science space exploration agriculture mars life_and_nature food astronauts plants
Astronauts May Grow Better Salads On Mars Than On The Moon

by Patricia Waldron, Inside Science

Any explorers visiting Mars and the moon will have to boldly grow where no man has grown before.

Setting up lunar or Martian colonies will require that explorers raise their own food. New research finds that simulated Martian soil supported plant life better than both simulated moon soil and low-quality soil from Earth. But many problems must be solved before astronauts can pick their first extraterrestrial eggplant. The study appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

"Research like this is needed to fine-tune future plans for growing plants on Mars, which I think is going to be a very useful thing if we want to have colonization or even a shorter-term stay on Mars," said John Kiss, a plant biologist at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, who did not participate in the research. "It’s hard to carry all the food with you."

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Making Legs For Future Robotic Animal Assistants

University of South Florida computer engineer Luther Palmer is working on one of the big problems in robotics—creating legs that can move over all different types of terrain that a machine would find out in the real world. His team at the Biomorphic Robotics Lab is doing intensive computer modeling and taking tips from horses and humans on agile locomotion.

The team’s vision, like many other roboticists, is to imbue the best movement ideas developed through evolution into their machines. Palmer writes on his lab’s website that in the future, “robotic canines will gallop up stairs and over collapsed beams in burning buildings, locating occupants for rescue personnel.”

He also sees a time of robotic horses to carry heavy loads, cockroaches to conduct surreptitious surveillance and gophers to prepare alien worlds for human habitation. 

See the National Science Foundation video  and one for Palmer’s RecoRoach below.

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A Boring Idea: Fig Wasp Physiology Could Mean Better Surgical Tools

by Michael Keller

Future surgeries requiring a doctor to dive deep into the body might be made considerably less invasive thanks to an unlikely inspiration: a parasitic fig wasp.

Mechanical engineers at the Indian Institute of Science have been investigating the reproductive process of Apocryta westwoodi grandi, a wasp that deposits its eggs inside a developing fig fruit next to those of another species of wasp. When the eggs hatch, they feed on the larvae of the non-parasitizing wasp before growing and emerging into the world.

While the interactions of the two wasp species and the plant are biologically interesting in their own right, the part that caught the eyes of researchers in Namrata Gundiah’s biomechanics laboratory was how the parasitic wasp deposited its eggs deep within the fruit.

Like many insects and some other animals, the parasitic wasp deposits its eggs through a long tubular organ called an ovipositor. But this particular wasp must pierce the skin and bore through the tough tissue of an unripened fig.

“From a mechanical perspective, it’s really interesting how this insect can penetrate a needle that is really quite flexible into hard material,” doctoral student Lakshminath Kundanati tells Txchnologist. “So we looked at the structure of the needle and whether any parts on it are specifically adapted to help.”

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science biology locomotion world_record speed arthropod animals life_and_nature fast running mite
Mite Sets New Record as World’s Fastest Land Animal

by Michael Keller

Sure, if miles per hour is going to be your yardstick to confer the title of World’s Fastest Animal, then maybe the peregrine falcon is your creature. When hunting, it can swoop down on its prey in excess of 200 mph. Or perhaps you’re an advocate for the lightning quickness of sailfish and marlin, which various sources claim can attain speeds up to 80 mph.

Then, of course, there’s the cheetah, whose long galloping stride for many is the definition of speed. The fastest of these cats has been clocked at 64 mph.

But if you want to look at the broader world of animal locomotion and compare apples to apples, then body lengths per second (blps) should be your measure of choice. This metric reflects how quickly an animal moves relative to its body size.

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