SciTeens’ Ampere News: 5 of the Coolest Breakthroughs From This May

Written by Grace Jiang | Wednesday, May 26

Welcome back to SciTeens’ Ampere News! At the end of each month, we publish an article highlighting some interesting developments in the world of science over the last thirty(ish) days. For today's edition, we'll provide a summary of science news from May.

For those curious as to why we named the series Ampere, the ampere is the standard unit of measurement of electrical current. Likewise, we hope that SciTeens will become the standard for keeping up with the most interesting and current news in STEM! The following infographic summarizes what we have in store for this month; feel free to scroll through and jump right to which story seems the most interesting to you! 

1. Flat pasta that becomes 3D when cooked

What happened?

In a research article published on May 5th, scientists identify a method allowing for pasta to take up less space in packaging, in which flat pieces of dough morph into twisty pasta pieces after cooking. 

How did it happen?

Ye Tao et al. Sci Adv 2021

As shown in the image above, researchers imprinted groove marks onto a single side of differently-shaped raw dough pieces. Because of this, the dough pieces did not absorb water evenly when cooked, causing the grooved side to expand less than the smooth side. This formed the 3D pasta shapes seen after cooking. Researchers could change the arrangement of the grooves to alter the final shape of the pasta. 

The resulting data from the experiments was fed into computer models, which could replicate the cooking process of the pasta. This allows for future production of flat-to-3D pasta to be potentially automated. 

Why does this matter?

Chunky pasta takes up far more space in packaging than flatter varieties like angel hair pasta or spaghetti, with air comprising a large portion of the space. However, the bulky, twisty nature of these pastas is what makes them taste so good with certain sauces. With this new technique, food manufacturers in the future may be able to save packaging space without compromising the integrity of the pasta’s taste. 

2. Sharks sense Earth’s magnetic field to navigate

What happened?

In a report published on May 6th, researchers describe the first solid evidence that sharks are able to detect magnetic fields. Using this ability to navigate the seas, sharks can migrate in specific directions as they please.

How did it happen?

The researchers took 20 wild-caught bonnethead sharks and placed them into a pool. In the pool, three different magnetic fields were simulated: one mimicking Earth’s natural field at the sharks’ home, one mimicking the field at a point 600 kilometers north of their home, and one mimicking the field at a point 600 kilometers south. For the simulation of a natural magnetic field, the sharks swam in random directions. For the southern magnetic field, the sharks attempted to swim north, suggesting that they could detect the change in magnetic field.

Interestingly, the sharks also swam in random directions under the northern magnetic field simulation. Scientists attributed this to the bonnetheads’ tendency to not migrate north of their home location; the sharks don’t know what to do in a northern field because they’ve never experienced one before.

Why does this matter?

The results of this study add sharks to the list of animals that can detect magnetic fields, a list that includes birds, sea turtles, lobsters, and more. However, the underlying mechanism that allows for this “sixth sense” is still a matter of dispute. Scientists continue to look for an answer, hoping to understand how these animals navigate with their magnetic sense.

3. Bats map the world in units of time, not distance

What happened?

Scientists find that bats are born knowing the speed of sound, according to a research article published on May 11th. The results of the study also suggest that bats perceive their surroundings not through measurements of distance, but through measurements of time. 

How did it happen?

In the experiment, scientists were able to enrich the air with the gas helium to increase the speed of sound. Two groups of bats were used, one group raised in the conditions with the higher speed of sound and the other group raised in normal conditions. Both groups were tested with a target in the environment with a higher-than-normal speed of sound, and both groups failed the test, landing too far in front of the target. 

Because of the experimental environment’s higher speed of sound, the bats, even those raised in the experimental environment, were unable to correctly reach the target based on the time it takes for sound waves to echo back. This suggests that bats are born with innate knowledge of the natural speed of sound. Because they don’t adjust the speed of sound depending on environmental conditions, scientists believe that bats’ brains don’t convert the sound wave echo times into distances; they instead perceive the world through measurements of time, not distance. 

Why does this matter?

While many animals like humans map the world in units of distance, bats appear to map the world in units of time. If scientists are correct in this proposition, bats would have a fundamentally different way of perceiving the world compared to other animals, a concept that is quite fascinating. 

4. Mammals can use their intestines to breathe

What happened?

In a study published on May 14th, researchers deliver oxygen-infused liquid to rodents and pigs through the rectum (the lower part of the large intestine). Under low-oxygen conditions, the animals provided with this type of ventilation survived at a much higher rate than the animals without.

How did it happen?

Researchers first developed a liquid containing oxygenated chemicals to deliver oxygen through the intestines. These chemicals have previously been shown to be safe in humans. The researchers then placed mice in 10% oxygen conditions. Some mice were given the oxygen-infused liquid through the rectum, and some were not. The mice given the extra oxygen could walk farther, had higher levels of oxygen reach their heart, and had less pale skin than those not given oxygen through the intestines. The experiment was repeated for pigs, and similar results were seen.

Why does this matter?

While many aquatic organisms like sea cucumbers are known to have evolved the ability to breathe through their intestines, it is under debate whether mammals have a similar ability. This study points more evidence towards the idea that mammals do indeed, to an extent, an ability to breathe this way. 

In the current state of the world with an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, lung ventilators have been in short supply, calling for a need for other methods to deliver oxygen. The scientists in this study hope to eventually transfer their results into the real world; perhaps we will see ventilation through the intestines as a life-saving clinical practice in the future. 

5. Beating miniature hearts grown in the lab

What happened?

Researchers describe in a paper published on May 20th the miniature heart organs they had successfully grown in a culture. Previously grown heart “miniorgans” could contract rhythmically, but they resembled lumps of cells rather than actual hearts. The hearts formed in this experiment had a clearly defined chamber, more closely resembling real hearts. 

How did it happen?

The scientists first coaxed human stem cells to differentiate into the three tissue layers of the heart wall. They then immersed the cells in different solutions of nutrients until they found the optimal recipe for miniature heart development. After a week of culturing, the miniorgans were “structurally equivalent to the heart of a 25-day-old embryo” and could beat rhythmically at 60-100 beats per minute.

Why does this matter?

Hearts have been one of the hardest organs for scientists to grow in the lab. There is still a long way to go before more adultlike hearts can be grown. However, the miniature hearts produced in this study could help answer many questions about heart development, such as why babies’ hearts, unlike adult hearts, suffer no permanent damage from heart attacks.

Wrapping Up:

  1. Scientists cut grooves into flat pasta, allowing it to become 3D after being boiled
  2. Sharks are added to the list of animals that can use Earth’s magnetic field to navigate
  3. Bats are born knowing the natural speed of sound, hinting that they may map the world in time units, not distance units
  4. Oxygen given to rodents and pigs through their intestines helps them survive low-oxygen conditions
  5. Miniature beating heart organs with a single chamber are grown in the lab

References:

https://www.sciencenews.org/article/pasta-noodles-cooked-morph-flat-bend-curly-shapes

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/05/sharks-use-earth-s-magnetic-field-navigate-seas

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/05/210505102018.htm

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/05/210514134205.htm

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2021/05/lab-grown-minihearts-beat-real-thing

About the Author

About the Author

Grace Jiang is currently a senior at Pine View School. She loves many things, the most notable of which being ice cream, harp seals, bubble tea, and (of course!) science. Definitely go contact her at grace@sciteens.org if you have any future article recommendations or just want to discuss life.