astonishing legends

A Fish Out of Water May Not be That Weird

We’ve all heard that old saying, “A fish out of water”. Unusually meant to describe something that makes you feel uncomfortable, completely out of your environment, etc. Though it was previously believed that fish had evolved to survive, at least briefly, on land once or twice it is know believed, thanks to a new study, that they can survive dozens of times. Link

Though the transition between water and land is extreme, it is not necessarily difficult. Well, what does this mean?

Well, it means something else prevent fish from becoming full-time, land-swelling creatures. The authors of the study, published in Evolution in August, ask a fundamental question: “How do species establish themselves in new environments?”

It can be gathered that most species fail to establish themselves in new environments…most of the time. For fish, there are many hurdles to overcome such as breathing, moving, and metabolizing. All of these things, and even more bodily functions, have to be modified in a way that accepts radically increased gravity and seriously decreased wetness.

Authors of the study, Terry Ord and Georgina Cooke of the University of New South Wales, had a few theories, as summarized below.

  • Fish that live in the intertidal zone would be more likely to have contact with land and away from their water due to their twice-daily transformation of the tides. Similarly, fish that live in ponds, puddles, or creeks that shrink and grow face a similar challenge.
  • Fish that live in water that is prone to heating up are known to lave it because warmer water means less oxygen, which leads to suffocating. In these cases, air/land provide some relief.
  • Fish that live on the bottom of their body of water also seem like better candidates for land-dwelling due to the fact that they have certain adaptations that make them more suited to the ground, such as flattened bodies that make walking easier and fins that are limb-like.
  • Since getting around on land is difficult for any fish, it might be easier for those whose diets don’t depend on seeking out mobile prey.

Based on these, they began a deep dive of all fish species that fit the above parameters. They found amphibious behavior in about 130 fish, from 33 different families that reach the oldest and youngest branches of the fish family tree. Many of these 33 families have a great evolutionary chance to transition from water to land.

But let’s get back to the question at hand – why have so few fish pioneered into the terrestrial world, because breathing, walking, and reproducing do not seem to pose huge barriers.

The authors theorize that, at the root of the issue, is staying wet. Fish drying out is the real challenge, especially the desiccation gills. Gills must remain moist in order for a fish to breathe, and without that guaranteed moisture…they’re doomed.


The above picture comes from Flickr user Alan Levine and is licensed under creative commons.

The Number Of Galaxies The Universe Holds Just Expanded....10x Over

For many years, astronomers estimated there were about 100-200 billion galaxies in the universe. However, new research gleaned from the Hubble Space Telescope shows that 100-200 billion is about 10 TIMES too low of an estimate. The research group, led by Dr. Christopher Conselice, used a mix of new deep-space images and previously published data to make updated measurements of the number of possible galaxies a different points in the entire history of the universe [almost 14 billion years]. Link

With the additional help of mathematical models, the research group was able to basically prove that the number of galaxies we can account for do not make up the entirety of the universe. In fact, there may be galaxies either too faint and/or too far away to be seen with today's technology.

What does that mean? Well there is likely at least 1 trillion galaxies...and maybe even 2 million, if you're going on the high end of the spectrum.

Dr. Conselice said in a NASA news release, "Who knows wha interesting properties we will find when we discover these galaxies with future generations of telescopes?"

But when will that be?

Well, there's a soon-to-be released one [2018] that might show of these galaxies that we were previously unable t see. It is called the James Webb Space Telescope. This next generation telescope will allow for whole new levels of resolution and sensitivity from long-wavelength visible light through near/mid-infrared light. One particular goal for this new telescope is observing some of the most distant events and objects in the new universe, like the formation of the first galaxies! Not to mention the ability to better understand the formation of stars, planets, and direct imaging of exoplanets.

The image above is from Flickr user Mooglet's account and is licensed under creative commons.

Were There Alien Civilizations?

This is not a new question in the world, or even this show. 55 years ago astronomer Frank Drake came up with an equation that weighed the odds for aliens. This is equation is something we explore in episode 022. But what's happened in-between now and then? Now two astronomers have tweaked the formula to come up with a slightly different spin. NASA’s planet-hunting Kepler space telescope is helping, too. link

Woody Sullivan (University of Washington) and Adam Frank )University of Rochester) published their complicated findings recently in the May 2016 issue of Astrobiology. They slightly alter the question - not if they exist, but if they did. They say:

“While we do not know if any advanced extraterrestrial civilizations currently exist in our galaxy, we now have enough information that they almost certainly existed at some point in cosmic history,” (Adam Frank)

According to them, there’s an astronomically high chance that other technological civilizations have risen and fallen elsewhere in the universe at some point in its 13.8 billion-year history.

How did they arrive at this conclusion? Well, by deconstructing the Drake equation. Here's how they use the equation:

  • They start out with an estimate of 20 sextillion stars in the observable universe (2 x 1022).
  • There appears to be at least one planet for every star (1.0).
  • And about one-fifth of those planets appear to orbit in habitable zones (0.2).

That gives you an estimate of habitable planets in the universe: 4 sextillion, or 4 x 1021

hen the astronomers add a bit of a twist to the equation:

How low do you have to set the chances that a habitable planet gives rise to a signal-beaming civilization, in order to reduce what you get when you do the multiplication (planets times probability) to just one world? The number would have to be one chance in 4 sextillion, or 2.5 x 10-22. Pretty low contact rates, huh?

In a press release after their explosive conclusion, Frank says: “To me, this implies that other intelligent, technology-producing species very likely have evolved before us, Think of it this way: Before our result you’d be considered a pessimist if you imagined the probability of evolving a civilization on a habitable planet were, say, one in a trillion. But even that guess, one chance in a trillion, implies that what has happened here on Earth with humanity has in fact happened about 10 billion other times over cosmic history!”

Is it just a numbers game, or is this a breakthrough?


The above image is from Flickr User Kevin Gill and is licensed under Creative Commons.

The Permafrost is Melting...and Life Forms are Waking Up

Sound like an episode of the X-Files? It might as well be. After several millennia dozens of ancient viruses, bacteria, plants, and yes, even animals are being 'woken up' after being (naturally) cryogenically frozen. link

For a quick refresher, what the heck is cryofreezing any way? Well, it's a little more than what science fiction makes it out to be. It is a real, natural processes that has unbelievable preservative powers. And the results are stunning. Scientists have had success in the last few years, even bringing and budding flowers that were cryogenically frozen.

Cryogenically frozen organic material acts like an interesting window into the world of the past. But, unlike a window, they're not just for looking out of. Through analyzing these ancient remnants, scientists may be able to learn about how species will cope with change in the future. Not to mention, the melting of the permafrost has helped created a new field of  science: resurrection ecology.

It may even give the ability to recreate evolution and evolutionary processes in years or months instead of thousands of years and millennia. Being able to compare current structures to their permafrost cousins could allow for this to happen.

Not to mention, through this, we may be able to help endangered or near-endangered species gain a genetic upper-hand through the study of evolutionary processes.

This photo comes from Flickr user Gabriel Caparó and is licensed under creative commons.

This Strange Fossil Finding is Right out of the World of Dr. Seuss (or a Horror Movie)

In early May, scientists announced and released a discovery in southern China of  reptilian fossils from roughly 242 million years ago. The only catch? It looks so outlandish and silly it's a wonder it isn't a hoax! link

The animal has been dubbed the "Atopodentatus", and if you recognize the "dent" in the name as it relates to teeth, you might realize how big of a deal this creature's mouth is. It is a bewildering, crocodile-sized plant-eating sea-dweller. The creature was first discovered in 2014, and, originally, it was thought to have a mouth like a flamingo's beak. However, the new fossil findings from May suggest something a little more...odd.

Paleontologist Nicholas Fraser said, "On a scale of weirdness, I think this is up there with the best. It kind of reminds me of some of the Dr. Seuss creations,"

It used its chisel-like teeth which lay along the edge of its blunt and hammer-shaped snout, to scrape algae off of hard underwater surfaces like rocks. After the scraping section, "Atopodentatus" quickly opens its mouth to create suction before closing its jaws and filtering the plant material through its densely packed, needle-sharp teeth. This is similar to how baleen whales strain krill from sea water.

Atopodentatus was roughly 9 feet long, lived in the shallow sea around China's Yunnan province alongside fish and marine reptiles. It lived during he Triassic Period shortly after the biggest mass extinction in Earth's history.


This photo is from Wikimedia Commons and is licensed under Creative Commons.

Why Sentient Machines Might be Disappointing

Despite countless movies, books, and even scientific computers may forever be incapable of supporting human-like consciousness. link

It is well known that public expressions of the concern over the possible apocalyptic scenarios prompted by sentient machines are nothing new. But those worry-warts may not have anything to worry about. Consciousness is believed by many to be a biological phenomenon. Though, like a computer, neurons communicate with one another in a binary fashion by exchanging electrical signs but, unlike a computer, brains contain a host of analogue cellular, molecular, biochemical, and electrostatic processes, forces, and reactions.

However, there are still those who disagree with the idea of further pursuing sentient A.I. The big guns who are afraid aren't anyone to laugh at, either. The ranks include Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and even Bill Gates who believe that further research will yield self-aware A.Is all too eager to kill us.

Intentional behavior from A.I will, undoubtedly, require a mind. Intentionality stems from authentic beliefs, desires, motivations, and experience. A.I that includes these features are often known as 'Strong Artificial Intelligence' - an A.I that includes a full range of human cognitive abilities. On the other side of the spectrum, there is 'Weak Artificial Intelligence' which contains 'non-sentient' A.I. which run on digital computer programs and have no mind, subjective awareness, or even agency. Weak A.I. may seems to experience the world as we do, and they may even display intelligent behavior...but it is limited due to a lack of a mind and, thus, consciousness.

All current A.I. are Weak A.I.

The question is...can that change?

This picture is from Flickr User Dick Thomas Johnson and is licensed under Creative Commons.

Human-Animal Hybrids are Growing Organ Transplants

Currently, there are over 120,000 Americans alone who are on the list to get an organ transplant. To meet this high demand for organs such as liver and hearts, scientists have begun experimenting growing these organs inside animals via the addition of human stem cells. Mainly, the research has focused on pig and sheep embryos. Link

It is not leap of logic to guess that this research is extremely controversial. Not only that, but we don't know much about the effects of human organs grown in animals.

But the bigger worry is the instability of human stem cells. Human stem cells have the tendency to specialize and multiply and risk giving the animal human characteristics which could range from physical intelligence.

However, many research labs are moving forward with this research. New technologies are making it possible to genetically engineer pigs and sheep so that they can't develop certain tissue and organs. So what? Well that's how scientists would inject human stem cells into the embryos of such animals and allow the stem cells to grow into the missing human organ, which would then be harvested.

This picture is from the Flickr Account University of Liverpool Faculty of Health & Life Sciences and is licensed under Creative Commons.