The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top three news stories are icebergs, pain, and spiders, brought to you by Jake Howden.
Larsen C is a 5000 sq km iceberg waiting to happen. A rift across the Antarctic ice shelf has grown to 150km and only 20km of ice is holding the iceberg on the shelf. Once this happens, which is expected in late 2017, Larsen C will be free to float off from the Antarctic continent.This calving is a natural process that is part of the Antarctic cycle and is not necessarily driven by climate change. However, the ice shelf is holding back many Antarctic glaciers which could contribute to a sea level rise of up to 10 cm over the next 100 years, if global warming is not addressed. The ice shelf itself will not contribute to sea level rise as it is already effectively floating in the Antarctic ocean.
Researchers at Texas Tech University have found a potential new mechanism for pain relief. The protein Nav1.7 has long been associated with sensitivity to pain. When pain-sensing nerves are activated Nav1.7 increases the signal. Naturally, it has become a target for drug companies as a potential way to relieve pain. However, drugs have so far not lived up to expectations. The reason for this may have been uncovered by Texas Tech researchers whose experiments in mice and humans suggest that Nav1.7 is also responsible for producing pain reducing opioids. Therefore, drugs that shift the balance toward opiate production could reduce patients pain whilst minimising side-effects and drug desensitisation.
Sea spiders have been found to use their digestive tracts to aid in the pumping of blood around their bodies. Sea spiders are present throughout the world’s oceans, with an Antarctic species growing to the size of a dinner plate. As arthropods, they require oxygenated blood to be pumped around their body, however, their hearts aren’t fully up to the job. To compensate they use their digestive tracts, which are found inside their spindly legs, to pump oxygen absorbed from the water around their bodies. As the tiny chunks of jellyfish and sea slugs slosh about in their leg guts, it aids the flow of blood. The process of a trait with one function taking on another over the course of evolution is called exaptation and is suggested to happen in these spiders. Who knew spiders had hearts?!