It is voting time again

17 08 2010

That’s right, I am crawling back to blog about important happenings this week in Australia.

It’s National Science Week.

It seems I’ve missed out on alerting you to vote for your favourite Aussie scientist for the Eureka prize (I would have been supporting Evans and Smith for proving the intellectual and communicative exploits of chickens).

But it is not too late to start voting for your favourite new Aussie species discovered this past year. Given that this year’s theme is biodiversity it’s a pretty appropriate poll.

Place your vote here.

Nominees are:

  • Opera House Barnacle (Calantica darwinii)
  • Kimberly Froglet (Crinia fimbriata)
  • Sea Spider (Paranymphon bifilarium)
  • Steve Irwin’s Tree Snail (Crikey stevirwini – I kid not!)
  • Spinifex Ant (Camponotus triodiae)
  • Pink Handfish (Brachiopsilus dianthus)
  • Cape York Amber Fly (fossilized) (Chaetogonopteron bethnorrisae)
  • Bacchus Marsh Wattle (Acacia rostriformis)
  • The Bandalup Buttercup (Hibbertia abyssa)
  • Truffle-like Mushroom (Cribbea turbinispora)

More new species and biodiversity stuff at the bushblitz website including a free teacher booklet (just in case your school somehow missed out, or your from another country).


Choose your own science

4 08 2009

In the lead up to Australia’s National Science Week this month (don’t forget to sign up for that), the Australia Museum is holding People’s Choice Awards for their Eureka Science Prizes.

GO VOTE. (There are prizes for Australian residents)

I actually have connections with one of these scientists! Squeee! I am like legitimate (or not…). Kathy Belov, nominated for her work regarding the genetics of the Tadmanian Devil facial tumour (DFTD). Marsupial immunology is a small field, so Kathy was one of the collaborators with my ex-supervisor on the launchblock for my research (one of my former lab-mates now has Kathy as a PhD co-supervisor) – near the end of my research our lab received some very useful American marsupial DNA libraries from her.Good luck Kathy.

And if transmissible facial cancer in devils is not cool enough for you there is also:

What lurks beneath

6 11 2008

Deep Sea News (which remember is now at Discovery Blogs) has finished its countdown of the top 27 deep sea beasties.

They chose the Vampire Squid as #1. I think its kind of boring. All it has is a cool name. Ooooh Senor El Diablo Chupacabre of the Deep you have me quaking with your stylish overtones and stereotypical horror theme tune. NOT!

I definitely think more of #2 Zombie Deap Sea Bone Worms!!!

Rest of the list is linked to below. The rest of my top 5 in bold (Zombie worms are my number 1).

Read the rest of this entry »

Russian moths “vant to suck your blood”

4 11 2008

… because it helps them get laid.

Human blood is apparently some sort of horny-goat-weed for Lepidoptera apparently.

The story has been everywhere. Everywhere! Nothing could be more halloweeny than a vampire blood-sucking moth. Hattip is going to Zooillogix, cos I saw it there first.

The blood sucking moth does not digest the blood. Repeat: It does not feed on the blood. No actual haemophagy.

So it is very “transitional form” about it. The exact function for sucking blood is not yet understood. The “it’s to feed the babies” answer does sound a bit pulled-out-of-my-ass, but I’m not an entymologist.

Only male moths exhibit blood-feeding, she noted, raising the possibility that as in some species of butterflies and other moths, the Russian moths do it to pass on salt to females during copulation.

See it is all sex’s fault that nature does weird things.

Whatever the ecological motivation for the adaption is, it is very cool to be able to “see” an evolutionary stepping stone from a flower-feeding apparatus to one that can also suck blood (I’m assuming they are still eating nectar, right?).

Morphological adaptions do not start out being used the way they end up being used. Organs are co-opted, un-opted and re-opted to new and exciting purposes throughout the ages. Our ear bones were once jaw bones. Spider silk was originally developed as bedding insulation. And for all we know, we may actually be the a larval form of some unbeknownst higher being that lives far too long to ever reach metamorphosis. Oh yes. I just blew your freaking mind.


18 09 2008

I’m all a bit confused about this discovery.

It’s a new species of ant, found in Brazil, so they naturally are going around calling it “the ant from Mars“.

The ant is so strange and un-ant-like they are placing it in a new sub-family of ants. I’m not even sure if I should be actually calling it an ant (It’s a maybe-ant). The maybe-ant sub-family split off very early from other ant families in terms of evolutionary divergence – which has lead people to draw similarities between the situation of monotremes and other mammals. So, it’s also being dubbed the insect platypus. It does not have anything nearly as cool as a five-pronged schlong, poison spurs or even a duck-bill. It just has a shit pair of legs at the back.

That’s right. It’s a cripple. Nature quotes an entomologist as saying the maybe-ant “doesn’t even look like it could walk at all”. It’s also blind. Has a “delicate” mouth. And has pigmentation issues.* It probably hasn’t been discovered before because it has just been wallowing in self-pity for its entire existence.

The closest living relatives of ants are bees and wasps. The maybe-ant doesn’t quite share many characteristics with its other airborne cousins. Much like platypuses don’t really resemble modern day birds or lizards much either. Further examination may however show some similarities.

*Update: I could add that it is spineless too, but I think that’s just rubbing it in.

The tree of life just got bigger

11 08 2008

The natural world is an amazing place.

Ever changing and full of new discoveries, some French scientists have just made a migraine for taxonomists, high school teachers and textbook publishers – they’ve decided to tack on extra bits to a cornerstone piece of high school biology – the Tree of Life.

If you have access you can go to the source at Nature.

Meanwhile, there is Australian Life Scientist, and Scienceblogs coverage by Scientist, Interrupted, Not Exactly Rocket Science and ERV.

Not only has the discovery that Viruses get sick pushed them into the “alive” category, it has produced a whole new category of “virophages” that infect them. Although one might protest that virophages are still technically viruses (nucleic acid hijackers), let’s not get too carried away with our gardening.

Aside from the nightmare that this new piece of information will probably take several years before it is accurately represented in high school texts – this is an exciting and amazing discovery.

From ERV:

Sputnik isnt just a cool virus that can ‘infect’ other viruses– its representative of all the cool stuff we dont know. All the cool stuff thats floating about, right under our noses, just waiting for someone to discover … Sputnik represents the fact we have no friggin idea whats out there

Look what they’ve found on Mars

29 06 2008

Esoteric claims of Statue’s of Jesus, Space-Allah Graffiti, and even that pesky half-human half-feline giant head on Mars can now be calmly put back inside the crazy box for slow new days – we now have something real and backed by data – WATER on Mars (NASA, Wikinews, Independent).

This is interesting from both exobiology and terraforming angles. Liquid water would be potentially capable of sustaining life as we know it. Water sources, liquid or otherwise, would be a key to any human colonisation effort of our frosty red nature.

Mars is very cold, only reaching around 20 °C at its Summer high. Liquid (fresh)water is only thought to be a possibility in some select tropical regions. So it is not a big surprise that the water being discovered, is actually pellets of ice.

The “ice” has been visualised as white patches unearthed by the Phoenix lander. Scientists were not sure if it might be salt, but then it appeared to disappear after being exposed – the quote de jour being “Salt can’t do that”. The disappearing act is being explained as sublimation, ice turning into water vapour, the way carbon dioxide “dry ice” does. The Martian environment, temperature and pressure, would cause water to behave in such a way.

Dihydrogen monoxide reports follow on from other news that Mars soil is potentially fertile and good for growing asparagus. So, maybe its not all good news.

Photo credit: Dillwp on Flickrcc asa