Speck of Science 8/15/16 – Nat Geo Writes About Pooping Comb Jellies

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Still from Ryan M. Bolton 2016 video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=weeFO6kLu5o

Lest you think National Geographic is losing their edge, the reason why ctenophores (the phylum to which comb jellies belong) defecating is a big deal is because it was thought this group of creatures had a single opening for both feeding and excreting. University of Miami researcher William Brown debuted videos at the March 2016 Ctenopolooza gathering at the Whitney Lab in St. Augustine (where I’ve done much of my own dissertation field and lab work) that prove otherwise. One of the peculiar videos is featured partway through Nat Geo’s article here. Science writes about the find as well.

One of the most interesting aspects of this find is questions regarding the evolutionary history of gut development. It was thought to be a pretty straight forward pathway from one opening to two. However, because comb jellies evolved before other organisms that still have a single opening, such as sponges, things are looking slightly more interesting. Perhaps ctenophores branched off, and smartly evolved a more complex gut tract independent of these organisms. Or, perhaps some of these single-orificed organisms started with two but lost one over time – similar to the story of some marine mammals that long ago left the sea to become land-dwellers, only to ultimately return again.

 

 

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Speck of Science – 4/19/16 – March of the Crabs

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Source: Animal Planet

Mass migrations fascinate me – massive swarms of creatures on robotic treks to satisfy deep-seated needs for resources – nature’s automatons reaching for food, for mates, for brighter skies. One of the earliest that captured my attention is expressed in this Animal Planet video documenting the movement of red crabs on Christmas Island:

http://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/wild-kingdom/videos/christmas-island-red-crabs/

(Note at 1:40, crustaceans seem to be playing “frogger” while obliviously scuttling across roads and railroad tracks. Not the unexpected result of the clash between crab and human.)

A gif of the oceanic equivalent has made a recent appearance online, showing an endless carpet of sandy colored scuttlers (they were in fact red,  or “tuna,” crabs who appeared that way as they stirred up a the sediment on the sea floor). However, this article sheds more light on the unusual event captured by a manned submersible exploring Hannibal Bank off of Panama (fitting name for the location of a slightly unnerving and intriguing event to occur? ). The following video comes from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institut and features scientist Jesús Pineda explaining the details around recording the migration:

 

 

5 Examples of the Revolution of 3D Printing in the Sciences

Here is a quick list re-visiting some of the more innovative and thought-provoking applications or ideas surrounding 3D printing in the sciences over the past few years:

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Credit: Wake Forest Medical Center
  • Printing human tissue. Recent news shows we’re able to use 3D printing more effectively to create intricate models of organs for learning purposes. However, a smattering of experts across disciplines have made progress in printing processes that utilize the stuff of the human body to create swaths of tissue that can be used for grafts or testing. The purported next step is the more complex arrangement of tissue into whole organs that are custom designed for the patient, limiting the possibility of rejection and alleviating the long wait times on transplant lists.
  • printedteeth1-143x214Antimicrobial teeth.  A boon to those of us with an arduous dental history, the development of bacteria-resistant tooth implants may be more than a distant fever dream. Dutch scientists have printed and initially tested tooth prototypes against human saliva, but are still a ways off from starting patient trials.
  • Smart textiles. When it comes to wearables, 3D printing is appearing in some surprising ways. Take this architectural swimsuit top meant to help clean the ocean  by locking aquatic contaminants away in its fabric. Or this Anouk Wipprecht design of a “spider” dress that responds to the wearer’s emotional state. A great deal of industry seems to be focused on the concept of wearable electronics, which is sure to gain momentum from the recent production of a flexible graphene fabric.
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4D Dress, Photo Credit: Steve Marsel Studio
  • The advent of 4D printing. Harvard researchers have revealed new research of 4D printing techniques that allows for the creation of materials that can interact with their environments and can experience temporal changes (thus adding a fourth dimension to 3D applications). They have developed mathematical models that can suggest exactly how the material is to be printed in order to produce the desired changes in shape. One of the primary suggested uses for 4D printing is the fabrication of self-building objects. But as presented in the photo above, the world of 4D printing and haute couture is also colliding.
  • Printing custom drug formulations. Lee Cronin at Glasglow University, as told to the Guardian in 2012, envisions a day where we would be able to print our prescriptions at home. The New York Times recently released this article about the continuing challenges of drug shortages that can arise from impacts to manufacturer facilities, or when drug production is limited due to concerns about bankability. The ability to more easily synthesize medical compounds could revolutionize the pharmaceutical industry.

Depth of Field #2: The Sea Hare Emerges

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Photo Credit: Carrie Schuman

The sun is starting to set on expanses of mirror-reflective tide pools speckling the beach of the Tawharanui Marine Reserve in New Zealand. I’ve been walking along staring into them at random in my search for anything novel when I chance across what is at best guess an example of Aplysia dactylomelathe variable sea or spotted hare.

In a surprising contrast to the small chitins, tunicates, and other finds, the sea hare was relatively large, measuring somewhere in the range of 5 to 6 inches in length. As seen in this additional photo, a smattering of spots can be seen along its body:

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Photo Credit: Carrie Schuman

According to this source, sea hares are hermaphroditic though they do not practice self-fertilization. They may often form reproductive “chains”.

As suggested by one of their common names, they may be highly variable in appearance with their coloration primarily determined by the type of algae they feed on.

They release a purple dye as a mechanism to surprise and confuse predators. This particular characteristic was one I had once experienced first hand when handling my first sea hare in the mangroves of Key West. It certainly has a startling quality to it.

Variable sea hares tend to be more solitary, and nocturnal in nature. So perhaps no small amount of dumb luck governed this thrilling little chance encounter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aplysia dactylomela

Speck of Science – 1/7/2016: Aye Calypso

Sometimes I come across some interesting news item that I don’t have time to write about in depth but still want to share. I’ve decided to start a new Speck of Science feature on my blog as a way to share brief blips and recaps of internet curiosities and dispatches.

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Today’s item is an article from the Guardian reporting that Jacques Cousteau’s ship, the Calypso, will soon be ready to begin life anew. The ship was downed by an accident and since 2007 had been languishing in a sort of boatyard purgatory due to disagreements over payment and the purpose of its restoration. This is truly exciting news for the continuing legacy of marine exploration, and our care for the world’s oceans.

 

 

 

 

 

The Weird and Wonderful World of the Water Bear

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Photo Credit: Steve Gschmeissner/Science Photo Library/Corbis

I have long been fascinated by water bears (also known as tardigrades, and more amusingly and infrequently as moss piglets), though I have yet been lucky enough to see them for myself, wandering about their microscopic worlds.

However, they have been items of interest as of late due to some of their more bizarre qualities. (I like to think of them as literal inclusions in the news, wandering about among inky words on printed pages). If the distinction of being able to survive in the vacuum of space along with other extreme environments wasn’t enough, it was recently revealed that they have an inordinately high amount of foreign DNA in their genome – almost 18% relative to many organism’s 1% – earning them the playful moniker of “DNA thief” in articles on the subject.

Water Bear

Much of this extra DNA may be incorporated into the tardigrade’s potential tool kit during periods of desiccation. Water bear DNA is suspected to actually sheer and fragment when dried out, and to reassemble once re-hydrated. This period of genome construction probably provides ample opportunity for stray genetic material to sneak in.

Researchers have also recently discovered more about how water bears may cope with this extreme drying out and jumbling of their genetic material. Apparently these bitty creatures produce a sort of “bioglass” that coats and protects their cellular contents.

So along with discoveries of new members of the water bear extended family, there’s no doubt there are many strange revelations to come concerning these curious creatures.

Updated note: Thanks to Robie and her comment below. Turns out there is some conversation occurring right now with regards to whether the figure of ~ 17% foreign DNA is, in fact, accurate. So while it may take a little time for researchers to suss out the truth of the matter, this is an interesting insight into the tug and pull of the scientific process.