This week, the US Food and Drug Administration approved its first genetically modified animal, the AquAdvantage salmon, as safe to eat. The FDA found that the GM salmon are “as safe to eat as any non-genetically engineered Atlantic salmon, and also as nutritious.” It will not require that stores label the salmon as genetically modified, although they may still do so.
The AquAdvantage salmon, created in 1989, is similar to the Atlantic salmon, but is modified so that it carries a growth hormone found in the Chinook salmon and a segment of DNA taken from the pout fish, which boost its growth. As a result, the AquAdvantage salmon grows much faster than normal Atlantic salmon, reaching a market-ready size in about half the time. Bigger fish faster? Our science cats give this genetic tweak two paws up.
The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded this week to Arthur McDonald and Takaaki Kajita for their work with neutrinos.
The two were honored for their contributions to experiments demonstrating that subatomic particles called neutrinos change identities. The neutrinos transform themselves among three types: electron-type, muon-type and tau-type.
The transformation requires that neutrinos have mass, dispelling the long-held notion that they were massless. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the Nobels, said the discovery “has changed our understanding of the innermost workings of matter.”
This is super impressive and, more importantly, gives us an excuse to re-run this awesome lolcat.
Scientists this week announced the strongest evidence yet that there may be liquid water on Mars. A paper published in Nature Geoscience described observations made by researchers over the past three years that indicate that water – most likely in the form of a salty brine – appears seasonally on Mars, forming dark lines as it trickles down steep slopes. Although scientists have known for years that Mars once had water, the new evidence provides hope that one day humans may discover life on the red planet. The latest announcement was based on the study of photographs of the surface of Mars. However, we can reveal here exclusively that a super-sekrit kitteh mission led by Commander Kibbles flew up to have a look and can confirm the findings. Yes, there is water, and yes, it is yucky.
Several whales have been spotted in the western part of Long Island Sound in recent months, the first such sightings since 1993. Boaters have been startled by minke, humpback and beluga whales in the waters off Connecticut and New York State.
According to this article, experts believe the whales were attracted by a big increase in bait fish in the Sound, including menhaden, which are rich in omega-3 oils and calories. We figure that the whales decided to come to the East Coast to see Pope Francis. Whatever the reason, the whales have served as role models for some other hefty mammals.
The biggest news in science this week was the announcement of the discovery of a new human ancestor, Homo naledi. After anthropologists excavating in South Africa found an almost inaccessible cave which appeared to contain hominid remains, they recruited a team of the smallest, skinniest cavers they could find and sent them to explore it. What they found was astonishing – the skeletons of some 15 individuals of a human-like species with features unlike any seen before. This article in National Geographic gives many more details, with more sure to come as teams of researchers study the finds.
While our science kittehs applaud the discovery of new hoomins, they are slightly vexed that they were not allowed to join the team, given that they are experts in crawling through small tunnels and also highly skilled at guarding valuable stuff.