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Posts Tagged ‘biology’

Myrmicocrypta camargoi Sosa-Calvo & Schultz 2010
Brazil

The world’s ant fauna continues to yield new treasures. Myrmicocrypta camargoi, described in a new paper by Jeffrey Sosa-Calvo & Ted Schultz, is the largest species in this fungus-growing genus.


source: Sosa-Calvo, J., Schultz, T.R. 2010. Three Remarkable New Fungus-Growing Ant Species of the Genus Myrmicocrypta (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), with a Reassessment of the Characters That Define the Genus and Its Position within the Attini. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 103(2):181-195.
doi: 10.1603/AN09108

artwork by Vichai Malikul

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Ok, so we all know this is a wasp.  But what’s with the lumps near the tip of the abdomen?

Ten points for identifying the lump, and five points for anyone ambitious enough to put a name on the wasp, too.

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At the time I photographed this little scene (at Bell Smith Springs, Illinois) I was myself unsure of the drama playing out on the oak gall. I sent pictures to wasp expert Hege Vårdal to see if my preliminary guess of a pair of gall parasites was worth anything. Her reply: (more…)

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Bob Goldstein at UNC has been making some truly divine posters to advertise the talks of scientists visiting the Biology department. They are awesome.

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The Pea Aphid Genome

Acyrthociphon pisum, the Pea Aphid

The genome sequence of the pea aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum was published today in PLoS. Concurrently, a set of supporting papers has come out in Insect Molecular Biology. This genome is significant for a number of reasons- it’s the first Hemipteran genome to be sequenced, aphids have an unusual reproductive cycle, and this particular species is a serious agricultural pest.

I’ve not had time to fully digest the paper, but it seems the salient features of this genome are:

  • extensive gene duplications
  • a higher gene count than most other known genomes (including our own!), perhaps related to all the duplications
  • a surprising loss of immune genes

source:  The International Aphid Genomics Consortium 2010 Genome Sequence of the Pea Aphid Acyrthosiphon pisum. PLoS Biol 8(2): e1000313. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000313

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A video from Cambridge University highlights an infectiously enthusiastic Chris Clemente as he figures out how ants stick to smooth surfaces:

Wow.

Two things strike me about the video. First, they simplified the science for a lay audience without fundamentally changing it. That’s something of a rarity, as any scientist who has seen their work covered in the media can attest. Second, they did this while retaining a sense of humor and the strong sense of humanity in the scientific process.

Most scientists I know have a similarly intense fascination with their subjects- that’s a rich vein for promoters of science to tap. This obviously was an expensive piece. Professional grade equipment and skilled videographers, of course.  But if these sorts of productions can affect the public perception of science, they may be an investment worth making.

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Figure 1. Relationship between normalized metabolic rate and body mass for unitary organisms and whole colonies (from Hou et al 2010)

The notion that insect colonies and their constituent individuals are analogous to multicellular organisms and their constituent cells has been a controversial idea for decades. Is it useful, for example, to think of an ant colony as a single individual? Do superorganisms really exist as coherent entities? Or do insect colonies function more as aggregations of individuals?

Last week, PNAS published the first application of empirical methods to test the superorganism concept. This is a significant paper. The researchers, led by Chen Hou, asked whether the set of relationships between mass, energy, and reproduction that govern multicellular organisms show the same patterns when measured across whole insect colonies.

The answer, in most cases, was a resounding Yes: social insect colonies grow and breathe just like regular organisms.

source: Hou, C., Kaspari, M., Vander Zanden, H. B., Gillooly, J. F. 2010. Energetic basic of colonial living in social insects. PNAS early edition.

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