Worms Learn Better Drunk; NASA's Organic Mars Mystery

Discovered: Alcoholic maggots learn just as well as sober ones; a new theory in athletic head injuries; city spiders getting fatter; Curiosity found something on its first trip across Mars.

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Discovered: Inebriated maggots learn just as well as sober ones; one theory as to why boxers and soldiers tend to get CTE; city spiders getting fatter; Curiosity found organic material on Mars.

Maggots who drink heavily learn just fine, thank you very much. Alcoholic maggots trying to learn which odors correspond with a nasty shock don't have a drinking problem. Unless they can't get a drink. A paper published recently in Current Biology shows that in experimental settings, maggots that have been absorbing alcohol for 6 days or longer learn just as well as their sober peers, being able to learn to avoid a sweet-smelling odor that triggers a heat shock. At first, drunkenness decreased their ability to learn, but after a long bender, the absence of alcohol actually decreased their educational aptitude. [Science Now]

Hitting your head over and over might give you CTE. After studying brain samples from 85 deceased athletes, soldiers, and others who sustained many head injuries throughout their lives, researchers have found strong evidence suggesting that getting hit in the head repeatedly causes degenerative brain diseases. Nearly all of the samples showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), an incurable disease that causes depression, dementia, and memory troubles. The findings don't bode well for contact sports like football and hockey, where head injuries happen routinely. But study co-author Robert Cantu says that parents whose kids are in Pop Warner shouldn't panic over every concussion just yet. "All concussions are not created equal," he says. "Parents have become paranoid about concussions and connecting the dots with C.T.E., and that’s wrong. The dots are really about total head trauma." [The New York Times]

Curiosity scoops some organics, but don't call it life just yet. NASA's Curiosity rover has finished its first analysis of Martian soil, detecting some simple organic materials. But it will be a while until the research team is able to determine whether these carbon samples actually came from Mars and not from some meteorites and comets. But the cocktail of organic materials Curiosity has to sift through—including water, sulfur, and chlorinated methane gas—is exciting to project manager and Caltech geologist John Grotzinger. "When we look in the soil we see a bunch of chemicals in there," he says. [Wired]

Urban spiders are fat and happy. Urban humans might be more wiry and frazzled than their country counterparts, but the exact opposite is true of city spiders. With shelter to shield them from the elements and plenty of bugs to eat, urban spiders are bigger, warmer, and just generally have things easier than spiders in the wild. The University of Sydney's Lizzy Lowe, who led a study on this phenomenon, wants you to think twice before squishing that obese spider scurrying through your apartment. Since "Spiders eat flies, caterpillars and aphids, they are really good for urban environments,'' she says. ''If they're not in these environments then basically insects go crazy and over-eat vegetation and the whole ecosystem goes out of sync.' [Brisbane Times]

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