DAILY DOSE: Could brain-eating fungi destroy the human race?; Anti-Abortion activists aren’t done with Roe V. Wade yet.


Join us in The Bullpen, where the members of the Scientific Inquirer community get to shape the site’s editorial decision making. We’ll be discussing people and companies to profile on the site. On Wednesday, December 14 at 5:30pm EST, join us on Discord and let’s build the best Scientific Inquirer possible.

Anti-abortion protesters are unhappy again. Overturning Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court wasn’t enough, apparently. Per the Associated Press,

One year ago, the annual March for Life protest against legal abortion took place in Washington amid a mood of undisguised triumph. With a fresh conservative majority on the Supreme Court, thousands of marchers braved bitterly cold weather to celebrate the seemingly inevitable fall of Roe v. Wade.

Now, with the constitutional right to abortion no longer the rule of the land, the March for Life returns Friday with a new focus. Instead of concentrating their attention on the Supreme Court, the marchers plan to target the building directly across the street: the U.S. Capitol.

Movement leaders say they plan to warn Congress against making any attempt to curtail the multiple anti-abortion laws imposed last year in a dozen different states.

“This year will be a somber reminder of the millions of lives lost to abortion in the past 50 years, but also a celebration of how far we have come and where we as a movement need to focus our effort as we enter this new era in our quest to protect life,” Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life Education and Defense Fund, said in a statement.

Give’m the yard, they want the mile. http://bit.ly/3D1Vtqj

While viral videos can be amusing sometimes and annoying more often, there are instances where they are just plain harmful. That’s the case with the latest video to enter the mass-internet-psyche. Per CNN,

Indonesia is warning people against consuming liquid nitrogen after more than 20 children were harmed eating a street snack known as “dragon’s breath” that’s at the center of a dangerous new viral video trend.

The children suffered burns to their skin, severe stomach pains and food poisoning after consuming the colorful candies, according to Indonesia’s Ministry of Health, which is urging parents, teachers and local health authorities to be vigilant.

The candies are dipped in liquid nitrogen to create a vapor effect when eaten. They are popular with children, dozens of whom have uploaded clips to short-form video app TikTok showing them blowing the fumes out of their mouths, noses and ears. One video showing the preparation of the snack by a street vendor has been viewed close to 10 million times.

The fact that it’s being sold out on the street by a grown-ass adult just boggles the mind. http://bit.ly/3WrNTMz

There’s some concern about the status of China’s Mars rover. Nature reports,

Is something amiss with Zhurong, China’s first Mars rover? The vehicle was supposed to come out of its months-long hibernation last month, but the Chinese space agency has been tight-lipped about its status, leading some researchers to speculate that it might not have survived the harsh Martian winter and dust storms.

“It wouldn’t be surprising for the rover to fail to come out of hibernation because it is solar-powered, and there’s a long history of solar-powered landers and rovers on Mars running out of power,” says David Flannery, an astrobiologist at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. He is part of the team working on NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover, which runs on nuclear power. Last month, researchers said goodbye to NASA’s solar-powered InSight lander, which succumbed to a dust storm.

But others remain optimistic that Zhurong will wake up in the next few months as temperatures warm up enough to charge its battery and as dust storms settle down. “I want to be optimistic that the rover will wake up,” says Baptiste Chide, a planetary scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, who is also part of the Perseverance team.

The problem of dust accumulation has been an issue with earlier American rovers, such as Opportunity, that were also powered by solar energy. https://bit.ly/3J329If

Every institution, whether it be large or small, needs to keep up with changing times. The Chinese Academy of Sciences is no exception. A paper written in Science, explores what needs to be done and how the CAS’ new goals can be achieved.

“The decades-long reform of China’s science and technology system has repeatedly ignited a critical question about the position of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The academy’s early contributions to China’s strategic weapons programs, and indeed, to China’s nation-building efforts, have left a legacy that partly mirrors the development of Chinese science but is almost impossible to replicate. But the CAS has been under enormous pressure to reinvent itself by producing original and more visible outcomes to justify its existence as the most prominent research institution in China. We discuss major challenges faced by the CAS and the antecedents of its current reform, a reshuffling of its 100-plus research institutes under a new Pioneer Initiative (1). By concentrating resources on big-science centers managing large-scale research infrastructures (RIs), CAS may be able to enhance its uniqueness and strategic importance among China’s many research institutions and to potentially bolster its future.”

It will be interesting to see how nimble a highly centralized system can be in the long run. https://bit.ly/3ZOv495

Fungi seem to be the biological villain of choice lately for the entertainment industry. Books have featured their ability to infiltrate organism’s bodies and take over its briain (and by extension, its behavior). HBO’s new series, The Last of Us, features a killer fungi that infects humans and turns them into zombies. The idea (and most other pop-fiction fungal motifs) stems from a single species of fungi, Cordyceps, which actually exists and functions in much the same way as the killer fungi in the series. Per National Geographic,

An ant, no longer in control of its body, crawls away from its colony, hangs perilously on a leaf, and waits to die as a fungus consumes its body, emerges from its head, and releases spores into the air. 

“They’re like these grim little Christmas ornaments out in the forest,” says Ian Will, a fungal geneticist at the University of Central Florida, where these zombified ants can be found.

What if this parasitic fungus could do the same thing to us? 

That’s the premise of the new television show based on the video game The Last of Us in which, as a result of warming temperatures caused by climate change, a fungus takes over the world and turns humans into parasite-controlled zombies. 

“In a fantastical way, the logical links are there, but it’s not likely to happen in real life,” says Will. But while scientists aren’t worried about fungi evolving to turn people into zombies, rising temperatures do pose a real risk of making fungal infections worse.

What’s next? Attack of the Killer Prions? http://bit.ly/3QY9fA2

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

IMAGE CREDIT: Erich G. Vallery.

ON SALE! Charles Darwin Signature T-shirt – “I think.” Two words that changed science and the world, scribbled tantalizingly in Darwin’s Transmutation Notebooks.

Success! You're on the list.

Algae provide clues about 600 million years of plant evolution.
The Earth's surface is covered by plants. They make up the majority …
Scientists detect and validate the longest-period exoplanet found with TESS.
Scientists from The University of New Mexico (UNM), and Massachusetts Institute of …

Leave a Reply