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In a bizarre new experiment, scientists threw salamanders into a wind tunnel

Plus: Get the untold history of Encino Man as told by the folks who made the cult film.

This is a photo of a salamander on a plant appearing to smile at the viewer.
Mimi Ditchie Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Occasionally in science, you are rewarded with a study design so surreal, so perfectly weird but great that you can’t help but sit back and bask in its glory. Today is one of those days — scientists threw some salamanders into a wind tunnel to find out what they would do next. What a perfect way to head into the long weekend, I must say.

This is an adapted version of the Inverse Daily newsletter for Thursday, May 26, 2022. Subscribe for free and learn something new every day.

Speaking of long weekends, happy Memorial Day to all those who celebrate. We’ll be taking a break from emails over the next few days (I have some nieces and dogs requiring my urgent attention), but don’t worry. Inverse Daily will be back in your inbox on June 1. Now, on with the show!

A chicken-and-egg problem.

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Scientists may have found a missing link between the primordial world and modern life

In a new study, researchers have found new clues suggesting that life may have first primarily depended on RNA, not DNA.

Nowadays, the main building blocks of life are DNA, which can store genetic data, and proteins, which include enzymes that catalyze vital biological reactions. However, DNA requires proteins in order to form, and proteins need DNA to form, raising the chicken-and-egg question of how protein and DNA could have formed without each other.

To help solve this mystery, scientists have suggested that life may have first primarily depended on RNA. Compounds known as nucleobases — adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C), and guanine (G) — come together to form DNA. In RNA, uracil (U) is used in place of thymine.

RNA can store genetic data like DNA, serve as enzymes like proteins, and help create both DNA and proteins. Researchers have speculated that DNA and proteins later replaced this RNA world because they are more efficient at their respective functions.

But how the chemistry of life moved beyond the RNA world isn’t fully understood.

Go deeper.

Smol fren.

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Watch: Skydiving salamanders survive falls from redwood trees by gliding effortlessly

Humans might need parachutes to skydive, but a miniature salamander has its own tactics for leaping safely out of sky-high trees. Aneides vagrans, or the wandering salamander, can grow up to 13 centimeters long.

It spends its time hunting for bugs in the canopies of the tallest trees in the world, redwoods. To get around, wandering salamanders are known to parachute from high branches of redwood trees, generally 300 feet above the ground.

Researchers writing in the journal Current Biology this week investigated how these salamanders use their bodies to glide and avoid belly-flopping to their deaths. They dropped wandering salamanders into a wind tunnel to observe how they positioned themselves in freefall. Three other species were also dropped into the wind tunnel for comparison.

So how do the salamanders survive?

See it for yourself.

Transgender healthcare and rights are under threat in Texas.

Dusan Stankovic/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

Halo Infinite devs take a bold stance against dehumanizing Texas legislation

Certain Affinity co-developed Halo Infinite and it just pledged to support employees seeking to relocate from its Austin, Texas headquarters due to their human rights being threatened. Texas, of course, has been under fire in recent months for its numerous attacks on transgender residents and women. At a time when so many game studios stay quiet on political issues — and major companies like Sony lean towards censorship — it’s a bold and important stance that hopefully establishes a major precedent.

CEO Max Hoberman shared a statement on Twitter earlier in May that he previously emailed to employees:

“If the state or province that you live in restricts access to what a majority of medical experts consider essential care,” he wrote, “and this makes remaining there untenable for you and your family, we will cover the pre-approved, documented, reasonable out-of-pocket costs of your relocation to another, safer state or province that we operate in.”

Texas has been at the forefront of a recent wave of anti-trans and anti-abortion legislature that is sweeping through the country. Earlier this year Texas Governor Gregg Abbott sent a letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services instructing them to investigate transgender children in the state and prosecute their parents for child abuse. What choice do trans individuals and their families have other than to relocate?

Continue reading.

Baby Brendan.

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The oral history of Encino Man, Brendan Fraser’s caveman cult classic

This is the untold story of how Encino Man got made — and turned Brendan Fraser and Pauly Shore into movie stars.

A caveman from the first ice age, Brendan Frasier’s Encino Man is discovered by two loser teens, Dave (Sean Astin) and Stoney (Pauly Shore), who are digging a pool in Dave’s backyard. They clean him up, christen him Link, and show him off at school, introducing this prehistoric dude to the joys of slushies, roller coasters, and swooning Valley girls. They pretend he’s a foreign-exchange student and hope he’ll make them popular.

It’s a preposterous concept for a movie. Yet it works, thanks in large part to Brendan Fraser’s adept physical comedy and chemistry with a zonked-out, peak-era Pauly Shore.

It may not be the best movie of the ’90s, but Encino Man might well be the most ’90s movie ever made. This thing has got every element of a ’90s studio comedy: Brendan Fraser showing off his rugged good looks, a high school bully antagonist, a bratty little sister, a Goonies alumnus, an amusement park montage, a makeover sequence set to “I’m Too Sexy,” copious Valley slang, a nerd who’s desperate to impress a crush, a climactic scene set at prom, and a big scene where everyone somehow knows the same dance moves.

Read the hidden history.


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  • On this day in history: Sally Ride, an American astronaut, was born on May 26, 1951, in Encino, California (!). She was the first American woman to go to outer space.
  • Song of the day: California Sun,” by The Ramones.
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