A stalk of the newfound fungus species Ophiocordyceps camponoti-balzani, grows out of a "zombie" ant's head in a Brazilian rain forest.
Originally thought to be a single species, called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis, the fungus is actually four distinct species—all of which can "mind control" ants—scientists announced Wednesday.
The fungus species can infect an ant, take over its brain, and then kill the insect once it moves to a location ideal for the fungi to grow and spread their spores.
All four known fungi species live in Brazil's Atlantic rain forest, which is rapidly changing due to climate change and deforestation, said study leader David Hughes, an entomologist at Penn State University.
Hughes and colleagues made the discovery after noticing a wide diversity of fungal growths emerging from ant victims, according to the March 2 study in the journal PLoS ONE.
"It is tempting to speculate that each species of fungus has its own ant species that it is best adapted to attack," Hughes said.
"This potentially means thousands of zombie fungi in tropical forests across the globe await discovery," he said. "We need to ramp up sampling—especially given the perilous state of the environment."
Friday, March 4, 2011
Anyone else horrified by the last paragraph? Yeah, let's find zombie fungus and bring it back to civilization to study. What could go wrong? From National Geographic:
What about Juan Epstein?? From CNN:
It'll be a high-school reunion of sorts when John Travolta reunites with the cast of the '70s sitcom "Welcome Back, Kotter" at the 2011 TV Land Awards.
The classic series, which ran from 1975-1979, starred Gabe Kaplan as Mr. Kotter, an inner city high school teacher whose students include the underachieving misfits the Sweathogs.
Travolta, who played ladies' man Vinnie Barbarino, uttering classic lines like, "Up your nose with a rubber hose," is set to accept TV Land's 35th Anniversary Award alongside fellow Sweathogs Ron Palillo ("Arnold Horshack") and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs ("Freddie 'Boom Boom' Washington"). Marcia Strassman, who played Mr. Kotter's wife Julie, will also join the guys.
It is not yet known whether Kaplan will attend the ceremony, to air April 17, but more cast members are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
It’s no secret that an alarming number of species around the world, especially vertebrates, are in trouble. But is the notion that the Earth is on the brink of a sixth major extinction event—the first since the dinosaur die-off—true, or alarmist? In Nature this week, a team of scientists sought to answer the question directly by counting as many species (and extinctions) as they could in the fossil record and the recent historical record. The result is gloomy news: There’s still a chance to avert much of the crisis, but if nothing changes, such a mass extinction event really could happen in the span of just a few centuries.
Mass extinctions include events in which 75 percent of the species on Earth disappear within a geologically short time period, usually on the order of a few hundred thousand to a couple million years. It’s happened only five times before in the past 540 million years of multicellular life on Earth. (The last great extinction occurred 65 million years ago, when the dinosaurs were wiped out.) At current rates of extinction, the study found, Earth will enter its sixth mass extinction within the next 300 to 2,000 years. [MSNBC]
That range of time the researchers give is so large because of the great diversity of life—it makes it hard to track exactly how many species are disappearing, and how quickly. (Indeed, DISCOVER has covered how biologists are discovering many new species these days just as those species face extinction). So Anthony Barnosky and his team made conservative estimates based on the available evidence. For instance, they pegged the rate of mammal extinction at 80 species out of a total of 5,000-plus in the last five centuries. That may not sound like much, but when you consider the speed at which things typically happen on a geologic scale, it is a faster rate of species loss than the previous five mass extinctions saw, scientists believe.
The picture gets even grimmer when all mammals currently endangered or threatened are added to the count. If those all disappear within a century, then by 334 years from now, 75% of all mammal species will be gone, says Barnosky. “Look outside of your window. Imagine taking away three-quarters of the living things you see and ask yourself if you want to live in that world.”
Wake me up when we have holodecks. From BBC:
A laser can act as a "tractor beam", drawing small objects back toward the laser's source, scientists have said.
It is known that light can provide a "push", for example in solar sails that propel spacecraft on a "wind of light".
Now, in a paper on the Arxiv server, researchers from Hong Kong and China have calculated the conditions required to create a laser-based "pull".
Rather than a science fiction-style weapon, however, the approach would only work over small distances.
The effect is different from that employed in "optical tweezers" approaches, in which tiny objects can be trapped in the focus of a laser beam and moved around; this new force, the authors propose, would be one continuous pull toward the source.
And it relies on directly impinging on an object, making it distinct from an approach demonstrated in 2010 by Australian researchers whose trapping worked by heating air around a trapped particle.
The trick is not to use a standard laser beam, but rather one known as a Bessel beam, that has a precise pattern of peaks and troughs in its intensity.
Seen straight-on, a Bessel beam would look like the ripples surrounding a pebble dropped in a pond.
If such a Bessel beam were to encounter an object not head-on but at a glancing angle, the backward force can be stimulated.
As the atoms or molecules of the target absorb and re-radiate the incoming light, the fraction re-radiated forward along the beam direction can interfere and give the object a "push" back toward the source.
Monday, February 28, 2011
Frank Buckles, the last U.S. World War I veteran, has died, a spokesman for his family said Sunday. He was 110.
Buckles "died peacefully in his home of natural causes" early Sunday morning, the family said in a statement sent to CNN late Sunday by spokesman David DeJonge.
Buckles marked his 110th birthday on February 1, but his family had earlier told CNN he had slowed considerably since last fall, according his daughter Susannah Buckles Flanagan, who lives at the family home near Charles Town, West Virginia.
Buckles, who served as a U.S. Army ambulance driver in Europe during what became known as the "Great War," rose to the rank of corporal before the war ended. He came to prominence in recent years, in part because of the work of DeJonge, a Michigan portrait photographer who had undertaken a project to document the last surviving veterans of that war.
As the years continued, all but Buckles had passed away, leaving him the "last man standing" among U.S. troops who were called "The Doughboys."
DeJonge found himself the spokesman and advocate for Buckles in his mission to see to it that his comrades were honored with a monument on the National Mall, alongside memorials for veterans of World War II and the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
Buckles made history when he was asked to testify in Congress on the matter before a House committee on December 3, 2009.
"I have to," he told CNN when he came to Washington, as part of what he considered his responsibility to honor the memory of fellow-veterans.
Buckles, after World War I ended, took up a career as a ship's officer on merchant vessels. He was captured by the Japanese in the Philippines during World War II and held prisoner of war for more than three years before he was freed by U.S. troops.
Never saying much about his POW experience, Buckles instead wanted attention drawn to the plight of the D.C. War Memorial. During a visit to the run-down, neglected site a few years ago, he went past the nearby World War II memorial without stopping, even as younger veterans stopped and saluted the old soldier in his wheelchair as he went by.