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Like mother, like (adopted) daughter

Baby bats act like their adoptive mothers, according to a Tel Aviv University study, published in BMC Biology.

The researchers found that rural bat babies adopted by urban mothers took on traits of urban bats, like boldness. They found the same effect when urban babies were adopted by rural mothers.

“We wanted to find out whether boldness is transferred genetically or learned somehow from the mother,” says neuroecologist Yossi Yovel, who led the study. “Our findings suggest that this trait is passed on to pups by the mothers that nurse and raise them, even when they are not their biological mothers.”

Interestingly, a key difference between urban and rural mothers was their milk – urban bats had more cortisol in theirs.

“In light of our findings, we hypothesise that the trait is passed on to pups in early stages of development, through some component of their mothers’ milk,” says Yovel.

Illustration of black hole
Neutron-rich material is ejected from the disk, enabling the rapid neutron-capture process (r-process). The light blue region is a particularly fast ejection of matter, called a jet, which typically originates parallel to the disk’s rotation axis. Credit: National Radio Astronomy Observatory, USA

Could black holes make gold?

When the universe began, only the lightest elements – hydrogen and helium – existed. Many of the heavier elements were later forged during the evolution of stars, particularly during energetic processes like supernova explosions. Now astronomers suspect that some elements may also be created by black holes.

A new study suggests that elements like gold, silver, thorium and uranium can be synthesised in the hot, chaotic disc of gas and dust swirling around black holes.

Led by the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research in Germany, the researchers used elaborate computer simulations to investigate whether the conditions in a black hole’s disc are right for the formation of heavier elements.

“The decisive factor is the total mass of the disc,” says astrophysicist Oliver Just. “The more massive the disc, the more often neutrons are formed from protons through capture of electrons under emission of neutrinos, and are available for the synthesis of heavy elements.”

But if the disc is too massive, this process is hindered. The optimal disc mass, according to the simulations, is about 1–10% of the mass of our Sun.

This bolsters a previous theory that newborn black holes – formed by the collision of neutron stars – could create many of the heavy elements in the universe.

The results are published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Fishing solutions for a plastic problem

Man and woman in bright jackets, holding up a fish
Wootton examines samples of fish to see if they’ve ingested plastic. Credit: Nina Wootton.

Many commercial and recreational fishers in South Australia don’t realise there is an ocean plastic problem, despite 49% of caught fish containing microplastics.

“We wanted to find out what people knew about microplastic pollution in fish, from fishers to fishmongers to consumers,” says Nina Wootton of the University of Adelaide, lead researcher of a study published in Marine Policy.

“It varied, but about half weren’t aware it was an issue because South Australian oceans had such a reputation for being clean.

“We still have time to make sure Australian seafood products remain some of the cleanest in the world, but we need the seafood industry, and the general public, to recognise the problem and start taking positive actions now.”

The researchers suggest an education plan – aimed at replacing plastic fishing equipment and bags at the fish market with biodegradable alternatives – could help reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean.

Bandages that really make you better

Burns are the most common injuries suffered by Australians, but a new study, published in Biomedicines, details a new type of stimuli-responding bandage that could safely reduce infection and promote healing by breaking down bacteria.

The bandage responds to pH and temperature, and activates when body changes indicate infection.

“Wound infection and sepsis are daily problems for children with burn injuries,” says lead researcher Zlatko Kopecki from the University of South Australia.

“Silver-based wound-care products can inhibit the growth of bacteria, but they can also cause toxicity when they deliver too much silver to wounds.

“Our treatment is unique in that it capitalises on the anti-bacterial properties of silver, but avoids over-exposure, by only activating when infection is present.

“These advanced, ‘on demand’ silver nanoparticle dressings will regulate inflammation while promoting tissue regeneration, making this a much safer and effective treatment for children.”

Ga for media small
Stimuli-responsive “on-demand” advanced dressing utilizes a unique delivery of silver nanoparticles to burn wounds, mitigating the side effects of silver toxicity while maintaining strong antibacterial properties to clear the infection and promote burn wound healing. Credit: UniSA

Lost spider, rediscovered

In the wake of the devastating Kangaroo Island fires, the iconic assassin spider was thought to have gone extinct. Now, an exciting discovery by the South Australian Museum shows we really can’t get rid of spiders.

Two assassin spiders – Zephyrarchaea austini – were found sheltering in an unburnt region in northwest Kangaroo Island. This was far away from where they were previously known to live in the Western River Wilderness Protection Area, which experienced severe burning in the 2019/20 bushfires.

Specimen of spider
Zephyrarchaea austini found during Landcare funded surveys. Credit: SA Museum

“This is the first time the species has been found since high severity fires burnt their only known collecting locality. We have been surveying for the spiders since the fires, so it was an amazing feeling to finally find one,” says Jessica Marsh, who was part of the discovery.

“The spider lives in leaf litter that is suspended at around knee height in low-lying vegetation – a habitat which is highly flammable, even in low severity fire. It is found near creeklines in open eucalypt vegetation communities.

“A section of the Western River Wilderness Protection Area was burnt in a prescribed burn in 2015 and was not impacted by the 2019/20 bushfires. Post-fire surveys of the area have revealed that the elevated litter layer has still not yet formed in the vegetation and no habitat for assassin spiders was found, illustrating how even lower severity and planned burns can be a threat to this species. This also highlights its vulnerability, due to the length of time taken for suitable habitat to re-establish post-fire.

“Like other species of assassin spiders, the KI species has a very small distributional range and restricted dispersal abilities making it particularly susceptible to major threats, such as prescribed and wild bushfires, feral pigs and increased fragmentation of native vegetation.”

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