The Starseed Garden











It's the first critter discovered to produce the plant pigment chlorophyll.

It’s easy being green for a sea slug that has stolen enough genes to become the first animal shown to make chlorophyll like a plant.

Shaped like a leaf itself, the slug Elysia chlorotica already has a reputation for kidnapping the photosynthesizing organelles and some genes from algae. Now it turns out that the slug has acquired enough stolen goods to make an entire plant chemical-making pathway work inside an animal body, says Sidney K. Pierce of the University of South Florida in Tampa.

The slugs can manufacture the most common form of chlorophyll, the green pigment in plants that captures energy from sunlight, Pierce reported January 7 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. Pierce used a radioactive tracer to show that the slugs were making the pigment, called chlorophyll a, themselves and not simply relying on chlorophyll reserves stolen from the algae the slugs dine on.

“This could be a fusion of a plant and an animal — that’s just cool,” said invertebrate zoologist John Zardus of The Citadel in Charleston, S.C.

Microbes swap genes readily, but Zardus said he couldn’t think of another natural example of genes flowing between multicellular kingdoms.

Pierce emphasized that this green slug goes far beyond animals such as corals that host live-in microbes that share the bounties of their photosynthesis. Most of those hosts tuck in the partner cells whole in crevices or pockets among host cells. Pierce’s slug, however, takes just parts of cells, the little green photosynthetic organelles called chloroplasts, from the algae it eats. The slug’s highly branched gut network engulfs these stolen bits and holds them inside slug cells.

Some related slugs also engulf chloroplasts but E. chlorotica alone preserves the organelles in working order for a whole slug lifetime of nearly a year. The slug readily sucks the innards out of algal filaments whenever they’re available, but in good light, multiple meals aren’t essential. Scientists have shown that once a young slug has slurped its first chloroplast meal from one of its few favored species of Vaucheria algae, the slug does not have to eat again for the rest of its life. All it has to do is sunbathe.

But the chloroplasts need a continuous supply of chlorophyll and other compounds that get used up during photosynthesis. Back in their native algal cells, chloroplasts depended on algal cell nuclei for the fresh supplies. To function so long in exile, “chloroplasts might have taken a go-cup with them when they left the algae,” Pierce said.

There have been previous hints, however, that the chloroplasts in the slug don’t run on stored-up supplies alone. Starting in 2007, Pierce and his colleagues, as well as another team, found several photosynthesis-related genes in the slugs apparently lifted directly from the algae. Even unhatched sea slugs, which have never encountered algae, carry “algal” photosynthetic genes.

Read the full article at Wired



Dolphins have long been recognised as among the most intelligent of animals but many researchers had placed them below chimps

Dolphins have been declared the world’s second most intelligent creatures after humans, with scientists suggesting they are so bright that they should be treated as “non-human persons”.

Studies into dolphin behaviour have highlighted how similar their communications are to those of humans and that they are brighter than chimpanzees. These have been backed up by anatomical research showing that dolphin brains have many key features associated with high intelligence.

The researchers argue that their work shows it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing. Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year.

“Many dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size,” said Lori Marino, a zoologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has used magnetic resonance imaging scans to map the brains of dolphin species and compare them with those of primates.

“The neuroanatomy suggests psychological continuity between humans and dolphins and has profound implications for the ethics of human-dolphin interactions,” she added.

Dolphins have long been recognised as among the most intelligent of animals but many researchers had placed them below chimps, which some studies have found can reach the intelligence levels of three-year-old children. Recently, however, a series of behavioural studies has suggested that dolphins, especially species such as the bottlenose, could be the brighter of the two. The studies show how dolphins have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self and can think about the future.

Read the full article at Times online



Archaeologists say the tomb still has many secrets to reveal

Archaeologists in Egypt have said they have discovered the largest known tomb in the ancient necropolis of Sakkara, to the south of Cairo.

The tomb dates back 2,500 years to the 26th Dynasty and contains important artefacts, including mummified eagles.

It is one of two newly discovered tombs found by an Egyptian team working close to the entrance of Sakkara, the burial ground for Egypt’s ancient capital.

The tomb consists of a big hall hewn out of the limestone rock.

There are a number of small rooms and passageways where ancient coffins, skeletons and well-preserved clay pots were discovered, as well as the mummies of eagles.

Egypt’s chief archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, who announced the discovery, said that early investigations showed that although the tomb dated back to the 26th Dynasty, it had been used several times.

He said it was most likely to have been robbed at the end of the Roman period.

Other excavations at Sakkara are continuing and Mr Hawass said the latest finds confirm that the site still contains undiscovered secrets.

Taken from BBC News



{January 4, 2010}   Vatican reveals Secret Archives

In a letter dated 1246 from Grand Khan Guyuk, pictured, to Pope Innocent IV, Genghis Khan's grandson demands that the Pontiff travel to central Asia in person

The Holy See’s archives contain scrolls, parchments and leather-bound volumes with correspondence dating back more than 1,000 years.

High-quality reproductions of 105 documents, 19 of which have never been seen before in public, have now been published in a book. The Vatican Secret Archives features a papal letter to Hitler, an entreaty to Rome written on birch bark by a tribe of North American Indians, and a plea from Mary Queen of Scots.

The book documents the Roman Catholic Church’s often hostile dealings with the world of science and the arts, including documents from the heresy trial against Galileo and correspondence exchanged with Erasmus, Voltaire and Mozart. It also reveals the Church’s relations with princes and potentates in countries far beyond its dominion.

In a letter dated 1246 from Grand Khan Guyuk to Pope Innocent IV, Genghis Khan’s grandson demands that the pontiff travel to central Asia in person – with all of his “kings” in tow – to “pay service and homage to us” as an act of “submission”, threatening that otherwise “you shall be our enemy”.

Another formal letter in the archive highlights the papacy’s political role. In 1863 Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States, wrote to Pope Pius IX claiming that the civil war raging across America was entirely due to “Northern aggression”.

“We desire no evil to our enemies, nor do we covet any of their possessions; but are only struggling to the end that they shall cease to devastate our land and inflict useless and cruel slaughter upon our people.”

Other letters in the archive are more personal. In a 1550 note, Michelangelo demands payment from the papacy which was three months late, and complains that a papal conclave had interrupted his work on the dome of St Peter’s Basilica.

Read the full article at the Telegraph



more than half of the 65 substantial risk reports filed with the Environmental Protection Agency involved secret chemicals.

Of the 84,000 chemicals in commercial use in the United States — from flame retardants in furniture to household cleaners — nearly 20 percent are secret, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, their names and physical properties guarded from consumers and virtually all public officials under a little-known federal provision.

The policy was designed 33 years ago to protect trade secrets in a highly competitive industry. But critics — including the Obama administration — say the secrecy has grown out of control, making it impossible for regulators to control potential dangers or for consumers to know which toxic substances they might be exposed to.

At a time of increasing public demand for more information about chemical exposure, pressure is building on lawmakers to make it more difficult for manufacturers to cloak their products in secrecy. Congress is set to rewrite chemical regulations this year for the first time in a generation.

Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, manufacturers must report to the federal government new chemicals they intend to market. But the law exempts from public disclosure any information that could harm their bottom line.

Government officials, scientists and environmental groups say that manufacturers have exploited weaknesses in the law to claim secrecy for an ever-increasing number of chemicals. In the past several years, 95 percent of the notices for new chemicals sent to the government requested some secrecy, according to the Government Accountability Office. About 700 chemicals are introduced annually.

Some companies have successfully argued that the federal government should not only keep the names of their chemicals secret but also hide from public view the identities and addresses of the manufacturers.

Read the full article at the Washington Post



Aboriginal legend tells of a meteor that fell in Palm Valley, which matches signs of a crater on Google Earth

Indigenous Australians might have been some of the earliest astronomers, a Sydney-based scientist has found.

Duane Hamacher, a PhD candidate at Macquarie University in Sydney, found a bowl-shaped crater in Palm Valley – about 130km south-west of Alice Springs – by searching for it on Google Earth after being tipped off by Aboriginal Dreamtime stories.

“Indigenous Australians tell lots of stories about stars falling out of the sky with a noise like thunder – and one of the stories gave a location in the Northern Territory,” the astronomer told the Northern Territory News.

“I searched for it on Google Earth, but when I really found something looking like a crater I couldn’t believe it.

“I was very hesitant with excitement as I thought I would look like an idiot if it was just something simple – but it wasn’t. It was a crater.”

When visiting the site with a team of geophysicists and astrophysicists, Mr Hamacher and his team found evidence of Palm Valley being an ancient meteorite crater.

Read the full article at the Herald Sun



Because they are difficult to see from the ground, most geoglyphs went unnoticed by locals.

With the aid of satellite imagery from Google Earth, soon archeologists in Brazil will be finding more and more large geometric designs carved into the ground in the Amazon rainforest. The geoglyphs are believed to have been sculpted by ancient people from the Amazon region around 700 years ago, though their purpose is still unknown. So far, nearly 300 geoglyphs have been identified, but with advances in satellite imaging–and increased clearing of the jungle coverage–scientists are hoping to discover many more of these strange, geometric designs.

One of the factors that contributed to so many geoglyphs being undetected prior to the aid of satellites is their enormous size. According to leading geoglyph scientist Alceu Ranzi, his latest discoveries–five sets of geometric shapes, with circles, squares and lines–can measure more than a mile from one extreme to another.

You do not see them in field. There is a difference in the color of grass but is very thin. If there were no satellite images, there would be no possibility [of making these new discoveries.]

Because they’ve been so hard to find, the first geoglyphs weren’t discovered until the 1970s. Since then, scientists have been trying to piece together what significance they may have had to ancient Amazonians. What ever the purpose may have been, there’s one thing that is certain: the ancient civilizations of the rainforest were more numerous and sophisticated than previously imagined.

Read the full article at Tree Hugger



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