New shrimp species named after Tolkien character Bilbo


This video says about itself:

22 February 2018

Observations on the symbiotic relationship between the caridean shrimp Odontonia sibogae (Bruce, 1972) and its ascidian host Herdmania momus (Savigny, 1816). Ya’arit Levitt-Barmats and Noa Shenkar (2018), PLOS ONE.

Now, relatives of this shrimp species have been discovered.

From ScienceDaily:

In a hole in a tunicate there lived a hobbit: New shrimp species named after Bilbo Baggins

June 7, 2018

Summary: A new species of shrimp was named after Tolkien‘s Bilbo Baggins thanks to its small size and hairy feet. The new species, Odontonia bagginsi, was described, figured and named together with another new species: Odontonia plurellicola. Both shrimps live symbiotically inside tunicates collected around Ternate and Tidore, Indonesia. In the present study anatomical and genetic character[istic]s were used to place the new species in the tree of life.

Two new species of tiny symbiotic shrimps are described, illustrated and named by biology student at Leiden University Werner de Gier as part of his bachelor’s research project, supervised by Dr. Charles H. J. M. Fransen, shrimp researcher of Naturalis Biodiversity Center (Leiden, the Netherlands).

Inspired by the extremely hairy feet of one of the species, the authors decided that they should honour Middle Earth’s greatest halfling, Bilbo Baggins.

Aptly named Odontonia bagginsi, the new shrimp joins the lines of other species named after Tolkien‘s characters such as the cave-dwelling harvestman Iandumoema smeagol, the golden lizard Liolaemus smaug and the two subterranean spiders Ochyrocera laracna and Ochyrocera ungoliant.

The newly described shrimps were collected during the Ternate expedition to the Indonesian islands of Tidore and Ternate, organised by Naturalis Biodiversity Center and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) in 2009.

Typically for the Odontonia species, the new shrimps do not reach sizes above a centimetre in length, and were found inside tunicates. It is believed that these symbiotic crustaceans are fully adapted to live inside the cavities of their hosts, which explains their small-sized and smooth bodies.

Unlike most Odontonia species, which live inside solitary tunicates, the new species Odontonia plurellicola was the first one to be associated with a colonial tunicate. These tunicates have even smaller internal cavities, which explains the tiny size of the new species.

To determine the placement of the new species in the tree of life, the scientists compared the shrimps’ anatomical features, including the legs, mouthparts and carapace. As a result, they were assigned to Odontonia. Further, the available genetic information and Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) images of the unusual feet of the newly discovered shrimp provided a new updated identification key for all members of the species group.

“Being able to describe, draw and even name two new species in my bachelor years was a huge honour. Hopefully, we can show the world that there are many new species just waiting to be discovered, if you simply look close enough!” says Werner de Gier, who is currently writing his graduate thesis at Naturalis Biodiversity Center and working together with Dr. Charles Fransen on crustaceans.

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Ancient organic molecules discovery on Mars


This NASA video from today in the USA says about itself:

The Curiosity rover has discovered ancient organic molecules on Mars, embedded within sedimentary rocks that are billions of years old. News Release: here.

From Chemical & Engineering News today:

Ancient organic molecules found on Mars

Curiosity rover also reports data on the red planet’s mysterious methane plumes

by Mark Peplow

Wherever life flourishes, it leaves a calling card written in organic molecules—and researchers have spent decades hoping to uncover these telltale signatures on Mars.

NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity has now given those hopes a considerable boost after finding organic deposits trapped in exposed rocks that were formed roughly 3.5 billion years ago (Science 2018). The rover’s discovery at Gale Crater shows that organic molecules were present when that part of the red planet hosted a potentially habitable lake. It also proves that these traces can survive through the ages, ready to be discovered by robot explorers.

“We started this search 40 years ago, and now we finally have a set of organic molecules that tells us this stuff is preserved near the surface,” says Jennifer L. Eigenbrode of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who led the study.

Curiosity gathered mudstone samples and gradually heated them to 860 ºC, using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry to study the gases produced. It identified a smorgasbord of molecules, including thiophene, methylthiophenes, and methanethiol, which are probably fragments from larger organic macromolecules in the sediment. These organic deposits may be something like kerogen, the fossilized organic matter found in sedimentary rocks on Earth that contains a jumble of waxy hydrocarbons and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The organic compounds that were originally transformed into martian kerogen could have come from three possible sources—geological activity, meteorites, or living organisms—but Curiosity’s data offer no insight on that question. “The most plausible source of these organics is from outside the planet,” says Inge Loes ten Kate, an astrobiologist at Utrecht University, who was not involved in the research. She notes that roughly 100 to 300 metric tons of organic molecules arrive on Mars every year, hitching a ride on interplanetary dust particles. “Three billion years ago, it was much more hectic in the solar system”, ten Kate says, so there would have been much larger deliveries of organics via interplanetary travelers.

Curiosity had previously detected chlorocarbons in martian soil, which were probably generated by reactions with the abundant perchlorate found on the planet’s surface. In contrast, the mudstone samples have delivered “what we expect of natural organic matter,” Eigenbrode says.

Methane mystery

Meanwhile, the rover’s infrared spectrometer has been tackling the long-standing puzzle of martian methane (Science 2018). Orbiting Mars probes, along with telescopes on Earth, have previously seen occasional plumes of methane in the planet’s atmosphere, raising speculation that the gas could have come from geological activity or even methane-producing organisms.

Curiosity has taken methane measurements over 55 Earth months, spanning three martian years, which now reveal that the atmospheric concentration of the gas varies seasonally between 0.24 and 0.65 parts per billion by volume. “This is the first time that Mars methane has shown any repeatability”, says Christopher R. Webster at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who led the work. “It always seemed kind of random before.”

The rover also saw brief spikes in methane concentration to about 7 ppbv, which is consistent with previous remote observations of plumes, says Michael J. Mumma of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, who has been chasing martian methane for more than 15 years but was not involved in Curiosity’s latest findings. “The ground-based detection is very important because it confirms the methane is there,” he says.

The methane’s source is still an open question. But Webster’s team says that the seasonal cycle rules out one of the leading suggestions: that organic molecules, delivered to the surface by meteorites and space dust, were broken down by ultraviolet light to produce the gas.

Instead, the cyclical nature of the data suggests that methane could be stored deep underground in icy crystals called clathrates and slowly escape to the planet’s topsoils. Laboratory experiments suggest that the soil could temporarily hang on to the gas, releasing more of it in the warmer martian summer to produce the seasonal cycles.

Mars’s newest satellite, the European Space Agency’s Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), could help confirm that idea. It began to survey the whole planet for methane in April. “We’re all waiting with bated breath to see what they find,” Webster says. TGO should also measure the carbon isotope ratios in the methane it detects, which may provide hints at a biological or geological origin. And in 2021, ESA expects to land a rover on Mars that could drill up to 2 meters below the surface, where there might be better-preserved organics compared with the ones collected at Gale Crater, Eigenbrode says.

These lines of evidence could eventually help resolve questions about our own origins. Mars and Earth were once quite similar places, ten Kate says, yet life apparently failed to gain a foothold on the red planet. “Was there really no life on Mars, or did it just not survive?” she says. The answer could shed light on the crucial conditions needed to nurture the first life-forms on our own world.

See also here.

Opportunity rover waits out a huge dust storm on Mars. The 14-year-old craft has weathered storms before, but none this big, by Lisa Grossman, 5:56pm, June 11, 2018.

Australian lizards scare predators with ultra-violet light


This February 2018 video from Australia says about itself:

On this episode of Breaking Trail, Coyote catches a Blue Tongue Skink! While exploring the Australian outback just outside the town of Meandarra the team stumbles upon this large snake-like lizard!

Infamous for their large blue tongue defensive display, this species is well known in pet trades around the world. Get ready to meet Australia’s favorite skink!

From ScienceDaily:

Australian lizard scares away predators with ultra-violet tongue

Researchers investigate how the blue-tongued skink uses a full-tongue display to deter attacking predators

June 7, 2018

When attacked, bluetongue skinks open their mouth suddenly and as wide as possible to reveal their conspicuously coloured tongues. This surprise action serves as their last line of defence to save themselves from becoming prey says Martin Whiting, of Macquarie University in Australia, who conceived the study just published in Springer’s journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. The research revealed that the back of the northern bluetongue skink‘s tongue is much more UV-intense and luminous than the front, and that this section is only revealed in the final stages of an imminent attack.

Bluetongued skinks of the genus Tiliqua are medium-large sized lizards widely found throughout Australia, eastern Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. They are well camouflaged but their strikingly blue tongues are distinct and are UV-reflective in species in which this has been measured. When attacked, they open their mouths wide to reveal their tongues.

The research team set out to investigate the tactics that bluetongue skinks use to ward off attackers, and focused on the largest of the bluetongue skinks, the northern bluetongue skink (Tiliqua scincoides intermedia). This omnivorous, ground-dwelling lizard of northern Australia is well camouflaged thanks to the broad brown bands across its back. However, birds, snakes, monitor lizards — all animals thought to have UV vision — are among its main predators.

First the researchers gathered information about the colour and intensity of different parts of the lizard’s tongue using a portable spectrophotometer to measure the tongues of thirteen skinks. The first exciting finding was that the blue tongue is actually a UV-blue tongue. The researchers then established that the rear of the skinks’ tongues was almost twice as bright as the tips. When a predator approached, the skinks would remain camouflaged until the very last moment, before opening their mouths widely and revealing their highly conspicuous UV-blue tongues.

The next part of the study involved simulating ‘attacks’ on these lizards using model (fake) predators. The team used a snake, a bird, a goanna (monitor lizard), a fox and a piece of wood as a control. The model predator attacks were simulated within a controlled environment.

“The lizards restrict the use of full-tongue displays to the final stages of a predation sequence when they are most at risk, and do so in concert with aggressive defensive behaviours that amplify the display, such as hissing or inflating their bodies,” explains lead author Arnaud Badiane. “This type of display might be particularly effective against aerial predators, for which an interrupted attack would not be easily resumed due to loss of inertia.”

The more intense the attack and the risk they were experiencing, the more full-tongue displays the animals were seen to use, and the greater section of their tongues they would reveal. Such displays were also most often triggered by attacking birds and foxes, rather than by snakes or monitor lizards.

“The timing of their tongue display is crucial,” adds Badiane. “If performed too early, a display may break the lizard’s camouflage and attract unwanted attention by predators and increase predation risk. If performed too late, it may not deter predators.”

Guns not lethal, Trump’s Miseducation Secretary DeVos says


This video from the USA says about itself:

Betsy DeVos: Guns Don’t Cause School Shootings

6 June 2018

Betsy DeVos is not interested in guns causing school shootings.

“Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Tuesday that looking at the role of guns in school safety was not a focus of the federal school safety commission. “That is not part of the commission’s charge, per se”, DeVos said Tuesday during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing in response to a question from Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy about whether the commission would look at the role of firearms.

DeVos said that the commission’s focus is “school safety and how we can ensure our students are safe at school.” DeVos chairs the Federal Commission on School Safety, which was formed after the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 people dead.

The panel also includes the heads of the departments of Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and the attorney general.”

Hosts: Cenk Uygur, Ana Kasparian

Read more here.