Link About It: This Week’s Picks

Fossilized worm brains, cranberry packaging, the wet history of Mars and more inspiration from nature

World’s Oldest Fossilized Brain Discovered

A 525-million-year-old fossil of an extinct worm-like animal known as the Cardiodictyon catenulum was first discovered in China in 1984, but only recently have scientists found that the barely half-an-inch animal has a brain. Using a technique called “chromatic filtering,” scientists were able to reveal the animal’s nervous system and brain in an unsegmented head. Not only is this finding extremely out of the ordinary—as many believed brains were impossible to fossilize—but it also questions common assumptions about evolution. “This anatomy was completely unexpected because the heads and brains of modern arthropods, and some of their fossilized ancestors, have for over a 100 years been considered as segmented,” says Nicholas Strausfeld, a professor from the University of Arizona Department of Neuroscience, who led the study. The Cardiodictyon‘s unsegmented head and brain suggest a new theory about evolution: that the brain and trunk nervous system evolved separately. This discovery could impact the understanding of other creatures beyond arthropods, as well. Learn more about it at Interesting Engineering.

Image courtesy of Nicholas Strausfeld 

Jellyfish Relative Could Improve the Design of Swimming Robots

The Nanomia bijug is a gelatinous marine animal related to jellyfish that uses a dozen or more independent jets to swim. This design enables two swimming styles: one that syncs all of the jets up for increased speed and another that powers jets individually to save energy. The dual-swimming capabilities—which are exclusive to the Nanomia‘s siphonophores taxa as well as barrel-shaped salps—could inform and improve underwater vehicles. While swimming robots have been inspired by the jet-propulsion of aquatic animals before, the unique multi-segmented Nanomia could inspire new robotics design wherein various independent components enable different modes of motion. Because the Nanomia can oscillate between fast or energy-efficient, “it gives a framework for developing a robot that has a range of capabilities,” says Dr Kevin Du Clos, a researcher at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology, University of Oregon who co-authored a new PNAS study. Read more about it at Cosmos Magazine.

Image courtesy of the Sutherland Lab

New Research Supports the Idea that There Was Once Life on Mars

A recent study from the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters presents new findings about the early evolution of Mars. By creating a recently developed model of Martian atmosphere through time, researchers found that Mars—in contrast to the frozen desert it is now—was born with lots of water and a dense atmosphere that could have harbored warm-to-hot oceans for millions of years. This discovery likens the planet to Earth, with water vapor concentrated in the lower atmosphere while the high atmosphere remained dry due to water vapor condensing into clouds at low altitudes. Molecular hydrogen, on the other hand, was shown to escape into the upper atmosphere which corresponds with measurements made of the planet by the rover Curiosity. According to the not-for-profit research organization SETI Institute, the study suggests that “early Mars might have been a warm version of modern Titan,” supporting the idea that it was “a location for the origin of life.” Learn more at SciTechDaily.

Image courtesy of ESO/M Kornmesser/N Risinger/skysurvey.org

The Potential of Dissolvable Cranberry Film

Since 2008, Yanyun Zhao—a professor of food science at Oregon State University—has been researching the potential of the humble cranberry. Even when juiced, the crushed berry maintains a fibrous substance that Zhao turned into a film that’s “edible, no-waste, anti-microbial and water-soluble,” and could replace plastic in many cases. “When you’re making this film,” Zhao says, “You need stretch, you need elasticity, you need a lot of functionalities. So, we incorporate other functional food, like other carbohydrates, a little bit of glycerin.” The film could be used in place of traditional packaging materials, especially for more delicate foods—including fruits and vegetables—as well as replacing items like cupcake holders, or even to encase liquids. While it’s still a little expensive to produce, Zhao says, “The future is very bright for me, because there’s more consumer education, which is important.” Read more at Modern Farmer.

Image courtesy of Ben Davis, OSU/Modern Farmer

Link About It is our filtered look at the web, shared daily in Link and on social media, and rounded up every Saturday morning. Hero image courtesy of WikiImages/Pixabay