Europe against GMO crops! Please, sign the Avaaz petition! I already did.
It's us who decide, not Monsanto!!!

Monday, 24 May 2010

News from the past, 05.2010

What's new with Neanderthals?
In praise of… Neanderthal man - finally people realise how wrong they were about Neanderthals.
65,000-Year-Old Language Goes Extinct - look at the picture on the site. There's something amazing in this woman!

Boa SrBoa Senior died last week, ending ancient Andaman culture
Alok Das/ Survival International

Today:
  1. Modern Behavior of Early Humans Found Half-Million Years Earlier Than Thought
  2. Genetic studies show modern humans on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau 21,000 years ago
  3. Mummy mystery GMC geology professor to dig into Chilean burial methods
  4. Iranians celebrate ancient Persian fire fest
  5. Ancient hominids may have been seafarers

Modern Behavior of Early Humans Found Half-Million Years Earlier Than Thought

ScienceDaily (Dec. 22, 2009)Evidence of sophisticated, human behavior has been discovered by Hebrew University of Jerusalem researchers as early as 750,000 years ago -- some half a million years earlier than has previously been estimated by archaeologists.
The discovery was made in the course of excavations at the prehistoric Gesher Benot Ya'aqov site, located along the Dead Sea rift in the southern Hula Valley of northern Israel, by a team from the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology. Analysis of the spatial distribution of the findings there reveals a pattern of specific areas in which various activities were carried out. This kind of designation indicates a formalized conceptualization of living space, requiring social organization and communication between group members. Such organizational skills are thought to be unique to modern humans.
Analyses of the spatial distribution of all these finds revealed two activity areas in the layer: the first area is characterized by abundant evidence of flint tool manufacturing.
In the second area, identified evidence indicates a greater variation of activities -- all of which took place in the vicinity of a hearth. The many wood pieces found in this area were used as fuel for the fire... source

My comment: I don't know if people realise how much 500 000 years difference are! This is very very serious number. If we thought that humans needed 250 000 years to develop a civilisation, that makes 2 civilisations! On the other side, I think this is maybe more a negative news - it means that we needed more than 750 000 years to develop to our stage. But then, maybe this were different kind of "we". After all, nothing stops other species or tribes to be more advanced. Even now, there are humans that don't know what civilisation is and we're talking only about 2-3000 years!

Genetic studies show modern humans on Qinghai-Tibet Plateau 21,000 years ago


KUNMING, Dec. 14 (Xinhua) -- Chinese scientists have found through genetic studies that modern humans had successfully colonized the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau in the Late Paleolithic Age, at least 21,000 years ago.
The plateau, with an average altitude above 4,000 meters and known as "the Roof of the World" in southwestern China, is one of the most challenging areas in the world for human settlement due to its environmental extremes, such as extreme cold and low oxygen levels.
"Based on studies of their mitochondrial DNA genome variation, our results confirm the vast majority of Tibetan matrilineal components can trace their ancestry to Epipaleolithic and Neolithic immigrants from what is now northern China, or about 10,000 years ago, which accords with previous studies," Zhao said. "Unlike Tibetan matrilineal components inherited from north China immigrants, M16 branched off directly from the genetic components of the ancestors of modern Eurasians," Zhao said.
"M16 has an ancient age of at least 21,000 years, based on calculations through various dating methods in genetics," she said.
"Its nearly exclusive distribution in Tibetan populations and ancient age suggest that M16 may represent the genetic relics of the Late Paleolithic inhabitants on the plateau," she said.
Archaeologists have discovered Paleolithic human hand and footprints near Lhasa, the heart of the plateau, and reckoned they dated back about 20,600 years to 21,700 years, she said. sourceMy comment: Very interesting. I had no idea Tibetans live there for so long. And luckily for the geneticists, they probably didn't mess with other populations thus preserving their genes clean for examination. Very very nice. It's cool how their haplogroup is so unique. Unfortunately, I have no idea what this might mean for the bigger picture.

Mummy mystery GMC geology professor to dig into Chilean burial methods


By Gordon Dritschilo Staff Writer - Published: January 31, 2010
POULTNEY — Geologist John Van Hoesen will leave for Chile in early 2011 to join in studies of mummies left behind by the Chinchorro people. He will work with a Chilean colleague.Van Hoesen said the Chinchorro mummies, which predate the Egyptians at 5,000 to 7,000 years old, are some of the best preserved ever found.

The Chinchorro would skin their dead, disassemble the bodies, make a frame for them from reeds and then sew the skin back on. Then they would cover them with clay. The clay they used contained manganese, which is where Van Hoesen comes in.

"There's absolutely no manganese anywhere near the sites where they buried these bodies," he said.

The nearest known manganese deposits are 60 to 80 kilometers away from the site. Van Hoesen said most archeologists believe the Chinchorro would not have traveled more than 40 kilometers. In the arid landscape, they would have had to carry water with them.

Van Hoesen will do chemical comparisons between the manganese on the mummies and at the remote sites. If they match, Van Hoesen said, it will lend credibility to the theory that the Chinchorro were highland people who moved to the coast.

 sourceMy comment: It really is weird that those people would go so far just to mummify their dead. In that case, the whole ritual should be very "expensive", because it would take their best men, to go all the way to get the resources, then to get back, consuming food and not working or fighting for the tribe. I think it's more likely that they were involved in some trade. 

Iranians celebrate ancient Persian fire fest


By Ali Akbar Dareini
updated 5:41 p.m. ET Jan. 31, 2010
CHAM, Iran - Thousands of Iranians gathered at dusk against a snowy mountain backdrop to light giant bonfires in an ancient mid-winter festival dating back to Iran's pre-Islamic past that is drawing new interest from Muslims.
Saturday's celebration was the first in which the dwindling remnants of Iran's once plentiful Zoroastrian religious minority were joined by thousands of Muslims, reflecting a growing interest in the strict Islamic society for the country's ancient traditions.
The festival, known as Sadeh, celebrates the discovery of fire and its ability to banish the cold and dark, and it is held in the frigid depths of winter.
Sadeh was the national festival of ancient Persia when Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion, before the conquest of Islam in the 7th century. Now it is mostly celebrated just in the homes and temples of Iran's 60,000 remaining Zoroastrians.
Recently, however, there has been an upsurge of interest among Iranian Muslims — more than 90 percent of the population — in their ancient heritage, when vast Persian empires held sway over much of central Asia and fought Greek warriors and Roman legions.

Zoroastrianism is a monotheistic religion predating Christianity and Islam and is believed to have influenced those faiths — and Judaism as well — being one of the first religions with a strong notion of good and evil.
Zoroastrians believe they must fight evil through good deeds, words and thoughts, including charity and service. Fire plays a central role in worship as a symbol of truth and the spirit of God. Prayer is often performed in front of a fire, and consecrated fires are kept perpetually burning in major temples.
The religion was founded in ancient Persia about 3,000 years ago, according to some scholarly estimates, by Zarathustra, or Zoroaster, whom the faith considers a prophet.
Zoroastrians once numbered in the millions but were persecuted and forced to convert after Muslims rose to power in Iran. A small number fled to India and their descendants became known as Parsis, or people from Persia.
According to some estimates, there are only about 150,000 Zoroastrians in the world today.

On Saturday, in the small mountain village of Cham in central Iran, an estimated 5,000 people — more than half of them Iranian Muslims — gathered for the festival, as white-robed priests recited hymns in ancient Persian from their holy book and children danced to lively music.
The ceremony climaxed with men and women dressed in traditional dress carrying torches and lighting the massive bonfire.

Although Islam has been dominant for centuries in Iran, its Zoroastrian past has left its mark on the people through festivals and traditions still celebrated to this day.
The most well known is the Iranian New Year, Nowruz, celebrated in March, when people light bonfires, set off firecrackers and dance in the streets to put their failures behind them and start the new year with prosperity.
At the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, Iranians buy fruit, nuts and other goodies to mark the feast of Chelleh, also known as Yalda, an ancient tradition when families get together and stay up late, swapping stories and munching on snacks. Sizdeh Bedar, or public picnic day, on April 4 is another legacy from the pre-Islamic era.
My comment: Because our country also have rich pre-Christian past I can only be happy reading this article. And the most interesting thing is that we, in Bulgaria, have similar bonfire festival in approximately the same time. Cool, huh?

Ancient hominids may have been seafarers

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Human ancestors that left Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago to see the rest of the world were no landlubbers. Stone hand axes unearthed on the Mediterranean island of Crete indicate that an ancient Homo species — perhaps Homo erectus — had used rafts or other seagoing vessels to cross from northern Africa to Europe via at least some of the larger islands in between, says archaeologist Thomas Strasser of Providence College in Rhode Island.
Several hundred double-edged cutting implements discovered at nine sites in southwestern Crete date to at least 130,000 years ago and probably much earlier, Strasser reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Archaeology. Many of these finds closely resemble hand axes fashioned in Africa about 800,000 years ago by H. erectus, he says. H. erectus had spread from Africa to parts of Asia and Europe by at least that time.
Until now, the oldest known human settlements on Crete dated to around 9,000 years ago. Traditional theories hold that early farming groups in southern Europe and the Middle East first navigated vessels to Crete and other Mediterranean islands at that time.
Other researchers have controversially suggested that H. erectus navigated rafts across short stretches of sea in Indonesia around 800,000 years ago and that Neandertals crossed the Strait of Gibraltar perhaps 60,000 years ago.
 sourceMy comment: Now this is news. I think it's amazing how theories that lasted for decades can change for a year. But that's real science. Everything else is fanaticism. And I never thought that H.erectus was that developed intellectually. But hey, that makes science exciting!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Technology updates, 05. 2010

Today:

  1. Genomics goes beyond DNA sequence
  2. European space company wants solar power plant in space
  3. Device turns thoughts into speech
  4. Europe's Mars missions get final go-ahead
  5. First commercial 3-D bio-printer makes human tissue and organs
  6. Fake blood-clotting product to heal wounded soldiers

Genomics goes beyond DNA sequence

Sequencing company Pacific Biosciences, based in Menlo Park, California, has now developed an integrated system that simultaneously reads a genome sequence and detects an important epigenetic marker called DNA methylation.

DNA methylation — the addition of methyl groups to individual bases — is just one of many epigenetic markers of DNA and its associated proteins. Others include modification of the histone proteins that DNA winds around to form chromatin — the tightly packed cluster that makes up chromosomes — and the activation of small non-coding RNA molecules.

DNA methylation, which reduces gene expression, is linked to key developmental events, as well as many types of cancer. It is the best-studied epigenetic modification, mainly because tools have existed to study it, says Susan Clark, an epigeneticist at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia.

The gold-standard method for detecting DNA methylation, which Clark's group developed more than 15 years ago, is bisulphite sequencing, in which unmethylated versions of the base cytosine are chemically converted into another base, uracil. Sequencing the converted DNA allows scientists to reconstruct a genome-wide methylation map. But the technique has several drawbacks. Not only is it expensive and time consuming, it also damages DNA, reducing the map's accuracy. And it doesn't detect methylation at adenine bases, which are very prevalent in organisms such as bacteria.

Pacific Biosciences' approach for detecting DNA methylation, published this month in Nature Methods1, builds on the company's sequencing technology. The system uses an enzyme called DNA polymerase to read a strand of DNA and build a complementary strand out of nucleo­tides labelled with fluorescent mol­ecules. As each component is added to the growing strand, it produces a flash of light — the colour of the light corresponds to the identity of the base, and thus reveals the sequence of the template DNA.

Analysing the pulses of light, and the time between them, can also show whether methylation is affecting polymerase activity. This has now been exploited to detect methyl­adenine, methylcytosine and a poorly understood modification called 5-hydroxymethylcytosine. W

With the latest technique, the cost of a full-genome methylation map would drop to $100–1,000, he says. "That will change everything." source

My comment: Absolutely awesome. After all, it's not so much what genes you have, but whether they are expressed or not. And precisely such techniques will allow us to know that and maybe to find out what triggers the process. Awesome!

European space company wants solar power plant in space

January 21, 2010 by Lin Edwards
(PhysOrg.com) -- EADS Astrium, Europe's biggest space company, plans to put a solar power satellite in orbit to demonstrate the collection of solar power in space and its transmission via infrared laser to provide electricity on Earth.

Chief executive officer of Astrium, François Auque, said the system is at the testing stage, but that a viable system collecting and transmitting power from could be within reach soon. Auque said space is an attractive idea because it is an inexhaustible and clean form of energy. Unlike solar plants on Earth, orbital solar collectors can work around the clock, and there is no interference from clouds or atmospheric dusts or gases, which means the energy hitting in orbit is much greater than it would be for the same panels on the ground.

Earlier concepts of beaming power to Earth from space were criticized because they relied on microwaves to transmit the power to the ground, which has safety concerns, so Astrium plans to use infrared lasers instead, which means that even if they were misdirected people and objects hit by the laser beams could not be scorched.

The transmission of power via has been tested in Astrium’s laboratories, and they are now concentrating on improving the system’s efficiency. Work on developing converters to convert received infrared energy to electricity is proceeding rapidly, and Astrium is collaborating in this work with scientists at the University of Surrey, in the UK. The company is hoping to achieve 80% efficiency in the conversion. source

My comment:Nice, huh? Though I don't see how they can achieve 80% efficiency. And it won't be good if the atmosphere absorbs too much of that energy. Maybe the best thing to do will be to build some kind of cable after all. It would guarantee efficiency, though at the cost of not working 24 hours per day. But then, the cable can be connected with relaying station, while the collectors can work the whole day and transmit the power to it. Now that sounds pretty cool. And as for the cable, it shouldn't be undoable with current technology.

Device turns thoughts into speech

Dec. 31, 2009
Scientists have successfully tested a system that translates brain waves into speech, raising the prospect that people left mute by stroke, Lou Gehrig's disease and other afflictions will one day be able to communicate by synthetic voice.

The system was tested on a 26-year-old man left paralyzed by a brain stem stroke, but with his consciousness and cognitive abilities intact. The condition is known as "locked-in syndrome." In this condition, communication by eye movement or other limited motion is possible, but extremely cumbersome.

Scientists implanted an electrode about 5 millimeters deep into the part of the subject's brain responsible for planning speech. After a few months nerve cells grew into the electrode, producing detectable signals.

It took several years, however, to develop a computer system that could discriminate elements of speech from the busy backdrop of neural activity, lead researcher Frank Guenther, with the Department of Cognitive and Neural Systems at Boston University, told Discovery News.

The first "words" detected from the subject's brain were three vowel sounds, but the speed with which the speech thought was transmitted into audible sound was about 50 milliseconds -- the same amount of time it typically takes for naturally occurring speech.

The embedded electrode amplifies neural signals and converts them into FM radio waves which are then transmitted wirelessly across the subject's scalp to two coils on his head that serve as receiving antennas. source

My comment: Also nice, but if you ask me, it would be much better if they worked out how to fix such illnesses. This, of course, is good first step and quite an achievement and it's also a step towards full-sense virtual reality. Which I'm really eager to try.

Europe's Mars missions get final go-ahead

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News

Member-states of the European Space Agency (Esa) have given final approval to revised plans to explore Mars.

The Council of Esa has given the green light to a two-mission endeavour that would see the launch of an orbiter in 2016 and a rover in 2018.

The exploration projects will be undertaken in partnership with the US space agency (Nasa).

Esa's Council of Ministers has approved an initial budget of 850 million euros to support the missions. It will need to increase the cash available by about 150 million euros in future years.

The 2016 orbiter would be designed to track down the sources of methane and other trace gases recently detected at Mars. The presence of methane is intriguing because its likely origin is either present-day life or geological activity.

Confirmation of either would be a major discovery.

The 2018 ExoMars rover - now a much bigger vehicle - could then be targeted at one of the most interesting sources.

The 2016 mission would also have sufficient mass margin to put some sort of lander on the surface, although this would stay in just one location and may not be very long-lived. source

My comment: I'm so happy to hear that those missions got an approval, because they are important for ESA and for European achievements as a whole. Too bad 2016 is so far ahead.

First commercial 3-D bio-printer makes human tissue and organs

Invetech, an innovator in new product development and custom automation for the biomedical, industrial and consumer markets, today announced that it has delivered the world's first production model 3D bio-printer to Organovo, developers of the proprietary NovoGen bioprinting technology. Organovo will supply the units to research institutions investigating human tissue repair and organ replacement.

Keith Murphy, CEO of Organovo, based in San Diego, said the units represent a breakthrough because they provide for the first time a flexible technology platform for organizations working on many different types of tissue construction and organ replacement.

The printer, developed by Invetech, fits inside a standard biosafety cabinet for sterile use. It includes two print heads, one for placing human cells, and the other for placing a hydrogel, scaffold, or support matrix.

Invetech plan to ship a number of 3D bio-printers to Organovo during 2010 and 2011 as a part of the instrument development program. source

My comment: Now that is absolutely awesome! Even if it is somewhat grotesque - a printer for bio-tissues. But still, imagine how useful it could be in the cases of burn victims. And this is the most simple use. We're not even talking about organ growth. And the researchers would be able to play with different tissues, like on a computer game. So cool!


Fake blood-clotting product to heal wounded soldiers

Scientists say they have made a synthetic blood-clotting agent that could help wounded troops and patients. In the lab, the fake platelets cut bleeding in half compared with having no treatment.

They could offer doctors a limitless supply with a longer shelf life than fresh donor platelets, the journal Science Translational Medicine reports.

The Case Western Reserve University team in the US hopes the product could become available in coming years.

James Bertram and Professor Erin Lavik developed the platelets using biodegradable polymers and designed them to home in and link up with a patient's own platelets at the site of injury.

The synthetic platelets work alongside the body's own platelets to quickly stem the bleeding.

In rats, injections of the therapy prior to injury halved bleeding time. When given 20 seconds after the injury, bleeding time was cut by a quarter.

source

My comment: I only cannot understand why they should use it only "on the field". I guess it's the army who paid them, but still I don't like the way it sounds. I think civil health care is also extremely important.


First Self-sustaining Fusion Reactor Planned

Russia and Italy have entered into an agreement to build a new fusion reactor outside Moscow that could become the first such reactor to achieve ignition, the point where a fusion reaction becomes self-sustaining instead of requiring a constant input of energy. The design for the reactor, called Ignitor, originated with MIT physics professor Bruno Coppi, who will be the project's principal investigator.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

The miracle of life, 04. 2010

Oceans of Liquid Diamond May Exist On Neptune and Uranus - cool, huh?
I, virus: Why you're only half human - A very interesting article on the symbiosis between humans and viruses. I find it rather convincing.

Hello! This blog was away for too long. I hope I will revamp it little by little. As you can see, the articles I pasted here are all seriously shortened - if you like them, please visit the source site and read them. I'm sick of publishing stuff too long to be read, ever. Now, it would be all about pieces of information. So, I hope you enjoy this post. It's dedicated to the miracles of life and idea that finally emerges - that we know so little about life itself, it's hypocrisy and arrogance to expect anything at all. All can do is to watch and learn, because life is much more sophisticated in survival than we think. Enjoy!
Today:

  1. Researchers synchronize blinking 'genetic clocks' (w/ Video)
  2. Some mouse sperm can identify, and even cooperate with, its brethren
  3. Ancient Tree (Almost) Older Than Dirt
  4. Elixir of youth lurks in blood of conjoined mice
  5. Viruses use 'hive intelligence' to focus their attack
  6. The real Avatar: ocean bacteria act as 'superorganism'

Researchers synchronize blinking 'genetic clocks' (w/ Video)

January 20, 2010
Researchers at UC San Diego who last year genetically engineered bacteria to keep track of time by turning on and off fluorescent proteins within their cells have taken another step toward the construction of a programmable genetic sensor. The scientists recently synchronized these bacterial "genetic clocks" to blink in unison and engineered the bacterial genes to alter their blinking rates when environmental conditions change.

The researchers constructed devices to precisely control the sizes of the bacterial colonies between two different scales: a micron, or a millionth of a meter, and a millimeter, or one-thousandth of a meter. At the micron scales, Hasty said the cells in the colonies oscillate synchronously from 50 to 90 minutes, a period that can be tuned externally. But at the longer, or millimeter scales, he noted, the time for diffusion of the signal becomes more important, allowing the researchers to actually observe the propagation of the signal through the colony. source
My comment: That's a glorious day for bio-sensors I guess.

Some mouse sperm can identify, and even cooperate with, its brethren

January 20, 2010 BY STEVE BRADT
(PhysOrg.com) -- Some mouse sperm can discriminate between its brethren and competing sperm from other males, clustering with its closest relatives to swim faster in the race to the egg. But this sort of cooperation appears to be present only in certain promiscuous species, where it affords an individual's sperm a competitive advantage over that of other males.

This ability of sperm to discriminate between related and unrelated sperm is not seen in , in which sperm of different males are unlikely to ever interact. The results suggest that competition among males drives among their sperm.

Fisher and Hoekstra studied sperm from two species of deer mice, Peromyscus polionotus and Peromyscus maniculatus. Although closely related, these two species differ greatly in their : P. polionotus is monogamous, while P. maniculatus females are promiscuous, mating with successive males as little as one minute apart.

The scientists found that only sperm from the promiscuous species showed the ability to discriminate between closely related and more distantly related sperm. When sperm from different P. polionotus males was combined in a Petri dish, it showed no selective . source

My comment:"The results suggest that competition among males drives among their sperm." Nooo, that sounds so fun! Really :) And anyway, it proves why promiscuity is something good. Evolutionary, at least.

Ancient Tree (Almost) Older Than Dirt

By Michael Reilly | Wed Dec 23, 2009 08:40 AM ET

At the top of a small hill in suburban southern California, there is what appears to be a thicket of stunted, gnarled oak trees wedged between a pile of boulders.

The entire grove of trunks is in fact one plant, a newly discovered Palmer's oak (Quercus palmeri) that researchers estimate is over 13,000 years old, making it one of the oldest plants on Earth.

Researchers, led by Jeffery Ross-Ibarra of the University of California, Davis, found the tree a decade ago during a routine survey of local plant life.

It's easy to miss; none of its 70 stems get more than a few feet tall, and it grows in a boulder pile that doubles as shelter from the area's buffeting winds.

Genetic analysis confirmed their suspicion. Each of the 70 stems are genetically identical; they are the same plant, currently growing in an oval 25 yards long and 8 yards wide.

Scientists estimate an Aspen stand in Utah, called Pando, may be tens of thousands of years old, though estimates vary widely. And a creosote bush growing in the Mojave Desert -- dubbed King Clone -- has been reliably dated at nearly 12,000 years old using carbon isotopes.But any trace of ancient wood has been lost to termites, so they team is left with a guess. It could be anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 years old, Ross-Ibarra said, dating to a time when the Jurupa Mountains were cooler and wetter, and Palmer's oaks were prevalent. source

My comment: Can you even imagine one organism, that is 13 000 years old?! Even if it's only 5 000, it's still unbelievable! It reminds you of Avatar?


Elixir of youth lurks in blood of conjoined mice

AN UNUSUAL experiment in which the blood supplies of old and young mice were bound together as if they were conjoined twins has boosted hopes of one day giving new life to old bodies.

A team led by Amy Wagers of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute in Boston, Massachusetts, discovered that the blood of the young animals seemed to rejuvenate ageing blood stem cells in the bone marrows of the older mice. It also revitalised so-called "niche" cells in the bone marrow, which nourish, support and stimulate blood stem cells.

Although old mice make more blood stem cells and more niche cells than young mice, many are faulty and don't repair the body as efficiently as the younger equivalents. Old mice also make too many myeloid blood cells, which contribute to inflammation and the development of cancer, and too few lymphoid blood cells, which orchestrate tissue repair.

But when Wagers's team yoked 21-month-old mice to young mice just 2 months old, all these age-related changes were reversed: the mice made fewer myeloid cells and more lymphoid cells. The researchers conclude that as-yet-unidentified components in the young mice's blood passed into the older animals and prompted these youth-giving changes.

A "one-off" exposure to the relevant blood factors won't reverse ageing, it would need to be constant. source

My comment: Wow! That sounds so freaking interesting. Because ok, you can't connect an old person and a baby forever, no one of them will have a quality life. But it implies that if you can substitute the key part of our organisms with new ones, then the whole organism will get younger. Now that's something, right?

Viruses use 'hive intelligence' to focus their attack

A tactic familiar from insect behaviour seems to give viruses the edge in the eternal battle between them and their host – and the remarkable proof can be seen in a video.

The video catches viruses only a few hundred nanometres in size in the act of hopping over cells that are already infected. This allows them to concentrate their energies on previously uninfected cells, accelerating the spread of infection fivefold.

The traditional idea of how viruses spread goes like this. A virus first enters a cell and hijacks its machinery to make its own viral proteins and replicate. Thousands of replicated viruses then spread to neighbouring cells to wreak havoc.

When Smith watched the vaccinia virus infecting monkey liver cells, he thought that it was spreading far too quickly. "It takes 5 to 6 hours for the virus to replicate, but it was spreading from cell to cell within 1 or 2 hours," he says.

Smith reckons that two viral proteins which are presented on the surface of the infected cell effectively tell the virus not to bother reinfecting that cell. When he looked at virus strains lacking each of these proteins, the virus spread at the slower rate that would expected without the "bouncing infection" mechanism. source

My comment: Cool indeed. It seems like cooperation is something much wider spread than expected. Interesting, huh?

The real Avatar: ocean bacteria act as 'superorganism'

Some researchers believe that bacteria in ocean sediments are connected by a network of microbial nanowires. These fine protein filaments could shuttle electrons back and forth, allowing communities of bacteria to act as one super-organism. Now Lars Peter Nielsen of Aarhus University in Denmark and his team have found tantalising evidence to support this controversial theory.

Many marine bacteria generate energy by oxidising the gas hydrogen sulphide, which is common in ocean sediments. To do this, the bugs need access to the oxygen in seawater to carry away the electrons produced as the sulphide is broken down.

Nielsen and his team took samples of bacteria-laced sediment from the sea floor close to Aarhus. In the lab, they first removed and then replaced the oxygen in the seawater above the samples. To their surprise, measurements of hydrogen sulphide revealed that bacteria several centimetres from the surface started breaking down the gas long before the reintroduced oxygen had diffused down to them.

Nielsen believes a network of conductive protein wires between the bacteria makes this possible, allowing the oxidation reaction to happen remotely from the oxygen that sustains it. The wires transport electrons from bacteria in deeper, oxygen-poor sediments to bacteria in oxygen-rich mud near the surface. There, they are offloaded onto the oxygen, completing the reaction. Nielsen calls the process "electrical symbiosis". source

My comment: Absolutely cool! I think we're really just starting to grasp what life is and how complicated it might be on every level.