Weekly News Bites: Natural electroporation, discerning babies, and the Earth’s crystal core

Asia Research News monitors the latest research news in Asia. Some highlights that caught our attention this week are how eels can transfer DNA, older babies falling for tricks that younger ones do not, and a crystal layer deep in the Earth.

When transferring DNA into a cell, researchers use electricity to make a hole for the genes to go into. In some shocking news, it turns out that this might also happen in nature with the electric eel. Nagoya University researchers found that shocks from electric eels can cause animals in the environment to take up genetic material from each other. The team tested out this theory by putting eels in a tank with glowing fish and found some genetic material transfer after the fish were shocked.

Younger babies do not get tricked by the same optical illusion that catches older ones according to Hokkaido University, Chuo University, and the Japan Women’s University. When testing the infants with an illusion that makes it look like colored dots move in the same direction (while they don’t in reality) infants older than six months spent more time looking at it than younger ones. Since babies seem to stare at unfamiliar things, the researchers suspect that only older infants fall for the illusion.

Wasabi could have potent memory-boosting properties says research by Tohoku University. The tasty plant contains 6-MSITC, a rare biochemical compound that can help reduce inflammation in the brain. Participants in the study that were given wasabi before bedtime showed improvements in short-term and episodic memory.

A cute mouse robot with a flexible backbone (called NeRmo) has been developed by Sun Yat-Sen University, the Technical University of Munich, and the University of Technology Nuremberg. The team used bioinspiration to incorporate a complex and flexible spine to more closely resemble real animals. While other quadruped robots can still make some serious moves, they usually have a rigid spine which can limit the speed of some movements.

When water from the surface trickles down into the Earth’s hot core something magical happens. A chemical reaction takes place that creates a layer of silica crystals that surround the core. This layer had been previously discovered by seismologists, but they did not know where it came from. Yonsei University and Arizona State University scientists have demonstrated how this layer is formed through experiments using high pressure.