Fuels created with carbon dioxide, solar energy and modified cyanobacteria

Fossil fuels could soon be replaced by a product made with solar energy, carbon dioxide and water: this is the purpose undertaken by a group of researchers from the University of Uppsala, Sweden.

The process involves the use of appropriately modified cyanobacteria, thanks to which it is possible to produce butanol using solar energy but without resorting to solar cells. The sector related to the use of modified bacteria to produce different chemicals using carbon dioxide and solar energy is emerging more and more powerfully and more and more laboratories around the world are experimenting with new methods and new combinations to make the process more and more efficient.

Even the same production of butanol with this process had already been identified by past research but in the study carried out by the researchers of the Swedish Institute the production, according to the same statement published on the website of the Swedish University, is significantly higher.

Butanol can be used as a fuel, for example for traveling vehicles, and is considered a fourth-generation biofuel. It is a carbon-neutral fuel whose creation is totally sustainable since only solar energy, carbon dioxide and water are needed.

The procedure uses cyanobacteria, the most efficient photosynthetic organisms, to capture the energy of the sun.


Bats use leaves as “mirrors” to understand the presence of resting insects

Bats have a particular localization system that involves sight and hearing to understand, even in darkness, the position of obstacles and even prey, and this is a well-known thing. However, a new study, published in Current Biology, shows how sensitive these animals are through their echolocation system.

Capturing insects and intercepting them in the dark is an impossible task for many, but not for bats. The experiments that the scientists of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) have conducted, in fact, show that bats are able to trace even acoustically camouflaged prey, that is to say silent prey on the leaves.

Bats are able to hunt these insects thanks to a sort of sixth sense: they flood the surrounding area with sound waves and then use the return echoes to navigate through the environments. However, they also do this with regard to objects of limited extension such as the leaves: the latter reflect the signals and if the latter is a little weaker because there is an insect resting on the bats they can recognize the difference. And this also in a tropical forest, in the thick foliage that characterizes this environment.

Scientists have discovered that if the sound bouncing off the leaves comes from oblique angles greater than 30 degrees, the leaves themselves can behave like “mirrors” like a lake reflects the surrounding forest at dusk at dawn. This means, according to the researchers, that the same angle of approach makes the insect at rest detectable. Therefore the same researchers have deduced that the bats tend to approach the insects that rest on the leaves through angles comprised between 42 and 78 degrees, considered optimal angles to discern the same presence of the insect on the leaf.


Carnivorous ancestor of today’s short-tailed opossum identified

The short-tailed possums, a genus of marsupials classified as Monodelphis of which today there are 24 species, are fairly peaceful animals, slightly larger than a mouse, widespread especially in South America.

Now a new study, published in the Journal of Mammalian Evolution, confirms the existence of a ferocious direct relative of this animal that lived about 4 million years ago in the same areas of South America. We speak of Sparassocynus, a carnivorous relative of Monodelphis, whose remains have been found for more than a century even if its evolution has never been well studied, at least until this new study.

The research, conducted by Robin Beck, a researcher at the University of Salford, and by Matías Taglioretti, a paleontologist at the Museo Municipal de Ciencias Naturales “Lorenzo Scaglia” in Argentina, has identified several proofs that Sparassocynus is one of the ancestors of the today’s short-tailed opossums. In particular the scientists analyzed the remains of the skull, remains found near some cliffs along the Atlantic coast of Argentina.

It is an individual not fully grown as it still has traces of milk teeth. The researchers analyzed different characteristics comparing them with the evidence taken from the DNA of today’s short-tailed opossums and showed that this animal is closely related to today’s short-quota opossums. It was a carnivore that probably ate other rodents and small vertebrates and was larger than today’s short-tailed opossums about five times.

Today’s opossums are much more “quiet” animals and eat only small insects. The Sparassocynus survived in areas of South America up to 2.5 million years ago and is possibly extinct due to the arrival of the weasels from North America.