Life Found Under Ice in Antarctica

Discovered: Oxygen-dependent lifeforms in the harshest of conditions; how owls twist their necks like that; the flu came early this year because of a warm winter; cats and humans are very alike (when it comes to a form of epilepsy). 

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Discovered: Life in Antarctic ice; how owls twist their necks like that; the flu came early this year because of a warm winter; cats and humans are very alike (when it comes to a form of epilepsy). 

Life where you'd least expect it. The frigid climes of water below the Antarctic ice sheet don't sound like the most hospitable of conditions, but researchers have indeed found cells containing DNA there. A U.S. research team based in Antarctica pulled up the simple, oxygen-dependent lifeforms earlier this week in Lake Whillans. They've been there for 100,000 years, the scientist estimate, concluding a hunt for microbial life in Antarctic lakes that began in 1996. "This is a big deal—and exciting," comments University of Bristol glaciologist Martin Siegert, because this finding is "the first clean access to a subglacial lake system." [Science News]

Science explains why owls can tilt their heads so much. Have you ever wondered why owls tilt their heads so far to the side? No, it's not because they're judging you. It's because they can't move their eyes, so they have to move their head from side to side to gain different perspectives. And now, thanks to researchers at Johns Hopkins, we know how they're able to turn at such dramatic angles. They dissected dead owls, noticing that their vertebrates are full of big holes to allow great flexibility and cushioning. Plus, the arteries in owl jaws can expand and arterial pathways to the brain are malleable. A note for all you nerds nostalgic for science fair dioramas—the team of researchers won first prize in the NSF/Science visualization challenge for their poster illustrating this research. [Discover]

Speaking of research about cute animals... The Internet loves anthropomorphizing cats. And according to this new study led by Akos Pakozdy of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, they have at least one cause to believe that cats and humans share a deep connection. Researchers found that cats can suffer from epilepsy brought on by misdirected immune responses, mirroring a form of epilepsy detected in humans.  Pakodzdy's research shows that "limbic encephalitis in cats has the same cause as it does in humans, where the origins have been known for years ... We believe this will dramatically increase the chances of a successful treatment. It seems as though epileptic cats might benefit from treatment with immune preparations." [University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna]

The flu is spreading early this year because of an unseasonably warm winter. What brought on this year's "flu epidemic" so early? According to a study recently published in PLOS Currents: Influenza, the onset could be due to a warmer-than-usual winter. By studying flu patterns in concord with weather conditions going back more than a decade, epidemiologists found that hotter climates during the winter months promote greater incidence of flu. "The reason why [the current influenza outbreak] is getting so much attention is that it started really early, which really speaks to the susceptibility in the population," says Columbia University's Jeffrey Shaman. But he argues that predicting the flu based on weather conditions is still a long ways off: "We have a ton of work left to do. These forecasts are in their infancy." [Scientific American]

Inset image: jjay69 via Flickr

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.