Category Archives: Science

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Sleep Apnea Linked to Increased Cancer Risk

This is one of those articles that hits home on a very personal level for me. A New York Times article published May 20th, 2012 introduced two studies that show a possible correlation between sleep apnea and increased cancer risk.

CPAP Mask
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue surrounding the airway relaxes and collapses to obstruct the airway during sleep. Very often it will cause snoring and sometimes choking. The best way to diagnose sleep apnea is to do a sleep study. A few years ago my wife noticed that I would often stop breathing during the night and would gasp for air and make choking noises. I was completely unaware of my condition. I had a sleep study performed. They hooked me up to all kinds of probes to monitor my breathing, oxygen levels, and heart rate. In 2 hours I stopped breathing a total of 117 times. Needless to say, this is not ideal sleep.

Sleep apnea is an extremely dangerous condition. It has already been linked to increased hypertension and stroke. Now two studies are saying that it could lead to increased cancer risk. A Spanish study focused on low oxygen levels and how it might affect cancer risk. Of the thousands they studied, those whose oxygen levels were the lowest were most likely to receive a cancer diagnosis during the study period. A University of Wisconsin study found that people with moderate sleep apnea doubled the likelihood of death from cancer, while severe patients were more than four times likely to die from cancer.

There is still some debate about whether other factors such as weight and exercise could be other contributing factors to the cancer risk. However, coupled with the cardiovascular risks, sleep apnea is a serious condition that should not be taken lightly. Most of the time it is treated with a machine called CPAP (pictured above)  which means constant positive air pressure. You wear either a full face mask or a nose mask and it applies air pressure to keep your airway open while you sleep. It took me some getting used to it but now I find it is hard to sleep without it. A little aggravation to me is worth it compared to the negative affects of sleep apnea.

Annular Solar Eclipse On May 20th To Miss Most of the Globe

There is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that there will be an annular solar eclipse on the 20th of May. The bad news is that more than 80% of the world’s population is going to miss it. The Solar Eclipse, dubbed the ‘Ring of Fire Eclipse’ for reasons which will be clear in a bit, will be visible in its true spectacular glory on the western coast of the United States.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The Greatest Eclipse

The eclipse will only be visible from a small stretch of the earth’s surface, and even that is covered mostly by oceans. The place of Greatest Eclipse (GE) occurs bang in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no visible atolls nearby.

America…

There is good news for US residents on the Western half of the country. The solar eclipse will track through the middle of California, south of Oregon, through most of Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. Only partial eclipse will be seen on the eastern part of New Mexico. Texas will have to be satisfied with a short partial eclipse. The path traces out the Northern part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and thus the name.

Asia…

Across the Pacific, on the Asian shores, Japan will be lucky to be able to witness the spectacle and so will be the western shores of China.

Making all of this much easier to track is NASA’s awesome interactive Google Earth Map. Here is a screenshot of the Map.

Here is the interactive map in all its glory: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEgoogle/SEgoogle2001/SE2012May20Agoogle.html

 

Historic SpaceX Launch Hits Snag; Cause And Duration Of Delay Unknown

The much anticipated SpaceX launch was stalled suddenly in the closing parts of the countdown sequence. The LIFT-OFF DID NOT OCCUR, on time. Space Flight Control, Houston, reported that there has been a “cutoff in the Launch Sequence” and that the launch was aborted. The exact nature of the problem is still unknown.

Latest Update: The SpaceX Launch Delayed Till Tuesday!

Not quite yet!

One of the computers apparently saw a parameter value that ‘it didn’t like’ and thus the engine had to shut down. The launch vehicle is stable and can be recycled for the next attempt.

Follow the live webcast here: http://www.livestream.com/spaceflightnow?utm_source=lsplayer&utm_medium=embed&utm_campaign=footerlinks

The launch has been postponed, but at the time of writing this, the exact duration of the delay has not been specified.

The details are coming in. The International Space Station team, waiting eagerly for the first private docking at the ISS, has been informed of the problem.

Below are some of the pre-launch pictures

 

Close-up
Ignition
... And the snag! The 'cutoff'.

The historic launch is still in the future. We wish both NASA and SpaceX the very best of luck

SpaceX: First Private Launch To Space Station Scheduled For Tomorrow!

Though not as big as the one in 1969, this is still a jump big enough to cause NASA to spend sleepless nights. SpaceX, short for Space eXploration Technologies, is due to make its maiden launch tomorrow, i.e. on the 19th of May, 2012. Going sub-orbital will be SpaceX’s baby steps towards actually going for a fully manned space mission.

The launch time on 19th May is  1:15 AM Pacific / 4:15 AM Eastern / 08:15 UTC as taken from the SpaceX site.

The live webcast link is: http://www.livestream.com/spaceflightnow?utm_source=lsplayer&utm_medium=embed&utm_campaign=footerlinks

Proud: SpaceX CEO Elon Muck with the Falcon-9 rockets.

SpaceX and…

SpaceX will launch their Dragon space capsule atop the powerful Falcon-9 rockets. The capsule will contain important supplies for astronauts at the ISS, like food, other essential supplies and certain science equipment.

This is a part of the NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Program and is designed to act as a replacement for the Space Shuttle, which carried man, machine and supplies. For now, man is excluded from the scenario and the first few missions will all be unmanned.

The Dragon space capsule doesn’t require much alteration to house a human being. That is definitely on the charts, but it is not clear how soon that’s going to happen.

The historic launch!

…Beyond SpaceX

NASA for the first time is stepping out of its own shell and allowing other companies to participate in space. SpaceX, having a $1.6 billion contract for 12 cargo flights with NASA, is one player. The other player is Orbital Sciences Corps. and they have been contracted to actually carry out manned flights. The contract is a lucrative $1.9 billion for 8 flights.

Orbital Corps also promises private spaceflight experience for those who can shell out the money. The exact amount is not known right now, though.

Go SpaceX Go! That’s the new motto. NASA is keeping its fingers crossed. This is one experiment that they definitely want to get right.

Chinese Researchers Teleport Entangled States Through Nearly 100 Km!

The spooky action-at-a-distance just got a lot longer – over six times longer. Though, the phenomenon is not yet ‘Beam me up, Scotty’, the improvement is heartening. A team of Chinese researchers have teleported qubits across a distance of 97 kilometers, using the phenomenon of entanglement.

The spooky entangled world

Entanglement is a purely quantum-mechanical phenomenon, which started on its road to stardom and fame within the physics community and outside it due to a thought experiment by Einstein.

Here it is in simple terms and closely in the same spirit as Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen had first put it. Take two electron. Now, if they are in the same quantum state, one has to be in an ‘up’ spin state and the other in a ‘down’ spin state. The two spins cannot be the same, because another fundamental principle of quantum mechanics – the Pauli exclusion principle – forbids that. Now, take one electron and separate it from the other by a very large distance – say half the universe – but without ever ‘looking’ at it to see what spin state it is in. Now, take the electron near you and look at it to determine what the spin is. But if you know that, you immediately know what spin state the other electron is in! In other words, you get the information about the farther electron instantaneously, violating the fundamental postulate of relativity which forbids the transfer of information faster than light speed.

To EPR or not to EPR

There has been plenty of debates on this so-called EPR paradox. It remained a thought experiment until Alain Aspect and his group actually performed the experiment and found that entanglement is a very real phenomenon. That hasn’t doused the debates though, with people trying to determine what information actually means and whether information is actually transferred.

Photons entangled

Now, the Chinese team uses photons, just like Alain Aspect’s team did in their pioneering experiment. They created two entangled photons, using a 1.3 watt laser, and made them appear at two distinct places separated by as much as 97 kilometers!

Now, a photon can represent a quantum state – or a number of quantum states, really – and can thus be thought of as a ‘qubit’ or quantum bit. It carries a ‘bit’ of information, just like a ‘bit’ on the hard disk of a computer. So far, the researchers have been able to transmit the ‘key’ to a encrypted message, but the message itself needs to be sent via classical channels. It’s like mailing a locked treasure-chest and sending the key to the lock via a quantum mechanically entangled channel.

The work has just been put on ArXiv and here is the link: http://arxiv.org/abs/1205.2024

Mysterious Manta Rays’ Marvelous Journeys Revealed

Conservationists with the Wildlife Conservation Society, the University of Exeter, and the Government of Mexico recently teamed up to study the migrations of Manta Rays using satellite telemetry. The studied revealed never before known secrets of these beautiful creatures. The study was published in the online journal Plos One.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Though these creatures can grow up to 25 ft and eerily resemble an underwater bat, they are completely harmless to humans. It is feared that these wonderful creatures are becoming endangered and have already been listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This particular study’s results were a little unsettling because it showed previously unknown data about the migration of this creature.

Scientists spent a few days off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula tagging the rays with satellite transmitters. The results were astonishing. The rays traveled 1100 Kilometers (over 600 miles) and stayed mostly within the territory of Mexico. Like whales, these rays swim with their mouths open so they can feed on plankton. The unsettling part of this study however, is that only 11% of the areas they swam were considered protected. In fact, they often swam in major shipping routes in the region. This means there is a strong chance they might come in contact with a ship and incur injury.

“Studies such as this one are critical in developing effective management of manta rays, which appear to be declining worldwide,” said Dr  Howard Rosenbaum, Director of WCS’s Ocean Giant Program. Hopefully this will provide much needed information about how we can protect these beautiful creatures and maybe educate the public about their migration patterns. Other dangers lurk for the manta rays. They are often cut up for shark bait and used for medicinal purposes. Education is key to protecting the manta rays. As more is learned about them and shared with the public at large, hopefully more can be done to protect their habitat and ensure their future.

Found: World’s Smallest Mammoth Was Barely The Size Of A Baby Elephant!

They were furry and cute; they were also mammoths. A group of animals are believed to have roamed the island of Crete a long time ago. Their remains had been discovered a century ago, but only a recent discovery settles the debate about the size of the animals.\

Much smaller?

It turns out that the adults of the species were the size of a modern elephant calf, making it just a meter of so tall – even less than the average height of humans. The discovery instrumental in making this conclusion is a collection of teeth from the animals that lay scattered all over the island.

The crucial discovery

Dwarfism – the evolutionary basis

Evolutionary scientists call this dwarfism. The animal lineage suddenly undergoes a shrinkage in the size of its individual due to certain environmental factors. Dwarfism is particularly pronounced in island environments. Scarcity of food is the primary cause. Insular location also prevents vast migrations of animal species, as can be often seen in animal herds on landmasses.

Another factor contributing to the reduction in size is the lack of predators. If you don’t need size to fend off predators, you’re probably better off smaller, as it takes much less maintenance.

So, while their cousins on the landmass enlarged in size, the insular individuals became smaller. Just insular dwarfism taken to the extreme.

Not the woolly mammoths

It should be noted that these animals were not woolly mammoths, like the imagination conjures up. These were mammoths suited to warmer climates, and the temperatures in Crete never dipped very low.

More info: http://www.livescience.com/20178-dwarf-mammoth-fossils-smallest.html

Magnetic Bacteria To Build Computers of the Future

Doctors and aeronauts are old story; the latest involves hardcore microchip manufacturers turning to nature for inspiration. They are looking towards magnetic bacteria for the manufacture of the smallest chips. Magnet making bacteria is the next big thing.

The Magnetic bacteria (Photo Courtesy: University of Leeds)

Microbe with a magnetic personality

A team comprising researchers from the University of Leeds and Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology have been studying microbes that ingest iron, becoming magnetic in the process.

The attractive personality belongs to Magnetospirillum magneticum, a predominantly anaerobic bacterium living at bottoms of ponds or lakes. There, instead of oxygen, which is scarce, they derive their energy from ingesting iron and then making magnetite, the most magnetic mineral that occurs naturally. Furthermore, the bacteria follow the Earth’s magnetic field lines, just like a compass.

The Magnetospirillum magneticum

The idea is this – you can direct the bacteria by changing the local magnetic field lines. Using this, you can grow magnets of very specific shapes by arranging the magnetic bacteria in specific shapes.

All for Moore’s Law

In a bid to keep Moore’s law alive in microchips, scientists are thinking of building upon this simple idea and create hard drives and even wires using these critters. Today’s nanotechnology is still having trouble coping with the pace at which Moore’s law would like it to attain, despite the breakneck speed.

Lead researcher Dr. Sarah Staniland of Leeds University says:

We are quickly reaching the limits of traditional electronic manufacturing as computer components get smaller. The machines we have traditionally used to build them with are clumsy at such small scales.

The pioneering study appears in the Nanotechnology journal Small.

SpaceX Delays Launch To Space Station, Dreams About Going To Mars In Future

The euphoria has to wait for a few more days to set in and the wait just gets longer. SpaceX’s first launch of its unmanned Dragon space capsule was scheduled for 7th May, 2012, but has now been shifted to May 19th at the earliest. There was some news of the launch happening on the 10th of May, but that has also been laid to rest.

SpaceX!!

SpaceX, short and snazzy for Space eXploration, is a private company which has won a contract from NASA for doing 12 flyby’s to the International Space Station, carrying food supplies and other essentials for the astronauts up there. NASA is closely monitoring SpaceX’s progress, providing logistical support as and where needed, since NASA wants a replacement for the Space Shuttle Program. Right now, only Russia has the capability to ferry astronauts to and from the Space Station. NASA wants its piece of the ISS pie back!

And thus SpaceX! The contracts, worth $1.6 billion, with SpaceX for 12 cargo deliveries and another with Orbital Sciences Corps, worth $1.9 billion, for eight cargo deliveries, will help NASA provide a stop gap arrangement for the maintenance of the International Space Station. NASA might want us to see differently. Says NASA astronaut Don Pettit:

Now government-run agencies like NASA can concentrate on the frontier aspect of being in space. They can define what we’re doing and then we can have the commercial entities supply us the goods and services we need in order to do the mission.

Fine, except that NASA has been watching SpaceX very closely, rather than just giving it a sideways glance.

Saving Humanity

Meanwhile, even before getting its feet wet – or in the air, in this case – SpaceX has been dreaming big. Co- founded, owned and managed by Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal, SpaceX wants to go to Mars. Why? Because he believes that the only chance that humans have for survival is becoming a multi-planet species.

There are a lot of positives for SpaceX – a launch in a few days, continued NASA support and a big dream for the future. Join the bandwagon in saying Go SpaceX, Go!

No Reason To Fear The Supermoon Tomorrow; Just Enjoy It

This one’s really a personal note, but I want to share it with everyone. The last time the moon came really close to the Earth and it was a full moon night was on March 19, 2011. It was the supermoon event – or should I say The Supermoon event – that won’t find a duplicate in 18 years hence. It was also a perfect event for astrologers, soothsayers and anyone willing to stick their neck out for any sort of prediction to con people. Of course, the predictions need not be right – the fear would earn them thousands by the hour. And all of this became personal when people who I know well started asking me if this is indeed true!

The Supermoon Event on 19th March, 2011. (Courtesy: Reuters)

So what were the claims? There were claims of earthquakes striking, of natural disasters occurring and of events happening that would destroy the Earth before the “impending” 2012 date! Are these true, I was asked. Of course not, I answered. But then why so many warnings? Why so many astrologers saying so? Are they all wrong?

People are much crueler to politicians and doctors as opposed to charlatans! Apparently, both politicians and doctors can lie – even at great risk – just for a few bucks, but astrologers and psychics just won’t! Yeah, really!

The world is NOT coming to an END!

So here it is – my message loud and clear. There is going to be nothing odd happening on supermoon night. Yes, except for slightly higher tides that is. There is no positive correlation about the occurrence of earthquakes and the supermoon event. Furthermore, seismic forces are very powerful orders of magnitude more powerful than just lunar gravitational forces.

So here is the bottomline – enjoy the supermoon. Let go of any worries you might have about the supermoon bringing destruction upon you. Do nothing different! But of course, if you’re a real romantic, this is the perfect night to spend with your beloved under the stars. Let the magic of the Earth’s only natural satellite sweep you off your feet!

Lunar Alert: Supermoon To Be Spectacular This Week; Too Bad For The Meteor Shower

The moon will go ‘super’ this weekend, but that will mean bad news for the meteor shower watchers. The Supermoon, or the year’s biggest full moon, will delight all on 5th of May, 2012, starting from 2335 EST (or 0335 GMT on May 6th). Even though the moon will be at its biggest for just a few hours, the full moon will appear to last for a full three days starting on 4th May till 6th May.

Killed by the light

Unfortunately, the bright moon will wipe out the faint Eta Aquarids, the meteor shower from the debris of the Halley comet. However, given that the Eta Aquarids register at a high count of 60 meteors per hour, one shouldn’t lose all hope. Let’s just say that it won’t be seen in its usual self. Meteor shower enthusiasts will agree that the Aquarids are not really that bad a miss.

The Supermoon happens at the full moon when the moon is closest to the Earth. The 2011 Supermoon was spectacular – the moon won’t be that close to the Earth in another 18 years. This year’s Supermoon won’t be that great, but it will still be quite a sight, with the Moon appearing 14% bigger and 28% brighter than usual full moon nights.

Capturing it on film!

The Moon

Photo enthusiasts interested in sky watching should definitely aim at photographing the Supermoon. Last year’s was a bumper catch and this time too people are optimistic. A tripod is not necessary, as you’ll require really small exposure time for the moon, but getting to a place with a clear sky will definitely mean a lot for the clarity of the photo. Unlike other night photos, you will be well-advised to keep the ISO of your camera sensor low.

The Meteors

And as for the Eta Aquarids, we aren’t very optimistic, especially if you were planning to photograph them. Living in the Southern Hemisphere will give you a slight advantage and you’ll be lucky to see a few good and bright streaks. The fact that you won’t be able keep your camera shutter open for most of the area in the sky, due to the bright moon, will not help your cause. Sorry…

Though this might seem early, do plan on having a great lunatic weekend everyone.

Preserved Blood From 5300 Year Old Iceman Is World’s Oldest!

An open wound on a corpse is like a time machine – especially if the corpse is 5300 years old. Meet the most famous 5300 year old, his body preserved in as pristine a condition as this much time will allow – Oetzi. He was found in the Italian Alps, on the Oetz valley (and thus his name) in 1991 and since then has aroused considerable interest because of his well-preserved features.

Getting details

Scientists have been able to figure out that Oetzi died from a spear wound. He probably died soon after the strike and not from an infection from the wound. An axe and scattered arrow fragments lay around him. Some have even reconstructed Oetzi’s face, giving him a grizzly look of a stern, but aging hunter. Brown eyes were a figment of imagination, but they look good on him. He is the ultimate prehistoric fashion model.

Oetzi - probably

So well preserved is Oetzi that scientists have even been able to extract valuable DNA samples from whatever remains of his skin. Nothing useful could be concluded. They have also extracted mitochondrial DNA from his intestines. Mitochondria are small bodies living within cells. They contain their own DNA, apart from the nuclear DNA. Hereditary features are caused by nuclear DNA – the ‘familiar one’ – while the mitochondrial DNA remains inactive. It can only be passed down through the maternal line.

The DNA gave some tantalizing hints as to where Oetzi might have hailed from or what his biological ancestry might have been. Scientists speculate that he might be East European, but they aren’t very sure. Among other things, scientists speculate that he might have been infertile!

The preserved remains.

The blood

The latest in the Oetzi story features his blood. Blood cells degrade rather rapidly, but Oetzi even has blood preserved underneath his skin. This marks the oldest red blood cells ever recorded! Researchers at the Center for Smart Interfaces, University of Darmstadt, Germany, found that atomic force microscopy revealed minute amounts of blood in thin slices of tissue.

The RBC's as seen under an AFM. (Courtesy: BBC)

Atomic force microscopy relies on mapping out the atomic topography of a surface using a tiny atomically sharp metal tip. The concave shape of red blood cells clearly shows up (figure above)!

But something is anomalous – the fibrin levels are low. Fibrin helps blood to clot. It is found in very high quantities in fresh wounds. The fact that the blood will be preserved but not the fibrin seems far-fetched, so maybe Oetzi died slowly, due to a bleed or an infection rather than directly from a spear wound.

The dead do speak.

Alarm Bells Ring As Eight Patients Are Confirmed With TB Resistant To All Known TB Drugs

The ticking time bomb is giving signals that it is coming to the end of its countdown. The National Tuberculosis Institute (NTI), Bangalore, has confirmed eight cases all reporting TB germs resistant to all known TB drugs. A confirmatory notice has also been sent to the Central TB Division or CTD, New Delhi.

Twelve patients with symptoms of Tuberculosis (TB) were admitted to the Hinduja hospital on January 6th. Doctors soon declared them infected with Totally Drug Resistant TB (TDR-TB). Three out of the 12 died soon after. Sputum samples from all the 12 were sent for testing. Eight came out positive for a strain more resistant than earlier thought.

Triggering the time-bomb

Resistance to drugs generally results from the overuse of antibiotics. It’s simple evolution, really. Few of a population of TB germs may develop a genetic factor enabling it to resist a drug administered on the patient, say drug A. These few are the only surviving members of the population. Now, these multiply, giving rise to the next generation of germs resistant to this particular drug. When it infects another patient, a new drug – say drug B – is needed. Some members of this new population can then develop resistance to drug B, while retaining its resistance to drug A. Over prescription of medicines known to work on TB germs accelerates this process and very soon we get TB germs resistant to multiple drugs. This is what is referred to as Multi-Drug Resistant TB (MDR-TB).

TDR-TB refers to TB which are resistant to first line drugs. First line drugs are drugs proven to work against the bacteria, with the least amount of side-effects. There is a second line, which may not be as effective, or may produce more side-effects, or maybe not as well clinically tested as first line drugs. Second line drugs are used when first line ones fail. MDR-TB is resistant to many second line drugs as well.

Even worse

Eight of the Hinduja patients were infected with TB that showed resistance to both first and second-line drugs, making it Extremely Drug Resistant TB (XXDR-TB). However, WHO doesn’t recognize this classification. The case has been documented on the Directly Observable Treatment Shortcourse Plus (DOTS+) log. Doctors are still to figure out the line of treatment for these eight patients.

The TB timebomb is ticking… maybe beyond our control now!

SpaceX Static Fires Its Falcon Rocket; Dragon Sleeps Till 7th May

The next step in space will be taken on the 7th of May, but that was preceded on 30th April ’12 by the static fire of the launch vehicle. SpaceX, the company determined to take the mantle of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, will be launching their Dragon Space capsule on the 7th of May. Today they successfully static fired Falcon, the rockets that are meant to carry the Dragon into outer space.

The Falcon Static Launch (Courtesy: SpaceX)

Static fire means that the rocket doesn’t really launch and remains useable for a second time – or for the actual launch. The test wasn’t free of glitches, however. The scheduled test was at 1500 EST (or 1900 GMT), but while 47 seconds were remaining on the clock, the rocket’s engines showed a glitch, which was later traced down to a computer error.

The static launch was rescheduled for 1615 EST. There was no problem this time and the nine Merlin engines that will power the mammoth to space fired for two seconds, while the booster remained attached to the pads.

No fingers crossed

A static launch is a bit weird, but SpaceX doesn’t want to take any chances. NASA has been feeding this organization money and technology, so that they can be a proper replacement to the Space Shuttle. Here’s the time of reckoning. NASA is weighing the options of going on to build a new fleet of vehicles – Space Shuttle 2.0, if you wish – and of relying totally on SpaceX and SpaceX-like private companies to give them a lift to the heavens.

Photo from a test launch of the Falcon rockets (Courtesy: SpaceX)

SpaceX is not the only one with the prestigious (and lucrative) NASA contract. Virginia based Orbital Technological Corp. have also gained NASA’s trust. They are contracted for eight cargo delivery missions using its own Cygnus and Antares rockets to the International Space Station. The first of the launches will happen later this year.

The actual launch will happen on May 7th. The launch will be telecast live on SpaceX’s website. Be sure to keep an eye out for us – we will keep you informed with the latest.

Watch the video of the static launch here:

Rare Microorganism is Man’s Remotest Relative

Researchers from the University of Oslo, Norway have discovered a protozoan that may represent a new branch on the tree of life. The tiny creature was discovered in the sludge at the bottom of a lake Ås, 30KM south of Oslo.

Microorganism
Microorganism Courtesy UiO/MERG

Identifying A Mystery

Researchers from the University of Oslo made many attempts to compare the organism’s DNA to databases worldwide, but an exact match could not be found. Associate professor, Kamran Shalchian-Tabrizi, head of the Microbial Evolution Research Group (MERG) at the University of Oslo said, “We have found an unknown branch of the tree of life that lives in this lake. It is unique! So far we know of no other group of organisms that descend from closer to the roots of the tree of life than this species.”

The protozoan didn’t quite fit the mold for any known type of life such fungus, alga, parasite, plant or animal. Life on our planet can be divided into two types of species, prokaryotes and eukaryotes. Prokaryotes are the simplest living things. An example of these would be bacteria. Eukaryotes represent all other life such as plants, animals, and even man. This protozoan is a Eukaryote and represents one of the oldest known life forms to exist on the planet. It is estimated that this organism evolved around a billion years ago. It exhibits characteristics of several eukaryote  groups. For instance, it has the same intracellular structure as excavates, but uses protuberances like amoebae to capture its food. This tells scientists that this organism may predate these groups and may show a glimpse into our primordial history.

Baiting the Hook

These little guys were not easy to find. They were hiding in the sludge at the bottom of the lake. Fortunately, they were hungry. Using a pipe to capture some of the sludge, Professor Dag Klaveness poured an algae mixture draw the little guys out. Once the protozoans began to feed on the mixture, he was able to use a pipette to capture them.

Interestingly this particular species is found nowhere else in the world. Why did such an ancient form of life survive in this area of the world? Very little is known about this protozoan. Researchers have determined that it likes to eat algae but have yet to discover if it has any predators of its own. They have also observed that it flourishes better as a loner.

For more information about this research, visit University of Oslo’s website at http://www.apollon.uio.no/english/articles/2012/microorganism.html.