Science News is now Queer Science!, a column about scientific discoveries and controversies that are busting binaries in our understanding of humans, animals, plants, and minerals. I am still futzing with the format. Got feedback? E-mail me.
Human Cells and Stars Share the Same Shapes
Three years ago, a cell biologist named Mark Terasaki at the University of Connecticut discovered something unique about human cells. Contained within the cytoplasm of a human cell, odd shapes were connecting layers of a cellular organelle called the endoplasmic reticulum. The shapes, which only measure nine to 10 nanometers long, looked like parking garages.
This year, a physicist studying Terasaki's shapes discovered something else. Instead of being unique to human cells, it turns out that Terasaki "ramps" show up elsewhere, too: in the crust of collapsed stars.
The nuclear physicists studying stars already had a name for Terasaki ramps, though. They called these shapes "nuclear pasta" to describe the structure's lasagna-like layers.
University of Washington nuclear physicist Martin Savage had this to say about the discovery in a press release: "That similar phases of matter emerge in biological systems was very surprising to me."
WE. ARE. ALL. CONNECTED.
The Feds Go After an Everett Medical Testing Lab for the Treatment of Primates: "An Everett-based medical testing laboratory is alleged to have repeatedly violated the Animal Welfare Act in actions that resulted in the deaths of 38 primates, according to a complaint filed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)," the Seattle Times reports. The company, SNBL USA, is a subsidiary of Shin Nippon Biomedical Laboratories. The complaint alleges, for example, that the company's violation of the Animal Welfare Act resulted in a six-week old primate escaping its enclosure and dying after becoming trapped in a fence.
It's hard not to anthropomorphize that young primate. But is anthropomorphism always such a bad thing?
Not Exactly Queer, But: A new paper from the wildfire experts at the University of Idaho says that human-caused climate change has accounted for roughly half of the increased "fuel aridity"—the dryness of the trees and their readiness to become fuel—in Western forests over the last 35 years. Fuel aridity is just one of the factors that can make a wildfire season particularly bad, but papers like these are important because they buck the idea echoed by some "climate realists" (what a term) that the signal from human-caused climate change in current events is insignificant. "Natural climate variability will continue to alternate between modulating and compounding anthropogenic increases in fuel aridity," the study authors write, "but anthropogenic climate change has emerged as a driver of increased forest fire activity and should continue to do so while fuels are not limiting."
Don't Miss: The University of Washington is hosting a two-day conference on urban environmental justice next week, and it is full of rockstars. Among them: Tom Goldtooth, the executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network (you may have heard of his work at Standing Rock), and Jacqueline Patterson, the director of the NAACP's Environmental and Climate Justice Program. In 2012, Patterson published a groundbreaking report on the likelihood of living next to a coal-fired power plant based on the color of your skin.