A study tracking mercury isotopes finds evidence of mercury pollution in deep sea trenches.

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(Wikimedia commons, Marmall4)


Maybe it was a science class where you first met mercury. The chemical element with the symbol Hg is fascinating. It’s a liquid, but it doesn’t act like another liquid.

This is because it is the only metallic element that is in the liquid phase under conditions of ‘standard’ pressure and temperature. Since mercury is a metal, the bonds between its atoms are quite strong. This results in a very high surface tension, which explains why mercury doesn't splash like water, but rather rolls and glides across surfaces — mercurial, you might say.

The fact that mercury doesn’t stick to glass but still responds well to temperature fluctuations by changes in volume. Hence, its most well-known application is its use in thermometers. …

Do common supplements or strength training provide protection against the effects of aging?

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(Pixabay, Brun-nO)

Supplements for a longer life

No one escapes the ravages of age. And not a single part of our bodies is spared, not even our microbiome.

This suggests that there are many pathways that are involved in aging. Some substances that are being researched for their supposed anti-aging properties (such as rapamycin) may affect some of these pathways. The interventions we would really like affect so-called downstream targets, molecules that exert their influence on the initial steps of one or several pathways. Another name for these potential molecular elixirs of life is the ‘master regulators’.

But what about the supplements and/or exercise regimes that are touted by (social) media influencers? Take these omega 3 supplements and your brain will stay healthy for longer. Use this HIIT workout (even though real HIIT is much more intense than many of the workouts that are called HIIT these days) and you’ll be building muscle/burning fat all the way into your grave. …

Can the impact of nearby supernovae be studied by looking at radiocarbon in tree rings?

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Remnant of Kepler’s Supernova SN 1604 (Wikimedia commons, NASA/ESA/JHU/R.Sankrit & W.Blair)

Supernova in the sky

The stars might seem eternal, but they too have a limited lifespan. Near the end of their lives, stars go through runaway nuclear fusion. They go ‘boom’. This explosion is known as a supernova.

Supernovae can be as bright in the night sky as an entire galaxy. Big boom.

Following the supernova a star collapses into a neutron star or black hole, or is entirely destroyed — the star’s eventual fate depends upon its mass.

As a consequence of the powerful explosion, a supernova blasts away many of the material that once was a star. …

A subset of muscle stem cells can be preserved into old age and prevent age-related decline

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(pixabay, didkog)

Stem cells and aging

We all begin life as a single fertilized cell. That cell, though, has to develop into a full-fledged human being with many different organs and tissues, each of which is composed out of different cell types.

How do we go from one cell to many different types of cells?

Stem cells.

Stem cells are cells that can differentiate into many different cell types. As embryo, we have plenty of pluripotent stem cells that can develop into all of the body’s cell types.

As we age, though, the number of stem cells drops precipitously.

Pluripotent adult stem cells are quite rare, restricted to bone marrow and a few other tissues. Most adult stem cells are multipotent (restricted to a specific ‘lineage’ of cells, for example, different types of muscle cell) or unipotent (only able to become one specific cell type). …

Microbes could be used to mine rare earth elements in space environments

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(Pixabay, rolandoemail)

Into the great beyond

From time to time, a few of us gaze at the stars and wonder about the worlds out there that are waiting to be explored. Might there be alien worlds or moons where we could live?

As our telescopes and satellites improve, we are discovering more and more exoplanets. Some of those planets appear to tantalizingly fall within parameters that could sustain (human) life. Aka the Goldilocks zone. Some planets could even be ‘superhabitable’.

There are a couple of problems, however. The stars — and their planets — are very far away. Far enough to ensure that for humans to reach them would require multi-generation spaceships (or a thorough revision of the known laws of physics). …

A new study cautions for overeagerly linking the microbiome with disease, since there might be other factors at play

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(Unsplash, Science in HD)

The multitude within

The microbiome is everywhere. Literally. Our bodies provide housing for complex communities of micro-organisms, aka microbiomes.

The microbiome that has been making the news often lately, is our gut microbiome. The residents of our gut appear to have their pseudopods extended into many aspects of our lives.

Our microbial residents are thought to affect how we metabolize food and how hungry we get, but also our risk for certain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, and even our personality traits. …

Aging affects many processes in our body, but does it change overall body shape as well?

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(Adapted from Pixy.org)

The ravages of time

As we traverse adulthood and start to ripen into old age, bodily changes happen. Most of them not very desirable.

The immune system begins to sputter, the risk for cancer increases, it becomes harder to build/maintain muscle, joints creak, connective tissue loosens, and your memory is no longer what it used to be.

Aging affects all parts of our bodies, including our microbiome. …

New evidence unearths one of the oldest known water purification systems in the Mayan city of Tikal

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(Pixabay, Quadronet_Webdesign)

Water is life

In astrobiology, there is a saying: follow the water. Much of the focus in the quest to find extraterrestrial life lies on identifying places —perhaps even ‘superhabitable’ planets — where liquid water can occur.

After all, water has some unique chemical and physical properties that appear to be very useful for life as we know it. (Of course, there are other potential pathways/environments that could lead to life. In the clouds of Venus, for example.)

Closer to home, all lifeforms on earth need water in some way. Even the hardiest creatures that can survive long periods without it, such as our tiny tardigrade superheroes, eventually need some moisture to be metabolically active (what is life without metabolism, anyway?). …

‘Pet’ and ‘companion animal’ are often used interchangeably, but there is a meaningful difference

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(Pixabay, seaq68)

Fido, sit

In the editorial of the first issue of the Journal of Animal Ethics (back in the ancient year 2011), the editors ask prospective authors to replace the word ‘pet’ with the word ‘companion animal:

Specifically, we are inviting authors to use “companion animals” rather than “pets.” Despite its prevalence, “pets” is surely a derogatory term with respect to both the animals concerned and their human caregivers.

However, some ethicists quickly pointed out that equating the terms would gloss over the differences.

To quickly illustrate the main point:

You own a pet.

You live with a companion animal.

Of course, you can call your pets companion animals, or your companion animals pets. Philosophers like to fuss over words. …

Despite its expansive cast and many subplots, the Game of Thrones novels have managed to attract a wide and engaged readership. A new study reveals how.

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(PIxabay, Mysticartdesign)

Plenty of characters

George R.R. Martin’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ is the novel series behind the popular Game of Thrones series . But even before the series took hold of global attention, the books had garnered an impressively wide readership.

This is very unexpected a work that is notable for its complexity and expansive cast of characters.

How do the books manage to marry the sprawling story lines and the many characters with reader engagement?

A new study that combines network science and data analysis suggests an answer to this question: a specific narrative structure. …


Gunnar De Winter

Science x philosophy x technology x writing. Word wrangler. Concept cuddler.

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