The Toughest, Biggest, and Hottest Science of 2017

[INTRO ♪] 2017 has been an amazing year for science. From neutron star collisions and potentially
habitable planets to birds that whistle alarm signals as they
fly, we have covered a lot of groundbreaking science
news this year. But before we usher in 2018, we here at Scishow want to take a moment to
look back on our favorite superlatives of the year: the toughest, biggest, and hottest science
of 2017. First up is the award for 2017’s toughest animal
on the planet— or at least, the toughest stomach. In a paper published in Current Biology in
April 2017, researchers announced that they discovered
a type of pesky caterpillar that can easily chow down on a material most
other species cannot stomach: plastic. Plastic waste has become an environmental
disaster, and one of the worst offenders is a plastic
called polyethylene, or PE, which accounts for about 40% of plastic products
we make. It’s the type of plastic in things like
plastic bags. Part of what makes polyethylene so useful is that it’s one of the most stable plastics
around. It’s a simple chain of carbon and hydrogen, which leaves no weak points where it can start
to break down. But that also means it sticks around for centuries. Scientists got all excited when they found
bacteria that can break down PE in mere months. But that’s nothing compared to what wax
worm moth caterpillars can do. Wax worms are so named because they eat honeycombs. They’re the bane of bees and beekeepers
worldwide. But when a scientist and amateur beekeeper
in Spain tossed some wax worms she’d dug out of her
hives in a plastic bag to dispose of them, she discovered
something remarkable. They chewed holes in the plastic. Further investigation revealed that these
caterpillars don’t just tear the plastic into little
pieces— they’re actually able to break down polyethylene
in a matter of minutes. Not weeks, not months—minutes. Something in the worms’ stomachs or saliva can chop PE into smaller molecules of ethylene
glycol, which degrades much more readily because it
contains oxygen. Scientists aren’t sure how they do this
on the molecular level, but they’re working on figuring it out so
maybe they can replicate that process. That way, maybe we can figure out a chemical
way to break down plastic trash without having
to, like, just dump armies of tiny caterpillars onto it. Our next superlative is biggest— as in, “whoa, okay, that is the biggest
dinosaur ever.” Scientists have actually known about this
dino for years, ever since a shepherd in Patagonia literally stumbled across the fossil in a field in 2012
and called in the experts. But, nothing is officially official until
it’s peer reviewed, and the species’ description and name were
finally published this August in the Proceedings of the Royal
Society B. It’s called Patagotitan mayorum and it belonged
to a group of sauropods— dinosaurs with long necks and tails, thick
legs, and small heads— called “titanosaurs.” And truly, it lives up to that name. When paleontologists dug it up, they found what’s considered a fairly complete
skeleton— leg and arm bones, hip bones, ribs, and vertebrae. And it was pretty obvious that this dinosaur was bigger than anything we’d ever seen
before. The femur alone was 2.4 meters long. If my femur were 2.4 meters long, I would
be more than 8 meters tall. That would be awesome. I’d be like, “What’s up, guys?” Based on the bones, paleontologists estimate
that P. mayorum was about 37 meters long and weighed around
62 metric tons, or as much as about 12 African elephants, making it the heaviest animal to ever walk
on land. So it’s massive. Huge. Like, mind-numbingly huge. Along with some other gigantic sauropods we’ve
discovered, P. mayorum sort of defies physiological physics
because it’s just too big. Paleontologists are hoping that studying it will help us figure out how those giant animals
could have possibly even existed. So there have been some cool studies published
this year! Unfortunately, though, we need to talk about
something … not so cool. Our last superlative is hottest, for the fact
that 2017 will probably turn out to be the hottest
non-El Niño year on record. And it’s on course to be among the top three
hottest years overall. El Niño is a weather pattern that happens
when ocean currents shift in the Pacific Ocean, pushing warm water eastward
towards South America. It causes local and global changes in weather
patterns. And it tends to make everything warmer on
average, which is why most of the hottest years ever
were El Niño years. Climate scientists can get an idea of the
relative warmth or coolness of years by averaging temperature readings from long-term monitoring sites all around the
world. In 2014, without the help of El Niño, that global average temperature rose to 14.64
degrees Celsius, a full 0.74 degrees hotter than the average
of the entire 20th century. Then in 2015, El Niño struck and we ended
up with two of the hottest years ever recorded. 2016 was nearly a full degree hotter than
the last century. But now, even though this year isn’t an
El Niño year, scientists with the United States National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say 2017 will likely rank as either the 2nd or 3rd
hottest year ever, based on the temperatures we’ve been seeing. Without the effects of an El Niño complicating things, this year’s hotness is a clear example of just how much the planet
is warming. And the heat has been cooking up some terrible
stuff. This year, we’ve seen an increase in storm
surge severity, coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef, and record low sea ice coverage in the Arctic
Circle. Being the hottest might be great for movies
or people, but not great for years … or planets. At least 2017 also had plastic-eating caterpillars
and humongous dinosaurs. Those are great. And here’s hoping 2018 provides even more exciting superlatives to
share. Thanks for watching, and thank you especially to all of our patrons on Patreon who make
this available for free for everyone. Without you, we would not be able to geek
out about the toughest, biggest, hottest, most awesomest
science all year long. So if we gave you a superlative, we would
have to say that you are the wonderfulest! If you want to join those wonderfulest people
and pledge your support, you can do so at [OUTRO ♪]

100 thoughts on “The Toughest, Biggest, and Hottest Science of 2017”

  1. The president of stupidville just said that global warming wasn't real. Isn't that a wonderful and helpful thing for him to do for the future of the world? Good job, Republicans.

  2. Just a product of my imagination, not necessarily a complete reasoning.
    I know that through Mild oxidation ethene can be broke down into ethylene glycol although the reaction requires a neutral to basic environment and KMnO4. What if in these worms use stomach acid to weaken the bonds between the monomers, or maybe even enzymes that reverse polymerization and in its intestine it contains a strong basic medium that drives the said reaction

  3. Those "Super Worms" that you can buy to feed your pets will definitely chew through a plastic bag. I don't know if they digest it, but they definitely chew through to get out. Not a fun thing to find out.

  4. so these catterpillars eat both honey combs and plastic? what if the plastic being a food source is allowing the to multiplicate and eat more honeycombs? ould that be the reason why bees are disapearing?

  5. I heard about the worms a while back this year. I got all giddy reading about them, it's super cool when you think to stop about how much trash is just staying around

  6. So hold on why don’t we genetically engineer a species of waxworm that can eat an enormous amount of plastic and stay comfortably in Acetone in long periods of time? As long as we keep the worms in that specific area and the gases from the acetone contained, wouldn’t it be a good way to destroy a lot of trash?

  7. So you're saying that these worms were discovered to eat plastic this year, I Knew that since I was a Kid!

    Once I was once helping my uncle with his beehives and we used to get rid of these worms and one day I brought a plastic bag and put these worms in it and after I finished I had put them in his car and after a while, we went home and as we were going I saw a worm crawling then I've gone and got the bag and I saw that it was filled with holes! I told my uncle and he said why did you put them there! they eat everything! Why didn't you put them in the box! And since that day I thought that everybody knew that they've done that.

  8. You could dump a trillion caterpillars on to the plastic island in the middle of the pacific, once they had eaten it they would fall in the water and be eaten by fishies. I'd be happy to carry this out if any oceanic institutes have a spare research vessel with a caterpillar hold.

  9. Why does a layer come on milk or coffee or even tea, in short in everything in which milk is poured, after you boil it?

  10. If you have a bunch of PE plastic, the best way to recycle it is to melt it and turn into something else plastic. Breaking it down is great if it is somewhere you can't get to it, where it is too diffuse, or contaminated. Caterpillars are unlikely to be able to help with any of those.

  11. Sooo… why not just dump armies of worms onto plastic? It sounds beneficial to everyone humans, worms, and the bees!

  12. It's actually not clear if the story about the catepillars is true:

    However the initial group researching the topic still think it's true

  13. So basically, we have a way to decompose plastic. Great! There solves one of the major problems facing our society until we find something more dangerous than plastic to massively produce. Now, if we could just slow carbon emissions, maybe global warming will "chill out", proverbially speaking.

  14. Please make a video on the three (or more) best actions (that actually work) we can do to help the environment recover, or at lest, to cause less damage. The media shouts out so many nonsense or non-effect "habits we should cultivate to save Earth", there are so much misinformation, even among teachers and scientists. Thank you very much for the amazing content and I wish you all the best.

  15. I want to thank the USA for withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty so I can enjoy longer bathing seasons in the future.
    Ps. a special thanks goes out to the Chinese as well. Keep going guys and 2050 we can study the Venus atmothphere here on earth.

  16. Hello fellow Science lovers??❤

    P.s Love is NOT associated with the heart but rather the brain, I just can't seem to find any brain emoji??

  17. Watching this video after Trump just tweeted to make fun of climate change is just immensely sad, 2017 might be a turning point in history of mankind and here we are.. Really sad

  18. How big is the Patagotitan mayorum in comparison to the previously largest titanosaur we knew? Those measurements sound enormous, but it's hard to tell the scale without a comparison to another similar species.

  19. About the caterpillar thing:
    The results published in the first study have been criticized because they don't actually deliver sufficient evidence of Polyethylene degradation. In fact, the spectra do not even confirm the existence of Ethylene Glycol and the signals attributed to decay products could easily be attributed to proteins left on the PE after the washing procedure (an OH/NH-stretch mode in an IR spectrum is not even close to sufficient evidence for the existence of Ethylene Glycol).
    I don't want to be the party pooper here, but until further evidence is presented to actually confirm bio-degradation of PE, you probably shouldn't be praising this as one of the most significant scientific highlights of 2017.

    Sources (Just Copypaste into Google Scholar):
    C. Weber, S. Pusch, T. Opatz, 2017, Current Biology 27, R731–R745.
    Original Paper:
    P. Bombelli, C. J. Howe, F. Bertocchini, 2017, Current Biology 27(8), R292-R293.

  20. Do pantry moths eat plastic or just tunnel through it (plastic bags of various sorts) to get at food? The pantry moths I had even went through metallic packaging.

  21. Hey, i hope this is the best place to post this. I have a Question that could be used for QQ's. We are (i think) the most evolved animal, but what is the most evolved plant?

  22. I'm not arguing against climate change here. But is it really that set in stone when it is and isn't an el Nino year? In Ecology class we were taught that it is more something that can be observed only after some time has gone by and not something that can be predicted and say this year is or isn't an el Nino. Please correct me if wrong.

  23. The caterpillars are very interesting, but we do have to be very careful which to we use it. I like that hank added that we shouldn’t just dump them on plastic, cause that’s how we get invasive species (not ants for my fellow archer fans)

  24. Wouldn't it be awesome if the chemistry behind the caterpillars involved sucking up a ton of CO2 into the plastic. Plastic decomp and Carbon sequestration.

  25. Hottest?? That would be the work to build the first commercial fusion reactor. It is expected in around 10 years. Technology verification is ongoing.

  26. Aaarrrrgghhh!!!! This has never happened before; no sound after 1st second and no cc subtitles button – what's happening?!?!?!!!!

  27. We're not 100% sure the caterpillars chemically degraded the polyethylene into ethylene glycol:
    Can't wait for further studies ! If they don't come this year, I'm doing it myself XD

  28. it is proven its still not good for them thx for this ha bisky vid we need to just make plastic illegal and go back to healthy glass

  29. Okay world, all we need to do is get all the plastic waste in one giant dump and drop a couple billion caterpillars on it by helicopter. easy

  30. We should just start breeding titanosaur-sized monstrous leviathan caterpillars, they'll chow down on landfills like there's no tomorrow

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