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Losing flight had huge benefits for ants, Researchers Say

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Losing flight had huge benefits for ants, Researchers Say

Ants are one of the most successful groups of animals on the planet, occupying anywhere from temperate soil to tropical rainforests, desert dunes and kitchen counters. They’re social insects and their team-working abilities have long since been identified as one of the key factors leading to their success. Ants are famously able to lift or drag objects many times their own weight and transport these objects back to their colony. But with previous research having focused on the social aspects of an ant colony, looking at an individual ant has been somewhat neglected.

Now, researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) and Sorbonne University in Paris have investigated why individual worker ants are so strong by taking X-ray images and creating 3-D models of their thorax—the central unit of their bodies—to analyze their muscles and internal skeleton. Their study, published in Frontiers in Zoology, examines the hypothesis that loss of flight in worker ants is directly connected to the evolution of greater strength.

“Worker ants evolved from flying insects,” said Professor Evan Economo, who leads OIST’s Biodiversity and Biocomplexity Unit. “We’ve always assumed that losing flight helped to optimize their bodies for working on the ground, but we have much to learn about how this is achieved.”

Being able to fly might be a common dream amongst people, but the reality of flight is that it puts strong constraints on the build of a body. In flying insects, the wing muscles occupy a major part of the thorax—sometimes more than 50%. This means that other muscles, which are used to support and move the head, legs, and abdomen are constrained and squeezed up against the exoskeleton.

But once the constraints of flight are removed, all that space in the thorax is open, which, the researchers surmised, would allow the remaining muscles to expand and reorganize.

Previous research in this area had focused on the external structure of ants but, with the technology available at OIST, the researchers were able to gain a highly detailed picture of what was going on inside the thorax. The aim was to analyze the general features common across all ants, rather than focus on the specialization of certain species. To do this, the researchers did a detailed analysis of two distantly related ant species, including both the wingless workers and the flying queens, and confirmed their findings across a broader sample of species.

They used advanced X-ray technology to scan the internal and external anatomy, like CT scans used in a hospital, but at much higher resolution. From these scans, the researchers mapped all the different muscles and modeled them in 3-D. The result was a comprehensive image of the inside of the thorax. They then compared findings from these two species to a range of other ants and wingless insects.

As predicted, the researchers found that loss of flight had allowed for clear-cut reorganization of the thorax. “Within the worker ant’s thorax, everything is integrated beautifully in a tiny space,” said the late Dr. Christian Peeters, lead author of this paper, who was a research professor at Sorbonne University. “The three muscle groups have all expanded in volume, giving the worker ants more strength and power. There has also been a change in the geometry of the neck muscles, which support and move the head. And the internal attachment of muscles has been modified.”

Interestingly, when looking at wingless wasps, the researchers found that these insects had responded to the loss of flight in a completely different way. Wingless wasps are solitary and consume food as they find it. On the other hand, ants are part of a colony. They hunt or scavenge for food that then needs to be carried back to the nest for the queen and younger nestmates, so it makes sense that there was a selection pressure to promote carrying ability.

Ants have been studied for centuries in terms of their behavior, ecology, and genetics but, the researchers emphasized, this story of strength has, so far, been somewhat overlooked. The next step is to develop more detailed biomechanical models of how different muscle groups function, do similar research on the mandible and legs, and explore the diversity seen between ant species.

“We’re interested in what makes an ant an ant and understanding the key innovations behind their success,” explained Professor Economo. “We know that one factor is the social structure, but this individual strength is another essential factor.”

Source: – lintelligencer

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Moon probe preparing to return rock samples to Earth, China says – The Globe and Mail

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China said Thursday its latest lunar probe has finished taking samples of the moon’s surface and sealed them within the spacecraft for return to Earth, the first time such a mission has been attempted by any country in more than 40 years.

The Chang’e 5, the third Chinese probe to land on the moon, is the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious missions for Beijing’s space program, which also has a probe en route to Mars carrying a robot rover.

The Chang’e 5 touched down Tuesday on the Sea of Storms on the moon’s near side, on a mission to return lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since 1976.

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The probe “has completed sampling on the moon, and the samples have been sealed within the spacecraft,” the China National Space Administration said in a statement.

Plans call for the upper stage of the probe known as the ascender to be launched back into lunar orbit to transfer the samples to a capsule for return to Earth. The timing off its return was not immediately clear and the lander can last up to one moon day, or 14 Earth days, before plummeting temperatures would make it inoperable.

Chang’e is equipped to both scoop samples from the surface and drill 2 metres (more than 6 feet) to retrieve materials that could provide clues into the history of the moon, Earth other planets and space features.

While retrieving samples is its main task, the lander is also equipped to extensively photograph the area surrounding its landing site, map conditions below the surface with ground penetrating radar and analyze the lunar soil for minerals and water content.

Chang’e 5’s return module is supposed to touch down around the middle of December on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, where China’s crewed Shenzhou spacecraft have made their returns since China first put a man in space in 2003, becoming only the third country do so after Russia and the United States.

Chang’e 5 has revived talk of China one day sending a crewed mission to the moon and possibly building a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects.

China also launched Its first temporary orbiting laboratory in 2011 and a second in 2016. Plans call for a permanent space station after 2022, possibly to be serviced by a reusable space plane.

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While China is boosting co-operation with the European Space Agency and others, interactions with NASA are severely limited by concerns over the secretive nature and close military links of the Chinese program.

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China: Moon probe preparing to return rock samples to Earth – ThePeterboroughExaminer.com

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BEIJING – China said Thursday its latest lunar probe has finished taking samples of the moon’s surface and sealed them within the spacecraft for return to Earth, the first time such a mission has been attempted by any country in more than 40 years.

The Chang’e 5, the third Chinese probe to land on the moon, is the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious missions for Beijing’s space program, which also has a probe en route to Mars carrying a robot rover.

The Chang’e 5 touched down Tuesday on the Sea of Storms on the moon’s near side, on a mission to return lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since 1976.

The probe “has completed sampling on the moon, and the samples have been sealed within the spacecraft,” the China National Space Administration said in a statement.

Plans call for the upper stage of the probe known as the ascender to be launched back into lunar orbit to transfer the samples to a capsule for return to Earth. The timing off its return was not immediately clear and the lander can last up to one moon day, or 14 Earth days, before plummeting temperatures would make it inoperable.

Chang’e is equipped to both scoop samples from the surface and drill 2 metres (more than 6 feet) to retrieve materials that could provide clues into the history of the moon, Earth other planets and space features.

While retrieving samples is its main task, the lander is also equipped to extensively photograph the area surrounding its landing site, map conditions below the surface with ground penetrating radar and analyze the lunar soil for minerals and water content.

Chang’e 5’s return module is supposed to touch down around the middle of December on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, where China’s crewed Shenzhou spacecraft have made their returns since China first put a man in space in 2003, becoming only the third country do so after Russia and the United States.

Chang’e 5 has revived talk of China one day sending a crewed mission to the moon and possibly building a scientific base there, although no timeline has been proposed for such projects.

China also launched Its first temporary orbiting laboratory in 2011 and a second in 2016. Plans call for a permanent space station after 2022, possibly to be serviced by a reusable space plane.

While China is boosting co-operation with the European Space Agency and others, interactions with NASA are severely limited by concerns over the secretive nature and close military links of the Chinese program.

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China: Moon probe preparing to return rock samples to Earth – Toronto Star

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BEIJING – China’s latest lunar probe has finished taking samples of the moon’s surface and sealed them within the spacecraft for return to Earth, the government announced Thursday.

The Chang’e 5, the third Chinese probe to land on the moon, is the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious missions for Beijing’s space program, which also has a probe en route to Mars carrying a robot rover.

The Chang’e 5 touched down Tuesday on a mission to return lunar rocks to Earth for the first time since 1976.

The probe “has completed sampling on the moon, and the samples have been sealed within the spacecraft,” the China National Space Administration said in a statement.

Plans call for the upper stage of the probe to be launched back into lunar orbit to transfer the samples to a capsule for return to Earth.

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