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Five Coolest Things On Earth This Week

Spiders’ webs aren’t just deadly insect traps but also sophisticated information networks, Costa Rica has been running on renewable electricity for 76 days straight, and researchers in Belgium and the U.S. have assembled the first genetic tree of beer. Cheers to science, but do read on!

 

 

The Itsy Bitsy Spider’s Web Is A Sophisticated Information Network, Scientists Say

The internet is not the only web that can transmit valuable information. Scientists studying spiderwebs found that they were “superbly tuned instruments for vibration transmission – and that the type of information being sent can be controlled by adjusting factors such as web tension and stiffness.” Teams at the University of Oxford and Universidad Carlos III de Madrid designed computer models and used mathematical analysis to show how information about the type of prey as well as the quality of prospective mates spreads through the web. “It is down to the interaction of the web materials, a range of bespoke web silks, and the spider with its highly tuned behavior and armory of sensors that allows this virtually blind animal to operate in a gossamer world of its own making, without vision and only relying on feeling,” wrote professor Fritz Vollrath, head of the Oxford Silk Group. “Perhaps the web spider can teach us something new about virtual vision.” The research was published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

 

Scientists Screen 100,000 Compounds For A Single-Dose Malaria Treatment

Brief resume of life cycle of malarian plasmodium disease across the mosquito and human bodies in flat poster.

“The parasite goes to the liver first, then the blood stream, followed by a transmission stage.” Image credit: Getty Images

Malaria researchers at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT and their colleagues screened a database of 100,000 chemical compounds for molecules attacking the malaria parasite in a different way than traditional drugs and also in all of its life three stages. When they tested their result in mice, “it eradicated the malaria parasites during all three stages of the disease,” the team wrote in a news release. “The parasite goes to the liver first, then the blood stream, followed by a transmission stage. Our compound hits all three of these stages, which is very rare in the therapeutic pipeline.” The team is far from finished. They wrote that their screening data includes “a trove of information on highly active compounds working by previously identified mechanisms of action or by currently unknown mechanisms.” Stuart Schreiber, director of the institute’s Center for the Science of Therapeutics, invited “the scientific community to use this database as a jumping off point for their work developing antimalarial therapies.” The research was published in the journal Nature.

 

Costa Rica Has Been Running On Renewables For 76 Days

Vulcano Arenal - Beautiful Scenery with Horses on pasture in front of the vulcano

Geothermal generation provided 12.6 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity over the last two months. Image credit: Getty Images

The country of Costa Rica has been running for more than two months straight on just renewable electricity, according to Grupo ICE, a government-run utility and telecom company. Grupo ICE reported Tuesday the Central American country has used hydropower (including GE technology) to generate 80.3 percent of its electricity for 76 days. Because the countryside there is studded with volcanoes, geothermal generation added 12.6 percent and wind another 7.1 percent. Solar accounted for the remainder.

 

This Spray-On Water Repellant Could Keep Your Phone Dry And Your Boat Rust Free

Scientists at the Australian National University discovered a spray-on water repellant that could protect electronics from moisture, planes from ice and boats from rust. They say that the material is also transparent and resistant to UV radiation. “It will keep skyscraper windows clean and prevent the mirror in the bathroom from fogging up,” said Antonio Tricoli, the lead researcher and head of the university’s Nanotechnology Research Laboratory. The team said they combined two types of plastic—one tough and one flexible—to stabilize hydrophobic nanoparticles. “It’s like two interwoven fishing nets, made of different materials,” said ANU researcher William Wong.

 

Cheers! New Study Tracks The Evolution Of Beer

Freehand drawing of the brewery scheme on the old paper. Card for brewery with tanks for storage of beer, bags of malt, hops, water, yeast, mug and barrels.

Since the early 1600s, industrial brewers in Belgium, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. selected yeast strains for “stress tolerance, sugar utilization, and flavor production. Image credit: Getty Images

Sign us up for this research. Geneticists from Belgium and the U.S. have assembled the genetic tree of beer by tracking DNA changes in 157 strains of industrial beer yeast. Writing in the journal Cell, they reported that their analyses “reveal that today’s industrial yeasts can be divided into five sublineages that are genetically and phenotypically separated from wild strains and originate from only a few ancestors through complex patterns of domestication and local divergence.” They say that since the early 1600s, industrial brewers in Belgium, Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. selected yeast strains for “stress tolerance, sugar utilization, and flavor production, while the sexual cycle and other phenotypes related to survival in nature show decay, particularly in beer yeasts.” They wrote that the results suggest “that beer yeast domestication started before the discovery of microbes and the isolation of the first pure yeast cultures by Emil Hansen in the Carlsberg brewery in 1883, but well after the invention of beer production, estimated to have occurred as early as 3000 BC.”

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