You might have missed: tiny biological robots; dogs are picky eaters; fungus species named after Dune, and an intriguing video

New species of fungus named after Dune’s giant worms

Researchers inspired by the appearance and habitat of a new species of fungus have named it after the ‘Shai-Hulud’ giant sandworms of Frank Herbert’s epic science fiction novel series Dune.

The new species of stalked puffball, a gasteroid fungus, was discovered in Hungary and has been named Tulostoma shaihuludii. It is one of 4 new species in the genus Tulostoma. The research was published in a paper in the journal MycoKeys.

The species has a fruiting body with a worm-like appearance and was found in the sandy habitat of the Pannonian Steppe in Hungary.

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Tulostoma shaihuludii and an illustration of a ‘Shai-Hulud’ sandworm from the Dune series. Credit: Photo by Péter Finy; illustration by Dániel G. Knapp

Scientists have built tiny robots from human cells

According to a new study in Advanced Science, researchers have created biological robots, called Anthrobots, from adult human tracheal cells.

These cells are covered in cilia that wave back and forth. They help the tracheal cells push out particles that find their way into air passages of the lung.

But when taken out of the lung and grown in the lab, they spontaneously form tiny multicellular spheres called organoids.

In this research, the researchers developed growth conditions that encouraged the cilia to face outward to allow the organoids to start moving around, as the cilia behaved like oars.

Then, the anthrobots were grown on a layer of human neurons that had been scratched to create an open “wound” devoid of cells. Incredibly, they were able to trigger substantial neural regrowth.

Exactly how they do this not yet clear, but the researchers confirmed that neurons grew under the area covered by a clustered assembly of anthrobots, which they called a “superbot.”

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An aggregate of Anthrobots (green), stimulates growth of neurons (red) where they had been mechanically stripped away. Credit: Gizem Gumuskaya, Tufts University

“The cellular assemblies we construct in the lab can have capabilities that go beyond what they do in the body,” says Michael Levin, professor of biology at Tufts University, in the US, who co-wrote the paper.

“It is fascinating and completely unexpected that normal patient tracheal cells, without modifying their DNA, can move on their own and encourage neuron growth across a region of damage. We’re now looking at how the healing mechanism works, and asking what else these constructs can do.”

You might have to reconsider what you are feeding your dog

Researchers have tested the influence of food quality on dogs’ motivation in a new study in Scientific Reports.

In one experiment, 20 family dogs were taught to associate specific tones with two distinct food types: smoked ham (a highly rewarding treat), and fibre cookies (a less rewarding option). Then, dogs unwrapped a box while one of the sounds played, and the time taken used was as a measure of their motivation to get to the associated food.

Photograph of a border collie wearing an orange jacket in an mri machine
Credit: Raul Hernandez/Eötvös Loránd University

It was quicker when the sound associated with the smoked ham was played.

“While prior research has primarily focused on how the dog brain responds to rewards versus non-rewards, our study takes a step further, delving into the representation of two food rewards varying in quality. Our findings highlight that the caudate nuclei not merely process rewards, but also distinguish between rewards based on their quality,” says senior author Dr Dorottya Ujfalussy, from Eötvös Loránd University, Hungary.

Listen to and watch the harmonious orbits 6 planets

An international collaboration between astronomers has found a new 6 planet system orbiting a star which has a distinctive feature: the planets orbit their host star in almost perfect harmony.

For example, when the closest planet to the star makes three full revolutions around it, the second one makes exactly two during the same time. This is called a 3:2 resonance.

“Amongst the over 5000 exoplanets discovered orbiting other stars than our Sun, resonances are not rare, nor are systems with several planets. What is extremely rare though, is to find systems where the resonances span such a long chain of six planets,” says Dr Hugh Osborn, of the University of Bern, Switzerland, who co-authored the paper detailing the discovery in Nature.

“This is precisely the case of HD110067 whose planets form a so-called ‘resonant chain’ in successive pairs of 3:2, 3:2, 3:2, 4:3, and 4:3 resonances, resulting in the closest planet completing six orbits while the outer-most planet does one.”

A to-scale animation of the orbits of the six resonant planets in the HD110067 system. The pitch of the notes played when each planet transits matches the resonant change in orbital frequencies between each subsequent planet. The relative sizes of the planets are accurate, although their true size compared to the star is much smaller.

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