Four species of bacteria have been discovered onboard the International Space Station (ISS), one of which has been named after Indian biodiversity scientist Seyed Ajmal Khan.
Researchers from the University of Hyderabad, working with NASA, have described the discovery and isolation of four strains of bacteria belonging to the family Methylobacteriaceae from different locations aboard the ISS.
While one strain was identified as Methylorubrum rhodesianum bacteria, the other three strains were previously undiscovered. The team of researchers have proposed to call one of the novel strains as Methylobacterium ajmalii, after Seyed Ajmal Khan, who is a professor at the Annamalai University in Tamil Nadu.
The rod-shaped bacteria found in ISS are involved in nitrogen fixation, plant growth and biocontrol activity against plant pathogens. According to the researchers, this bacteria may hold the key to growing crops in space. However, further experimental biology is needed to prove that it is, indeed, a potential game-changer for space farming.
To grow plants in extreme places where resources are minimal, isolation of novel microbes that help to promote plant growth under stressful conditions is essential.
As part of an ongoing surveillance mission, eight locations on the ISS are regularly monitored for bacterial growth. While hundreds of bacterial samples from the ISS have been analysed to date, approximately 1,000 have been collected from various other locations on the space station but are awaiting a trip back to earth where they can be examined. Read more about it on
NASA’s Perseverance rover records sounds of a drive on Mars
NASA recently released audio recordings of the Perseverance rover’s drive, with its six wheels rolling, over Mars. The 16-minute-long recording captured Perseverance’s 90-feet drive on the floor of Mars’ 28-mile-wide (45 kilometers) Jezero Crater on 7 March.
The sounds generated were by the interaction of Perseverance’s wheels and suspension with the Martian surface. However, engineers are still trying to ascertain the source of a high-pitched scratching noise. It may either be electromagnetic interference from one of the rover’s electronics boxes or interactions between the mobility system and the Martian surface.
The microphone that captured the sounds is the entry, descent, and landing or EDL microphone which was meant for capturing noises during the rover’s touch down. However, NASA has said that its scientists were eager to hear sounds from the Martian surface too. More about it here.
Interstellar object Oumuamua could be the fragment of a planet outside the solar system
Researchers have proposed that interstellar visitor Oumuamua could be a piece of a Pluto-like planet from another planetary system.
Since its discovery in 2017, the object has been a source of curiosity. It is the first interstellar object from beyond our solar system to be discovered. The name Oumuamua means “scout” or “messenger” in Hawaiian.
The features of the object are so odd that so far scientists have been unable to classify it. And until recently, scientists thought the object was cigar-shaped. Astrophysicists from the Arizona State University now believe that Oumuamua is actually shaped like a flat cookie.
According to the team, Oumuamua entered our solar system at a lower velocity than expected. This indicates that it had not been travelling in interstellar space for more than a billion years. It also lacks the tail of escaping gas that is commonly seen in comets.
The team of researchers have now proposed that the object was made of ices with different compositions. They calculated how quickly these ices would turn from their solid to a gaseous state as Oumuamua passed by the sun. They then realised that all the observed properties of Oumuamua indicated the presence of solid nitrogen.
Since solid nitrogen ice can be seen on the surface of Pluto, it is possible that a comet-like object could be made of the same material.
Researchers develop early human embryos using skin cells
Researchers have managed to develop the first model of early human embryos from skin cells. An international team of scientists, led by Monash University in Melbourne, has generated a model of a human embryo from skin cells.
This development could one day revolutionise embryo research and help scientists unravel causes of early miscarriage, infertility and the study of early human development.
The team at Monash University successfully reprogrammed skin cells into a three dimensional cellular structure that is similar to human blastocysts. These three-dimensional structures are called iBlastoids and can be used to model the biology of early human embryos in the laboratory.
The blastocyst is a structure formed in the very early development of mammals, within four days of fertilisation of an egg and sperm. It possesses an inner cell mass which subsequently forms the embryo.
Until now, the only way to study these first days of a fertilisation has been through the use of scarce blastocysts obtained from IVF procedures. Read more about it here.
Evidence of plants found buried deep under Greenland ice
Scientists at the University of Vermont, US, have found evidence of leaves and twigs buried under the ice in Greenland.
The team was studying an ice core drilled out of northwestern Greenland in 1966 by scientists in the US Army. This frozen sediment remained forgotten inside a freezer for decades, till it was rediscovered in 2017.
In 2019, scientists looked at it through the microscope and was surprised to find twigs and leaves, instead of just sand and rock. This suggested that in the recent past a vegetated landscape likely stood instead of a deep ice sheet in Greenland.
The team studied these one-of-a-kind fossil plants and sediments from the bottom of Greenland for over a year. They have now shown that most of Greenland must have been ice-free within the last million years, perhaps even for the last few hundred-thousand years.
This discovery helps confirm that ice in Greenland had melted off entirely during the warm periods in earth’s history. What is troubling is that those warm periods resemble the one we are now creating with human-caused climate change.