Size does matter — if you are a naked mole-rat
Plus: Cave-dwelling dragons!
Don’t be so sensitive — sometimes size matters. A large, comfy sofa is better than a small, comfy sofa, and a giant, glorious red rose is superior to a small, glorious red rose. Or, if you’re a naked mole-rat, you may be a little extra grateful for your enormous spleen.
New research indicates that the wrinkly creatures seem to correlate social stock with these large organs, which assist with fighting infection. Read more about naked mole-rats’ preferences in today’s Inverse Daily, then turn your attention to stories about “baby dragons” and electric vehicles. Oh, and a quick favor before you go: Vote for Inverse Daily in this year’s Webby Awards by clicking this link!
You know what they say about big spleens… Research published this week in Open Biology indicates that naked mole-rats, scientific name Heterocephalus glaber, care about size when it comes to the soft internal organ.
“All vertebrate animals have a spleen, an organ that is part of the lymphatic system whose job is to fight infections and keep the body’s fluids in check,” writes Elana Spivack. “The human spleen is fist-sized, and resides above the stomach and under the left-side ribs.”
Spleens might mushroom when you’re fighting an infection, but, uniquely, some naked mole-rats have swole spleens, which seem to correlate to high social ranking.
This could be because grand spleens are better at fighting infection, so big-spleen mole-rats are generally “stronger and more able to recover from infections received in battle,” writes Spivack. “If the large-spleened beings are destined for glory, it may be because they have a stronger immune response.”
“In the pitch-black karst caves of Europe, completely blind salamanders called olms thrive,” writes Inverse card story editor Jennifer Walter. “Formally known as Proteus anguinus, the elusive creatures once intrigued the likes of Charles Darwin and other early naturalists.”
These naturalists once whispered that the spindly cave-dwellers were related to dragons, and although science has since put those rumors to rest, olms are still a mysterious type of guy. Scientists are particularly interested in why the blind salamanders live in caves, so they scanned their little bodies and made 3D models of their sensory organs. Hey, we’ve all done it (and you can enjoy the models for yourself online).
“The researchers found that olm eyes begin to develop as larvae,” writes Walter, “but once olms hatch, their eyes start to regress, and they never form the ability to see.” Their bodies make up for it with a keen sense of smell and buff jaw muscles, both of which are possible clues for understanding the secret life of olms.
In his latest feature for HORIZONS, Inverse’s new innovation newsletter, editor Mike Brown interviews Polestar COO Dennis Nobelius about his improbable plan.
“In April 2021, Polestar made a bold claim,” writes Brown. “The electric vehicle startup was going to create a climate-neutral car. Now, Polestar COO Dennis Nobelius tells Inverse [...] they had no idea how to actually do it.”
Nobelius doesn’t think anyone else in the EV industry knows how to do it, either, but even without a road map, Polestar is adamant about its goal to create a climate-neutral car by 2030. Other companies like Mercedes Benz and General Motors have also made flashy claims about climate-neutral cars, but they tend to be less ambitious in their timelines, scattering goalposts throughout the next 20 years.
Polestar is hoping to crystalize its dreams in just eight, but the company can’t do it alone. So far, Polestar has secured a series of project-related partnerships, like a planned collaboration with the steel company SSAB to create fossil-free steel.
“By working with other suppliers and manufacturers, Polestar could produce more than one climate-neutral car by 2030: By giving other car makers the blueprint to do it themselves,” writes Brown.
For Inverse reporter Tara Yarlagadda’s most recent installment for Reel Science, a series where she investigates the real science behind your favorite movies, we take another look at Her. “Released in 2013, the sci-fi drama Her was ahead of its time in anticipating the lightning-fast advances in AI that are now starting to shape our everyday lives,” writes Yarlagadda. “But was its depiction of artificial intelligence scientifically accurate?”
Experts say it isn’t… yet. In the movie, human being Theodore falls in love with his highly intelligent virtual assistant, Samantha. In real life, researchers would not be able to create a learning model as quick and versatile as Samantha — we don’t have the computer processing power.
And while “AI certainly could learn basic things about the world, they wouldn’t be able to use that information to rapidly change rapidly the way Samantha does in the movie, transforming from a naive virtual assistant to a complex artificially intelligent being that surpasses humans,” writes Yarlagadda. “But as quantum computing — a method of processing large amounts of data very quickly — takes off, we could get closer to a future where AI is interacting with humans in complex ways and even forming relationships.”
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- On this day in history: The Apollo 13 launched on April 11, 1970, putting in motion the “first American emergency during mission,” NASA writes on its website. Though Apollo 13’s launch went well, an oxygen tank in the ship’s service module failed after two days in space, and the crew had to abandon its intended lunar landing for a safe, early re-entry to Earth.
- Song of the day: “Come Back to Earth,” by Mac Miller.