Venom, ancient sharks, and genes: some information to get your imagination moving

 Science for imagination  Comments Off on Venom, ancient sharks, and genes: some information to get your imagination moving
Jun 092015

Some science information to get that muse working out:

Venom – the ‘harmless’ boomslang snake

The boomslang snake used to be thought harmless – until a very experienced herpetologist was bitten on the thumb while handling one.

By the next day, he was dead of internal bleeding, caused by the venom of this ‘harmless’ snake.

The boomslang doesn’t attack often – it’s pretty shy and will run away if it has the chance. Only people handling it or trying to capture or kill it will inspire its fear and cause it to bite.

Then the venom begins its slow work of destroying the red blood cells and causing widespread hemorrhaging that eventually causes the person to bleed to death internally. It can take three to five days to actually cause death.

Luckily, an antivenin is available, but it’s rare. Anyone bitten by a boomslang should immediately get to a hospital.

More information at Reptiles Magazine.

Ancient sharks – extinct, yes, but what if they did exist?

Image credit: Reconstruction by Bashford Dean in 1909, via Wikimedia Commons.

Image credit: Reconstruction by Bashford Dean in 1909, via Wikimedia Commons.

The megalodon shark – a huge animal even larger than a T-rex – went extinct during the Pleistocene extinction. Some people believe they may still be around, possibly deep in the ocean, despite the science that says, “Uh, no.”

This article at IFLScience gives all the science that tells us the megalodon shark is gone. Dead. Extinct forever.

What got my muse working, though, was the article’s idea of what we would see if it did exist:

“They would be chowing down on massive sharks and whales all over the world. We would see bite marks on whales, scars from old attacks too large to be from any known shark. It would be a spectacular sight, but unfortunately not one that we are going to see.”

Perhaps not in real life – but anything is possible in fiction.

Genes – what your parents gave you may be different than you thought

Scientists have been reasonably sure that what happens to the parents won’t affect the children’s genes. This because the genetic markers gained by the parents through their lifetime  – whether it’s through a deliberate habit, like smoking, or a life event, like a famine – are erased by a cleansing principle called the Weismann barrier.

However, scientists are starting to find that this isn’t entirely true. Up to 5% of the genetic markers are missed by the this genetic cleansing.

They’re postulating that this is why Dutch children whose mothers had been pregnant during the post-war famine are often being diagnosed with schizophrenia. Diabetes, bipolar disorder, and obesity seem to be other effects that may be caused by this missed cleansing.

Doesn’t it make you wonder what your parents might have done or been through that made you who you are today?

Cool science from the week of October 6, 2014

 Science for imagination  Comments Off on Cool science from the week of October 6, 2014
Oct 092014

One of the reasons I started this blog is to show just how little we really know about the universe we inhabit. And it’s so much fun to fill those voids of our knowledge with fictional possibilities!

Mysteries that scientists have recently discovered:

The disappearance – and reappearance – of the feature in Ligeia Mare (a sea on Saturn’s moon, Titan).

The little black hole that could. A.K.A. hungry hungry black hole.

The loss of ice sheets in Antarctica causes changes in local gravity.

How can a dwarf star give off solar flares 10,000 times stronger than our much larger sun?

Why does this little cat-like carnivore (called a genet) ride around on much larger herbivores’ backs? And why does it have its own Twitter account?



New theories to answer old mysteries:

What caused the dark spot on the moon?

How is aging related to cognitive decline?

Why doesn’t the naked mole rat get cancer?


Actual answers to old mysteries:

What happened to the Franklin expedition – where two ships and their crews completely disappeared? Well, one of the ships was found where local oral history said it would be. This isn’t the full answer, but it’s a step on the way.

We’ve watched chimpanzees learn to use tools in a controlled, captive environment, but were uncertain as to how this occurred in the wild. We now have evidence that chimpanzees learn new things and pass them on to others in the wild.

Darwin theorized that species travelled over oceans using pieces of vegetation, icebergs, or hitchhiking on other species. This theory – called ‘jump dispersal’ was not given much credit – until now.

In the 1930s, Ettore Majorana calculated that a particle could be both matter and anti-matter at the same time – and still be stable. While the math was impeccable, the idea seemed odd, since matter and antimatter usually destroy each other in a burst of energy. However, this particle has now been observed at the end of an atom-thick wire.

What lies at the bottom of the ocean? Scientists have used gravitational field data to map the ocean floor.


Ain’t science cool?