Last Week in Science (17th Dec 2023)

The social life of snakes

By Wilson44691 - Own work, Public Domain,

How many friends do you have? Two? Three? I am not asking about the ones on Facebook/Instagram. It would definitely not as high as 46. This is the maximum number of friends that garter snakes, that are found in the United States and Canada, can have. 

Researchers in Queen's University in Canada made this interesting finding while studying garter snakes that were being relocated due to some road construction work. The ecologists were tracking some 3000 snakes for 12 years to ensure they are happy in their new environment. This data was then looked at by researchers of Queen's University. They found that they would catch the same group of snakes hanging together each time they were caught. Another interesting finding was that these groups were led by female snakes, and the younger females would follow the older ones. While the males were found to become aloof as they aged. I wonder whether the older females would be giving tips the younger ones on how to find that perfect mate.

Nuclear fusion is here to stay

Nuclear fusion happens inside the Sun and happens to be the source of all energy for the Earth. Scientists have been working on generating energy from nuclear fusion reactions in a lab bu each time they would get lesser energy output than they would provide for the reaction as the input. Unfortunately, such energy equations do not matter when making a hydrogen bomb that uses the same nuclear fusion reaction. 

Last year in December, a breakthrough was made when scientists at US National Ignition Facility managed to produce more energy than they had supplied to carry out the nuclear fusion reaction. But in the world of science you need to repeat any experiments to be certain that it wasn't a fluke. Now, the laser facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California has repeated this feat four times which is a reason to rejoice. There is still a long away from creating fusion power plants because the amounts of input energy are less so as to ensure that the Sun like environment does not blow up the lab but experiments are underway, including the ones for nuclear weapons, to keep increasing the input so that we may eventually be able to generate enough clean energy to sustain our daily activities on this planet.

Don't blame the fetus for that morning sickness 

Pregnancy comes with its own challenges and nausea and vomiting is one of them. In some 0.3- 3% of pregnancies, the frequency of vomiting is so high that the pregnant women need to be hospitalized and it often leads to either abortion or the death of the mother. The cause for this condition, which is known as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) hasn't been known for long. 

In the study carried out at the University of California, the researchers found that a specific gene - GDF 15 (growth differentiation factor 15) increases the chances of a woman developing HG. The researchers found that there were two forms of this gene. GDF 15 gene produces a hormone that circulates in the blood. One of the forms that is known as H202D causes the non pregnant women to have low levels of GDF 15 in their blood. The researchers also found that GDF 15 in the blood during pregnancy comes from the fetus.

Now, when both the mother and fetus have the some form of GDF 15 then the mother does not develop HG. But when the mother has H202D GDF 15 and the fetus has the other form then the women develop HG. This study will help in finding a cure for HG and also will support research for other diseases that occur during pregnancy. An interesting question that still remains unanswered is why are humans the only species that have morning sickness during pregnancy?