Courtesy Rev Dan CattA new study just published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry says our third molars - aka wisdom teeth - could serve as an excellent source for stem cells. Rather than yanking them out and discarding them (often under our pillows), the molars could be kept as a repository of stem cells for our own use in regenerative medicine. The Japanese study, which was led by Yasuaki Oda, states cloned cells derived from wisdom teeth closely resemble embryonic stem cells.
It sounds like wise use of what's otherwise considered medical waste, but don't be surprised if the Tooth Fairies' Union says it bites.
Courtesy Mark RyanThe meteor that created the Chicxulub Crater in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula may have not been the only one responsible for the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs 65 million years ago. "Fern spike" evidence in another similarly-aged crater found in the Ukraine indicates at least two large impacts took place within a few thousand years of each other. Concentrations of fern spores are commonly found in the mud that fills in impact craters. The Boltysh Crater contains two layers of spores within three feet of each other, indicating not one but two impacts.
"We interpret this second layer as the aftermath of the Chicxulub impact", said Simon Kelley, co-author of the study, and professor of Isotope Geochemistry at the Open University.
Both the Chicxulub and Boltysh bolide events could have been part of a meteor shower that hit Earth at the end of the Cretaceous. The study appears in the journal Geology.
"Plants have a reputation for staying put. But some plants are moving so quickly, we can't see their motions. Biologist Joan Edwards and physicist Dwight Whitaker broke out the high-speed cameras to capture the story of exploding peat moss. The research was published in the journal Science."
Courtesy Mark RyanA recent study published in the journal Palaios raises new questions about the role of bacteria in the process of fossilization of bone material. In tests simulating rapid burial and groundwater percolation, researchers Joseph Daniel and Karen Chin set up four different groundwater environments where chunks of bone were placed in river sand and water, laden with calcium carbonate, was allowed to flow through it for three months. In one test the environment was left untreated allowing for bacteria in the sediment to grow naturally. In two other tests the simulated environment was sterilized using antiseptics that either reduced or eliminated completely the naturally growing bacteria. For the fourth test, Chin and Daniel washed and treated the sediment with bleach then reseeded it with the natural bacteria.
The samples were monitored closely, and after just one week, the scientists noticed mineral precipitants had already begun to attach sand grains to the bone fragments in both the nonsterile tests, but saw no change in the sterile environment samples.
After three months, the results showed that the cubes of bone soaked in the natural, untreated environment had begun to show signs of permineralization, and some of the bacteria even showed early signs of lithification. As before, the fragments in the sterile environment were unchanged and appeared as fresh as new bone.
This is pretty amazing, because I was always under the impression that in order to become a fossil, the remains of an animal had to be buried rather quickly so as to remove them from the destructive elements of nature. But it looks like some of nature’s tiniest elements are necessary to the process.
This study could also help explain how, after 68 million years, organic material managed to remain essentially unchanged (or actually less-permineralized) deep inside the fossilized femur of a Tyrannosaurus rex, such as that discovered a few years back by paleontologist Mary Schweitzer (Read about it here).
Karen Chin, by the way, specializes in the study of fossil feces (coprolites), and participated in a 2001 study also published in Palaios documenting the role of bacteria in the fossilization of herbivore dinosaur droppings.
Courtesy JoeI moved recently. And I love my new neighborhood. Great neighbors, lots of kids for my kids to play with and my backyard is frequented by a real live jackalope.
I am obsessed with jackalopes. I don't know why. In the old Science Museum of Minnesota there was, at the end of the skyway, a rack of display cases and one held a jackalope. I would just sit and stare at that thing - for whatever reason it fascinated me.
And now one hangs out in my back yard. And it is awesome. Though a little camera shy.
Courtesy JoeJackalopes don't have antlers like a deer or moose - in fact they are not meant to have the "antlers" at all. The growths are the restult of the Shope papilloma virus which causes tumors to grow on the rabbit’s head. Interestingly, Shope papilloma virus provided the first model of a cancer caused by a virus in a mammal and has been used to help develop the HPV vaccine and investigate antiviral therapies.
A new report in the July 1st issue of Nature unveils an extinct species of sperm whale that boasts teeth nearly 40 percent larger than those of Tyrannosaurus rex. The longest tooth of Leviathan melvillei measures an incredible 14 inches from tip to end of its root, compared to the longest tooth of Sue, the Chicago Field Museum's celebrated T. rex which measures in at a paltry 10.6 inches. Scientists at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris estimate L. melvillei was smaller than today's sperm whales, growing to lengths between 44 and 57 feet when it hunted the Earth's oceans 13 million years ago. But its enormous teeth would have certainly compensated for any size issues the creature suffered from. The way the teeth come together suggests Leviathan melvillei's jaws were used for tearing prey apart.
The toothy whale's remains (amounting to 75 percent of its jaw and cranium) were found a couple years ago in a now desert region of Peru.
Sperm whales are the particular focus of this study. The population of sperm whales in the Southern Ocean (the waters around Antarctica) is thought to be about 12,000. (There are more sperm whales in the world, but the study looked at Southern Ocean sperm whales.) Those 12,000 whales are thought to put about 200,000 metric tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. That’s about the same amount that 40,000 passenger cars contribute each year. Destroy those polluting whales, right?
Wrong! See, it turns out that these sperm whales are also responsible for the removal of 400,000 metric tons of CO2 each year, making up for the amount they produce two times over. Their secret is this: they poop iron.
They don’t only poop iron, but sperm whales poop a lot of iron—each whale is thought to defecate about 50 metric tons of iron each year. That’s over 300 pounds a day! Obviously the whales aren’t pooping out solid iron ingots, though. It’s mixed in with their liquid feces. And that’s important.
The whales themselves don’t remove those 400,000 tons of CO2. They’re removed by phytoplankton. Phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that, like plants, use sunlight and CO2 to build their bodies. And they feed on iron.
The whales have lots of iron in their diets, because of the large amounts of fish and squid they eat. So the iron-rich whale poop is an ideal nutrient for phytoplankton. When the phytoplankton dies, the carbon they contain falls to the bottom of the ocean instead of being released back into the atmosphere. Where more carbon is trapped than is released back into the atmosphere, it’s called a “carbon sink,” and that’s what whale poop and phytoplankton create in the Southern Ocean.
Other parts of the ocean may naturally contain more iron for phytoplankton, but the Southern Ocean is poor in the nutrient, and the microorganisms rely on an iron cycle that the whales apparently play a large part in. More whales, greater carbon sink. Fewer whales, less whale poop, more atmospheric carbon.
Coincidentally, the International Whaling Commission will be meeting next week, to discuss regulations on how many whales can be harvested from the oceans each year. It’s a complicated world, isn’t it?
*I thought about making the headline “Whale poop is ‘green’” but… yuck.
Courtesy limonadaSeveral species of snakes seem to be in decline according to a study published in the journal Biology Letters. The most abrupt change took place right around 1998 and scientists are stumped as to what happened at that particular time that could have caused such a worldwide drop in snake population. Some of you may be happy to hear this news since snakes aren’t very highly regarded by most humans. But the slithery reptiles are one of the top predators of their kind, and scientists fear a diminished population would no doubt upset the ecological balance.
Seventeen populations of snake comprised of eight different species were in the study, and in most cases it didn’t seem to matter where on Earth they were located.
"Two-thirds of the monitored populations collapsed, and none have shown any sign of recovery over nearly a decade since the crash,” the researchers reported. The most affected species were opportunistic foragers - the proverbial “snakes in the grass” that wait in hiding for unsuspecting prey to pass by. The more active hunters showed less of a decline. Only one “sit and wait” forager species bucked the trend – the tiger snake (Notechis scutatus) which lives on a small island off the coast of Australia, showed little change in its population over the period of study. The researchers think the isolation of its location could be a factor.
“It surprised us when we realized what we were looking at," said team leader Chris Reading of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Great Britain. Researchers from several other countries were also involved in the study, and although they haven’t pinpointed what was going on in 1998 to trigger such a decline –it could be environmental or climate related or disease, or something completely unknown at the moment. But since it affected snake populations around the globe they suggest that it’s probably from a single cause.
Courtesy http://www.flickr.com/photos/kuroha/638778686/Like all ogres, Shrek is a greedy and covetous beast. He has millions of fine, fine goblets, but should you attempt to drink from any one of them, you risk becoming the target of one of his powerful cancer spells.
“But, Shrek,” you say. “You have so many wonderful cups, brought to us by McDonalds and Shrek 4 Eva. Why can’t I drink from just one of them?”
“Because,” Shrek would surely reply, “they’re all mine. All of them! That’s why I put cadmium in them. Ogres are immune to cadmium, but it is a carcinogen in humans.”
“A carcinogen? In your cups?” you ask.
“Yes, a carcinogen. With long term exposure, carcinogens can increase your chances of developing cancer!” says Shrek.
“Cancer?” you say.
“Yes. Cancer,” says Shrek.
And it’s not only Shrek’s goblets that are cursed; drinking from the cups of Princess Fiona will soften your bones, and sipping from the vessels of Puss in Boots will cast the hex of severe kidney damage upon you. And you should never drink out of something called “Donkey,” no matter what it’s made of.
Fortunately, all of the cups are being recalled to Ronald McDonaldland, to become a part of Ronald’s personal collection. Because clowns feed on poison.
Courtesy Thomas HahmannI'm not going to get into the full parasite extravaganza here, because Wired Magazine already laid it out pretty well, but here's the general idea:
What if some worm eggs snuck into your body through something you ate (something gross)? What if one of them lodged itself in your liver, and, after a little while, started producing embryos of its own? What if it packed those embryos into giant, pulsating egg sacks that flopped out of your eye sockets and hung from your head? And what if those pulsating egg sacks looked so delicious to birds that they would flap down and eat them (and your eyes)?
It can all happen. I mean, you'd have to be a snail for it to happen to you, but still... Leucochloridium paradoxum is out there.