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FACT: Rats can’t vomit, and rat poison (probably) can’t kill you unless it’s old.
Here’s the thing: Rats can’t vomit. Rodents, as a rule, do not vomit. This is why most rat poisons available contain chemicals that induce vomiting; The urge to yawn will technically keep most people and pets from accidentally getting a dose of pesticides, but a rat won’t.
Vomiting is a very common evolutionary tactic, and that’s what makes a lot of sense. When toxins enter our body, our body tries to push them out. It’s simple! It’s elegant! It’s disgusting! It works! And rodents just…don’t do it. Instead they have a super intense gag reflex. When rodents taste something unfamiliar or suspicious, they reflexively and definitively spit it out right away. Blech!
Now that people have understood this amazing biological feature, we have begun to use it to our advantage in the laboratory. Scientists are always trying to improve the study of nausea –just look at the sick robots they designed throw pieces on command – because our species’ tendency to vomit can have dire consequences. During chemotherapy, for example, the common inability to keep food down can seriously affect a patient’s chances of recovery. The mechanisms that make us more or less likely to vomit also remain somewhat mysterious: some cannabis users, for example, suffer from severe nausea after smokingeven though cannabinoids are often used to make another people less nauseous The fact that rats reliably regurgitate, but never regurgitate,making them an ideal model organism for the study of nausea. Scientists can experiment with different ways to mitigate the urge to purge without having piles of vomit all over the labs.
Let’s get back to the fact that rat poison is designed to be used against their evolutionary rodent cunning. If you’re wondering why rodenticide still appears in fiction as a tool to commit murder, it’s because we made pesticides out of obscenely toxic substances. A century ago, ingesting a household pesticide –or even touch it without gloves, in some cases– can kill you. While it’s still good to avoid direct contact with pesticides, and it’s important to keep them away from small children and pets, we’ve fortunately discovered pest control compounds that are less likely to harm us in small doses than to destroy mice and rats. Also, now that we know rats can’t vomit, adding emetics has become a common tactic to make rodenticides safer.
Fact: The James Webb Space Telescope is the most powerful telescope ever built
JWST is a ground-breaking space observatory that was launched last Christmas and is now in orbit millions of miles from Earth. It is designed to look deeper into the universe than we have seen before. Gazing into space is also a chance to look into the past, because light takes a very long time to reach us, so if we see something a million light years away, that’s what it looked like a million years ago. JWST, an infrared-optimized telescope, is so sensitive that it can detect bumblebee heat as far away as the Moon. We hope it will be able to see far enough to detect the first light of the universe after the Big Bang.
Fact: Mother octopuses can self-destruct
Sarah Kylie Watson
To give birth to an octopus is a fate worse than death. After laying their eggs, mother octopuses die slowly and abruptly, self-harming until they meet their bitter end. After laying the eggs, the female octopus goes from normal life and careful care of the embryos to not eating anymore, reducing muscle tone, changing color and even engaging in self-mutilation (e.g. eating parts of her own body).
In general, the time after death looks something like starvation or a reduction in food intake over time, and in extreme cases, in the deep-sea octopus Graneledone boreopacifica, brooding can take up to four years, and basically the mom octopus protects her eggs while her body slowly dies. Hummelincki octopi, previously studied for this mechanism, typically do not live longer than 9 months in total and are not more than 2 months old after laying eggs.
There were many questions as to why this is happening. Is it caused by lack of food? Do female octopuses have some kind of “self-destruction” built into them? Even in Art 1970s, psychologist Jerome Wodzinski began to look more deeply at what signals in the octopus’s body might be related to the idea of self-destruction. And after a somewhat random experiment with getting female octopuses drunk and removing their gonads, he discovered that gonadless mother octopuses thrived after birth.
This year’s research failed chemicals that the optic gland was producing around the time the mother octopus was breaking off in behavior. The researchers found that three specific pathways fire up: the first produces the pregnancy steroids pregnenolone and progesterone; the second produces components for bile acids; and the third produces increased levels of the cholesterol precursor 7-dehydrocholesterol (7-DHC).
Elevated levels of 7-DHC have been directly linked to a human condition called Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, which can affect mental development and behavior in children. Like the mother octopus, people with this disease often struggle with self-injury and aggression. Researching the dramatic end of life for many octopus mothers can help us better understand other species, such as humans.