Bioeconomy.XYZ
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Bioeconomy.XYZ

LAB LEAKS

Big Bac Energy ⚡

Putting the “green” in “green energy”

In this issue:

  • These little green creatures could soon power their time in the limelight.
  • The wonderfully weird brains of teenagers.
  • Finally, we take a peek at the center of our galaxy.
  • Memories, tummies, and honeybees.

Tired of hearing about inflation?

Wait till you hear about the price of lithium, which has gone up 414% over the last year. Why, you ask? Well, this rare metal is one of the primary components of the batteries that power most of your everyday devices (aka your smartphone, your smartwatch, and even this bluetooth enabled smart fork). As the number of battery-powered devices continues to increase, so does the scarcity and cost of lithium.

That doesn’t sound great.
Thankfully, scientists have been racking their brains for alternative ways to power batteries. A new paper describes a somewhat surprising and unconventional power source — blue-green algae.

Like the stuff growing in ponds?
Precisely. These algae (which are technically cyanobacteria, but we’re calling them algae for short) are overabundant and easy to harvest. This makes them pretty much the exact opposite of lithium. They also generate very tiny amounts of electrical power as a byproduct of their usual photosynthesis cycle. You can probably see where this is going…

Let me guess — they put algae in a battery.
Yep, a group of scientists have managed to create a battery powered exclusively by these tiny microorganisms, that can run a simple microprocessor for over 6 months. Such microprocessors are commonly found in tons of devices, and so being able to power them with blue-green algae could prove to be a pretty big deal. The components of this battery were made from durable, recyclable materials (a win for mother nature). Since the generated electrical power comes from photosynthesis, all they need to function is periodic access to an ambient light source.

Got it. So how long till my electric vehicle runs on algae?
We’re not quite there yet, because the actual amount of electricity this battery generates is very small (you’d probably need around 333,000,000 “algae batteries” to run a typical desktop computer). Nonetheless, the fact that this works at all is pretty exciting, and it’s probably only a matter of time before scientists figure out how to scale up the power for larger devices.

The Leak: Traditional sources of battery power are slowly running out, while the rapidly increasing number of battery-operated devices shows no signs of slowing down. Now, a new environmentally friendly, algae-powered battery might offer a creative solution to this problem. Talk about taking green energy to the next level.

Did you ignore your parents as a teenager?

Perhaps you remember being holed up in your bedroom, headphones on, blasting emo punk music while your mom yells your name from the dining room (good times). Developmental psychologists consider this focus shift away from family to be a hallmark of adolescence. But what happens in the teen brain to produce this behavioral change?

The experiment: To answer this question, these scientists recruited a bunch of kids ranging from age 7–16 and had them lie inside an fMRI scanner to measure their neural activity. The scientists then played pre-recorded voices of the kids’ mothers as well as of other unknown women. While the children listened, the scientists analyzed the neural responses in their developing brains.

What did they find?
As the kids got older, their brains showed stronger responses to the voices of unknown women compared to their own mothers. These increased responses to the voices of non-parents were mostly observed in reward-related brain regions, as well as in areas that process social information. In other words, teen brains seem biologically primed to process non-familial voices as rewarding events (while overlooking desperate calls from their moms).

The Leak: If you’ve got a teen who doesn’t seem to hear the words coming out of your mouth, know that it’s not about you — it’s just biology. According to a new study, adolescent brains respond more strongly to non-familial voices than to the sounds of their parents. Don’t worry though, they’ll come around eventually (we know we did).

Wonder what this spicy-looking donut is?

That’s a picture of Sagittarius A* — the black hole closest to us, located at the center of the Milky Way.

There’s a black hole at the center of our galaxy?
We don’t blame you for not knowing that. After all, until recently, this blackhole had never been photographed. But after many years of blood, sweat, tears, and 3500000 gigabytes of data, a team of scientists has finally managed to produce the first ever image of Sagittarius A*.

Why was it so hard?
Black holes have such an intense gravitational pull that not even light particles can escape their grasp. This makes them nearly impossible to image. To quote one scientist, photographing Sagittarius A* is “like trying to take a clear picture of a running child at night.” Thankfully, scientists are stubborn as hell and figured out how to do it anyway.

The Leak: For the first time ever, we have an image of the Sagittarius A* black hole. And just like that, we inch one step closer to understanding how our universe works.

Got a crappy memory?

Maybe a cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) infusion will help. CSF is the soup of essential nutrients that surrounds your brain. According to a new study, infusing CSF from young mice into the brains of older mice can improve the older mice’s memory. Whether this will work for humans is TBD, but if you happen to know a mouse in need of a memory boost, feel free to send them this story.

Nobody likes an endoscopy.

The reasons are obvious (we think). But what if you didn’t need to stick a camera in your intestines just to see what was going on? A new study describes a method for using the bacteria in your gut as little data loggers to keep track of what’s going on in your tummy.

Dislike odd numbers?

Feel free to discuss your irrational hatred of odd numbers with honeybees, who can apparently tell odd and even integers apart.

In case you missed it:

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