Science Snippets

Body or the brain: Where does Parkinson’s begin?

Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative condition that affects the nervous system and the brain, is the world’s fastest-growing brain disease. India currently ranks among countries with the lowest disease prevalence, but experts warn of a 200-300% rise in the next few decades. Characterized by symptoms such as hand tremors and stiff and slow body movements, the disease progresses toward speech slurring and difficulty breathing and swallowing over the years.

Although Parkinson’s was first described

Diving into sperm whale societies

Sperm whales, found in most of the world’s oceans, are incredible giants with the most enormous noses and the biggest brains in the animal world. They hunt deep in the waters using echolocation clicks like bats do. Their underwater clicks have the highest sound pressure. Sperm whales take their name after spermaceti, a unique organ inside their curved heads, which acts like a sonar to produce echolocation clicks and contains a waxy liquid called sperm oil.

Before humans discovered fossil fuels,

Cells that make up our body

Life, in short, is a complex melange of cells. According to recent estimates, on average, there are 36 trillion cells in men, 28 trillion in women, and 17 trillion in a child. In this medley, scientists recognize 400 types of cells in the human body, each with its distinct shape, size and function, perfected over billions of years through evolution. Recently, scientists created the first human cell tree map to understand how cells are distributed throughout our body. The insights give us a sense

Lab-grown ‘beef rice’ for a healthy planet

Exciting things are cooking, quite literally, in some research labs worldwide—offering a delectable menu of poultry, red meat and seafood. As the world tries to find alternatives to unsustainable industrial animal farms and overharvested seafood, lab-grown meat is emerging as a top contender. Touted to be sustainable and tasty, meat grown in petri dishes is slowly filling supermarket aisles, offering consumers a healthy and sustainable choice devoid of significant methane emissions, biodiversity

The tiny but mighty microfossils

Rare and buried deep inside the earth for thousands of years, fossils inspire awe and tell a tale frozen in time. Although visible to the naked eye, dinosaur, whale, mammoth or human fossils are scant and hard to find. On the other hand, microfossils—tiny remains of bacteria, diatoms or protists—are ubiquitous on every continent and ocean. The oldest record of life on Earth, discovered in the hydrothermal vent precipitates off the Canadian coast in 2017, are 4.28 billion years old microfossils.
Photo by Jan Kroon on Pexels

Microplastics menace the food we grow

The search for fertile river plains to grow enough food has driven most human migrations, and desertified lands have displaced millions. As agriculture became more intensive and industrialised, many of our inventions, including plastics, have infiltrated farmlands.

From irrigation pipes to greenhouse films to mulch that suppresses weeds, plastics are ubiquitous on farms today. As the use of plastic implements increases in agriculture, tiny, microscopic fragments—called microplastics—wither off

What’s on the space menu?

Sky-dining may sound fun and fancy, but cooking a good meal without a functional kitchen, limited supplies and scant resources makes most airline meals passable. As passengers, we must eat to survive the few hours of flight and hope to indulge in our favourite cuisine once we land. But what about astronauts, who often spend days, if not months, cramped inside spaceships thousands of miles away?

Since humans burn more calories in space, they need high-calorie food packed with micronutrients like

Common cold, uncommon facts

Sniffly red nose, incessant sneezing, a hoarse voice and an occasional fever and headaches—even the healthiest amongst us have experienced these annoying symptoms of the common cold. Scientists believe that humans have endured this disease for thousands of years, as many ancient civilizations have records of cold-like symptoms and approaches to treat them, some of which are now debunked by medical science. Yet, even to this day, there’s no known medicine or vaccine to treat this bothersome malad

Crab-castrating barnacles

The ocean is a strange home to many bizarre life forms. One such fascinating marine organism is the barnacles—shelled crustaceans that attach to a surface and filter out the nutrients in the water with their feathery legs. In the world’s oceans, there are around 1,400 species of barnacles. They use their extremely strong adhesives to stick to almost anything interesting—ship hulls, buoys, pilings, rocks, boats and even gigantic whales like the humpbacks and the grey whales. But the barnacles bel

Plastiglomerates: The toxic human legacy

Let’s time-travel to 3023 on Planet Earth. Fossil hunters, belonging to a more intelligent life form than us, are digging up an archaeological site near a future coast. They are spurred by the discovery of some unique rock-like structure—a mix of sand, corals and sediment rocks held together by molten plastic—hidden deep in the ground. While the discovery might seem like a fictional scene from the Indiana Jones movies, that perhaps is a legacy humans may leave behind on the planet, say scientist

Death caps: The world’s deadliest mushrooms

Mushrooms, a delight in the fungi world, are full of flavours—earthy, musty, woody and even slightly meaty—satiating the palette with savoury gust. But some mushrooms, like the death cap mushrooms, are born to kill, quite literally. Death cap mushroom (Amanita phalloides) is the world’s deadliest mushroom. Just half a mushroom can kill an adult within hours. About 90% of mushroom-related deaths globally are due to this mushroom. Bravehearts who have tasted the death cap say it has a pleasant tas

Autonomous vehicles changing the face of science

It’s the age of autonomous vehicles—from trains to buses, cars, drones and even battlefield tanks—engineers across the world are building vehicles that drive themselves without humans at the wheels. Powered by artificial sensors that ‘see’, ‘feel’ and ‘hear’, and an artificial ‘brain’ that can learn, technology companies are rapidly doling out newer versions of autonomous vehicles to solve some of the toughest challenges. Now, science and scientists are having their moment with autonomous vehicl

When farmers’ friend turns forests’ foe

If you have a garden, you know how welcome earthworms are: they nibble on all the decaying litter and break them up into nutrient-rich chunks that make it easier for plants to absorb and grow. They also help aerate the soil as they dig around, thus helping the roots penetrate further down. The result? A bonanza of flowers, vegetables and fruits in the garden.

But earthworms aren’t harmless when they are in places they aren’t supposed to be. Of the 6,000 plus species of earthworms in the world,

Coconut crabs and their colossal claws

Our planet is home to diverse life forms—some that we swoon over and some that freak us out. Coconut crabs, with their legs spanning a metre wide and extremely powerful claws, are of the latter kind. Unlike most crabs that spend their lives crawling the seafloor or a river bed, these crabs, although born in the sea, are terrestrial and live all of their adult life on land. They roam the coastal forests on tropical islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans, including parts of the Andaman and Nicob

The unwelcome seaweed monster

Could a humble seaweed take over our towns and jeopardise life? If you live in a beachside town in Florida, USA, or are enjoying a vacation on the many islands in the Caribbean right now, chances are a seaweed is throwing a stench of rotten eggs. In the past few days, the crashing waves have been dumping tonnes of decaying Sargassum, a brown algal seaweed, on the beaches. Coastal towns are spending thousands of dollars cleaning up the stinky mess.

Using space-based satellites, scientists foresa

What Should I Do If I Find a Nest Where It Doesn’t Belong?

Mourning Doves are frequent home invaders, laying eggs in an air-conditioning vent, on an outdoor shelf, or, here, in a hanging planter basket.

Pledge to stand with Audubon to call on elected officials to listen to science and work towards climate solutions.

Some birds are quite comfortable building their homes right next to ours. It’s not uncommon to see Mourning Doves in an air-conditioning vent, Eastern Phoebes on a windowsill, American Robins in a wreath, or House Finches in flowerpots.


Fierce warriors, algal farmers

With scales coloured sparkling neon blue to eye-catching bright yellow, and patterns of polka dots to dazzling stripes, the spectacular damselfish are fish world fashionistas. Unsurprisingly, these coral reef inhabitants are prime attractions in many saltwater aquaria around the world. But there’s more to these fish than their beauty: they are the only known farmers in the aquatic world and they farm algae. These fish also fiercely protect their farms—they aggressively chase away other herbivoro

They're not monkeys, but orchids!

At first glance, they look like a troop of monkeys hanging by their tails, looking into your eyes with a smile on their face. A closer look reveals they are in fact flowers. You begin to wonder how nature cleverly tricks the eyes. These are the monkey orchids, native to the cloud forests of Ecuador and Peru, that grow at an altitude of 1,000-2,000 metres. Like many orchids, they are epiphytes—they grow on other plants and absorb nutrients and water from the air, rain and other debris that accumu

Nicobar pigeon: The closest relative of the dodo

The Nicobar pigeon, native to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Malay Archipelago and some islands of Micronesia, is hailed as one of the most beautiful pigeons in the world. It’s draped in a colourful plumage—with hues of green, blue, yellow and copper—that explode into a bomb of colours in the sunlight. The bird’s feathers are iridescent due to the many layers of keratin air sacs in the feathers. Its ornate look makes it a prime attraction in many zoos and aviaries across the world.

But th

Pando: World’s most massive organism

Move over blue whales and mammoths! Plants rule the world, and they also bag the coveted title of the world’s most massive organism on the planet. Would you believe the grove of aspen trees shown above is actually one organism? It’s called the Pando, which is Latin for “I spread”. And that’s what the tree has been doing since the last ice age! It’s also nicknamed The Trembling Giant, after the trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), a deciduous tree native to the cooler areas of North America, wh
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

Everyday things inspired by space exploration

Space exploration is expensive, and some question why countries spend trillions pursuing the outer world. The answer is simple: space science and technology have bettered human lives beyond imagination. On the World Space Week, here are five useful innovations whose roots trace back to space technology.

Digital cameras and camera phones: Point-and-shoot cameras, an invention of the 1980s, revolutionised photography in that they did away with expensive films. Charge-coupled devices (CCDs), a tec

Sea urchins hold clues about a long life

When one sees the spiny, ball-like organism found on the ocean floor, from the poles to the equator, it may not leave them highly impressed. But the nearly thousand species of sea urchins, feeding primarily on kelp and other marine algae, are a delicacy in many coastal cuisines, from Japan to North America. As invertebrates that are genetically closer to humans than to worms and flies, sea urchins have been a model organism for scientists since the 1800s, spilling secrets about life, reproductio
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