Discovered: One in three ocean species remain unknown to science; biofuels could be worse in a spill than oil; robots powered by rat heart cells; katydids have human-like ears below their knees.
One third of sea life eludes science. Here's a fun factoid to drop should you ever find yourself at a nerd-friendly cocktail party: Scientists currently know more about certain parts of the Solar System than they do about the depths of Earth's own ocean. And now, thanks to an international effort to create a registry of all the ocean's fauna, we have hard data on just how much we still have to discover. Scientists working on the World Register of Marine Species estimate that of the million seas species, we have yet to discover a whopping one in three types of underwater organism. "It's the best job ever of tallying everything we know - and what we don't know - about life in the oceans today," says Stanford's Stephen Palumbi. "It's the first time anyone's done this kind of dirty work that's so important with the world's oceans facing a biodiversity crisis." [San Francisco Chronicle]
Biofuels could do more damage in a spill than oil. No one has to be reminded about the incredible damage oil spills do to the environment, least of all BP, who'll have to pony up a record $4.5 billion as a result of their Deepwater Horizon spill. But spills could actually get worse if we switch to biofuels, according to research from the University of Michigan. Ethanols may be more sustainable than conventional oil, but they more actively bind with water, making biofuel spills potentially more harmful to underwater life and ecosystems. "Ethanol / gasoline blends are often presented as more environmentally benign than pure gasoline, but there is, in fact, little scientific research into the effects these blends could have on the health of surface waters," says researcher Avery Demond. [American Institute of Physics]
Robo-rat. If you're skittish over regular rats, then the though of half-rodent, half-machine cyborg variants of these pests likely gives you a double dose of the willies. Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign haven't quite created a Terminatoresque robo rat just yet, but they took one step in that direction with their walking "bio-bots" that are powered by a thin strip of rat heart cells. "Our goal is to see if we can get this thing to move toward chemical gradients, so we could eventually design something that can look for a specific toxin and then try to neutralise it," says lead researcher Rashid Bashir. "Now you can think about a sensor that's moving and constantly sampling and doing something useful, in medicine and the environment." [BBC News]
Katydids have amazing ears, but in a weird location. How would engineers design a set of headphones if our ears were instead located on our shins? For that matter, what would we call this device if it didn't belong on our heads? Legphones? Anyways, the University of Bristol's Daniel Robert has been studying rainforest katydids, who have ears located below their knees. But that's not what's so remarkable about these organs. Robert found that katydids are the only known invertebrate to have mammal-like hearing involving three-stages of sound perception. 'The beauty about the katydid ear is that it does the same job in a way that is much simpler," he says of these tiny, but very human-like hearing channels. [ScienceNews]