Micro-organisms

  • New research from Harvard suggests some single-celled organisms may be capable of more complex decision-making than we give them credit for. In experiments, they were found to consult a hierarchy of options and be capable of “changing their minds.”
  • Scientists have found some of the earliest direct evidence of life, in the form of organic remains in 3.5-billion-year-old stromatolites in Australia.
  • Modern Mars is a desolate husk of a planet, as far as life is concerned. But it’s not completely uninhabitable, since microbes could be hiding in the cracks of rocks and dirt. And now a new study has found a possible food source for these organisms – space dust.
  • Microorganisms keep turning up in Earth’s most extreme environments. To test whether certain hardy microbes can survive the harsh conditions of space or Mars, colonies were placed on the outside of the International Space Station (ISS) for almost 18 months – and many managed to survive.
  • A study has taken a census of life in the “deep biosphere” beneath the Earth's surface. Among the finds are bizarre creatures that can survive at record depths, pressures and temperatures, and even “zombie” bacteria that may live (in a loose sense of the word) for millions of years at a time.
  • To peer back in time at certain key steps of evolution, scientists at the Scripps Research Institute have engineered synthetic microorganisms designed to be similar to some that might have lived billions of years ago.
  • Researchers from ETH Zurich have found a way to make use of some of the chemical weapons bacteria have developed against each other. In this case, that bacterial battleground is on the surface of thale cress leaves.
  • Two worms frozen in the Siberian permafrost for around 40,000 years have now been thawed and revived, making them the oldest living creatures on the planet and the first multicellular organisms to have survived such long-term cryobiosis.
  • Science
    Scientists have uncovered what they’re calling the oldest colors on Earth. Dating back more than a billion years, the bright pink pigments are the remains of some of the earliest microscopic organisms that once inhabited an ancient ocean, and their discovery helps fill a gap in the fossil record.
  • Living cells follow instructions encoded in DNA to construct organisms. It’s long been thought that one DNA sequence would always create the same protein, but now researchers have found the first exception to this “universal rule,” a microbe that chooses between two different translations each time.
  • With microplastics now in the deepest ocean trenches and moving up the food chain, it’s no surprise that plastic pollution is in the crosshairs for Earth Day 2018. IBM has now released a video outlining how it's helping clean up the seas, using plankton as a kind of living water quality sensor.
  • Science
    The human brain is a beast of a computer, but before we can emulate that we’ll need to start with something simpler. C. elegans is a worm whose basic brain of only 302 neurons has been digitized. Now researchers have taught this virtual worm a new trick, without writing a single line of code.