MAKING WATER FROM MARTIAN ELEMENTS.
Researchers in China have developed an AI-powered robot chemist, potentially able to extract oxygen from water on Mars. This innovation could revolutionize Mars missions by using local Martian materials to produce oxygen, eliminating the need to transport it from Earth. The robot, sized like a refrigerator and equipped with a robotic arm, processes Martian-like meteorites using acid and alkali, and then identifies catalysts through a database of over 3.7 million formulas. This AI system significantly accelerates the process, achieving in moments what would take a human researcher millennia. The result is a catalyst for an oxygen-evolution reaction, a breakthrough for potential Mars colonization. This technology contrasts with NASA’s MOXIE experiment on the Perseverance rover, which extracts oxygen from the Martian atmosphere. While MOXIE produces oxygen in small quantities, it’s scalable for larger human settlements and rocket fuel oxidizers. Beyond space applications, this AI-driven method has broader implications for various chemical processes, indicating a significant advance in AI-assisted material synthesis. (Nature)
IT’S OKAY TO EAT SOME ULTRA-PROCESSED FOODS.
A major international study, reported in The Lancet, has reevaluated the health effects of ultra-processed foods (UPFs). It found that certain UPFs, like meat products and sugary drinks, heighten the risk of diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. However, not all UPFs are harmful; bread and cereals, for instance, may reduce disease risk due to their fiber content. Analyzing dietary history and health data from 266,666 individuals across seven European countries, the study differentiated between various UPFs. While some, like sauces and condiments, are less healthy, others including sweets, desserts, and plant-based meat alternatives, do not seem to increase the risk of multimorbidity (having multiple life-shortening diseases). Experts suggest that the blanket assumption that all UPFs are unhealthy is incorrect. They recommend moderating UPF consumption, preferring fresh or minimally processed foods, and possibly following a Mediterranean diet. This study is significant, as UPFs constitute a major part of the diet in high-income countries. The research advocates for increased access to less processed foods to improve public health. (The Guardian)
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A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that the ability to taste bitterness, a defense against toxins, likely evolved in vertebrates around 460 million years ago. This predates the previous assumption that it emerged after sharks and other cartilaginous fishes split from bony vertebrates like humans. Researchers discovered bitter taste receptors, T2R1s, in sharks, similar to T2Rs in bony vertebrates. They tested these shark receptors with various bitter substances, finding several activated both in sharks and bony vertebrates, suggesting a shared evolutionary origin. The study implies early vertebrates had generalist bitter taste receptors, not yet specialized. Shark receptors also responded to internally produced bitter substances, indicating these receptors might have had broader roles than just taste perception. The findings suggest a much earlier origin of bitterness perception in vertebrates, although there’s ongoing debate about the initial function of these receptors. Despite some uncertainties, the evidence points to an ancient lineage for the ability to detect bitterness. (Science)
QUANTIFYING FORESTS AND CARBON REMOVAL.
A Nature study suggests that restoring global forests could capture 226 gigatons of carbon, a third of emissions since the Industrial Era. This research, refining a controversial 2019 study, used extensive satellite and ground data. It indicates that much of this carbon capture would come from allowing existing forests to mature. However, the feasibility of such large-scale restoration is questioned, especially considering the impacts on timber and palm oil sourcing, and the effects of climate change like fire and drought on forests. Thomas Crowther, the study’s senior author, emphasizes that alongside forest restoration, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is essential. Critics point out potential issues with tree density in naturally sparse ecosystems like savannas, and the challenges of balancing restoration with biodiversity. Despite global pledges, deforestation continues, and some reforestation efforts have failed due to inappropriate methods. The study concludes that significant effort in cutting fossil fuels and protecting old-growth forests is necessary to address climate change and biodiversity loss effectively. (New York Times)
PROTECTING ENDANGERED SPERM WHALES.
Dominica is creating the world’s first marine protected area for endangered sperm whales, covering nearly 300 square miles of its western waters. This initiative aims to safeguard key areas for nursing and feeding, addressing both species protection and climate change mitigation. Sperm whales contribute to carbon capture through their nutrient-rich feces, which foster plankton blooms that absorb atmospheric CO2. Home to less than 500 sperm whales, this part of the Caribbean is vital for a population that remains largely within the Lesser Antilles region. Unique for their limited travel and matrilineal society, these whales face threats from ship strikes, fishing gear entanglement, and pollution. The reserve will allow sustainable fishing and include a designated shipping lane to minimize whale fatalities. Dominica’s government plans to enforce whale tourism regulations, allowing limited interaction with these majestic creatures. This conservation effort, recognizing sperm whales as crucial to the island’s ecosystem and climate health, has been lauded by scientists and environmentalists. (Associated Press)
Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.
WORDS: The Biology Guy.
IMAGE CREDIT: NASA.