from the world's big
The ocean is teeming with viruses — billions and billions of them
A new study has identified 12 times as many viral populations as previous research.
- New research suggests that there are nearly 200,000 different viral populations in the ocean.
- Surprisingly, the Arctic appears to be a viral hotspot.
- Viruses play an important role in the ocean's food chain and carbon cycle, making research such as this potentially valuable to future climate change work.
Bad news for thalassophobes; there's more than just sharks and giant squids lurking beneath the ocean's surface. New research published in Cell found that there are nearly 200,000 different viral populations swimming about the seas, and they tend to gather in some unexpected places, too.
What is a viral population?
Generally, scientists don't classify viruses into species since they evolve so quickly and because viruses aren't truly "alive," at least not in the biological sense. Instead, viruses are more readily classified into populations, or groups of discrete genetic lineages. So, 200,000 viral populations doesn't refer to 200,000 individual viruses; there's far more than that in the oceans. Even just a liter of seawater contains an estimated 100 billion individual viruses.
Not much work had been done on estimating the number of viral populations out there, especially not in the ocean. Using data collected by the Tara Oceans research vessel, this new study identified 12 times as many viral populations as previous research. To do so, the research team analyzed over 180 samples across the globe between 2009 and 2013.
What did they find?
This research identified some interesting features of the global distribution of viral populations in the ocean. First, they found five ecological zones across the planet's oceans where different populations of viruses tend to cluster: the Arctic; the Antarctic; and the temperate and tropical epipelagic, the mesopelagic, and the bathypelagic. These last three zones correspond to depths of 0–150 meters, 150–1,000 meters, and deeper than 2,000 meters, respectively. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that different populations of viruses grouped together depending upon a zone's temperature, the reason being that their hosts — microbial life — thrived at different temperatures.
The temperate and tropical epipelagic zone was shown to be something of a viral hotspot. This area had significantly more diversity in its viral populations than other areas. Surprisingly, the Arctic also had highly diverse viral populations. This is in contrast to the pattern found for larger organisms; diversity tends to be highest at the equator and then diminish as you move closer to the poles.
These two zones, too, seemed to have exclusive populations of viruses — that is, the virus populations found in these hotspots didn't appear elsewhere. In contrast, the Antarctic and bathypelagic zones contained viruses that were often found in other zones, suggesting that more viruses were migrating to these areas from elsewhere than were reproducing in these zones.
The importance of the study
In many ways, viruses shape the entire food chain. The vast majority of life in the oceans consists of microbial life, which in turn act as nutrient sources for many plants and animals in the oceans. Viruses primarily prey upon these microbes and shape their populations, making it critical to understand how many viral groups there are, how diverse they are, and where we can find them.
But this research could be turned to an even more practical use. In an interview with CNN, microbiologist and study author Matthew Sullivan claims that this knowledge "helps us do a lot of the things we'd be interested in to better understand the ocean and, I hate to say it, but maybe to have to engineer the ocean at some point to combat climate change."
Sullivan suggested that by manipulating viral genomes, we could encourage viruses to suck up carbon dioxide in the air for sequestration deep beneath the ocean's surface. But before this and related work can be done, scientists need to have a solid understanding of the diversity and distribution of our ocean's viruses.
Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think.
Women today are founding more businesses than ever. In 2018, they made up 40% of new entrepreneurs, yet in that same year, they received just 2.2% of all venture capital investment. The playing field is off-balance. So what can women do?
In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
Parental anxieties stem from the complex relationship between technology, child development, and the internet's trove of unseemly content.