This Mutant Crayfish is All Female and Clones Itself


Click to enlarge

❝ Over the past five years, Dr. Frank Lyko and his colleagues have sequenced the genomes of marbled crayfish. In a study published on Monday, the researchers demonstrate that the marble crayfish, while common, is one of the most remarkable species known to science.

❝ Before about 25 years ago, the species simply did not exist. A single drastic mutation in a single crayfish produced the marbled crayfish in an instant.

The mutation made it possible for the creature to clone itself, and now it has spread across much of Europe and gained a toehold on other continents. In Madagascar, where it arrived about 2007, it now numbers in the millions and threatens native crayfish…

❝ In 2003, scientists confirmed that the marbled crayfish were indeed making clones of themselves. They sequenced small bits of DNA from the animals, which bore a striking similarity to a group of crayfish species called Procambarus, native to North America and Central America.

❝ Thanks to the young age of the species, marbled crayfish could shed light on one of the big mysteries about the animal kingdom: why so many animals have sex…Since they don’t!

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Here comes another piece of the future

Kudos to Elon Musk, his peers like Jeff Bezos, and many more not-so-public figures striving to move our species forward to better times.

US goverments lost any sense of science leadership decades ago. Not as good a vote-getter as 19th Century bible-thumping and bigotry. Congress remains more concerned with job security than justice, myths of pearly gates instead of education and health.

The hopes and praise fall to Elon Musk. An immigrant who got round to becoming a citizen in this millennium.

Do we inhabit a universe whose occupants are mostly pond scum.

❝ …Most astrobiologists seem comfortable with the premise that life might be widespread. But their optimism doesn’t always extend to complex, intelligent life.

❝ It’s possible that we inhabit a universe whose occupants are mostly pond scum. After decades of seeing semi-humanoid aliens strut across the silver screen, it would be more than a little disappointing to think that the actual cosmic bestiary largely consists of plants and animals that are microscopic, or at best, no smarter than cane toads.

That situation would make humans very special, a circumstance that seems at odds with the enormous amount of real estate available for life, as well as the billions of years since the Big Bang during which intelligence could arise.

❝ So, could there be a plausible explanation for why the universe seems so short on keen-witted company?

RTFA for some useful reflection upon our species, the known universe and such.

It ain’t a blood moon, blue moon or supermoon. Still fun to see…

On Wednesday, humanity will be treated to a celestial trifecta: A supermoon (meaning it’s relatively close to Earth), but also simultaneously a blood moon (it’ll be orange or red), but also simultaneously a blue moon (the second full moon in one calendar month) will pass in the shadow of Earth, for a total lunar eclipse. It’s going to be righteous.

But supermoon? Blue moon? Blood moon? Yeah, let’s go ahead and pump the brakes on those terms, because the first was created by an astrologer, the second is highly subjective, and the third was only recently popularized by this-must-be-prophecy types…

It’s going to be great, I can assure you. It’s an eclipse, for heaven’s sake, regardless of the semantics. And it almost certainly won’t be the end of the world.

I’ll second that emotion. And leave out the nice guy “almost certainly” for folks who like to spook themselves.

Swatting mosquitos teaches them to avoid you

❝ In a paper published Jan. 25 in Current Biology, University of Washington researchers report that mosquitoes can in fact learn to associate a particular odor with an unpleasant mechanical shock akin to being swatted. As a result, they’ll avoid that scent the next time.

“Once mosquitoes learned odors in an aversive manner, those odors caused aversive responses on the same order as responses to DEET, which is one of the most effective mosquito repellents,” said senior author Jeff Riffell, a UW professor of biology. “Moreover, mosquitoes remember the trained odors for days…”

❝ “By understanding how mosquitoes are making decisions on whom to bite, and how learning influences those behaviors, we can better understand the genes and neuronal bases of the behaviors,” said Riffell. “This could lead to more effective tools for mosquito control.”

I can think of other relevant settings for the same process. Bigger animals. 🙂

Discovered: a family of viruses that dominate the oceans

❝ The ocean is crowded. As many as 10 million viruses can be found squirming in a single millilitre of its water, and it turns out they have friends we never even knew about.

Scientists have discovered a previously unknown family of viruses that dominate the ocean and can’t be detected by standard lab tests. Researchers suspect this viral multitude may already exist outside the water — maybe even inside us.

“We don’t think it’s ocean-specific at all,” says environmental microbiologist Martin Polz from MIT…

❝ The team calls their discovery Autolykiviridae, after Autolykos (“the wolf itself”): a character from Greek mythology, who as a trickster and thief proved similarly tricky to catch.

But Autolykiviridae has been caught, and now that we know about it, the discovery is helping scientists to fill in a large missing link in virus evolution.

RTFA. Fascinating stuff. Cue your favorite sci-fi music in the background though I think it unnecessary. Real science is already scary enough to some.

Chance Discovery Can Destroy The Honeybee’s Worst Enemy


V. destructor on a honeybee hostUSDA

❝ It isn’t just pesticides and the destruction of habitat that’s making the world’s honeybees very unhappy. One of the biggest threats is Varroa destructor, a disease-spreading parasite that is just as villainous as its name suggests.

❝ Through a chance discovery, scientists from the University of Hohenheim have stumbled on a new method of wiping out this parasitic pest without harming the bees.

The US Department of Agriculture views the Varroa mite as “the major factor underlying colony loss in the US and other countries.” After infiltrating a colony, the mites begin to feed on the bodily fluids of honeybees and their larvae. Along with weakening the bees, the mites also spread viruses, such as deformed wing virus, and can quickly wipe out entire colonies…

❝ “Lithium chloride can be used to feed bees in sugar water. In our experiments, even small amounts of saline solution were enough to kill the mites sitting on the bees within a few days – without side effects for the bees,” Dr Peter Rosenkranz, head of the German State Institute of Apiculture…

RTFA for hope and diligence, science applied to sensible ends.

Thanks, smartalix

Dinosaur with iridescent feathers


Click to enlargeVelizar Simeonovski, The Field Museum

❝ The discovery that dinosaurs were feathery, not leathery, means we’ve had to rethink how they might have looked – and now there’s evidence that at least one dinosaur could have been as brilliantly coloured as some of the most jewel-hued modern birds.

Caihong juji, a name that means “rainbow with the big crest” in Mandarin, was a tiny, duck-sized dinosaur from China. The fossil it left behind indicates a bony crest on its beak, and a brilliant, iridescent ruff of feathers around its neck – the earliest evidence of a colour-based display…

❝ It’s difficult to tell for certain what colour the feathers were, but the fossil was so detailed that it preserved the shape of the melanosomes, the organelles inside cells responsible for pigmentation.

And when the team compared these melanosomes to those of living birds, they most closely resembled melanosomes found in the iridescent, rainbow-hued feathers of hummingbirds.

RTFA for more on the find – and analysis. And special thanks to UrsaRodinia.

Grants to US climate scientists to move to France and “Make Our Planet Great Again”

❝ French President Emmanuel Macron is preparing to award a number of US based climate scientists, multi-year, all-expenses-paid grants to relocate to France.

The “Make Our Planet Great Again” grants are part of Mr Macron’s efforts to counter US President Donald Trump on the climate change front.

❝ Mr Macron is unveiling the first winners at a start-up incubator in Paris called Station F, where Microsoft and smaller tech companies are announcing projects to finance activities aimed at reducing emissions.

They are aimed at giving new impetus to the Paris accord and finding new funding to help governments and businesses meet its goals.

More than 50 world leaders were in Paris for the One Planet Summit, co-hosted by the United Nations and the World Bank. Mr Trump was not invited.

Idiots like Trump and the fools who vote for his policies never recognize that the world moves on regardless of counter productive blather and ignorant policies set in motion by dying cultures.