The elusive tree of life

In the Origin of Species, Darwin described a “great Tree of Life” which is “fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.”

Ever since then biologist have been trying to describe such a tree. And it should surprise no one that the recent focus on microbial ecology has expanded the Tree considerably.

Read about it at the New York Times or in the paper over at Nature Microbiology .

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Hug et al. 2016

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Darwin’s tree, in concept and in the only figure published in his Origin of Species.

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A conflict of mega proportions

One megafauna hunting and killing another megafauna on the plains of Africa.

Your head immediately goes to the epic battles between wildebeests and tigers? Impala and cheethas?

But there is another equally gruesome battle playing out between elephants and… trees. Specifically the Baobab tree.

These behemoth trees (measuring 65ft in circumference at their base) store water in their trunk. And elephants can’t get enough.

Read about this epic battle over at National Geographics!

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The Global Solution to Extinction

From the Pulitzer price winning author, and all around naturalist/biology champion E.O. Wilson wrote another thoughtful piece in the New York Times.

He writes about the history of discovering species, and finding out too late that we are killing them all off.

If you are interested, think that the NSF shouldn’t have stopped funding collections (herbaria and museums) or just generally want to ready E.O. Wilsons eloquent prose read it here!

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The Underground mosquito

Not underground as in it burrows into the earth, but the formal noun referring to the London Underground. That’s right, as well as being an exceptional form of public transportation, the London Underground has it’s very own species of mosquito.

It was first reported during World War Two, when the tunnels of the Underground were used as overnight shelters, housing 180,000 people.

And then it was largely forgotten until a doctoral student, Katharine Byrne, started studying this subterranean pest. And found that the Underground mosquito is no longer able to interbreed with other mosquitoes:

“There are differences in both the mating behaviour and the reproductive biology,”

David Reznick

Read about it over at BBC, or read the original paper here!

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The Tully Monster

In 1955 Francis Tully found a fossil 50 miles south of Chicago that looked like “an obese foot-long earthworm with a trunk and a spade shaped tail”. See below.

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When Mr Tully brought his discovery to the field museum, where they had no idea what it was either (but they named it Tullimostrum gregarium, which is latin for “Tully Monster”). Or what it might be related to. Or what animal group it belonged in. What they did know was that this strange monster wasn’t rare, in fact specimens started cropping up all over the place.

50 years, and 1200 specimens later, Victoria McCoy and a team of scientist have solved this very puzzling mystery. Read about it over at the Atlantic, or the original paper here.

CRISPR like immunity found in a GIANT virus

I don’t know which I’m more excited about.

The prospect of a giant virus that is so large you can see it under a light microscope, or

said virus having a immune similar to the well publicized CRISPR system used by bacteria.

And yet, the mimiviruses have both. Read all about it and more over at Nature! 

Mimivirus

Or just read my list of cool facts about this virus:

This virus could represent a new branch in the tree of life

Their genomes are larger than those of most bacteria

Unlike most viruses they have genes to make amino acids

They blur the line between non-living virus and living microbes

 

Interdisciplinary research to the rescue!

Many a engineering accomplishment has actually been guided by biological inspiration. For example, Velcro was invented after Swiss engineer George de Mestral picked burrs from the fur of his dog and the high speed Japanese train has an aerodynamic front shaped like a kingfisher’s beak.

And what’s more, bioinspiration and biomimicry (the imitation of biological traits or systems in non biological applications) has had a surge of interest.

Read all about it over at nature!

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