Biology news

Nematodes

At www.physorg.com/print229686718.html is a story about worms, or nematodes, living two and a half miles beneath the surface of the earth, according to a paper in Nature (June 2nd). Speculation is now that life may exist even deeper within the crust and this raises the possibility that such life may exist elsewhere in the solar system - or beyond.

Mammoths, Gray whales ... and Polar bears.

Beneath an alpine meadow in the Colorado Rockies a huge fossil bed has been foudn - exactly how and when it was laid down is yet to be worked out. It is some 35 feet deep and is choc a bloc with Ice Age mammals (see www.nytimes.com/2011/07/05/science/05dig.html ). What is now a meadow environment was formerly a lake and previous to that, a glacier - but where do the animals come from?

Problems with ancient DNA

Recent DNA tests on the mummies of Tutankhamon and his close relatives came up with the odd, if not  too likely finding that they had origins in western Europe. Now it is thought the DNA sampling procedure was open to contamination. The mummies have been handled by a lot of European archaeologists and scientists - so that is not surprising. See www.nature.com/news/2011/110427/full/472404a.html for an idea of the limitations of DNA research and the inhouse controversies about the way it is applied in practise - and an expectation it might get better in the future.

And Electric Brains ...

At www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110428143155.htm ... biologists have found that electrical oscillations in the brain are more important than they imagined as they play a role in organising cognitive functions such as memory and are particularly important as they allow the brain to store information that in turn allows us to navigate around the physical environment - a sort of inbuilt GPS system inside our heads. The paper describing it all can be found in Science of April 29th (2011).

Electric Microbes ?

At www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/ April 25th (Physics blog) 'How Bacteria could generate radio waves' (or go to www.technologyreview.com and click on blogs along the top menu, then click on the Physics blog which is usually the first one to pop up). arxiv.org/abs/1104.3113 'Eelctromagnetic signals from bacterial DNA' ... natural sources for radio waves include lightning, stars and pulsars and artificial sources include radar, mobile phones and computers etc.

Giant Rabbits

At www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/72081/title/Supersized_superbunny/ ... this is another example of Mediterranean islands becoming home to dwarfism and gigantism. See earlier posts on this subject - such as dwarf mammoths, dwarf elephants surviving on islands in the Mediterranean as sea levels changed. In this case it is gigantism - a larger than normal rabbit. A few million years ago such a rabbit lived on the island of Minorca (see March issue of Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology). It was six times the size of modern wild rabbits.

Buttercups and Dinosaurs

A fossil member of the Ranunculae flowering plant family, which includes buttercups, marsh marigolds and water crowfoot, among others, has been found in volcanic ash beds of an ancient lake in China. The plant, when it was alive, was probably growing in a marsh habitat - or at the least, in moist conditions. It is said to date back 125 million years ago (see www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110331142217.htm ).

Amino acids, RNA ... and toads in Australia

Two papers with a bearing on biology and evolution. One can be found at www.physorg.com/print220106627.html where a Mexican biochemist has decyphered part of the 'code of life' - within a large RNA protein enzyme responsible for expressing genetic code for the amino acid glutamin. The second paper is at www.physorg.com/news/2011-03-speedy-toads-advance-theory-evolution.htm and published in PNAS by threee biologists in Australia. For 150 years biologists have thought evolutionary change is caused by just two factors - survival and reproduction.

The hardiness of the Stoat

At www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070419145346.htm we have an old story, but one that is interesting never the less. Irish stoats, it has been found from DNA evidence, survived the Late Glacial Maximum - but exactly where they survived is unknown (not necessary in Ireland but somewhere now submerged perhaps?) A paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Society by scientists from Queens University, claim that stoats survived in Ireland when the Irish Sea was a glacier and an ice sheet covered half of the island, as that was the situation during the LGM.

Deep Ocean Life Forms

Ever wondered what lives on the bottom of the ocean - or in the bottom waters? A catalogue of deep sea life forms can be seen at www.marlin.ac.uk/deep-sea-species-image-catalogue/ but there are of course lots more, estimated at around 230,000 marine animals that are currently known - but there is a total of well over 500,000 species yet to discover (see www.physorg.com/print219062315.html )