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Scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could...
Yeah, I know. Halloween is over, but that doesn't mean that world stopped being creepy.
Check this out:
Dead Spider Claws
That’s a dead spider rigged up to act as a robot claw. That’s real life being science fiction.
The story behind this is almost as fascinating as it is creepy.
"We were moving stuff around in the lab and we noticed a curled up spider at the edge of the hallway," she said. "We were really curious as to why spiders curl up after they die."
I guess someone had to ask why dead spiders look like dead spiders.
They work as claws because they don’t have muscles. They open and close because of hydraulic pressure.
The Spider Never Forgets
Well, what the researchers might not be aware of is that spiders have good memories, and they’re not going to forget that you turned Auntie Charlotte into a robot scoop.
This time, rather than reanimating spider corpses, researchers stole their food and watched them look for it. Just to keep things interesting, they did it to black widows. Because doing with a spider that can’t kill you would be too boring.
(Actually, according to Wikipedia, black widow bites usually aren’t fatal. They just hurt a lot.)
A spider that remembers is probably closer to a horror than science fiction story, but what both these stories made me think about is how close real world robot designs tend to look like insects and arachnids.
Remember the robot goalie last week?
And it made me think of Starship Troopers.
But enough creepy stuff, let’s talk about the plague.
The Black Death and You
The plague killed a lot of people and who lived or died came down to individual abilities to either avoid the infection or, more probably, survive it. Does that mean that the survivors passed on specific genetic traits?
When the Black Death massacred up to 50 percent of the European population in the mid-14th century, it appears to have etched an enduring mark on human genetics, altering the frequency of genes that shape our immune systems—which may or may not be a good thing for modern humans.
The researchers found four gene variants that may have protected people from the plague, and they’re still around now. A deadly plague triggering natural selection! There are some interesting story ideas in there.
Unfortunately, this time the natural selection has been linked to autoimmune disease, not psychic power or eyebeams.
That’s it for now. Have a great weekend!
Spider claw: Preston Innovation Laboratory
Backflipping goalies: Biomimetics MIT