Sale of progressive climate change data darling to ‘Monsatan’ stirs enviro fears

Sale of progressive climate change data darling to ‘Monsatan’ stirs enviro fears

My new post at the Genetic Literacy Project!

Have you heard of the Climate Corporation? It’s a company that sells real-time weather data and financial insurance to farmers around the world. It was recently purchased by Monsanto for nearly $1 billion! A lot of people are now saying that Monsanto wants to “profit off climate change. But in a letter by David Friedberg, Climate Corporation’s CEO, expertly explains why Monsanto is not as evil as everyone thinks it is. The letter was published with permission by Michael Specter online in New Yorker magazine.


Space jellies, zombie guppies and urination physics: A weird week for science

1. Jellyfish dizzy on their return to planet Earth

Back in 1991, the shuttle Columbia carried 2,478 jellyfish polyps to the International Space Station, the Atlantic Magazine‘s Megan Garber reported yesterday. By the missions end, there were about 60,000 jellyfish orbiting the Earth.

Why send jellyfish to space? Well, to find out what would happen if a human baby were born in space and then returned home, of course.

Jellyfish and humans don’t share much in terms of body parts, but one thing they do share is those tiny crystals that help us determine motion and gravity. In humans, these crystals are made of calcium carbonate and are located in the ear, where they stimulate nerve cells and communicate to the brain movement and orientation. In jellyfish, these crystals are made of calcium sulfate line the edges of the animal’s bell.

After being raised in space, the jellies were returned to Earth and observed. Unfortunately for those hypothetical space babies, the jellies did not enjoy an uneventful homecoming. As biologist RR Helms at Deep Sea News reports, the jellies were essentially suffering from a permanent case of vertigo: their motor abilities were hindered and their movements were not similar to those of Earth-born jellies.

Read the full stories here: I Don’t Think You’re Ready for This, Jelly” and “Jellyfish go to space, say it was “meh, kinda sucky”

2. Zombie baby guppies born from dead fathers

In a recent issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology, Andy Turko reports that researchers have discovered that 25% of all guppies in a Trinidad river population were conceived posthumously…after the biological father died.

Female Trinidadian guppies can store sperm up to a full year, the last male to fertilize the female’s eggs generally wins in the genetic race. In their investigation of stored sperm in female guppies, Andres Lopez-Sepulcre and his team of international scientists painstakingly tracked a changing population of guppies at a site in the Guanapo River in Trinidad. They tracked who died when and who parented whom by taking scale samples from baby guppies and determining their genetic parentage:

The research team found that almost 50% of reproductively active males sired young after they had died and, amazingly, over 30% of reproductive males were successful only after they were dead. Some offspring were even fathered by males that had been dead for 8 months.

Female guppies live almost five times as long as male guppies, so the researchers think this tactic may have evolved to protect genetic material of the short lived males. From the female prospective, Turko reports:

[T]he researchers proposed that using sperm from many males, both dead and alive, would produce offspring with higher genetic diversity. In a fluctuating habitat like a Trinidadian stream, this should increase the odds of producing some offspring that are genetically well suited to whatever environmental conditions the future has in store.


3. Law of urination discovered

Have you ever wondered how to calculate the rate of urine flow for any mammal? Well, wonder no more! New Scientist‘s Jacob Aron reported yesterday about a team of scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology, who were filming animals at a local zoo when they noticed that animals of “various sizes, both male and female, took a similar time to empty their bladders.” Like any curious scientist would do, Patricia Yang and her team decided to investigate the phenomenon.

Turns out mammals like dogs, cows, goats and elephants all take about 21 seconds to urinate. It has to do with bladder size, urethra length and that mysterious force of the universe: gravity.

In this case size matters, as it means urine feels the pull of gravity stronger at the bottom of the elephant’s urethra. This means that as it travels down the pipe, the urine accelerates and its flow rate rises, resulting in an elephant’s large bladder being emptied in a similar time to those of smaller animals.

Medium-sized animals like dogs and goats have shorter urethras, so get less of a gravitational boost: their flow is slower. In addition, they have smaller bladders. The result of both effects is that they empty their bladders in roughly the same time as elephants.

The law of urination, as Aron reports, says that “the time a mammal takes to empty a full bladder is proportional to the animal’s mass raised to the power of sixth.”

Read the full story here: “Universal law of urination found in mammals” (there’s even a video!)

In which an animal shaped like a furry sausage with teeth can resist cancer, and you can’t

Study: blind mole rats give clues as to how species split into two

(image via

They’re furry, they live underground, but they don’t get cancer: blind mole rats, cousins of the naked mole rat, have been found to be resistant to chemically induced cancer. Researchers think it might have something to do with their ability to live in an oxygen deficient environment.

Scientists have known for a few years that naked mole rats – those pink, wrinkly, so-ugly-they’re-cute rodents hold the key to a long, cancer free life. Recent research into naked mole rats accidentally revealed a cancer-killing “goo,” made up of extra-long sugar proteins between cells, that effectively cause cancer cells to self destruct. Naked mole rats are also highly tolerant to oxygen-damage of cells (that process that kills you so slowly we call it “aging”), which accounts for their longevity.

Blind mole rats, of the genus Spalax, have already been found to have the same molecules residing between their cells that cause cancer-suicide. When isolated and left to grow unchecked, Spalax cells checked themselves at a specific limit – inducing cell death when too many cells replicated. In other studies, blind mole rats resisted various lung and breast-cancer causing agents, mystifying researchers.

Now more research has come out about the possible mechanisms behind the cancer resistant rodent. Researchers at the University of Illinois Biotechnology Center showed that all of the blind mole rat’s special characteristics – a long life, a cancer free existence, and permanent hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) – might be related.

Blind mole rats have a human-like mutation in their tumor-suppressor gene, p53, which means its tumor-suppressing powers are inhibited. But in the blind mole rats, research shows that its DNA repair mechanisms are enhanced, which protects against cancer-inducing damage caused by an oxygen-deficient environment.

From Mark Band, co-author of the University of Illinois study:

So now we know there’s overlap among the genes that affect DNA repair, hypoxia tolerance and cancer suppression. We haven’t been able to show the exact mechanisms yet, but we’re able to show that in Spalax they’re all related. One of the lessons of this research is that we have a new model animal to study mechanisms of disease, and possibly discover new therapeutic agents. (via Eurkalert)