Biologists discover earthworms are able to reproduce in Mars-like soil

If we’re going to keep ourselves alive on Mars then we need to create a sustainable agricultural ecosystem, and the news that earthworms have managed to reproduce in a Mars soil simulant could be an important step towards that.

During the Food for Mars and Moon experiment at Wageningen University & Research, which was looking at how to stimulate growth in Mars-like soil, the biologists added adult worms and pig slurry (in place on human excrement) to a Mars soil simulant provided by NASA.

But, unexpectedly, as well as allowing the biologists to grow over a dozen crops, the experiment also produced two young worms.

“Clearly the manure stimulated growth, especially in the Mars soil simulant, and we saw that the worms were active. However, the best surprise came at the end of the experiment when we found two young worms in the Mars soil simulant,” said Wieger Wamelink of Wageningen University & Research.

Images courtesy of Wieger Wamelink, Wageningen Environmental Research

Worms are very important for a healthy soil, not only on Earth but also in future indoor gardens on Mars or the moon.

They thrive on dead organic matter such as old plant remains, which they eat, chew and mix with soil before they excrete it. This poo still contains organic matter that is broken down further by bacteria, thus releasing nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium for use by the plants.

By digging burrows the worms also aerate and improve the structure of the soil, making watering the plants more effective. The latter proved to be very important in earlier experiments where water would not easily penetrate the soil. Wamelink confirmed that, “The application of worms will solve this problem.”

The soil stimulants, delivered by NASA, originate from a volcano in Hawaii, which simulates Mars, and a desert in Arizona, which simulates the Moon.

Since staring the experiments in 2013, the biologists has had success in growing crops such as green beans, peas, radish, tomato, potato, rucola, carrot and garden cress, which have all been tested to make sure they are safe for human consumption.

The biologists organised a dinner based on the harvested crops for the people that supported their research via a crowdfunding campaign.

Footage of fatal crash involving self-driving Uber released

The Tempe Police Department has released the first footage of this week’s fatal crash involving a self-driving Uber. Police had previously said that the Uber, which had a safety driver inside, did not slow down before it struck the victim, something the footage appears to confirm.

Source: The Verge

Police ask Google to help in the pursuit of two gunmen

Google may have helped solve two separate crimes committed roughly one-a-half years apart. According to reports, Raleigh police presented Google with warrants for data from all the mobile devices that were within a certain distance of the respective crime scenes at the time the crimes were committed.

Source: Tech Crunch

Teenager hacks "tamper-proof" cryptocurrency wallet

A hardware wallet designed to store cryptocurrencies, and touted by its manufacturer as tamper-proof, has been hacked by a British 15-year-old. Saleem Rashid said he had written code that gave him a back door into the Ledger Nano S, which would allow a malicious attacker to drain the wallet of funds.

Source: BBC

Tooth-mounted sensor tracks what your're eating

Scientists at Tufts University have developed a wireless sensor that can be attached onto a person’s tooth to track what they are eating and drinking. In their study, the researchers describe how the sensor is able to transmit information about a person’s glucose, salt and alcohol intake.

Source: Alphr

Scientists develop AI software that can reproduce like a living thing

Computer scientists have created a neural network that continually self improves by mimicking the biological self-replication process. “Self-replication is a key aspect of biological life that has been largely overlooked in Artificial Intelligence systems,” the scientists are quoted as saying.

Source: The Register

Boring Company unveils proposed ‘Loop’ route

Elon Musk’s Boring Company has unveiled the first leg of its hyperloop project, which is a ‘Loop’ transit system to travel between Washington D.C. and Baltimore in 15 minutes. The Boring Company’s main project is its network of tunnels under Los Angeles, where it already started digging last year.

Source: Electrek

XPRIZE launches contest to build remote-controlled robot avatars

Prize fund XPRIZE and All Nippon Airways are offering $10 million reward to research teas who develop tech that eliminates the need to physically travel. The initial idea is that instead of plane travel, people could use goggles, ear phones and haptic tech to control a humanoid robot and experience different locations.

Source: Tech Crunch

NASA reveals plans for huge spacecraft to blow up asteroids

NASA has revealed plans for a huge nuclear spacecraft capable of shunting or blowing up an asteroid if it was on course to wipe out life on Earth. The agency published details of its Hammer deterrent, which is an eight tonne spaceship capable of deflecting a giant space rock.

Source: The Telegraph

Sierra Leone hosts the world’s first blockchain-powered elections

Sierra Leone recorded votes in its recent election to a blockchain. The tech, anonymously stored votes in an immutable ledger, thereby offering instant access to the election results. “This is the first time a government election is using blockchain technology,” said Leonardo Gammar of Agora, the company behind the technology.

Source: Quartz

AI-powered robot shoots perfect free throws

Japanese news agency Asahi Shimbun has reported on a AI-powered robot that shoots perfect free throws in a game of basketball. The robot was training by repeating shots, up to 12 feet from the hoop, 200,000 times, and its developers said it can hit these close shots with almost perfect accuracy.

Source: Motherboard

Russia accused of engineering cyberattacks by the US

Russia has been accused of engineering a series of cyberattacks that targeted critical infrastructure in America and Europe, which could have sabotaged or shut down power plants. US officials and private security firms claim the attacks are a signal by Russia that it could disrupt the West’s critical facilities.

Google founder Larry Page unveils self-flying air taxi

A firm funded by Google founder Larry Page has unveiled an electric, self-flying air taxi that can travel at up to 180 km/h (110mph). The taxi takes off and lands vertically, and can do 100 km on a single charge. It will eventually be available to customers as a service "similar to an airline or a rideshare".

Source: BBC