Weird science in 2018 included researchers getting octopuses high on ecstasy, a billionaire who shot his car into space, scientists who injected memories between sea snails, and a petition to drink the mummy juice found in a 2000-year-old sarcophagus.
The Australian Science Media Centre has picked its top 10 weird science stories of 2018:
Solitary, asocial octopus — Octopus bimaculoides — got all touchy-feely when US scientists gave them MDMA, known as ecstasy. The lephalopods spent more time socialising and even went for an eight-armed hug. This behaviour was caused by serotonin, the neurotransmitter that floods our own brains when we take ecstasy, says the researchers who wanted to show that octopuses and humans have the same system to control social behaviour.
The launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket went off without a hitch in February. Billionaire Elon Musk strapped his Tesla Roadster car to the rocket’s second stage. The sports car, manned by a dummy driver in a spacesuit dubbed Starman, had a friendly reminder “Don’t panic!” stamped on the dashboard. SpaceX aimed the car at Mars, proving its rockets are capable of delivering payloads to the red planet.
Research found that people infected with a parasite found in feline faeces called Toxoplasma gondii are more entrepreneurial and less fearful of failure when launching a new business. The parasite infects an estimated 2 billion people worldwide and has previously been linked to a host of behaviours, from wreckless driving to suicide. The scientists showed that, in countries such as Australia with low rates of T. gondii, fewer people intend to start their own business.
Never suppress a sneeze. A British man managed to rip a hole in his throat while attempting to hold one in by pinching his nose and clamping his mouth shut. The sneeze suppressor ruptured the soft tissue at the back of his throat, leaving him barely able to speak or swallow, and in considerable pain. He made a full recovery after spending time in hospital.
A festering red liquid was found by archaeologists when they cracked open an Ancient Egyptian sarcophagus and some people petitioned the Egyptian authorities to allow them to drink it. A Change.org petition was set up asking to “let people drink the red liquid from the dark sarcophagus”, a petition that has attracted more than 34,000 signatures so far, despite expert assertions that the liquid is mainly sewage. The gigantic, 2000-year-old sarcophagus was unearthed in Alexandria and was found buried with a giant white alabaster head, leading some to speculate that opening it could unleash a mummy’s curse. On opening it, researchers found three mummies stewing in a red liquid, and Egyptian archaeologist Mostafa Waziri told the press: “The sarcophagus has been opened, but we have not been hit by a curse.”
A study into the sex life of the southern hairy-nosed wombat revealed a penchant for bum biting. The researchers found that females pee less, pace more and bite males on the bum more often during their most fertile phase. Other research also put wombats in the news. US scientists attempted to answer: How do wombats poop cubes? The researchers said wombats have especially stretchy insides, allowing neat cubes to form. This allows the short-sighted marsupials to stack their business high as a signal to other wombats.
US scientists said they’d successfully transferred memories between two sea snails by injecting genetic material called RNA from a trained snail into an untrained animal. The trained snail (Aplysia californica) had been sensitised to having its tail shocked with electricity, triggering an involuntary defensive reflex. When RNA was removed from the trained snail and injected into another, untrained, snail, it reacted to a tail-tazing in the same way, and brain cells associated with the reflex action were activated. The researchers said their findings support recent theories suggesting memory storage may involve changes in gene activity induced by RNA.
Could Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic genius all come down to his wonky eye? That was the theory put forward by a UK researcher in October. His analysis of six pictures and sculptures portraying the great artist and inventor suggested Leonardo may have had a condition called exotropia, a misalignment of the eyes that causes them to look outward (the opposite of being cross-eyed). This could have given him the ability to suppress the vision from one eye, leading to an extraordinary ability to depict three-dimensional reality on a two-dimensional canvas, and perhaps explains why his landscapes have such depth. Leonardo is not the first celebrated artist thought to have suffered from eye misalignment. Rembrandt, Degas and Picasso are believed to have had wonky eyes too.
Remember the dress that split the world into “gold and white” or “blue and black” camps back in 2016? May 2018 brought its own equivalent when an audio clip of a single word which sounded like “Yanny” to some web users, but like “Laurel” to many others. Experts explained that what we hear comes down to how our hearing degrades as we age, which makes it harder for older people to pick up high frequency sounds. Younger people with intact high frequency hearing were more likely to hear “Yanny”, while older people were more likely to hear “Laurel”, because the recorded clip, which was a simulated rather than a real voice, was made up of both high and low frequency sound.
Bouncing Mexican soccer fans caused enough ruckus to trigger sensitive earthquake detectors at two locations in Mexico City during their team’s World Cup match against reigning champions Germany. The triumphant tremors, labelled artificial quakes by Mexico’s Institute of Geological and Atmospheric Investigations, were picked up in the game’s 35th minute, when winger Hirving Lozano scored a goal. Mexico went on to beat Germany 1-0. France eventually won the cup.
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