Tag Archives: Virgin

Pictured: one of Mary's offspring in the aquarium at School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham. Credit: Laura Dean.

A ‘virgin’ fish named Mary got pregnant without having sex

Pictured: one of Mary's offspring in the aquarium at School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham. Credit: Laura Dean.

Pictured: one of Mary’s offspring in the aquarium at School of Life Sciences, University of Nottingham. Credit: Laura Dean.

Stickleback fish (Gasterosteus aculeatus) make babies without having sex. Like most other fish, the female lays unfertilized eggs which the males later fertilize with sperm in the nest. But somehow, one such female got pregnant and produced offspring through an emergency C-section. The female, aptly named Mary, shows that evolution is fluid and that nature doesn’t always play by the rules.

“We were astounded at what we found when we examined Mary in our lab in the Outer Hebrides. She looked like an ordinary egg-bound fish so we couldn’t believe it when we found she had almost completely developed embryos inside her ovaries. This is pretty much unheard of in an egg laying species. The embryos were perfectly healthy, not deformed in any way, and most have gone on to live a normal adult lifespan,” Dr. Laura Dean, a researcher at the University of Nottingham and lead author of the new study, said.

This isn’t the first time that scientists have come across developing embryos inside unfertilized egg-laying fish. Previously, only two such cases were known to science and both also involved stickleback fish. This most recent case is even more striking because this time, the embryos survived and many of the pups grew into adults that are still alive today.

Researchers found Mary while surveying egg-bound sticklebacks in Scotland — and she wasn’t in great shape. She was swollen with her young and very close to dying. Researchers euthanized Mary with drugs and then opened her up to extract the eggs. A total of 56 eggs hatched and survived to adulthood inside a laboratory aquarium. Twenty of these individuals are still alive today, three years later, the authors wrote in the journal Scientific Reports

VIDEO: Embryos moving showing beating hearts just before hatching. Credit: University of Nottingham.

Stickleback males don’t just contribute sperm. They have an active parenting role, helping eggs develop by fanning them with their fins for two weeks until they hatch. But it seems like the environment inside Mary was good enough to ensure healthy embryo development.

“Although this almost accidental find revealed a vanishingly rare phenomenon, it might help us to understand a really important change that has happened throughout the tree of life,” Andrew MacColl, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Nottingham in England, said in a statement. “Most animals lay eggs, but some (including almost all mammals, but few fish) retain their eggs inside and give birth to live young. Although this appears to be a difficult thing to achieve in evolution, this one little fish seems to have got there almost by itself.”

As to how Mary got pregnant in the first place, that’s a mystery that might never be solved. Researchers thought that perhaps Mary had cloned herself or that maybe she was a hermaphrodite with both male and female sex organs. However, the authors ruled these two possibilities out since genetic testing showed that the offspring had versions of genes that could only have come from a father.

What probably happened is that Mary strayed by a nest where a male had just recently ejected sperm to fertilize normal eggs. Some of that sperm must have traveled up Mary’s egg tube, fertilizing some of the un-laid eggs inside her.

Researchers are now planning to go the site where they found Mary, hoping the catch similar specimens. Some fish, such as guppies pupfish, are livebearers and this ability may have evolved independently. In this regard, Mary may offer researchers with a glimpse of how such an evolutionary leap might occur.

Virgin Galactic tourist space rocket passes first test

Virgin Galactic’s tourism rose 50 miles (81 km) above the Earth, reaching the limits of outer space and inching closer to founder Richard Branson’s desire to send tourists into outer space. Sir Richard is in a race with Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos to send the first fee-paying passengers into space.

“Today, as I stood among this truly remarkable group of people, all of us with our eyes on the stars, we saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled,” Branson wrote in a blog post. “How on earth do I describe the feeling? Joy? Definitely! Relief? Emphatically! Exhilaration? Absolutely! But because I have a tendency to keep pushing forward – eager and impatient anticipation for everything yet to come.”

Image credits: Virgin Galactic.

Space tourism could become in a reality as early as 2020. The firm’s SpaceShipTwo passenger rocket ship reached a height of over 80 km, which is considered to be the edge of space by the U.S. Air Force and other U.S. agencies — although varying heights are considered.

If everything goes according to plan, Virgin’s first tourists will take flight in around 18 months, Branson says. He added that there will be more test flights and if all goes well, he will be the first to take a ride before the public gets its chance.

“I believe that sometime in the second half of next year that we will start being able to put regular people up into space,” Branson said, describing Thursday as one of the best days of his life.

The two pilots are Mark “Forger” Stucky and former NASA astronaut Rick “CJ” Sturckow. They will be awarded commercial astronaut wings, Federal Aviation Administration official Bailey Edwards said.

A jet carrying Virgin Galactic’s tourism spaceship taking off from Mojave Air and Space Port on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 in the Mojave desert in California. Image credits: Virgin Galactic.

Already on this test, more than 600 people have committed to pay about $250,000 for rides that will take some 90 minutes. However, these several minutes will bring a unique sensation of weightlessness as well as a view of the beautiful Earth from far above.

However, the endeavor isn’t only a commercial one — the spaceship will also be used for research. Already, on this test, the rocket carried  a mannequin named Annie as a stand-in passenger, as well as four research experiments for NASA.

Virgin isn’t alone in the commercial space race. Elon Musk’s SpaceX, in partnership with NASA, is planning crewed missions for early next year, and Jeff Bezos announced that Blue Origin plans to send its first crew to space in 2019.





Hyperloop One joins ‘Virgin’ family following Richard Branson investment

The revolutionary hyperloop technology that many experts view as the future of transportation just got some serious endorsement. Famed serial entrepreneur, Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, announced that he’s made a ‘significant’ investment in Hyperloop One, a startup which so far has the most advanced hyperloop technology. The company has now changed its name into ‘Virgin Hyperloop One’.

A hyperloop is basically a pad whizzing through a pneumatic tube at tremendous velocity. The pod magnetically levitates inside the tube in near-vacuum, without any air resistance. This innovation has the potential to revolutionize how people and cargo move all around the world.  Once completed a full hyperloop network ought to travel at a 700mph. There are no congestion issues and people don’t need to go through the hassle of airport security. Zipping from Los Angeles to San Francisco would take only 30 minutes, compared to a six-hour drive or an all-day train ride.


Credit: Hyperloop One.

The concept was first proposed by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, a few years back. However, instead of working on it himself, the entrepreneur casually left the whole thing out in the open for others to materialize. It didn’t take too long for other entrepreneurs to seriously get to work based on Musk’s 57-page whitepaper on the Hyperloop concept. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) was the first startup that responded to the call but Hyperloop One, based in Los Angeles, has proven to be the front-runner so far.

In May 2017, they did their first propulsion test and already have a signed deal with the transport authorities of Dubai where they to install the first real hyperloop system. The plan is to have a hyperloop up and running by 2019-2020; that project will make Dubai to Abu Dhabi just a 12-minute ride. In July 2017, Virgin Hyperloop One fired a magnetically levitating test sled, then the aluminum and carbon fiber Hyperloop One pod at 310 km/h (192 mph) and over a distance of 436 m (0.27 miles).

Now, with Richard Branson involved, Virgin Hyperloop One should accelerate its development.

“We have a new ally in our mission to reinvent transportation,” Hyperloop One’s co-founders said in a statement. “The Virgin Group and Hyperloop One will be entering into a global strategic partnership focused on passenger and mixed-use cargo service.”

Richard Branson is no stranger to risky investments. The 67-year-old British entrepreneur founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 with the stated goal of making space tourism accessible to the masses. Last week, at the 2017 Nordic Business Forum (NBF) held in Helsinki, Finland, Branson said he hopes to see SpaceShipTwo beyond the atmosphere for the first time before year’s end.

An artist impression of Spaceport America, under construction in New Mexico. (c) Vyonyx Ltd

World’s first commercial spaceport is 90% complete. First sub-orbital flight by 2013.

Virgin Galactic, Virgin’s commercial space flight branch, just recently announced that the first phase in the construction of the world’s first spaceport available to civilian consumers has been completed, making the ambitious project 90% complete.

‘Spaceport America’, as it’s been dubbed, is being built on an 18,000-acre site in the desolate sand plains of New Mexico, 45 miles of Las Cruces. Its nearly two-mile long, 200-foot wide runway-or “spaceway” is already complete, while the space-age looking terminal hangar is almost ready.

The spaceport, according to Virgin officials, is just months away from being completely ready, when the second phase in its inception will be done as well. The second phase, already in motion, is comprised in the completion of the Vertical Launch Complex facility, two visitor centers in nearby towns and a further visitor center on the main spaceport site.

This will put the spaceport well on track for its 2013 goal of housing the launch of the first commercial sub-orbital flight from the site – the first in many to taxi wealthy individuals literary around the world. Virgin is already taking reservations for its two-hour flights into sub-orbital space, for a price tag of US$200,000. After being launched 10 miles into space, thrill-seekers will experience about five minutes of weightlessness and look at the curvature of the earth, among other incredible perks.

These sub-orbital flights will be made on-board Virgin Galactic’s mothership and spaceship (White Knight 2 and Space Ship 2), which are still in the test phase, so far performing wonderfully.  The whole concept is pioneering in nature, and as such the prospects for the future of this promising looking industry are very bright. Surely, commercial spaceflight will be very interesting to follow.