SciTech Briefs

Venus flytrap learn by counting insect touch

A German research team has found that the Venus flytrap initiates different processes in its digestion of insect food depending on the number of times an insect stimulates the plant’s sensors. Broadly speaking, an insect that sits on the inner surface of the plant’s maw, the part of the plant used to trap prey, stimulates the micro sensors located there, which causes the firing of biological electrical impulses known as action potentials.

The study reveals that after two action potentials, the trap closes shut in a 10 to 15 second time window. Once the prey has been trapped, another three or more action potentials cause the release of prey-degenerative fluids that allow the plant to obtain the necessary nutrients from the insect. Further studies may focus on reachers’ ability to better understand exactly how the series of electrical impulses triggers the different stages of the plant’s biological response.

Source: The BBC

Hagfish hydrogel has unique properties

Recently, the gel properties of Hagfish slime have caught the attention of a group of ETH Zurich researchers at the Laboratory of Food Process Engineering of Professor Erich Windhab. Hagfish are eel-shaped fish that have been around for millions of years.

The hagfish’s defense mechanism consists of secreting two types of cells into surrounding ocean water, one producing protein filaments and the other producing mucin, a protein whose key characteristic is its ability to form gels. When released, these cells burst, and the two proteins react with the water to instantaneously form slime, which can immobilize the surrounding water and predators. Hagfish slime consists of nearly 100 percent water and only 0.004 percent gelling agent. These filaments, measuring 150 micrometers within the fish, extend to several centimeters in length when introduced into ocean water. While this mechanism is under heavy study, it eludes researchers thus far.

Source: Science Daily

Robots to wither into dust alongside humans

Scientists at the Italian Institute of Technology (IIT) are creating bioplastics from food waste, which can be used to create lifelike, biodegradable skin for robots. This could allow robots to decompose at the end of their lives in an eco-friendly manner. Athanassia Athanassiou, who leads the Smart Materials Lab at the IIT, says that the bioplastic can be flexible or tough, so it could be used for both robot skin and interior robot parts.

A biodegradable robot can have many uses, and, as robotics Professor Jonathan Rossiter at the University of Bristol stated in 2012, “once a biodegradable robot has reached the end of its mission, for example having performed some environmental cleanup activity following an oil spill, it will decompose into harmless material.” Athanassiou says that creating a completely biodegradable robot could be possible within the next few years.

Source: Popular Science

Zebra stripes not for camouflage nor social interactions

Researchers from the University of California, Davis and University of Calgary, Canada have suggested that zebra stripes are not used primarily for camouflage, as previously thought. This study involved the analysis of data that took into account the visibility of stripes by hyenas, lions and even zebras under different lighting conditions and over several distances.

It was found that, unlike humans, zebra predators cannot distinguish zebra stripes at distances of 50 meters in daylight and 30 meters at twilight. Furthermore, it becomes harder for most species to distinguish these stripes from nine meters on moonless nights. Within such short distances, most zebra predators can already smell and hear their prey. This renders the stripes ineffective as camouflage. This also disproves the hypothesis that stripes perform a social function, since zebras cannot identify the stripes from distances that are significantly greater than their predators can see.

Source: Tech Times

Internet use affects family dynamics

A study from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and Georgia State University aims to better understand the familial communication and relationships of students with problematic Internet use (PIU). PIU is characterized by “spending more than 25 hours a week on the Internet on non-school or non-work-related activities, and experiencing Internet-associated health or psychosocial problems.”

The study involved interpreting data from 27 students who identified themselves as being problematic Internet users. The results of the study show that these students connect with their families better when away from them but demonstrate deteriorated communication and conflict when with them in-person. PIU is associated with negative mental health issues such as depression, social anxiety, and sleeplessness, and it is estimated to be found in as high as 15 percent of the U.S. population, with college students especially prone to it.


Science disproves Spiderman viability

Research from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology recently found that geckos are the largest animals who can reliably scale smooth, vertical walls using their adhesive footpads. Larger animals would need far more pads covering their body’s surface area to perform the same kind of climbing endeavors.

The study, published in PNAS, found that the percentage of body surface covered in padding increases with body size for all climbing animals, from spiders and mites to larger animals like geckos. Research from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Zoology postulates that humans would need about 40 percent of their total body surface covered in sticky pads to mimic the climbing abilities of geckos. This translates to roughly 80 percent of one’s frontal body. This research has implications on the feasibility of large-scale adhesives.

Source: Science Daily