The Fastest Animal on Earth, Pig Heart Transplants, and a Speedy Star Cluster!


First up this week, a
new analysis is just out, our close cousins,
the Neanderthals, may actually have been our
intellectual and technological equals. The traditional
view of Neanderthals is that of a
dim-witted species that was out-competed by
our clever ancestors. But this new analysis
examined the top hypothesis for why our species beat
out the Neanderthals. After all, there is
evidence that we interacted and interbred with them, so why
did we succeed and they didn’t? Most of the ideas centered
around the inferiority of Neanderthals in
terms of cognition, technology, language,
and hunting. Now, what they
discovered is that there isn’t evidence to support
any of those explanations. There’s evidence
that Neanderthals hunted in groups, used
cliffs and other features of the landscape to
hunt large animals. This speaks to their ability to
effectively plan, communicate, and cooperate as a group. Other evidence of showing
that they ate wide variety foods, dismissing the idea
then narrow diet wiped them out as food sources changed. So why did they go extinct? Well, jury’s still out. Over in astronomy this week,
an enormous star cluster has been found to have been
hurled from the massive M87 galaxy. Astronomers have found
runaway stars before, but this is the first
time they’ve ever found a runaway star cluster. It’s called HPGC1 and it’s
moving at an astonishing 1,025 kilometers per second, the
fastest approach ever measured from an object not in orbit
around something else. If that’s not fast enough. HPGC1’s speed compared to the
galaxy that didn’t want it is over 2,300
kilometers per second. The researchers
admit they don’t know how this cluster came
to be moving so fast. They think that by far the
most likely explanation is a close interaction
with a third object. They speculate
that M87 may host, or may once have hosted, a
second super-massive black hole, along with
the one its half. A cluster of stars
that got caught in the gravitational whirlpool
of two interacting objects of such huge mass could
find itself ejected, which is exactly what
we’re seeing here. More in biology,
genetically modified pig to human heart transplants
could be on their way. A year ago pig hearts
were grafted into baboons. And this week, a
team reported they’re doing just fine, with
no signs of rejection. The biggest challenge with
transplants using animal organs is preventing the
host from seeing the donor parts as foreign. In the past, organs that
haven’t been genetically tweaked have lasted no more
than six months in primates before
they’ve been rejected. One of the reasons
pigs were chosen for this study is because
their anatomy is already so compatible with humans. Pig valves are already being
swapped for human heart valves. To further help pig parts
invade our immune systems, a team from the National
Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the US
National Institute of Health added several human
genes to the pig genome, while removing or
knocking out genes that would trigger immune
responses in humans. The modified pig
hearts were then transplanted into
abdomens of baboons, alongside their own hearts. The baboons were
treated with drugs that suppress their
immune systems. So far, the combination of donor
genetic modifications and host targeted immunosuppression
seems to work. Four xenografts have survived
in the baboons for over a year. This is already twice as long
as was previously reported. The next study is to actually
replace the original baboon heart with pig hearts to see
if they can provide a full life support. If successful, this
could save the lives of thousands of people who
die every year while waiting for a suitable organ donor. And finally, what’s the
fastest animal on earth? Well, adjusted for body size,
it’s actually this tiny mite. If we moved as quickly
as these guys do, extrapolated to
our size, we’d run at over 2,000
kilometers an hour. This is the Southern
California mite and running on concrete these
sesame-sized mites travel at an average speed of 192.4
body lengths per second, which is the measure of
speed relative to size. The peak speed was 322
body lengths per second. This easily exceeds the
highest documented speed for land animals. The Australian
tiger beetle which tops out at 171 body
lengths per second. Cheetahs, who’ve been
measured traveling at 96 kilometers per hour, are
still the worlds fastest land animal absolutely,
although they move at just 16 body
lengths per second. OK, guys, that’s it
for me this week. Don’t forget to subscribe. And I will see you next week.