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Sunday, 7 February 2010

Nature can be creepy, very creepy, 02.2010

Sorry for the delay but I had to work harder than usual these weeks. I have a lot of things to read, so I don't promise quick return to posting, but I'll do what I can. So here's my first one. It's dedicated to the oddities in Nature. You must admit some of them are quite creepy :)


  1. Like humans, ants use bacteria to make their gardens grow
  2. Extinct goat was cold-blooded
  3. Orphan army ants join nearby colonies
  4. Ancient penguin DNA raises doubts about accuracy of genetic dating techniques
  5. Serotonin Made in Breast Cancer Cells, Researchers Show
  6. Blocking 'happiness' chemical may prevent locust plagues
  7. Study confirms that cannabis is beneficial for multiple sclerosis

Like humans, ants use bacteria to make their gardens grow

November 19, 2009 by Terry Devitt
( -- Leaf-cutter ants, which cultivate fungus for food, have many remarkable qualities.

Here's a new one to add to the list: the ant farmers, like their human counterparts, depend on nitrogen-fixing to make their gardens grow.

Indeed, the partnership between ant and microbe permits leaf-cutters to be amazingly successful. Their underground nests, some the size of small houses, can harbor millions of inhabitants. In the Amazon forest they comprise four times more biomass than do all land animals combined.

A critical finding in the new study, according to the Wisconsin scientist, is that the nitrogen, which is extracted from the air by the bacteria, ends up in the ants themselves and, ultimately, benefits the nitrogen-poor ecosystems where the ants thrive.source

My comment: If you remember, I posted earlier about the bacteria that was riding zomby-ants to the place where they need them to rot. Also you should have seen the huge ant-cities of thsoe ants. So we're obviously seeing an amazing symbiosis. I can't say more, I find it amazing that both ants and bacteria found each other and are thriving, because of each other, because one doesn't count neither the ants, nor the bacteria for especially intelligent. And Nature proves us that intelligence has different levels and forms.

Extinct goat was cold-blooded

November 18, 2009 by Lin Edwards
( -- An extinct goat that lived on a barren Mediterranean island survived for millions of years by reducing in size and by becoming cold-blooded, which has never before been discovered in mammals.

The goat, Myotragus balearicus, lived on what is now Majorca, a Spanish island. The island had scarce resources, and there was no way for the goats to leave, and so scientists wondered how they had thrived for so long. A recently published research paper reveals the extinct goat survived by adjusting its growth rate and metabolism to suit the available food, becoming cold-blooded like reptiles.

The adult goats stood around 18 inches (45 cm) high, and the kids were around the size of a large rat. Reaching adulthood would have taken many years. Paleobiologist Meike Kohler of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, said the goats would have moved slowly to conserve energy, and probably spent a lot of time lying around basking in the sun. The postcranial skeleton suggested the could not jump, run or move fast, which made it easy prey.

Myotragus survived on the island as dwarf cold-blooded animals for millenia because they had no natural enemies (...), in total, the species inhabited the island for over five million years. source

My comment: What an amazing story. You know how much I love goats, so I'm not particularly surprised they found a way to survive. Even if I find the idea of rat-kid little bit nasty. Kids are supposed to be cute after all. And a cold-blooded goat, that sounds like the ideal hero for a horror movie. But anyway, this article is supposed to show the creepiness and creativity of Nature. And of course, someone probably should tell us when did Majorca separate from Spain and why?

Orphan army ants join nearby colonies

November 4, 2009
( -- Colonies of army ants, whose long columns and marauding habits are the stuff of natural-history legend, are usually antagonistic to each other, attacking soldiers from rival colonies in border disputes that keep the colonies separate. But new work by a researcher at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology and colleagues at the University of Copenhagen shows that in some cases the colonies can be cooperative instead of combative.

In those cases, when an army ant colony loses its queen(from natural causes), its workers are absorbed, not killed, by neighboring colonies, and within days are treated as part of the family.

Most of the queenless colonies, seven out of 10, simply joined a neighboring colony -- determined by -- with the new workers slowly losing their distinct colony odor, and within days becoming fully integrated.

The last queenless colony stayed on its own, with workers employing a strategy of producing a small brood of winged males. Though these males were removed for analysis, in an undisturbed colony the males would fly off looking for young unmated queens. Though this strategy does provide some chance of passing along the colony's genes, the small number of males produced -- just 31 in this case compared with 3,000 in a fully functioning colony -- illustrates that this strategy may not be efficient. source

My comment: Wow! Another surprise, as I said, intelligence on a number of levels. Can you believe how much sense their actions make? And how "nice" it is of the enemy colonies to allow those ants to join them just like that? Another wow :)

Ancient penguin DNA raises doubts about accuracy of genetic dating techniques

November 10, 2009
Penguins that died 44,000 years ago in Antarctica have provided extraordinary frozen DNA samples that challenge the accuracy of traditional genetic aging measurements, and suggest those approaches have been routinely underestimating the age of many specimens by 200 to 600 percent.

In other words, a biological specimen determined by traditional to be 100,000 years old may actually be 200,000 to 600,000 years old, researchers suggest in a new report in Trends in Genetics, a professional journal.

The findings raise doubts about the accuracy of many evolutionary rates based on conventional types of genetic analysis.

The findings, researchers say, are primarily a challenge to the techniques used to determine the age of a sample by genetic analysis alone, rather than by other observations about fossils. In particular, they may force a widespread re-examination of determinations about when one species split off from another, if that determination was based largely on . source

My comment: Ok, and now extrapolate this to Homo Sapiens in all of its forms. Interesting, huh? Because most of the theories how different we are from the Neanderthals are based on the early age we separated from them. If this ages is greatly underestimated, that may change the rules of the game a great deal. Can't wait to see that.

Serotonin Made in Breast Cancer Cells, Researchers Show

November 24, 2009
( -- Researchers at the University of Cincinnati have documented that the brain hormone serotonin is made in human breast cancer cells and functions abnormally, contributing to malignant growth.

Horseman’s team has previously shown that serotonin, a neurotransmitter best known for its involvement in mood regulation, plays a role in mammary gland development. Armed with that knowledge, researchers analyzed human breast tumors from patients and in a laboratory setting to determine if serotonin played a role in breast cancer.

In a normal mammary gland, serotonin acts as a physiological regulator of lactation and involution (shrinkage of the milk-making system when it’s not needed), in part by favoring growth arrest and cell death. Researchers found that the serotonin system was subverted in two important ways in human breast cancers.

“First, the amount of serotonin that the breast synthesize changes abnormally,” Horseman says. “And second, breast cancer cells have receptors for serotonin that are different from normal , so they receive the serotonin signal in a different way—and that contributes to abnormal growth.” source

My comment: Hm, that's odd, right? What I didn't understand is if too much happiness is good for our breast or bad. Because this is kind of important study, in more than one ways. People usually think that cancer appear when we're not happy with our lives, if it's the other way around...that will turn the things upside-down. What about eating chocolate while fighting cancer, then?

Blocking 'happiness' chemical may prevent locust plagues

Serotonin, the brain chemical that's fired up by such antidepressants, converts normally solitary desert locusts into sociable, swarming insects, capable of mass destruction of crops.

Blocking or reversing this chemical switch could offer a way to battle swarms using more environmentally friendly approaches.

Desert locust populations flourish after rare rainstorms bring sprouting plants to munch on. The eventual return of drought conditions pushes rejuvenated yet hungry locust populations into ever closer contact. Their only choice is to team up and move on.

Initially small groups coalesce into vast swarms that can include billions of individuals and occupy hundreds of square kilometres, eating any greenery in sight.

How locusts, which normally prefer to avoid one another, give up the single life and start to coordinate as a group has long puzzled researchers. An obvious candidate for the trigger was a neurotransmitter, which are potent chemicals that allow brain cells to communicate and underlie animal behaviour.

Levels of one neurotransmitter, serotonin, spike during the two-hour switch from solitary life to swarm, Roger's team had previously found. Tickling their thoraxes or exposing locusts to the sight and smell of others triggers the release of serotonin, they also discovered.

To strengthen the case for serotonin, his team blocked its activity in locusts using several different drugs. They then tickled the locusts to trigger behaviours typical of swarming, such as frequent movement and grooming. Most locusts did not take the bait. On the other hand, serotonin and drugs that ramp up the neurotransmitter made solitary locusts eager to swarm. source

My comment: It's funny how one thing can be beneficial in one case and absolutely devastating in other cases. Serotonin is obviously one of those things. I have long-term interest in locusts swarms so I wonder how this could be interpreted. The serotonin decrease the will to escape from the proximity of other locusts, like it decreases the resistance to collectivity in the individual. That's certainly interesting...Does it do the same in humans?

Study confirms that cannabis is beneficial for multiple sclerosis

December 4, 2009

Cannabis can reduce spasticity in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients. A systematic review, published in the open access journal BMC Neurology, found that five out six randomized controlled trials reported a reduction in spasticity and an improvement in mobility.

Shaheen Lakhan and Marie Rowland from the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation, Los Angeles, USA, searched for trials evaluating the cannabis extracts delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). According to Lakhan, "We found evidence that combined THC and CBD extracts may provide therapeutic benefit for MS spasticity symptoms".

Spasticity, involuntary muscle tension or contraction, is a common symptom of MS. Many existing therapies for this symptom are ineffective, difficult to obtain, or associated with intolerable side effects. In this study, reported incidence of side effects from cannabis, such as , varied greatly depending on the amount of cannabis needed to effectively limit spasticity, but the researchers note that side effects were also seen in the groups. source

My comment: Oh, well, the conclusion is obvious :)