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Categorized | Science

Lab Letters Issue #8: Life on Mars, the Higgs, and a Frog Brought Back from the Dead

How’s it going, friends? Welcome to another issue of Lab Letters, FF’s weekly science micro-post!


NASA’s Curiosity rover exploring Mars, artist rendering.

(source: Maas Digital LLC/National Geographic Channels)

 Life on Mars?

NASA’s Curiosity rover isn’t just a space truck with a camera, it is literally a laboratory on wheels. It has lasers, a bunch of spectrometers, telescopes, sensors for every environmental condition, a navigation system, a robotic arm, and even a gentle brush for removing Mars dust. It has been rolling around the surface of the red planet, drilling into rocks and analyzing samples. Its latest findings suggest the presence of certain minerals (sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and carbon) in a rock found at Yellowknife Bay, which also exhibits signs of once being wet, possibly once a lake or a river that dried up a long time ago. This, coupled with neutral, non-harsh conditions (not too salty, not too acidic), would have made that environment habitable to life.

Here’s a scientist from NASA’s Jet Propulsion lab discussing the recent findings and comparing them to rock samples from a different area of Mars


More pictures and the official press release here.


Above: Protons are smashed together in the Large Hadron Collider to produce a bunch of particles. A Higgs boson would quickly decay into specific ones, which can then be detected. The yellow lines represent particle tracks after impact. CERN’s July 2012 announcement about the discovery of a Higgs boson-like particle had everyone buzzed – is this it? Have we finally found the particle that gives mass to matter? Have we solved physics? Does quantum theory make sense now? Have we found the reason for the universe? Have we found GOD?!!?

 Keep Your God Out Of My Physics!

The term ‘God particle’ gets tossed around a lot; it’s catchy (catchier than Brout-Englert-Higgs particle) and gives a little wink to the whole religion/science debacle. And with the recent announcement from CERN bolstering their July findings, expect the God particle term to get bandied around even more. But should we be calling it the God particle? The term was first used by Leon Lederman in his book The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?. It was supposed to be a joke; his publisher wouldn’t let him call it the Goddamn particle. Now he says he’s managed to piss off both scientists and the clergy by coining the term. Lederman talks more about the choice of name and how people reacted to it in an interview with National Public Radio.


Get ready for de-extinction

Continuing with the Bible references, Australian scientists of the Lazarus project have managed to revive an extinct frog species, if only for a little while. The gastric-brooding frog (Rheobatrachus silus) was discovered in 1973 and became extinct by the 1980s, but some tissue samples were saved and stored in deep freezers (-80°C). Scientists were able to extract DNA from the tissues, and inserted that into a donor egg cell from a different frog species (Great Barred Frog, Mixophyes fasciolatus). The DNA of the donor egg cell was inactivated by ultraviolet light, and when replaced with gastric-brooding frog DNA, some of the egg cells began to divide. Sound familiar? That’s the same technique used to create Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal. Unlike Dolly, the embryos failed to mature and didn’t survive beyond a couple of days. In the wild, they would have entered the world like this:


Hello world! The gastric-brooding frog mom swallows its eggs, grows its young in its stomach, and gives birth via her mouth. Gastric-brooding frogs became extinct in the 1980s.

(source: Australian Government Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts &Bob Beale)

DNA tests confirmed that the embryos were indeed gastric-brooding frogs. Scientists are now looking to refine their techniques and discuss the implications of reviving extinct animals, such as the dodo (said to be delicious) and the woolly mammoth (said to be woolly).


It seems that life really does find a way.



And finally…

(source: Supervliegzus 2010/Getty Images)

 This is a picture of a couple of squirrel monkeys riding a capybara. Story here.



So, my dears, which extinct animal would you want to be brought back? Answer in the comments! Meanwhile, I’m off! Laters.   ♥


DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.