice! 
  • On its first landing (in February) it collected some surface material; and this was pretty much the best that could be hoped for since the asteroid turned out to be much rockier than anyone had thought back when they were planning the mission.
  • The people at JAXA know how to deal with stubborn space rock. In April, the spacecraft dropped a two-kilogram copper cylinder from about 500 meters above the surface to blast an artificial crater about 10 meters wide and 2 meters deep into its surface.
  • This operation released material from deep within the asteroid. The team back on Earth watched where this debris settled and then sent Hayabusa down to pick some up.
  • Hayabusa-2 will leave Ryugu in November (which I daresay will be a significant relief to Ryugu) and is due to return to Earth in 2020. At this point the coverage of this story in Science News says “That’s when the team will confirm that the spacecraft successfully collected the dust.”

A Common Cold Virus Wiped Away Bladder Cancer in One Patient

Live Science

  • A group of researchers have just published a paper in the journal Clinical Cancer Research which reports that cancer is vulnerable when exposed to a cold virus. 
  • Whilst there are many, many forms of cancer there are even more pathogens that cause common colds. This is precisely why you never build immunity to colds, because you’re not just dealing with one disease. 
  • This study falls firmly into the small but promising category. It only involves 15 patients who were all suffering from bowel cancer. It this won’t sound pretty but these patients were delivered a sizeable dose of common cold, in the form of Coxsackievirus-A21.
  • This hour long viral jacuzzi was delivered and repeated for each patient before they were taken into surgery to have and remaining tumour removed.
  • Why did they find? There was evidence that the tumours had been damaged by the virus in all the patients, but in one lucky patient the tumour had been completely destroyed!
  • So what’s going on? One of the problems with cancer is its ability to sidestep the immune system (since it is made up of your body’s own cells). The Coxsackievirus damages cells which then coaxes the immune system into action, removing any compromised cells, cancer or otherwise.
  • The biomechanics of this leave the cancer cells more vulnerable to this virus than healthy cells, which turns Coxsachievirus into a type of magic bullet.
  • What is exciting about this study is that it’s not just an idea, this is evidence of the treatment working in practice. What’s more, it’s not using some sophisticated bespoke designer virus, this is a wild strain common cold virus that is already kicking around and could theoretically work on any human with no tweaking needed. 

Moon Landing Footage Would Have Been Impossible to Fake. Here’s Why

The Conversation, The Conversation(2)

In Other Science News this Week

In Closing

That concludes this episode of the Blue Streak Science Podcast.

If you have any suggestions or comments email us at podcast@bluestreakscience.com

You can subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast or any other podcast player of your choice.  

If you have an iOS device like an iPhone or an iPad you can get the Blue Streak Science app from the App Store. 

This show is produced by the Blue Streak Science team, and edited by Pro Podcast Solutions.

Our hosts today were Chris MacAlister and me.

I’m JD Goodwin.  

Thank you for joining us. 

And remember…follow the science!

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