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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

The geomantic sight of humans and other bio miracles, 2012

  1. Crows are capable of distinguishing symbols, study finds
  2. Mega beats Mimi for world's biggest virus
  3. New research proves parrot chicks learn their names from parents
  4. Humans Could Have Geomagnetic Sight
  5. Scientists find microbes in lava tube living in conditions like those on Mars
  6. Experiments explain why almost all multicellular organisms begin life as a single cell
  7. Amazon fungi found that eat polyurethane, even without oxygen
  8. Study first to show transgenerational effect of antibiotics

Crows are capable of distinguishing symbols, study finds

October 10, 2011 by Deborah Braconnier
( -- A new study published in Animal Behavior shows that crows are capable of recognizing symbols designed to represent different quantities and is one of many different studies currently looking at the behavior and intelligence of crows.
The new study, conducted by a team of Japanese scientists led by Shoei Sugita from Utsunomiya University, looked at eight jungle crows. These birds are a larger, bigger-beaked relative to the American crow. The idea behind the first experiment was to determine if crows were able to determine which container When the birds were presented with the containers they had a 70 percent success rate in choosing the container with food.
Other experiments changed up the symbols and used things like shapes and other numbers and the overall results found were that the crows were able to choose the symbol representing food anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of the time. Altogether, the researchers performed 20 different experiments.
The study confirms, according to the researchers, that crows are able to distinguish between quantities of items. Other studies on crows conducted at the Utsunomiya University over the last few years have also determined that crows are capable of distinguishing between the human faces of men and women. source
My comment: Above 70% of success is a quite significant number! It makes crow-horror movies even creepier.  

Mega beats Mimi for world's biggest virus

October 10, 2011
A virus found in the sea off Chile is the biggest in the world, harbouring more than 1,000 genes, surprised scientists reported on Monday. The genome of Megavirus chilensis is 6.5 percent bigger than the DNA code of the previous virus record-holder, Mimivirus, isolated in 2003.
Viruses differ from bacteria in that they are usually far smaller and cannot reproduce on their own, needing to penetrate a host cell in which to replicate. But M. chilensis is such a giant that it surpasses many bacteria in size and is genetically the most complex DNA virus ever described. It was taken from sea water sample closed to the shore of Las Cruces, Chile. Its host organism is unknown. source
My comment: I would love to know what the host organism to this giant virus is. I mean, it's huge! A quick check in google shows that more than 1 year after the discovery, scientists still don't know what the host is. Could it be alien? ;)

New research proves parrot chicks learn their names from parents

July 14, 2011 by Bob Y
In a bit of interesting research whose missions was to find out if green-rumped parrots learn the calls that are used by themselves and others to identify them in their flock, or if such calls are innate, and others learn the name from the chicks, researchers from Cornel University swapped eggs between nests in a wild group of the birds, then set about filming and recording the action as it unfolded. The results of their efforts have been published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and it turns out it’s the parents of the chicks, generally called parrotlets, that give their young their identifiers, rather than simply listening to what originates from the little chicks beaks when they begin chirping.
While this research is interesting for its own sake, it’s also interesting because very few animals are known to use identifiers to distinguish members from one another. Up till it was found in , only humans and dolphins have been known to do so. Giving group members names, in addition to demonstrating some degree of intelligence, also helps groups maintain social order. With the parrots, it’s needed because the flocks change members frequently, so everyone having names makes it easier for everyone to keep up with who’s who.  source
My comment: It sounds quite crazy if you think that a bird has the same naming mechanism like humans. A development of this research I would like to see is to check whether the names are unique and if yes, what differs them. Because humans tend to have limited number of names and yet, we find a way to differ, by our family names. 

Humans Could Have Geomagnetic Sight

By Brandon Keim June 21, 2011
The ability to see Earth’s magnetic field, thought to be restricted to sea turtles and swallows and other long-distance animal navigators, may also reside in human eyes. Tests of cryptochrome 2, a key protein component of geomagnetic perception, found that its human version restored geomagnetic orientation in cryptochrome-deficient fruit flies.
Flies are a long, long way from people, but that the protein worked at all is impressive. There’s also a whole lot of it in our eyes.
“Could humans have this cryptochrome heavily expressed in the retina as a light-sensitive magnetoreceptor?” said University of Massachusetts neuroscientist Steven Reppert, lead author of a June 21 Nature Communications cryptochrome study. “We don’t know if the molecule will do this in the human retina, but this suggests the possibility.”
(..)Since then, researchers have described how cryptochrome seems to be a quantum compass that detects infinitesimally subtle, geomagnetically-induced variations in the spin of electrons struck by photons. From those variations, animals seem able to determine their orientation in relation to Earth’s magnetic field.
Many gaps still remain in cryptochrome theory, but it’s generally thought that the cryptochrome system may be active across the animal kingdom, from fish to reptiles to birds. Humans, however, were thought to be an exception. Our own cryptochrome is considered a piece of circadian machinery, part of our molecular clock rather than any optical compass.
The new study, however, suggests that cryptochrome may be more than a clock. Seeking to test how a vertebrate cryptochrome would work in fruit flies, Reppert decided to use the human version. His team engineered flies to be cryptochrome-deficient: They struggled to orient within a magnetically-charged maze. When the researchers spliced human cryptochrome into the flies, they again found their bearings.
(..)His own research suggests that the cryptochrome compass needs superoxide, a type of free radical oxygen molecule, to work. Free radicals tend to destroy DNA. That’s fine for a relatively short-lived animal, but not for one that intends to live for decades.
Reppert himself is now concentrating on how brains read their cryptochrome compass. “At the most fundamental level, we’re interested in how cryptochrome information is transferred to the nervous system,” he said. “Nobody knows how that occurs.” source
My comment: What an exiting study! It means, humans have functional compass in their eyes. Amazing, huh? Interesting also is the connection with the superoxide. Free radicals are considered dangerous, but they have so many uses in our organism, one would think maybe we don't understand very well what's going on. And I'd like to point out that the more we learn about ourselves, the more we found out we have a lot of hidden super-powers. We just have no idea how to use it, because we didn't need those skill in the last 5000 years. But they are still there, waiting for us to tap into them. Maybe that's what happens to advanced yogis when they demonstrate all kind of super-powers. They just remember what was once forgotten. 

Scientists find microbes in lava tube living in conditions like those on Mars

December 15, 2011( -- A team of scientists from Oregon has collected microbes from ice within a lava tube in the Cascade Mountains and found that they thrive in cold, Mars-like conditions.
The microbes tolerate temperatures near freezing and low levels of oxygen, and they can grow in the absence of organic food. Under these conditions their metabolism is driven by the oxidation of iron from olivine, a common volcanic mineral found in the rocks of the lava tube. These factors make the microbes capable of living in the subsurface of and other , the scientists say. source
My comment: Which only goes to confirm that life is much more durable than we have supposed. We tend to think life is unique and fragile but we find more and more examples of microbes living in all kind of hostile conditions. So not only life on Mars is possible, but maybe also on Venus, Jupiter and so on and so on. We are so convinced we know life, but the reality is crazier than any one of us could imagine!

Experiments explain why almost all multicellular organisms begin life as a single cell

December 15, 2011 
Any multicellular animal, from a blue whale to a human being, poses a special difficulty for the theory of evolution. Most of the cells in its body will die without reproducing, and only a privileged few will pass their genes to the next generation.
Experiments with that usually live as individuals but must also join with others to form multicellular bodies to complete their life cycles showed that cooperation depends on kinship. If amoebae occur in well-mixed cosmopolitan groups, then cheaters will always be able to thrive by freeloading on their cooperative neighbors. But if groups derive from a single cell, cheaters will usually occur in all-cheater groups and will have no cooperators to exploit.
The only exceptions are brand new cheater mutants in all-cooperator groups, and these could pose a problem if the mutation rate is high enough and there are many cells in the group to mutate. In fact, the scientists calculated just how many times amoebae that arose from a single cell can safely divide before cooperation degenerates into a free-for-all. The answer turns out to be 100 generations or more. 
So population bottlenecks that kill off diversity and restart the population from a single cell are powerful stabilizers of cellular cooperation, the scientists conclude. source
My comment: I'm very fascinated by the studies of cooperators and cheaters. And this one shows once again that everything is in the balance.

Amazon fungi found that eat polyurethane, even without oxygen

February 3, 2012 by Lin Edwards ( --
Until now polyurethane has been considered non-biodegradable, but a group of students from Yale University in the US has found fungi that will not only eat and digest it, they will do so even in the absence of oxygen. 
Polyurethane is a synthetic polymer (..) which is found in a wide variety of modern appliances, furnishings, etc., and has the advantages of strength, durability and elasticity.
The environmental problem is that once it enters the landfill it could remain there almost indefinitely because nothing we know is able to metabolize and digest it (..), and the chemical bonds within it are so strong they do not degrade readily. Polyurethane can be burnt, but this releases harmful carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, along with other toxic chemicals.
Last year's group, led by Professor Scott Strobel, a molecular biochemist, discovered P. microspora and found that it will not only eat polyurethane, but can survive on a diet consisting solely of polyurethane. Furthermore, it can survive in anaerobic environments, such as those existing in the oxygen-starved regions deep inside landfills.
The newly-discovered fungus is an endophytic microorganism, which means it lives on or inside the tissues of host plants without causing them harm. Several other microorganisms were found that would degrade both solid and liquid polyurethane, but only P. microspora isolates could survive entirely on the plastic under aerobic and anaerobic conditions. source
My comment: Cool news, of course, I hate those plastic bags flying around when stronger winds arise. But if I may suggest, if we use this bacteria, let it be in an isolated place. We don't want this thingy eating every plastic we have around. And it's not exactly clear whether the bacteria can live outside the host-plant and what is the waste it produces after eating the plastic bags.

Study first to show transgenerational effect of antibiotics

April 27, 2012 In a paper published today in Nature's open access journal Scientific Reports, researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno report that male pseudoscorpions treated with the antibiotic tetracycline suffer significantly reduced sperm viability and pass this toxic effect on to their untreated sons. They suggest that a similar effect could occur in humans and other species.  
"This is the first research to show a transgenerational effect of antibiotics," David Zeh, chair of the Department of Biology in the College of Science, said. "Tetracycline has a significant detrimental effect on male reproductive function and sperm viability of pseudoscorpions – reducing viability by up to 25 percent – and now we know that effect is passed on to the next generation. We didn't see the effect in subsequent generations."
In the article, lead author and assistant biology professor Jeanne Zeh surmises that tetracycline may induce epigenetic changes in male reproductive tissues that may be passed to sons — changes that do not alter the sequence of DNA but rather alter the way genes are expressed. The broad-spectrum antibiotic tetracycline is commonly used in animal production, antimicrobial therapy, and for curing arthropods infected with bacterial endosymbionts such as Wolbachia. Despite more than six decades of therapeutic and agricultural use that has resulted in the evolution of widespread bacterial resistance, tetracycline is still commonly used as an additive in animal feed and as an accessible antimicrobial therapy in developing countries. source
My comment: A very brave article. Mostly because of the last sentence - antibiotics are fed to animals which we later eat. Thus, if its effects are passed to the progeny, maybe they can pass to us too. And yet all the efforts to reduce antibiotics use in farms is to no avail. The industry just does not want to listen. Sure, people are not pseudoscorpions, but precisely because we are so much more complex, an in depth study of the issue is needed.