Books

How to live on Mars? Recently, Amity Centre of Excellence in Astrobiology conducted Introduction to Astrobiology” online course. Participants were asked to share their artworks. One of the course instructors, Dr Annalea Beattie compiled all the artworks into this beautiful book.

Recently, Amity Centre of Excellence in Astrobiology conducted “Introduction to Astrobiology” online course. Participants were asked to suggest their favourite space-related book and here is the result! Click here to view the comprehensive list.

The oceans are warming due to climate change and this will impact all oceanic life, from the smallest plankton to the largest tuna. The web of life in the ocean is complex, and so exactly which ecosystems will be affected and how much they will change is currently being intensely researched. It is especially important to understand how phytoplankton, the foundation of the food web and producers of oxygen, will be affected by this changing environment. If phytoplankton decreases or changes distribution, then fisheries may also see reduced catches or fish moving out of the area entirely. Cyanobacteria are a very numerous, ancient, and widespread type of phytoplankton. They were believed to have transformed the ancient atmosphere of Earth from being high in carbon dioxide to high in oxygen, paving the way for the evolution of life as we know it. One cyanobacterium is microscopic, but when conditions are right,…

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Yellowstone National Park is famous for its hot springs, geysers, wildlife, and incredible geology. While the area is popular among visitors every year, scientists are also excited about the hot springs at this site as they create unique habitats for life. Surprisingly, this national park’s hot springs may hold clues to what conditions may have been like on Earth between 2 to 4 billion years ago. The temperatures of some hot springs at Yellowstone (up to the boiling point of water, 100°C) allow only certain organisms to flourish, as only the fittest can survive. In other words, microorganisms (algae, bacteria, fungi, archaea) living there need some essential adaptations. It turns out, these organisms that thrive in and around Yellowstone’s hot springs may be very similar to the organisms that survived and thrived on the early Earth.  Earth before 2.5 billion years ago looked a lot different than it does today.…

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All life on Earth has to respire. For us this means inhaling oxygen to fuel our metabolism and exhaling waste gases like carbon dioxide. When we do this, we move the energy  from the food we eat to the oxygen we breathe, creating a flow of energy that our cells use for growth. This is called respiration. However, not all life on Earth uses oxygen for this kind of respiration. These organisms have to find other ways to create electron flows to support their growth. One shocking method used by some bacteria is to produce biological nanowires. These nanowires act like wiring in your house and allow for electrons to pass from cells like Geobacter bacteria directly onto metals. This process is similar to plugging your phone into the wall to charge. Electrons flow from the source to your device. When the biological nanowires touch a metal, a circuit is…

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In the Marvel Universe, Bruce Banner exposed his body to high doses of gamma radiation during an experiment in his lab. The gamma radiation deformed Bruce’s DNA, so whenever he became angry, he could turn into the Hulk. In the real world, gamma radiation is a type of high energy radiation that is extremely dangerous to humans. This type of radiation occurs naturally in certain elements, such as Radium-226, Uranium-236, or Thorium-229. Because of this radiation, these elements are too dangerous and unstable to be used in everyday applications. Some radioactive elements can also be synthesized in nuclear reactors, like Cobalt-60. These types of gamma radiation do interact with our DNA, but rather than transforming into our own version of the Hulk, our DNA is mutated or destroyed. In cases of extreme exposure, this could lead to illnesses such as cancer or death. While humans are extremely susceptible to the…

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When scientists think of a very early Earth, they think of a hot, hostile place not too long after the birth of the solar system more than 4 billion years ago. This time in the Earth’s history is called the Hadean Eon, named after the ancient Greek God of the Underworld Hades, and would have been just about when the earliest oceans and moon formed. At these timescales of billions of years, this is a stark contrast from what we’d traditionally think of as ancient Earth. Many of us may imagine lush blue and green hues, which at this point hadn’t appeared yet. However, billions of years ago may have been when the building blocks of life first came together, way before plants and animals or even the first cells. Without the ability to travel back in time, scientists have to study places and systems that chemically look like what…

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In the 21st century you no longer need a fancy degree or an expensive lab to help contribute to science. In fact, all you need is a working smartphone and a connection to the internet. Citizen-science is a term used to describe a kind of crowd-sourced scientific research, where people with all different kinds of backgrounds from all around the world help to collect data for research that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to obtain. Programs like iNaturalist, where users can take pictures of animals and share the species and location to a large database, let scientists know where organisms are or where they could be. And these kinds of data are helping researchers learn just how endangered important animals are. The bumble bee is often cited as “keystone species” or species that are vital to a healthy ecosystem. Without their constant pollination, it would be much harder for…

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The line “times they are a changin’,” as Bob Dylan sang in 1964, describes the state of cannabis research aptly. As cannabis and related products are becoming increasingly accepted or legalized around the world, it has opened doors for researching the drug and it’s many variants and effects. Studies on the psychological, behavioral, and physical effects of smoking marijuana are being conducted in increasing numbers, but little is known about the effects of smoking synthetic cannabinoid products such as Spice or K2. These are herbal blends spiked with molecules that are similar to the active ingredient in marijuana, THC. These molecules are not THC, have no known medical uses, but are either structurally similar or otherwise known to elicit a similar experience when smoked. Their legality is also questionable. Researchers from Germany and The Netherlands collaborated on a study to test the effects of the active ingredient of Spice, JWH-018,…

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Over time, bacteria have evolved to become resistant to some types of antibiotics, the medicines designed to destroy them. Due to this resistance, certain types of bacteria can no longer be destroyed by normal means. This is a big problem, as the infections from these bacteria are more difficult to treat, and they require a more intensive solution. However, in order to develop solutions to this problem, we need to know the extent of the problem. We know a great deal about how antibiotic resistance occurs, but we don’t have much hard data on how widespread it really it – where it is occurring and in what populations. Currently, there is not a lot of data that has been collected in a standard way to show the extent of antibiotic resistance. Therefore, researchers from many different universities and organizations in Europe came together to estimate the burden of infections caused…

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The one of the largest land predators to have ever lived, the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex, just crowned a new king. On March 21st, a team of University of Alberta scientists described the oldest and largest T. rex ever found. The specimen, dubbed “Scotty”, was originally found in 1991. However the fossils, encased in sandstone, proved too hard to remove until 2012 when it was fully recasted. Not every organism will fossilize after they die. Often they will decompose before the fossilization process can begin. After millions of years of being subject to environmental forces, many fossilized bones break down and become unrecoverable. Scotty’s unearthed fossils reveals a fairly complete set of bones including a hips, limbs, and a complete skull, but for a complete, set paleontologists still had to use what they knew about T. rex anatomy to fill in the blanks. This allowed paleontologist Scott Persons, and his team,…

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Cold brew coffee has recently become a go-to option at coffee shops, due in part to marketing campaigns that note its smoother, less bitter taste. Not to mention that in the summer, this is a popular option when coffee lovers need their daily coffee but want to avoid the excess heat. Unlike coffee brewed relatively quickly at hot temperatures, cold brew is brewed slowly at low temperatures, with the coffee steeping longer within the water. Various health claims have been made about cold brew coffee, some by coffee enthusiasts and others by popular coffee companies, but not much is known about cold brew, and not enough information is out there yet to verify these claims. Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA, wanted to collect some information about cold and hot brew coffees, to see if any of the claims made by bloggers, magazines, coffee companies, among others, may…

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When you think of exciting foods, white fish like cod and catfish aren’t usually at the forefront of people’s minds. However, any fishermen will tell you that a fresh, high quality white fish is a true delicacy. Declining fish consumption in Japan has driven scientists to look for ways to easily pinpoint the best tasting fish before they are sent to market. A team of researchers in Hiroshima, Japan designed an experiment to figure out which components of fish meat have the greatest influence on its taste, such as bitterness, sourness, umami, and saltiness. Umami is a relatively new term in the science of taste and is used to describe how savory something is. To test the taste of white fish, the researchers analyzed muscle from 4 white fish species (red sea bream, rockfish, black scraper, and goblinfish) using “metabolomics” methods. Metabolomics means taking a snapshot of all the active…

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For most of us, potassium is an important mineral nutrient that we need for health and is found in many foods, including fruits and vegetables. However, for people who have kidney disease, doctors recommend a low potassium diet. The recommended amount of potassium for an adult is around 4.7 grams/day, while low potassium diets are around 1.5 grams/day.  This is because while a person with healthy kidneys is able to process potassium well at the recommended amount, someone with kidney disease would have trouble and could put their health in danger. Low potassium diets, unfortunately, are often deficient in vegetables, and for good reason. However, skipping the vegetables means that kidney disease patients are missing out on many other vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants provided by vegetables. Microgreens, an emerging raw salad crop, may be able to help. Researchers at University of Bari Aldo Moro in Bari, Italy decided to try…

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Sexually reproducing animals have their sex determined through many mechanisms. Sex in reptiles such as alligators is determined by egg temperature during incubation. Some species, like the clownfish, can be hermaphroditic, shifting from one gender to another depending on the environmental conditions. However, most vertebrates determine their sex genetically through the specific combination of two or more chromosomes. For instance, most mammals use the XY system. Two X chromosomes designate female sex, while those with one X and one Y designate male sex. Other genetic systems can include two Xs determining females and one X (but no Y) determining males, or a W/Z system where the male is determined by two of the same chromosomes (two Ws) and females being determined by two different chromosomes (W and Z). How these systems form, and why there are so many different ways to determine sex has puzzled geneticists and evolutionary biologists for centuries.…

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