Startle this Parapandulus shrimp, and it will spit a glowing cloud in your direction, illuminating you for predators to see.
To produce these van Gogh-like swirls, the shrimp vomits up chemicals that react together to produce light. This particular shrimp was photographed in the Bahamas, during an expedition in the Johnson-Sea-Link submersible near the sea floor. The mission? To poke sea creatures and see if they would glow.
Check out more bioluminescent animals at National Geographic News.
Shrimp photo via by Sönke Johnsen NOAA-OER/National Geographic News
Nuclear power depends on a steady supply of uranium. The good news is that we have at least a hundred years worth of uranium. The bad news is that both demand for uranium and the price of production are rising—and a hundred years isn’t all that long. To reinforce our stock of uranium, researchers have proposed a backup plan: gather it from the sea.
For every billion pounds of water in the ocean, there are 3.3 pounds of uranium—we just need to figure out how to extract it. Over at IEEE Spectrum, Dave Levitan describes an effective technique for harvesting the diluted uranium:
Hurricane Irene, seen from the International Space Station
Last August, Hurricane Irene blasted Vermont, destroying hundreds of roads and dragging covered bridges into rivers; in New York, where catastrophic flooding was expected, almost nothing happened. Each year, thousands of people die in hurricanes [pdf], in part because although meteorologists can easily use satellite data to track a storm and predict its landfall, predicting a storm’s windspeed, or intensity, is notoriously difficult. Keeping track of the saltiness of the ocean beneath a hurricane may refine predictions, though: A new paper shows that an influx of freshwater can increase a hurricane’s intensity by almost 50 percent.
When a tropical cyclone passes over the ocean, its strong winds churn up the waters, pulling cold seawater up to the surface. This mixing process cools down both the ocean and the hurricane, and because the storm feeds on heat, it reduces a hurricane’s intensity. But sometimes, something blocks that cold water from reaching the surface.
If bacteria can’t grow in a Petri dish, sequencing them is difficult.
What’s the News: Want the genome of a bacterium you found in your belly button? Or, for that matter, of a bacterium producing a promising new antibiotic? Well, unless you can get it to thrive in a Petri dish and create a billion sister cells for analysis, you’re out of luck.
But sequencing the genomes of notoriously finicky bacteria, like those on skin, could be on the horizon with a new procedure that bypasses the Petri dish step. Pairing a new algorithm with an earlier technique, scientists from the Venter Institute and their collaborators can now get all that information from a single cell.
Elkhorn coral infected with white pox.
What’s the News: Over the past decade, diseases, pollution, and warming waters have put coral populations across the globe in a dramatic decline. In an extreme case, the population of elkhorn coral, considered one of the most important reef-building corals in the Caribbean, has decreased by 90–95 percent since 1980, partly due to a disease called white pox.
Now, scientists have traced this lethal disease back to humans. Human feces, which seep into the Florida Keys and the Caribbean from leaky septic tanks, transmit a white pox-causing bacterium to elkhorn coral, researchers report in the journal PLoS ONE. “It is the first time ever that a human disease has been shown to kill an invertebrate,” ecologist James Porter told Livescience. “This is unusual because we humans usually get disease from wildlife, and this is the other way around.”
What’s the News: Biologists have discovered an eel so bizarre that they didn’t initially know if it was an eel or some other kind of fish. The strange creature, dubbed Protoanguilla palau after a researcher found it in an undersea cavern off the coast of Palau, has very few of the anatomic features of modern eels, but displays many hallmarks of primitive eels from the Mesozoic era. It appears that the eel’s last common ancestor with any other living creature existed 200 million years ago, the researchers report in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
Yesterday we reported on a new study that showed shining a laser on certain neurons in mice brains could make them angry and aggressive. But with squid, you don’t need a laser to make the males get mean. All you need is to expose them to a particular chemical. From DISCOVER blogger Ed Yong:
In a flash, schools of male longfin squid can turn from peaceful gatherings to violent mobs. One minute, individuals are swimming together in peace; the next, they’re attacking one another. The males give chase, ramming each other in the sides and grappling with their tentacles.
These sudden bouts of violence are the doing of the female squid. Males are attracted to the sight of eggs, and females lace the eggs with a chemical that transforms the males into aggressive brutes.
For plenty more about how this chemical whips the males into an angry frenzy—and why—check out the rest of Ed’s post at Not Exactly Rocket Science.
Not Exactly Rocket Science: A Squid’s Beak is a Marvel of Biological Engineering
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Tears as chemical signals – smell of female tears affects sexual behaviour of men
80beats: A Blast of Light to the Brain Can Make Mice Mean
The oil stopped spilling from the Deepwater Horizon wellhead months ago, but the Gulf of Mexico’s environmental saga continues. Researchers have investigated the chemicals used to disperse the oil flow in the first place, and found that these “dispersants” didn’t disperse. The effects of this massive chemistry experiment, however, are still unknown.
“The dispersants got stuck in deep water layers around 3,000 feet [915 meters] and below,” said study leader David Valentine, a microbial geochemist at the University of California, Santa Barbara…. “We were seeing it three months after the well had been capped. We found that all of that dispersant added at depth stayed in the deepwater plumes. Not only did it stay, but it didn’t get rapidly biodegraded as many people had predicted.” [National Geographic]
In total, the response team pumped over 800,000 gallons of dispersants into the oil flow; dispersants break down oil into smaller droplets that can degrade more quickly. But the impact of the dispersants themselves has been up for debate. For the new study, scientists tracked the dispersants by following one of its ingredients: dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (DOSS).
Researchers at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, led by biomechanicist Sam Van Wassenbergh, analyzed video footage of seahorses on the hunt and used mathematical models to come to the conclusion that a seahorse’s curvy neck lets it strike at more distant prey.
“They rotate their heads upward to bring their mouth close to the prey [passing above],” explained Dr Wassenbergh…. The creatures’ curved bodies mean that when they do this, their mouths also moved forward, helping to bring passing small crustaceans within sucking distance of their snouts. [BBC News]
He even has an evolutionary theory to back up his observations.
“My theory is that you have this ancestral pipefish-like fish and they evolved a more cryptic lifestyle,” said Dr Wassenbergh. [BBC News]
Unlike the seahorse, the related pipefish has a straight body and swims while attacking its prey. Seahorses, on the other hand, tend to hide out and wait for the prey to come to them. And according to this study, published in the journal Nature Communications, a longer striking distance is a big advantage for a couch-potato creature.
“Once this shift in foraging behavior is made, natural selection will favor animals that can increase the strike distance, which according to our study puts a selective pressure to increase the angle between head and trunk and to become what we now know as sea horses,” [said] researcher Sam Van Wassenbergh. [LiveScience]
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Pregnant male pipefish abort babies from unattractive females
Science Not Fiction: Electric Fish “Plug in” and Turn Their Zapping Into Music
The Loom: Dawn of the Picasso Fish
DISCOVER: Your Inner Fish
Image: flickr / oscar alexander