We are not alone
The most important science story of 2015 is one that puts all mankind, not just Israelis, into new proportion. Among the high points of the year was the discovery that until very recently, Homo sapiens wasn't the only human species running around the Earth. Among the low points is the question that slithers to mind when observing the burnt thighbone of another human species found in China, dated to just 14,000 years ago – um, did somebody cook and eat him? We don't know. Whether they did or not, that brings the number of human species still existing in the late Ice Age to three: us, this new guy Red Deer Cave Man, and the diminutive so-called "hobbit" of Flores Island, Indonesia, which seems to have finally died out some 12,000 years ago.
Microscopic parasitic jellyfish. 'Nuff said
We do know it was a terrific shock to the scientists at Tel Aviv University to discover that mysterious one-celled parasites afflicting fish farms are actually an extremely degenerate form of parasitic jellyfish. And here we had thought the tiny, deadly box jellyfish took the cake for being the most obnoxious form of invertebrate in the sea. Genetic analysis of these microscopic myxozoans was so astonishing that the TAU zoologists suggest the whole concept of what an "animal" is might need reweighting.
Star light, star bright, star crash
Speaking of mysteries, a big one was why the planet Earth has practically no plutonium-244, which is weird if one considers that it does exist in nature, albeit rarely, and that the early solar system had plenty of it. That presumably includes our dear home planet. Okay, being a radioactive isotope with a half-life of 80 million years, whatever plutonium-244 existed on the early planet long since decayed. But we have (almost) none now no more has arrived since the Earth's formation so where did that initial plutonium come from? As the year 2015 neared its end, luminaries at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem figured it out, and now you can read their answer here.
Would Mother Teresa have made one too?
Another major Israeli scientific discovery in 2015 is that Israelis can be so annoying that even a bonobo will lose it. The famously amiable apes proved capable of not only incredibly complex planning – which they hadn't demonstrated before, apparently because they didn't need to – but of fashioning weapons, and using them too. To find out exactly who irritated a bonobo to the point of using her teeth to craft a branch into a spear that she then tried to stab him with, read here.
The economics of bar-keeping
Bad news for bar owners: Students who eat a lot of salty peanuts do not necessarily get thirstier, announced Prof. Micah Leshem of Haifa University. Oy vey, all those years of putting free peanuts on the bar to encourage people to buy beer were wasted. After stuffing yourself with junk foods, you may want a drink because of the dry mouth-feel after eating salt, not because your body physiologically aspires to correct its hydromineral balance, Leshem explained to Haaretz. And what about sugared nuts? Read here to find out.
Oldest galaxy in universe found
Meanwhile, in headier realms of existence, a team headed by an Israeli scientist at CalTech, Adi Zitrin, says it found the oldest galaxies currently known. At more than 13.2 billion years old, the charmingly-named EGS8p7 was created a mere 600 million years after the Big Bang, the scientists says. To find out how, and mainly why, they discovered this, read here.
It's a boy, it's a girl, it's a sustainable liver cell in vitro
Closer to home, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem had a baby and a eureka moment. What caused the baby's liver to kick in and start functioning at birth? What? Elucidating that led Yaakov Nahmias to discover how to sustainably grow liver cells that actually function in the lab, a feat of vast importance to anybody who ever took a pill in their life, or who cares about lab rats.
Six-million dollar man, you are so last-millennium
Moving on: Realizing how to grow liver cells on a chip led the good professor Nahmias to invent the bionic microliver-on-a-chip, which is not some form of molecular culinary inspiration, it is an invention to test drugs more efficiently and effectively without killing whole generations of animals in the process.
Is your mouse getting enough sleep? Is it??
Mice with a circadian cycle of exactly 24 hours live longer and healthier lives, discovered scientists at the Tel Hai Academic College, which is perhaps the least immediately helpful bit of science news to come out of that distinguished academy this year. The unfortunate murines were genetically engineered to have a circadian cycle of exactly 24 hours, whereas the cycle in normal mice, you, and most animals and plants is slightly longer than 24 hours. So, the engineered mice lived longer (and ate less). Big whoop. What are you going to do, bioengineer your circadian cycle?
Men are from Earth, and so are women
Finally, in a stunner released just in time for Christmas, Israeli scientists announced that – in contrast to, say, our genitalia – there is "no such thing" as a male or female brain. After studying thousands of brains using MRI machines, the Tel Aviv University team concluded that nobody fits the stereotypes. There is only one type of brain that combines male and female characteristics, which does not mean, by the way, that gender is a fiction. It isn't. Just ask your parents what they think of that.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now