Other than living in water, the bulbous jellyfish and the sinuous lamprey may seem to have little in common. And yet these two animals share a remarkable secret ability that allows them to move with great efficiency — they essentially pull, rather than push, their way through the water.
Instead of creating high-pressure zones by pushing against the water, these two very different animals actually creating areas of low pressure that force water past their bodies, according to research out of Stanford University and the Marine Biological Laboratory.
The discovery, published in the journal Nature Communications, may force scientists to rethink some of the most fundamental assumptions about animal propulsion — and help inform the future design of bioinspired swimming robots.
Salamanders once bared fangs
Researchers have discovered amphibian fossils in northeastern Brazil that date back 278 million years, to the time of the supercontinent Pangaea. Until now, little was known about animal life in the southern tropical regions of the continent.
The fossils, described in the journal Nature Communications, include two new carnivorous species: Timonya annae was a small, eel-like amphibian with fangs and gills, while Procuhy nazarienis was a larger “midlevel” predator. Both species are distant relatives of modern salamanders.
A plant built to reject own pollen
Field poppies do not self-pollinate, a strategy that helps keep the species’ gene pool diverse. Now, researchers at the University of Birmingham in England have successfully transferred two genes from a poppy plant to a self-fertilizing plant called thale cress.
The genetically modified thale cress rejects its own pollen and that of close relatives, the researchers report in the journal Science. The experiment may help researchers breed plants that are stronger than their parents and provide better yields.
Animals rely on hair to keep clean
The honeybee and the squirrel have the same number of hairs: about 3 million. A moth has 10 billion hairs, while the human head has only 100,000.
An unusual study looks at 27 mammalian and insect species to determine how animals use their fur and hair to keep themselves tidy.
“It is two-sided,” said David Hu, a mechanical engineer at Georgia Tech and an author of the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology. “With hair, animals become a doormat to particles. But on the positive side, it lets an animal clean itself.”
Dogs shake themselves. Bees rely on bristled appendages to brush away pollen. Fruit flies toss dust off with their heads and thoraxes. Cicadas have sharp, hairlike points on their wings that catch and hold bacteria. The research could help scientists develop cleaning components for autonomous devices, Hu said.