One the most intriguing and mysterious creatures on the planet—the giant squid—has finally had its genome fully sequenced. But while the genome is helping to explain many of its distinguishing features, including its large size and big brain, we still have much to learn about this near-mythical beast.
“A genome is a first step for answering a lot of questions about the biology of these very weird animals,” Caroline Albertin, a co-author of the new GigaScience study and a geneticist at the Marine Biological Laboratory at the University of Chicago, said in a press release.
Indeed, little is known about the giant squid, due to its skittish nature and because it lives at such great depths. To date, not a single giant squid has been captured alive, so much of its biology remains a mystery. The only specimens that have been studied are carcasses that washed ashore or were accidentally hauled up by fisherman, and sightings in the wild have been limited to spooky, teasing glimpses taken by underwater cameras.
But now, in an important development, scientists have a fully sequenced giant squid genome.
“Having this giant squid genome is an important node in helping us understand what makes a cephalopod a cephalopod,” said Albertin. “And it also can help us understand how new and novel genes arise in evolution and development.”
In total, the researchers identified approximately 2.7 billion DNA base pairs, which is around 90 percent the size of the human genome. There’s nothing particularly special about that size, especially considering that the axolotl genome is 10 times larger than the human genome. It’s going to take some time to fully understand and appreciate the intricacies of the giant squid’s genetic profile, but these preliminary results are already helping to explain some of its more remarkable features.
For example, Albertin and her colleagues identified a group of genes called reflectins, which are only known to exist in cephalopods. It’s a key finding, as color is an an essential element of camouflage.
“Reflectins are a family of proteins that are only found in cephalopods, such as squid, cuttlefish, and octopus,” said Albertin in an email to Gizmodo. “They are involved in making the iridescence in the skin and the eyes, and most cephalopods, including the giant squid, have several of these genes.”
Because reflectins are only found in cephalopods, biologists can only study them in this group of animals, she said. Only a handful of cephalopods have been sequenced, “so the giant squid genome will be able to help us to understand the biology of this family of proteins,” explained Albertin.
The scientists also identified genes responsible for growth and development, namely the Hox and Wnt genes. These genes might play a role in this animal’s gigantism, as individuals typically grow to between 9 and 13 meters in length (30 to 42 feet). That said, their size doesn’t appear to be the result of whole-genome duplication, an evolutionary growth strategy seen in large-bodied vertebrates.
“Whole genome duplication has been described in a number of different groups of organisms,” Albertin told Gizmodo. “Some plants are famous for this, but vertebrates—animals with a backbone—also had a whole genome duplication that has been hypothesized to be important in their evolution. We don’t see evidence for whole genome duplication in any of the cephalopods examined thus far, including the giant squid.”
As to how the giant squid got to be so big remains an unanswered question.
Giant squids also have large brains, which we can only assume are as complex as those seen in other cephalopods. And indeed, the researchers identified well over 100 genes in a grouping known as protocadherins, which aren’t typically found in invertebrates.
“For a long time, we thought that having a lot of protocadherins was only found in vertebrates, so we were really surprised when we found more than 160 of them in the octopus genome,” said Albertin, in reference to her 2015 paper on the subject. “We have found an expansion of protocadherins in the giant squid as well, which has the largest invertebrate brain. We don’t yet know what they are doing, but it could be a clue to how you make a complicated brain,” she told Gizmodo.
Most of the genes seen in the giant squid are shared with other animals, like octopuses, snails, worms, flies, and humans, so this genome will now serve as an important reference point for scientists when comparing it to other cephalopods and animals, and for studying the giant squid’s unique features, said Albertin.
The scientific quest to learn more about giant squids continues. Thankfully, and as Albertin pointed out, marine biologists who study giant squids and related species are now equipped with a powerful new resource to help them learn more.
House introduces NASA authorization bill that emphasizes Mars over moon – Knnit
WASHINGTON The leadership of the House Science Committee introduced a NASA authorization bill Jan. 24 that seeks to significantly alter NASAs current plans to return humans to the moon and make them part of an effort to send humans to Mars.
The bill, designa…
Mysterious particles spewing from Antarctica defy physics – Space.com
Our best model of particle physics is bursting at the seams as it struggles to contain all the weirdness in the universe. Now, it seems more likely than ever that it might pop, thanks to a series of strange events in Antarctica. .
The death of this reigning physics paradigm, the Standard Model, has been predicted for decades. There are hints of its problems in the physics we already have. Strange results from laboratory experiments suggest flickers of ghostly new species of neutrinos beyond the three described in the Standard Model. And the universe seems full of dark matter that no particle in the Standard Model can explain.
But recent tantalizing evidence might one day tie those vague strands of data together: Three times since 2016, ultra-high-energy particles have blasted up through the ice of Antarctica, setting off detectors in the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna (ANITA) experiment, a machine dangling from a NASA balloon far above the frozen surface.
As Live Science reported in 2018, those events — along with several additional particles detected later at the buried Antarctic neutrino observatory IceCube — don’t match the expected behavior of any Standard Model particles. The particles look like ultra high-energy neutrinos. But ultra high-energy neutrinos shouldn’t be able to pass through the Earth. That suggests that some other kind of particle — one that’s never been seen before — is flinging itself into the cold southern sky.
Now, in a new paper, a team of physicists working on IceCube have cast heavy doubt on one of the last remaining Standard Model explanations for these particles: cosmic accelerators, giant neutrino guns hiding in space that would periodically fire intense neutrino bullets at Earth. A collection of hyperactive neutrino guns somewhere in our northern sky could have blasted enough neutrinos into Earth that we’d detect particles shooting out of the southern tip of our planet. But the IceCube researchers didn’t find any evidence of that collection out there, which suggests new physics must be needed to explain the mysterious particles.
To understand why, it’s important to know why these mystery particles are so unsettling for the Standard Model.
Neutrinos are the faintest particles we know about; they’re difficult to detect and nearly massless. They pass through our planet all the time — mostly coming from the sun and rarely, if ever, colliding with the protons, neutrons and electrons that make up our bodies and the dirt beneath our feet.
But ultra-high-energy neutrinos from deep space are different from their low-energy cousins. Much rarer than low-energy neutrinos, they have wider “cross sections,” meaning they’re more likely to collide with other particles as they pass through them. The odds of an ultra-high-energy neutrino making it all the way through Earth intact are so low that you’d never expect to detect it happening. That’s why the ANITA detections were so surprising: It was as if the instrument had won the lottery twice, and then IceCube had won it a couple more times as soon as it started buying tickets.
And physicists know how many lottery tickets they had to work with. Many ultra-high-energy cosmic neutrinos come from the interactions of cosmic rays with the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the faint afterglow of the Big Bang. Every once in a while, those cosmic rays interact with the CMB in just the right way to fire high-energy particles at Earth. This is called the “flux,” and it’s the same all over the sky. Both ANITA and IceCube have already measured what the cosmic neutrino flux looks like to each of their sensors, and it just doesn’t produce enough high-energy neutrinos that you’d expect to detect a neutrino flying out of Earth at either detector even once.
“If the events detected by ANITA belong to this diffuse neutrino component, ANITA should have measured many other events at other elevation angles,” said Anastasia Barbano, a University of Geneva physicist who works on IceCube.
But in theory, there could have been ultra-high-energy neutrino sources beyond the sky-wide flux, Barbano told Live Science: those neutrino guns, or cosmic accelerators.
“If it is not a matter of neutrinos produced by the interaction of ultra-high-energy cosmic rays with the CMB, then the observed events can be either neutrinos produced by individual cosmic accelerators in a given time interval” or some unknown Earthly source, Barbano said.
Blazars, active galactic nuclei, gamma-ray bursts, starburst galaxies, galaxy mergers, and magnetized and fast-spinning neutron stars are all good candidates for those sorts of accelerators, she said. And we know that cosmic neutrino accelerators do exist in space; in 2018, IceCube tracked a high-energy neutrino back to a blazar, an intense jet of particles coming from an active black hole at the center of a distant galaxy.
ANITA picks up only the most extreme high-energy neutrinos, Barbano said, and if the upward-flying particles were cosmic-accelerator-boosted neutrinos from the Standard Model — most likely tau neutrinos — then the beam should have come with a shower of lower-energy particles that would have tripped IceCube’s lower-energy detectors.
“We looked for events in seven years of IceCube data,” Barbano said — events that matched the angle and length of the ANITA detections, which you’d expect to find if there were a significant battery of cosmic neutrino guns out there firing at Earth to produce these up-going particles. But none turned up.
Their results don’t completely eliminate the possibility of an accelerator source out there. But they do “severely constrain” the range of possibilities, eliminating all of the most plausible scenarios involving cosmic accelerators and many less-plausible ones.
“The message we want to convey to the public is that a Standard Model astrophysical explanation does not work no matter how you slice it,” Barbano said.
Researchers don’t know what’s next. Neither ANITA nor IceCube is an ideal detector for the needed follow-up searches, Barbano said, leaving the researchers with very little data on which to base their assumptions about these mysterious particles. It’s a bit like trying to figure out the picture on a giant jigsaw puzzle from just a handful of pieces.
Right now, many possibilities seem to fit the limited data, including a fourth species of “sterile” neutrino outside the Standard Model and a range of theorized types of dark matter. Any of these explanations would be revolutionary.hjh But none is strongly favored yet.
“We have to wait for the next generation of neutrino detectors,” Barbano said.
The paper has not yet been peer reviewed and was published January 8 in the arXiv database.
Originally published on Live Science.
Spacewalking astronauts finish to fixing cosmic ray detector – Invest Records
Spacewalking astronauts labored to entire repairs to a cosmic ray detector outdoors the International Region Space on Saturday and give it unique lifestyles.
It used to be the fourth spacewalk since November for NASA’s Andrew Morgan and Italy’s Luca Parmitano to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. They installed unique coolant pumps final month to revive the instrument’s crippled cooling device and wished to envision for any leaks in the plumbing.
Parmitano lickety-split stumbled on a shrimp leak and tightened the fittings. “Our day merely bought quite extra no longer easy,” Mission Administration noticed.
Equipped every thing goes effectively, the $2 billion spectrometer—launched to the dwelling dwelling in 2011—might perchance well furthermore resume its hunt for elusive antimatter and darkish matter subsequent week, in step with NASA.
NASA has described the spectrometer spacewalks because the most complex since the Hubble Region Telescope restore missions a couple of many years ago. Unlike Hubble, this spectrometer used to be by no manner meant for astronaut dealing with in orbit, and it took NASA years to devise a restore belief.
In spite of their complexity, the predominant three spacewalks went effectively. Morgan and Parmitano had to cut back into stainless metallic pipes to circumvent the spectrometer’s historical, degraded coolant pumps, and then spliced the tubes into the four unique pumps—no easy job when working in elephantine gloves. The device uses carbon dioxide because the coolant.
Besides checking for leaks Saturday, the astronauts had to quilt the spectrometer with thermal insulation.
“Correct ideal fortune in the market, beget a bunch of fun,” astronaut Jessica Meir radioed from interior. “We’re very mad so that you just can be ending off all of the fabulous work that that you just would possibly furthermore beget got already save into this AMS restore, and I judge each person’s mad to the potentialities of what AMS has to supply whenever you guys carry out off the work as of late.”
The gigantic 7 1/2-ton (6,800-kilogram) spectrometer used to be launched to the home dwelling on NASA’s subsequent-to-final shuttle flight. Till it used to be shut down gradual final year for the restore work, it had studied bigger than 148 billion charged cosmic rays. The venture is led by Samuel Ting, a Nobel laureate on the Massachusetts Institute of Skills.
The repairs should mild allow the spectrometer to proceed working for the leisure of the lifetime of the home dwelling, or another 5 to 10 years. It used to be designed to operate for 3 years and so already has surpassed its anticipated lifetime.
Saturday’s spacewalk bought started quite gradual. A strap on a bag by probability bought caught in the seal when one amongst the interior hatches used to be closed and the air lock needed to be reopened and repressurized ahead of the astronauts might perchance well furthermore proceed out.
NASA’s two assorted astronauts on board, Meir and Christina Koch, performed two spacewalks at some level of the last 1 1/2 weeks to make stronger the home dwelling’s solar vitality device.
Altogether, this dwelling crew has gone out on nine spacewalks.
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Spacewalking astronauts finish to fixing cosmic ray detector (2020, January 25)
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