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!



Monarch butterflies aren’t quite extinct yet!

The New York Times reports that monarch butterflies migrating from North America to central Mexico appear to be doing better than last year, when the over-wintering colony occupied just 1.7 acres. This year’s survey finds the butterflies have filled 2.8 acres, which seems like a solid improvement until you consider that the peak colony size, since record-keeping started, was 44.5 acres.

(Incidentally, 44.5 acres is more than 40 American football fields of forest covered with roosting monarch butterflies.)

The monarchs that migrate to Mexico aren’t the only population — there’s another migratory route on the U.S. Pacific coast, and there are non-migratory populations in Florida, Hawaii, and even New Zealand. But the Mexico overwintering site represents what used to be the single largest monarch population, butterflies that spend summer across most of North America east of the Rocky Mountains. Logging in Mexico and the loss of summer habitat to farming in the Midwest has been hitting the butterflies hard for years, and while this rebound is encouraging, it might still make sense to put the monarch on the Endangered Species List, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering.

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!

Academia vs. Industry

All of the contributors here at NiB are at a not permanent point in their career. Some are finishing their PhD, some wrapping up post docs, but all of us are on some level thinking about the next step.

And as such, I am considering the perpetual question, should I stay in academia or leave and go to industry?

The biggest problem is that I don’t know what industry looks like, and most of the information I hear about the differences are rumors. So this article, where a STEM PhD compares his own experiences in industry vs. academia, is really enlightening.



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.