Of dinosaurs and feathers

A 2014 study in Science – provocatively titled “A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales” – might just change how we think about all dinosaurs. Based on the age and identity of the specimen that the paper describes, the authors say perhaps all dinosaurs, not just the ones closely related to modern birds, had feathers! How cool is that?

“Probably that means the common ancestor of all dinosaurs had feathers,” says study lead author Pascal Godefroit of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Science in Brussels. “Feathers are not a characteristic [just] of birds but of all dinosaurs.”

National Geographic covered the story (about the little guy illustrated below) here.

This illustration of Kulindadromeus zabaikalicus, a newfound feathered dinosaur, shows it in its natural environment. Illustration by Andrey Atuchin; reposted from nationalgeographic.com

The secret ingedient is…crystals?

Chameleons are pretty special. With their independently moving Mad-Eye Moody eyeballs

and their “live long and prosper” hands,

Is Spock really a well disguised chameleon? That is not a very logical conclusion (despite their similar hand morphologies).

Probably has a killer Vulcan Death grip.

who isn’t intrigued by these goofy lizards?

Perhaps their most amazing feature is their ability to change color.

Recent research shows that the key to this process may be less biological and more CRYSTALS.

Studying male panther chameleons from Madagascar, a cross-disciplinary team of biologists and physicists from the University of Geneva found that the reptiles’ skin is covered by a thick layer of light-reflecting cells called iridophores, which are embedded with photonic crystals—a latticed organization of guanine nanocrystals. Depending on how closely those crystals are clustered, they reflect different wavelengths of light.

Read more in “The Secret to How Chameleons Change Color” over at wired.com or go straight to the (open!) source at Nature Communications – “Photonic crystals cause active colour change in chameleons“.

So – you want to be an academic?

Stumbled upon a great little slide show (by Josh Neufeld) with all the major pros (and some cons) of being an academic – from start to finish. There’s no script to go with the slides, but they’re put together in such a way that I think it’s pretty coherent as is. It also contains a lot of google-able resources for those knee deep in academia too. (Hat tip to @hollybik!)

National Darwin Day? (Yes, please.)

Charles Darwin is great, isn’t he? I mean – he discovered the theory of natural selection and by doing so, created an eloquently beautiful framework for studying and understanding the living world around us. He wrote On the Origin of Species (free text here!). He drew this:

“I think case must be that one generation should have as many living as now. To do this and to have as many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction . Thus between A + B the immense gap of relation. C + B the finest gradation. B+D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed. Bearing relation” (next page begins) “to ancient types with several extinct forms”

Every year on February 12 (Darwin’s birthday), evolution enthusiasts celebrate Darwin Day with nerdy games, scientific seminars and frivolity. Mark your calendars! And this year, it may be even better, since bills (yes, plural!) have been introduced to the House of Representatives and to the Senate to officially name February 12, 2015 Darwin Day. Follow the links to read more. And from what I know about scientists, if we were to ever achieve a federal holiday for Darwin, I think we’d party harder than New Years, explode more things than Independence Day and drink more coffee than finals week. Dar-win! Dar-win! Dar-win!

That’s a lot of poop, Mr. Sperm Whale

Although known to occur in its (much smaller) cousins the dwarf sperm whale (Kogia sima) and the pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps), photographers recently experienced defensive defecation by the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) for the first time ever! Sperm whales can reach up to 67 feet (20.5 meters) long – with almost a thousand feet (>300 meters) of intestine and four stomachs. I was unable to convert those numbers to fecal volume, but I imagine it’s a lot.

The whale approached Wilk and his three colleagues, pointed downwards, and began to evacuate its bowels. To make matters worse, it then started to churn up the water. “Like a bus-sized blender, it very quickly and effectively dispersed its faecal matter into a cloud,” says Wilk.

Now, doesn’t the make you want to pursue nature photography as a career? (It’s totally ok if the answer is yes.) Click here for a few more details and a little gif!


This FREAKS me out

Today’s Recipe:

Combine equal parts

…and you’ll get this great article from Scientific American about a major new discovery: fish living under 740 meters of ice in Antarctica. Researchers drilled through the Ross Ice Shelf into a 10 meter deep wedge of water sealed above by that massive amount of ice and below by Antarctica. The water was so clear, the habitat so seemingly inhospitable, the evidence for life so lacking, the thought of anything more than a few microbes living there seemed impossible. And yet –

At last Burnett and Zook brought Deep-SCINI to a standstill a meter above the bottom, while they adjusted their controls. People in the cargo container stared at an image of the sea floor panned out on one of the video monitors, captured by the forward-looking camera. Then someone started to yell and point. All eyes swung to the screen with the down-looking camera.

A graceful, undulating shadow glided across its view, tapered front to back like an exclamation point—the shadow cast by a bulb-eyed fish. Then people saw the creature casting that shadow: bluish-brownish-pinkish, as long as a butter knife, its internal organs showing through its translucent body.

Apparently they saw 20-30 fish, some “shrimpy” things and a handful of other invertebrates. Can you IMAGINE how exciting that was?! Oof. Very cool. Check out the whole story for more details!

First new antibiotic in HOW long?

Part of the hoopla over antibiotic resistance involves the lack of new drug targets. But this week, Ling et al. published a paper titled “A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance” – talk about a big splash! Not only is it the first new class of antibiotic since 1987 (!) but they also discovered it using non-culture based methods and failed to detect any mutants when they screened a couple of bacterial species for resistance. Although it has yet to be tested on humans, trials in mice were positive. The primary article is behind a paywall (I’ve pasted the abstract below) but there’s some good media coverage where you can read more here and here. Way to go, scientists!


A new antibiotic kills pathogens without detectable resistance

Losee L. Ling, Tanja Schneider, Aaron J. Peoples, Amy L. Spoering, Ina Engels, Brian P. Conlon, Anna Mueller, Till F. Schäberle, Dallas E. Hughes, Slava Epstein, Michael Jones, Linos Lazarides, Victoria A. Steadman, Douglas R. Cohen, Cintia R. Felix, K. Ashley Fetterman, William P. Millett, Anthony G. Nitti, Ashley M. Zullo, Chao Chen & Kim Lewis

ABSTRACT: Antibiotic resistance is spreading faster than the introduction of new compounds into clinical practice, causing a public health crisis. Most antibiotics were produced by screening soil microorganisms, but this limited resource of cultivable bacteria was overmined by the 1960s. Synthetic approaches to produce antibiotics have been unable to replace this platform. Uncultured bacteria make up approximately 99% of all species in external environments, and are an untapped source of new antibiotics. We developed several methods to grow uncultured organisms by cultivation in situ or by using specific growth factors. Here we report a new antibiotic that we term teixobactin, discovered in a screen of uncultured bacteria. Teixobactin inhibits cell wall synthesis by binding to a highly conserved motif of lipid II (precursor of peptidoglycan) and lipid III (precursor of cell wall teichoic acid). We did not obtain any mutants of Staphylococcus aureus or Mycobacterium tuberculosis resistant to teixobactin. The properties of this compound suggest a path towards developing antibiotics that are likely to avoid development of resistance.