Discovery of giant sulfur-powered shipworm — Eeoough!

❝ Our world seems to grow smaller by the day as biodiversity rapidly dwindles, but Mother Earth still has a surprise or two up her sleeve. An international team of researchers were the first to investigate a never before studied species — a giant, black, mud dwelling, worm-like animal. The odd animal doesn’t seem to eat much, instead it gets its energy from a form of sulfur. The findings, led by scientists at the University of Utah, Northeastern University, University of the Philippines, Sultan Kudarat State University and Drexel University, will be published online in the…Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

❝ People have known about the existence of the creature for centuries. The three- to five-foot long, tusk-like shells that encase the animal were first documented in the 18th century. “The shells are fairly common,” begins lead investigator Daniel Distel, Ph.D., a research professor and director of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center at Northeastern University, “But we have never had access to the animal living inside.”

The animal’s preferred habitat was unclear, but the research team benefitted from a bit of serendipity when one of their collaborators shared a documentary that aired on Philippine television. The video showed the bizarre creatures planted, like carrots, in the mud of a shallow lagoon. Following this lead, the scientists set up an expedition and found live specimens of Kuphus polythalamia.

❝ With a live giant shipworm finally in hand, the research team huddled around Distel as he carefully washed the sticky mud caked to the outside of the giant shipworm shell and tapped off the outer cap, revealing the creature living inside.

Not exactly destined to replace linguine with clams. But, RTFA for an interesting tale of science and search.

U.N. ‘doesn’t smell of sulfur anymore,’ says Chavez

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Drawing on 2006 remarks in which he compared former U.S. President George Bush to the devil, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, speaking at the United Nations, said, “It doesn’t smell like sulfur anymore.”

In a rambling speech at the U.N. General Assembly, Chavez spoke highly of current President Obama, saying he is an “intelligent man” and comparing him to President John F. Kennedy.

“I hope God will protect Obama from the bullets that killed Kennedy,” he said. “I hope Obama will be able to look and see, genuinely see, what has to be seen and bring about a change.”

Three years ago, Chavez spoke at the gathering the day after Bush spoke, and said the lectern “still smells of sulfur.”

But on Thursday he looked around the podium and said, “It doesn’t smell of sulfur. It’s gone. No, it smells of something else. It smells of hope.”

I have agreements – and disagreements – with Chavez. Must admit I appreciate his understanding of American humor.

Of course, most of what he said was playing to the Latin American audience and went straight over the TV talking heads.

Glacier’s Blood Falls are evidence of million-year-old species


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Gushing from a glacier, rust-stained Blood Falls contains evidence that microbes have survived in prehistoric seawater deep under ice for perhaps millions of years, a new study says.

The colony of microscopic life-forms may have been trapped when Antarctica’s then advancing Taylor Glacier reached into the ocean 1.5 to 4 million years ago. What’s more, the tiny organisms’ feeding habits apparently give the falls their shocking color.

Mikucki and colleagues captured and analyzed a bit of the extremely salty, iron-rich liquid—which seems to be concentrated seawater—fresh from Taylor Glacier. In the samples were tell-tale proteins apparently from microbes.

Since their capture millennia ago, the microbes seem to have been completely isolated. Under 1,300 feet (400 meters) of ice, they catch no sunlight, required for photosynthesis, and have no source of outside food.

The only thing keeping the microbes alive, the study says, is their ability to generate energy from chemical reactions with sulfur and iron.

You could spend a lifetime of fascination learning what you might from that isolated seawater.