Sea squirts teach new lessons in evolution


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Spineless sea squirts shed light on vertebrate evolution, and an iodine-fuelled engine powering a satellite in space.

In this episode:

00:45 A story of sea squirts, ancient vertebrates and missing genes

When a PhD student set out to study the developmental pathways of a strange sea creature, he hoped to shed light on the origins of vertebrate animals. Instead, researchers found themselves investigating a strange case of missing genes. We hear why gene loss could be a more significant factor in evolutionary processes than was previously thought.

Research article: Ferrández-Roldán et al.

08:17 Research Highlights

The unusual crystal that gives a beetle its glittering green sheen, and the genetics of a fish’s 200 year lifespan.

Research Highlight: Weird crystal makes beetle a living jewel

Research Highlight: Some of Earth’s longest-lived fish show how to reach extreme ages

10:43 An iodine-fuelled engine for satellites

In space, many satellites use xenon-fuelled ‘electric propulsion systems’ to maneuver. However, xenon is rare and requires high-pressure storage systems, so researchers have been working to develop alternative fuels. This week, a team publish details of the first in-space test of an iodine-powered electric propulsion system, which they say has many advantages over xenon systems.

Research article: Rafalskyi et al

16:37 Briefing Chat

We discuss some highlights from the Nature Briefing. This time, issues aboard the Hubble Space Telescope, and what the discovery of a theorised mineral reveals about processes deep within the Earth.

Wired: NASA Tries to Save Hubble, Again

Nature: Diamond delivers long-sought mineral from the deep Earth

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