Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Are Kangaroo Farts Eco-Friendly?

In the latest issue of Fisher Science Education's Headline Discoveries, Samba Lampich goes where few will go: farts. That's right, Lampich talks about the off-putting pungent smells that normally linger much longer than you'd want them to whether they come from a pet or a loved one. 

What we didn't expect to encounter as we made our way through Lampich's smelly piece, though, was that unlike other ruminants, kangaroo farts have been known to contain about 80% less methane than cows. Methane is the most potent of greenhouse gases (GHG) and according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the total emission from global livestock is 7.1 Gigatonnes of CO2  equivalent per year, which represents 14.5% of all anthropogenic GEG emissions. That being said, the amount of methane in kangaroo farts (or lack there of, for that matter) is impressive.

Lampich talks about microbiologist Scott Godwin of Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in Brisbane, Austrailia, and his colleagues, who investigated the microbes in kangaroos' digestive tracts and published their findings in the March 13 issue of The ISME Journal. 

While most animals create carbon dioxide and hydrogen when they digest their food, animals like cows and sheep have microbes in their guts called methanogens that create methane. After looking at three wild eastern gray kangaroos, Godwin and his team found some methane-making microbes in the kangaroos' samples, but they also found  other active microbes including acetogens. These microbes take in carbon dioxide and hydrogen to produce acetate, which becomes a source of energy for the kangaroos.

Now that researchers know why kangaroos produce less methane, they need to figure out if implanting kangaroo microbes, which included the acetogens, into livestock would reduce their methane production. This would help reduce global warming!

Check out Lampich's full article, complete with a vocabulary list and factoids, along with the rest of the most recent issue of Headline Discoveries here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In Honor of Shark Week: Science & Sharks!

It's that time of year again: shark week has dawned on the Discovery Channel and millions are tuning in every night to watch real-life Jaws survival stories and the tale of Megalodon. But what if everything they showed on Discovery Channel wasn't true? Ed Yong of National Geographic certainly doesn't believe that the prehistoric Megalodon that enchanted so many early in the week is true.

He said in an article published on National Geographic's website earlier today, "...the show was filled with lies, fabrications and actors playing scientists."

But if Megalodon isn't real, what is?! Here are some great shark facts that Yong brought to the table.
  • Thresher Sharks Hunt with Huge Weapon-like Tails: Though most sharks are most dangerous at their front end, thresher sharks are the exception. These guys have managed to weaponise their tails, making them deadly from the front or the back. Even worse, the top halves of their scythe-like tail fins are so enormous they can be as long as the rest of the shark!
  • Shark Dads Lose Babies to Unborn Cannibal Siblings: Inside its mothers' womb, an unborn tiger shark is busy devouring its brothers and sisters. It's just 10 centimeters long, but it already has well-developed eyes and a set of sharp teeth, which it turns against its smaller siblings. By the time the pregnant female gives birth, she only has two babies left - one in each of its two wombs. I guess the life of a tiger shark is a shark-eat-shark world - literally.
  • Prehistoric Great White Shark Had Strongest Bite in History: While the toothy jaws of the great white might be the most famous in the animal kingdom thanks to Hollywood, the great white's mouth has received very little experimental attention. Just recently, Stephen Wroe from the University of New South Wales has put the great white's skull through a digital crash-test, to work out just how powerful its bite was. A medium-sized great white, 2.5m in length and 240kg, could bite with a force of 0.3 tonnes. But the largest individuals can exert a massive 1.8 tonnes with their jaws, giving them one of the most powerful bites among any living animal. Cue the scary Jaws music...!
To read even more "actual facts" from Yong, check out his full article.