Are you struggling with an annoying relative during the holiday and want a way to distract them?
Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with the most mesmerising, mind-blowing and even murderous science videos of 2021 that will surely heal those familial relations.
10. Twisty molecular elevator
How do brain cells talk to each other? With machines, of course.
A team, led by Ichia Chen of the University of Sydney, has modelled the shape of an extremely important molecular machine – the glutamate transporter. Understanding this shape and process helps to explain how brain cells “talk” to each other.
9. These acrobatic squirrels deserve a gold medal
It might seem like these acrobatic squirrels are practising for their Olympic long jump debut, but they are really part of a study to answer a simple question: how do squirrels know when to take the leap?
Researchers, led by Robert Full and Nathaniel Hunt of the University of California, captured slow-motion footage of wild squirrels as they leapt from one branch to another to get a peanut treat. They determined that squirrels make decisions on when and how to jump based on the flimsiness of the branch, not the distance of the leap.
8. Prosthetic fin for injured turtles
A New Zealand researcher’s innovative new design for a prosthetic turtle fin could help rehabilitate injured sea turtles that are hurt due to human activity, often through run-ins with boats or fishing nets.
Damage to a turtle’s fin can severely limit a turtle’s swimming range, and therefore their chance of survival. It also inhibits females from returning to land to lay eggs. This prosthetic, then, may present a novel solution to a problem that threatens to upend the balance of ocean ecosystems.
7. Watching proteins dance
Proteins are so small that visualising them working in a cell has long been elusive, but a new study, published in Cell, has found a way to ‘film’ how they move.
These tiny molecules, which include insulin, haemoglobin and collagen, do all sorts of things to run our bodies, carrying out work in our cells to keep us alive. Researchers overcame the difficulty of visualising them by developing a new technique called ‘binder-tag’ that tracks active proteins in real time.
“No one has been able to develop a method that can do, in such a generalisable way, what this method does,” says study co-senior author Klaus Hahn, of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “So I think it could have a very big impact.”
6. Octopuses change colour based on sleep cycle
When sleeping, octopuses change colour, and now a study, published in iScience, shows that the colours represent octopus sleep cycles.
The team, led by Sylvia Lima de Souza Medieros from the Federal University of Rio Grande do Notre, Brazil, found that the colours change over two major alternating sleep states: REM and non-REM.
5. Cosmic neutrino blast
A little bit more is now known about the cosmos, thanks to research involving a neutrino space odyssey, a black hole devouring a sun, and an IceCube.
Researchers from Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY), Germany, detected the ghost of a star in the form of the elusive neutrino particle, flung from the debris of a black hole that devoured a star.
The neutrino is the first to be discovered from this kind of event, which suggests the celestial collision also acted as a gargantuan cosmic particle accelerator.
4. Cute critter alert: watch a tardigrade go for a walk
It’s not every day you get to watch a tardigrade go for a stroll on its eight stubby legs. Luckily, new research has captured their walk on video – and it’s adorable.
Known for their incredible toughness, these tiny creatures are able to survive everywhere from mud volcanoes to the deep sea to outer space. Now, a study has revealed how they move around – showing that their gait closely resembles insects 500,000 times their size.
“Tardigrades have a robust and clear way of moving – they’re not these clumsy things stumbling around in the desert or in leaf litter,” says Jasmine Nirody, a biophysicist at the Rockefeller University.
3. Tectonic timelapse
It’s not often you can click play and watch deep time unspool before your eyes. An international team of scientists has just released the first full tectonic plate reconstruction of the last billion years – spanning nearly a quarter of the Earth’s existence.
It’s mesmerising: like ill-fitting jigsaw pieces, bits of continents slam together and morph into supercontinents, break apart, and then crash back together in new formations – with each second of the video leaping forward 25 million years.
According to Alan Collins, a geologist from the University of Adelaide who is part of the research team, this is going to help us understand how complex life began.
2. Bruce the beakless kea uses tools to spruce himself up
In a world-first, researchers from the University of Auckland in New Zealand have observed a disabled kea use tools for self-care.
Bruce the kea is missing the top half of his beak from a suspected pest trap accident, but he has learned to carefully select and use pebbles to help preen his feathers.
We’ve known for a while that kea – Nestor notabilis, a large alpine parrot species native to New Zealand – are clever and crafty, able to solve puzzles, make snowballs, raid wheelie bins, and use tools to pry open boxes.But Bruce is a whole other kettle of bird
1. World first: Watch a deadly tortoise murdering a baby bird
The word ‘predator’ usually conjures an image of a lion running down a gazelle, or a pod of orcas tearing apart a seal. But you don’t need to be fast and furious to capture prey, just persistent – as this bird-hunting tortoise shows.
For the first time, scientists have captured a giant tortoise going in for the kill, stalking a tern chick stranded on a log and – after several attempts – crushing the bird’s head and consuming it whole.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” says biologist Justin Gerlach from the University of Cambridge and co-author of the study, published in Science Advances. “It was horrifying and amazing at the same time.”
These crayfish are on drugs. What a time to be alive.
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