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.
This week, psychologist Brian Nosek and his colleagues from the Center for Open Science released the results of four years of work on a unique project. Since 2011, he and 270 other scientists in The Reproducibility Project have been attempting to replicate 100 previously published psychology studies. The results, published this week in Science, were worse than expected – just 36% of the replicated studies produced as strong a result as the original research.
That sounds pretty bad! But this article by Ed Yong in The Atlantic goes systematically through the issues around study design, publication and replicability and concludes that “failed replications don’t discredit the original studies, any more than successful ones enshrine them as truth.”
Most scientists agree that more efforts like the Reproducibility Project are essential to leading scientific research toward practices that produce more robust results. Luckily, research cats are generally amenable to repeating experiments over and over again, particularly if they involve can openers or pushing objects off tables.
It’s almost time for football season! What has that to do with either science or cats, you ask? Bear with us. We’ll get there.
A few weeks ago, Kathryn Schulz published a widely-noticed article in The New Yorker about “The Really Big One,” that is, on the likelihood of a huge earthquake in the Pacific Northwest of the US. The piece pointed out the dense population and poor earthquake-readiness of the area around the Cascadia subduction zone, which includes the city of Seattle, Washington.
However, at least some scientists in Seattle are preparing for earthquakes, and they’re using their local NFL fans to help them do it. The Seattle Seahawks’ fans are famously rowdy and noisy. After Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Quake” touchdown in the 2011 NFL playoffs, the crowd’s roars not only shook the Seattle stadium, but also the surrounding ground.
We know this because scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle had placed a sensor just across the street from the stadium. Seismologist John Vidale noticed a clear signal post-touchdown. Vidale realized that the energy of 70,000 fans jumping around for a minute could come close to the energy released by a small earthquake and that athletic events might be a good venue for testing seismic instruments. Football games have the added benefit of being scheduled in advance, unlike earthquakes.
Vidale and his colleagues installed three portable sensors inside the Seahawks’ stadium just before the January 2015 NFL playoff games in Seattle. Somewhat surprisingly, the strongest signal didn’t show up during a game-changing play, but during the halftime show, as the crowd jumped and danced with the music. In addition to testing sensors, the researchers were able to develop software, called QuickShake, to display the seismic recordings on the scoreboard with a delay of just a few seconds. All of this work will help them better measure and analyze seismic activity, and potentially assist in improving building design and earthquake preparedness.
You can learn more about the scientists’ work with the Seahawks here. So that’s the science. Where, you ask, are the cats?
Told you we’d get there.