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Talk nerdy to me

This week we talk nerdy about creating traffic with hacked autonomous vehicles, exploding Earth-ending asteroids, the genomics behind the cutest cat on the internet, and more.

Asteroid apocalypse

The asteroid that wouldn't die. Gravity causes asteroid fragments to reaccumulate in the hours following impact. Courtesy Charles El Mir, John Hopkins University.

Moviegoers may be shocked to learn that Bruce Willis won’t be able to save us in the event of an asteroid Armageddon. A study from Johns Hopkins revealed that asteroids large enough to end life on Earth are actually stronger than scientists once thought. 

The original idea was that­ bigger rocks would be easier to break because they are more likely to contain imperfections. However, scientists using the Tonge-Ramesh computer model found that this isn’t the case. Large asteroids will crack when hit with a large object, but their gravity will keep them from completely fragmenting. Who knew a Michael Bay movie could be so scientifically inaccurate?

Traffic terror

<strong>When there are no hacked vehicles</strong>, all roads are connected (yellow). But as there are more hacked vehicles, more colors show up, and each cluster is inaccessible from the other. Courtesy Skanda Vivek/ Georgia Tech.

When discussing the potential pitfalls of autonomous vehicles, most people tend to worry about cars hitting pedestrians or causing property damage. However, a group of scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology wanted to find out what would happen if someone were to hack these vehicles.

By using agent-based simulations, the researchers discovered that a hack affecting only 10 percent of cars in Manhattan would result in egregious traffic and might even block emergency services. Such a situation would be a dream come true for rival nations or terrorist organizations.

The solution, according to the team’s leader, is to rely on multiple networks. If cities like New York can keep no more than 5 percent of vehicles on any network, they can decrease the impact of any such attack.

The ingredients of an internet sensation

Internet-famous Lil Bub has multiple genetic mutations that contribute to her unique appearance. Studying her genome can lead to insights for human health. Courtesy Lil Bub.

As an organization based at Indiana University, Science Node has a soft spot for internet meme Lil Bub. This hometown hero of Bloomington, Indiana, is known for her genetic abnormalities. She’s smaller than usual, has more toes than she should, and her tongue consistently and adorably hangs out of her mouth. To learn more about what makes her so special, scientists from multiple countries have sequenced Lil Bub’s genome.

They found that some of her traits aren’t as related as they might have guessed. While her extra toes (called polydactyly) are due to mutations of the Sonic Hedgehog gene, her short stature is a result of osteopetrosis. Both mutations are rare, and seeing both in a single animal is unique to say the least. It’s no wonder this kitty has such a strong following.

Sadly, many pets with abnormalities don’t receive the fame and funds that Lil Bub does. If you’d like to help animals in need, check out Lil Bub’s work with the ASPCA.

Shrimp scanty 

<strong>Winners and losers.</strong> Black sea bass are one of the climate change "winners" that have increased with warming ocean temperatures, but haddock in the North Sea are climate change "losers" as a result of warming ocean temperatures. Courtesy Orion Weldon.Fish and other tasty sea creatures have made their way onto the human dinner plate for millenia. Now, climate change is threatening some of our favorite foods. According to a recent study from Rutgers, fish and other sea creatures are already on the decline.

Based on global data stretching between 1930 and 2010, the scientists found that ocean warming had resulted in a 4.1 percent average drop in sustainable seafood resources. In certain areas of the world, this number reached 35 percent.

At a time when human consumption of fish and seafood is rising, overfishing is only compounding the problem. More than 56 million people around the world work in or subsist on fisheries.

The researchers also suggest that while some species may have benefited from warmer temperatures, there’s a limit to how much warmth they can tolerate before suffering a decline. This study puts humans on notice that we need to rebuild sustainable stocks and adjust policies to preserve fisheries.

Twinning the lottery

Sesquizygotic twins share between 50% and 100% of their genomic sequences and are therefore on a continuum between monozygosity and dizygosity. Courtesy NEJMvideo.

Most people think that there are two kinds of twins: fraternal and identical. However, a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine has come across a pair of twins that aren’t either of these.

Called sesquizygotic twins, the children are considered semi-identical. The complicated process begins when two sperm cells make it into one egg. This eventually leads to three cell types. One has DNA from the egg plus one of the sperm, one has DNA from the egg and the other sperm, and the third has DNA from both sperm, but none from the egg. This last cell dies, and the first two grow and divide until twins form.

These siblings have more in common than fraternal twins, but are not considered fully identical. The only time this has been reported previously was a case in the US in 2007, where the children were born with ambiguous genitalia. This did not happen in the most recent sighting of sesquizygotic twinning.

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