Science This Week | IISc scientists discover 600-million-year-old ocean water from Himalayas and more

Scientists have discovered droplets of water trapped in mineral deposits in the Himalayas that were likely left behind from an ancient ocean which existed around 600 million years ago.

Scientists have discovered droplets of water trapped in mineral deposits in the Himalayas that were likely left behind from an ancient ocean which existed around 600 million years ago.
| Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

From figuring out why the universe exists to how ants know how much food their colony needs, here are this week’s top findings and discoveries from the field of science.

Measuring helium in distant galaxies may give physicists insight into why the universe exists

A recent study found that the Subaru telescope’s new measurement of the amount and type of helium in faraway galaxies may offer a solution to the long-standing mystery of matter-antimatter asymmetry problem. Last year, the Subaru Collaboration – a group of Japanese scientists working on the Subaru telescope – released data on 10 galaxies far outside of our own that are almost exclusively made up of hydrogen and helium. Using a technique that allows researchers to distinguish different elements from one another based on the wavelengths of light observed in the telescope, the Subaru scientists determined exactly how much helium exists in each of these 10 galaxies. Importantly, they found less helium than the previously accepted theory predicted.

Scientists discover 600-million-year-old ocean water from Himalayas

Scientists have discovered droplets of water trapped in mineral deposits in the Himalayas that were likely left behind from an ancient ocean which existed around 600 million years ago. The study conducted by scientists of IISc and Niigata University, Japan, shows that the 600-million-year-old ocean water from the Himalayas can provide the evolution of oceans, and even life, in Earth’s history. Exposures of such marine rocks in the Himalayas can provide some answers on palaeo oceans, the institute said.

The ultra-careful quest to find the shape of the electron’s charge

Studies that test some physical property to an extreme precision are gaining in popularity these days because many physicists are intently looking for small chinks – too small for them to have noticed without a closer look – in a theory that is both powerful yet incomplete. A new study used a strong electric field in the molecule hafnium fluoride to measure the electric dipole moment of its valence electrons, and concluded by finding no evidence of ‘new physics’. This result precludes the existence of certain hypothetical particles and will help build future particle colliders.

Tuberculosis: over 85% cure rate seen in modified BPaL regimen trial

The interim results of a randomised phase-3/4 trial carried out in India to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of an all-oral, short-course treatment using just three drugs for people with pre-XDR TB or treatment intolerant/non-responsive MDR pulmonary TB appears promising. The trial uses just three drugs — bedaquiline, pretomanid and linezolid (BPaL) — and the treatment lasts only for 26 weeks, in contrast to eight-nine tablets each day for 18 months in the case of conventional treatment for drug-resistant TB. Nearly 70% of the 400 trial participants have so far completed the treatment lasting for 26 weeks and the cure rate is well above 85%, the study said.

Scientists revive worm frozen 46,000 years ago

Scientists have revived a worm that was frozen 46,000 years ago. The roundworm, of a previously unknown species, survived 40 metres (131.2 feet) below the surface in the Siberian permafrost in a dormant state known as cryptobiosis, according to Teymuras Kurzchalia, professor emeritus at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden and one of the scientists involved in the research. Organisms in a cryptobiotic state can endure the complete absence of water or oxygen and withstand high temperatures, as well as freezing or extremely salty conditions. They remain in a state “between death and life,” in which their metabolic rates decrease to an undetectable level.

As earth warms, microbes frozen for millennia are coming back to life

Recently, scientists found remarkable genetic compatibility between viruses isolated from lake sediments in the high Arctic and potential living hosts. In a new study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, scientists calculated the ecological risks posed by the release of unpredictable ancient viruses. Earth’s climate is warming at a spectacular rate, and up to four times faster in colder regions such as the Arctic. Estimates suggest four sextillion (4,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) microorganisms to be released from ice melt each year. The simulations show that 1% of simulated releases of just one dormant pathogen could cause major environmental damage and the widespread loss of host organisms around the world.

Plastic pollution widespread in water bodies across the world

Two papers published in Nature have found evidence for widespread plastic contamination of coral reefs and freshwater lakes. The reef study finds that larger fragments (mostly debris from the fishing industry) make up most of the plastic found, and these macroplastics are especially abundant in deep reefs. The assessment of freshwater lakes and reservoirs reveals that all assessed bodies of water were contaminated with microplastics.

How do ants know how much food their hungry colony needs?

Individual ants perform specific tasks for the colony, like supplying food, cleaning the nest, defending the colony, etc. There’s no ‘control room’ telling which ant what to do, yet they seem to know exactly what to do and when. Consider the foragers – worker ants that bring food into the colony. The amount of food they carry perfectly matches the colony’s total hunger. According to a new study, the trick might be in the way other ants eat the food the foragers carry. While the ants accomplish complicated tasks, they use simple rules to decide what to do at each step. When they carry more food, they simply move deeper into the nest; when they’re carrying less than a certain amount, they leave to look for more food.

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