Aliens among us

Written by Sharad Raghavan | Updated: Apr 15 2011, 08:01am hrs
Mars attacks

There are aliens among us! Well, not among us, but it seems a lake in Maharashtra is home to visitors from Mars. The origin of Lonar Crater Lake in Buldhana, Maharashtra, has been widely discussed by scientists, with theories ranging from volcanic explosions to impacting meteorites. The recent discovery of a rare bacterium in the lake may put to rest this debate pretty quickly, though. According to microbiologists at Amravatis Sant Gadge Baba University, the bacterium corresponds to a very high degree (almost 96%) to the characteristics of a bacterium called Bacillus odysseyi first reported in 2004 by the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, which has been orbiting Mars since 2001. What does this mean Basically, it lends weight to the theory that the Lonar crater was formed by a Mars meteorite crashing into Earth, effectively ruling out the volcanic origin theory. Apart from resolving the debate, Bacillus odysseyis ability to resist UV and gamma radiation, and its enzyme-making properties, makes it important for agriculture and industry alike. The lake is a wellspring of new species of bacteria, with scientists already having identified 31 new species. The findings are to be published in Nature.

Hops on, hops off

Why is it that while wine, whiskey and bourbon get better with age, beer spoils after a while, acquiring that harsh, bitter taste If you dont know the answer, dont worry. Scientists at the Technical University of Munich found the substances in aged beer that give it that bitter aftertaste, leading them to a discovery arguably at least as important and far-reaching as the de-coding of DNA or the invention of the nuclear bomb: keeping beer fresh for longer. The scientists identified 56 bitter-tasting substances formed during beer manufacturingmostly so-called prenylated polyketides derived from hops, a key ingredient in beer. They also identified five substances that largely contribute to the harshness of the taste of old beer. Now, by manipulating these substances, the scientists hope to keep beer fresh for longer. Cheers to them!

A bitter pill

Speaking of bitter tastes, almost everyone will remember the nausea they felt after eating something extremely bitter (remember the medicines your mom made you swallow as a child). Well, one interesting, but mostly useless, fact that scientists from the Monell Chemical Senses Centre and Rutgers University have found is that you get that nauseating feeling even before youve swallowed that bitter whatever-it-is. Scientists have known for a while that the prospect of eating something tasty creates a physiological response (feel some pity for Pavlovs poor drooling dog). What they didnt know till now was that a bitter taste, typically associated with toxins, triggered defences even before the substance was swallowed. Participants in the study, published in Current Biology reported a nauseating feeling, and electrodes mapping their stomachs showed considerable convulsing, even when they just held a bitter liquid in their mouths, without swallowing. It seems the body really thinks bitter is bad. An argument for making all medicines sweet tasting, maybe