Friday, May 15, 2015

Fire Ant Engineering and Bungee Nerves

The last I heard, Rubenstein's robot swarm was pretty good at forming different shapes: but not much else. (August 22, 2014)

What we're learning about how fire ants build their nests may change that. Scientists discovered that the pests use different excavating techniques, depending on what sort of soil they're in.

Other scientists found stretchy nerves in rorqual whales. The nerves are made from the same stuff found in other animals — what makes them stretchy is how the nerve fibers fold up.
  1. Fire Ants: Adaptable Invaders
  2. Gulping Whales, Stretchy Nerves
Looking up rorqual whales and baleen encouraged a (very brief) tangent on evolution. I figure I'd better review why I don't argue with the Almighty about this world's development: and don't fear a robot revolution.

"The Beauty of the Universe"

If I believed that the universe began at nightfall, October 22, 4004 BC — I could still be a Christian.

That's not how the universe is, though.

Insisting that God conforms to our assumptions doesn't make sense. Accepting reality does. (March 29, 2015)

At its core, my faith is fairly simple. The Apostles Creed starts with "I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth...."

The Nicene Creed's "all that is, seen and unseen," doesn't leave much wiggle room: if any. God created everything. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 325-327)

A bit later, there's a discussion of what we can learn by paying attention to this world:
"The beauty of the universe: The order and harmony of the created world results from the diversity of beings and from the relationships which exist among them. Man discovers them progressively as the laws of nature. They call forth the admiration of scholars. The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator and ought to inspire the respect and submission of man's intellect and will."
(Catechism, 341)
Ignoring the beauty and wonders around us is an option. We decide what we do or don't do. (Catechism, 311, 1704)

But I'd much rather take what we're learning about this world as an opportunity for "greater admiration" of God's greatness. (Catechism, 283)

Besides, like I keep saying, studying this universe and developing new technology is part of being human. It's what we do. (Catechism, 2293-2295)

A Good Thing

Change happens. That's a good thing, since otherwise Genesis 3:1-19 would leave us with no hope. We'd be stuck in a broken world.

Happily, we live in a universe that's in a "state of journeying" toward an ultimate perfection. (Catechism, 302)

We've learned that folks who made the first tools didn't look like Albrecht Dürer's 1504 engraving. That's okay.

I've seen enough old family photos to realize that our ancestors didn't look exactly like us. After some 2,5000,000-plus years, it'd be astonishing if we hadn't changed. (July 15, 2014)

No matter how we look, we're made in the image of God, male and female. Each of us is a person: not something, but someone; made from the stuff of this world, and filled with God's 'breath:' matter and spirit, body and soul. (Genesis 2:7; Catechism, 355, 357, 362-368)

Learning more about the 'clay' God used isn't a problem. Not for me. (December 5, 2014; February 23, 2014)

Stone Tools, Bessemer Steel, and Robots

We've been developing new tech since day one. What's changed is how fast it's changing.

We'd used stone choppers for about 2,600,000 years before inventing today's mezzalunas.

Bessemer's mass-produced steel predates nylon by less than a century.

The first working personal rapid transit system opened 29 years before a maglev train began serving the Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

Small wonder some folks are a tad unsettled. (January 30, 2015; April 12, 2013)

I like living in "the future" — partly because I remember the "good old days." (January 23, 2015; August 29, 2014)

I was going somewhere with this. Where was it? Olduvai Gorge, Shen Kuo, personal rapid transit. Got it.

Real robots aren't much like their fictional counterparts: and most likely won't be for a very long time, if ever. I've discussed Talos, The Phantom Creeps, and getting a grip, before. (August 22, 2014)

One of the best, and funniest, discussions of robots and technophobia I've seen is XKCD's "Robot Apocalypse:"
"...Here are a few snapshots of what an actual robot apocalypse might look like:

"In labs everywhere, experimental robots would leap up from lab benches in a murderous rage, locate the door, and—with a tremendous crash—plow into it and fall over.

"Those robots lucky enough to have limbs that can operate a doorknob, or to have the door left open for them, would have to contend with deceptively tricky rubber thresholds before they could get into the hallway.

"Hours later, most of them would be found in nearby bathrooms, trying desperately to exterminate what they have identified as a human overlord but is actually a paper towel dispenser...."
("Robot Apocalypse," What If?
Then there's Rotwang's Maschinenmensch, and that's another topic. (August 15, 2014)

1. Fire Ants: Adaptable Invaders

(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("Invasive fire ants have dug in soils across different continents to establish their colonies"
(BBC News))
"Invasive ants are extreme excavators"
Victoria Gill, BBC News (May 7, 2015)

"Researchers in the US have revealed a secret of the success of invasive fire ants - they can excavate any type of soil.

"Three-dimensional scanning revealed that the insects were able to build their complex nests regardless of the size of grains they needed to move.

"The ants also changed their excavation techniques depending on the type of soil in which they were digging...."
Quite a few species of ants are called "fire ants." This particular sort is Solenopsis invicta, called the red imported fire ant, or RIFA, in America. They're originally from the upper Amazon: like the intelligent, tool-using, ants in H. G. Wells' "Empire of the Ants."

These little critters don't need tools. Put them on soil — real or simulated — with more than 5% moisture content, and they start excavating a nest. What they do, and what sort of nest they build, depends on the soil.

These scientists put their ants on "soil" made of tiny glass beads: which photograph nicely, and probably make it easier for researchers to tell the ants from the soil.

"Inventiveness" and Ant Engineers

(From Laura Dantelle Wagner, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Filming ants in 'soil' made of glass beads let scientists study their tunneling techniques.)
"...This very visual experiment showed that the ants had two distinct excavation methods.

"In the coarse beads, they would grasp a single particle and shuffle backward up the tunnel, dragging it with them.

"But in the smaller beads - imitating finer soil - the ants grasped and compressed multiple grains into a pellet, while bracing themselves against the sides of the tunnel with their legs.

"They then gathered their pellet, turned and marched upward.

"Prof Goldman said he was most surprised by the ants' inventiveness, moulding these pellets - that were always the same size - like snowballs, using their forelimbs, jaws and even using their antennae.

" 'It is just mind blowing how they can dig so well,' he said. ..."
(Victoria Gill, BBC News)
I'm about as sure as I can be that these ants aren't people: so words like "inventiveness" don't quite apply. I'm also pretty sure that tying myself in linguistic knots, avoiding anthropomorphisms, isn't worth the effort. (April 24, 2015)

As is, they've become serious pests in Australia, the Caribbean, several southern Chinese provinces, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the southern United States. Since their colonies won't survive temperatures below 16 ° Fahrenheit, -9 ° Centigrade, they're not a problem here in Minnesota.

RIFAs are more than a nuisance. Americans, for example, spend upwards of $5,000,000,000 each year, dealing with assorted RIFA-related medical treatment and property damage.

Pesticides will, eventually, kill RIFAs: but generally do more harm than good. It looks like planting colonies of raspberry crazy ants ahead of RIFAs would stop their spread, which reminds me of "There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly," and I'm drifting off-topic.

Georgia Institute of Technology's Daniel I. Goldman said that studying these fire ants may help us design search and rescue robots. If researchers learn how fire ants organize themselves, making nests in different soils, that knowledge should help develop programs for robot swarms like Harvard's Kilobots. (August 22, 2014)

A swarm of robots with ant-like programming could safely explore and excavate complex, unstable, environments like collapsed buildings. At least, that's the idea.

(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(Harvard's Kilobots: a swarm of 1,024 low-cost robots. (August 22, 2014))


2. Gulping Whales, Stretchy Nerves

(From SPL/Science Photo Library, via BBC News; used w/o permission.)
("The rorqual family of whales includes some of the biggest animals alive"
(BBC News))
"Big whales have stretchy nerves to help them gulp"
Jonathan Webb, BBC News (May 5, 2015)

"Scientists have stumbled upon one of the secrets behind the big gulps of the world's biggest whales: the nerves in their jaws are stretchy.

"Rorquals, a family that includes blue and humpback whales, feed by engulfing huge volumes of water and food, sometimes bigger than themselves.

"Researchers made the discovery by inadvertently stretching a thick cable they found in the jaw of a fin whale.

"Most nerves are fragile and inelastic, so this find is a first in vertebrates...."
Rorqual whales are one variety of baleen whale, big filter-feeding mammals with no teeth. They're really big. The blue whale, weighing around 200 tons, is the heaviest animal we know of.

Baleen is made of keratin, stuff that helps make our fingernails, hair, and tongue durable. It's what baleen whales use instead of teeth.

Ancestors of today's baleen whales had baleen and teeth. Scientists are still working out how these whales evolved; which isn't easy, since how an animal acts isn't fossilized: apart from fossil footprints and the like.

Whatever the process was, these whales have the MMP20 gene for growing keratin, just like we do. As I've said before, life is very modular at the subcellular level. (March 6, 2015; December 26, 2014)

The oldest fossilized baleen is about 15,000,000 years old, but scientists are pretty sure it showed up 30,000,000 years ago. Baleen doesn't fossilize well: but whale skulls that old have a loose lower jaw and reinforced upper jaw, like today's models.

Earth's ocean had been changing, as usual. When the Drake Passage opened, about 41,000,000 million years back, an ice cap started forming on Antarctica: and that's yet another topic.

(From Blakey, Paleographic Library, used w/o permission.)
(Earth in the Priabonian, 35,000,000 years back.)

Bungee Nerves

(From Vogel et al./Current Biology, via BBC News; used w/o permission.)
("The thick, stretchy nerves were a big surprise to the research team"
(BBC News))
"...It was Prof Vogl's co-author Robert Shadwick, a zoologist at the same university, who sparked the serendipitous discovery.

" 'We were looking at the muscle in the floor of the mouth and there were these long white cords,' Prof Vogl told the BBC. 'Bob picked one up - about 3ft of it - grabbed each end and stretched it. He turned to me and said, "Hey, look at this!"

" 'We thought it was a blood vessel.'

"This thick, white cord could stretch to twice its length and repeatedly sprang back to its original size. But when the team cut it open, it did not have a hollow inside like a blood vessel; instead there was a small, yellowish core running through the middle.

" 'I realised this was a nerve, and it was very different from any other nerve I've ever seen,' Prof Vogl said...."
(Jonathan Webb, BBC News)
Stretching a nerve often results in serious injury. Mr. Webb's article says that "where flexibility and a lot of movement are required, most animals simply have nerves that are a good safe length, with extra slack to be taken up if needed."

These whale nerves are bundles of axons — a neuron's long, fragile, projection — like every other vertebrate's.
"...'They've used building blocks that are present in other animals but they've used them in different ways to produce this stretchy nerve,' Dr Vogl explained...."
(Jonathan Webb, BBC News)
I found a pretty good description of how these 'bungee nerves' work on Stanford's website:
"...The nerve fibers are concentrated in the core of the nerve, arranged in simple folds, and wrapped in a layer of very thick elastin and collagen. The researchers suggest that when the whale begins its lunge, the fibers unfold and stretch quickly, with the collagen sleeve eventually functioning as a 'check ligament' to prevent overstretching. As the oral cavity returns to its pre-lunge size, the elastin acts to recoil the nerve into a folded bundle...."
("Bjorn Carey"
Bjorn Carey, Stanford Report)
In other words, nerve fibers, packed in the nerve's elastin and collagen core, unfold as the nerve stretches. Elastin is a very elastic protein. Rope-like collagen fibers unwind: but only so far. Then they'll keep the nerve from overstretching.

That's a good thing for rorqual whales, since they take in enormous volumes of water when feeding.

(From Thinstock, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
("Some rorqual whales can gulp more than their own volume into their balloon-like mouths"
(BBC News))

A few years ago, scientists found an apparently-unique sensory organ in the chins of rorqual whales. And that's yet again another topic.

(Art by Carl Buell, arranged by Nicholas D. Pyenson / Smithsonian Institution; used w/o permission.)
("A new sensory organ, found within the chin of rorqual whales, is responsible for coordinating the biomechanics of their extreme lunge-feeding strategy. Left, a fin whale after lunging; right, anatomy of the new sensory organ."
(Pyenson Lab))

More posts about:

No comments:

Like it? Pin it, Plus it, - - -

Pinterest: My Stuff, and More


Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle Store

Popular Posts

Label Cloud

1277 abortion ADD ADHD-Inattentive Adoration Chapel Advent Afghanistan Africa America Amoris Laetitia angels animals annulment Annunciation anti-catholicism Antichrist apocalyptic ideas apparitions archaeology architecture Arianism art Asperger syndrome assumptions asteroid astronomy Australia authority balance and moderation baptism being Catholic beliefs bias Bible Bible and Catechism bioethics biology blogs brain Brazil business Canada capital punishment Caritas in Veritate Catechism Catholic Church Catholic counter-culture Catholicism change happens charisms charity Chile China Christianity Christmas citizenship climate change climatology cloning comets common good common sense Communion community compassion confirmation conscience conversion Corpus Christi cosmology creation credibility crime crucifix Crucifixion Cuba culture dance dark night of the soul death depression designer babies despair detachment devotion discipline disease diversity divination Divine Mercy divorce Docetism domestic church dualism duty Easter economics education elections emotions England entertainment environmental issues Epiphany Establishment Clause ethics ethnicity Eucharist eugenics Europe evangelizing evolution exobiology exoplanets exorcism extremophiles faith faith and works family Father's Day Faust Faustus fear of the Lord fiction Final Judgment First Amendment forgiveness Fortnight For Freedom free will freedom fun genetics genocide geoengineering geology getting a grip global Gnosticism God God's will good judgment government gratitude great commission guest post guilt Haiti Halloween happiness hate health Heaven Hell HHS hierarchy history holidays Holy Family Holy See Holy Spirit holy water home schooling hope humility humor hypocrisy idolatry image of God images Immaculate Conception immigrants in the news Incarnation Independence Day India information technology Internet Iraq Ireland Israel Italy Japan Jesus John Paul II joy just war justice Kansas Kenya Knights of Columbus knowledge Korea language Last Judgment last things law learning Lent Lenten Chaplet life issues love magi magic Magisterium Manichaeism marriage martyrs Mary Mass materialism media medicine meditation Memorial Day mercy meteor meteorology Mexico Minnesota miracles Missouri moderation modesty Monophysitism Mother Teresa of Calcutta Mother's Day movies music Muslims myth natural law neighbor Nestorianism New Year's Eve New Zealand news Nietzsche obedience Oceania organization original sin paleontology parish Parousia penance penitence Pentecost Philippines physical disability physics pilgrimage politics Pope Pope in Germany 2011 population growth positive law poverty prayer predestination presumption pride priests prophets prostitution Providence Purgatory purpose quantum entanglement quotes reason redemption reflections relics religion religious freedom repentance Resurrection robots Roman Missal Third Edition rosaries rules sacramentals Sacraments Saints salvation schools science secondary causes SETI sex shrines sin slavery social justice solar planets soul South Sudan space aliens space exploration Spain spirituality stem cell research stereotypes stewardship stories storm Sudan suicide Sunday obligation superstition symbols technology temptation terraforming the establishment the human condition tolerance Tradition traffic Transfiguration Transubstantiation travel Trinity trust truth uncertainty United Kingdom universal destination of goods vacation Vatican Vatican II veneration vengeance Veterans Day videos virtue vlog vocations voting war warp drive theory wealth weather wisdom within reason work worship writing

Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.