We’re Only Just Starting To Understand The Miracle Of Hagfish Slime
by Robert T. Gonzalez
The incredible properties of hagfish slime have fascinated scientists for decades, but researchers are only just beginning to make sense of this mucilaginous secretion. In doing so, they hope to create superfibers that could one day be used in everything from bullet-proof vests to artificial tendons.
The hagfish is not a looker. The eel – to which the hagfish is not directly related but often compared, on account of its elongated body – is an attractive animal, by comparison. When I look at a hagfish, the phrase “naked zombie-skin tubesock” inevitably comes to mind.
Apart from being aggressively ugly, the hagfish is widely known for being an evolutionarily ancient fish that has changed very little over the last 300-million years (a fact that could explain why it’s the only animal known to have a skull but no backbone), its repulsive feeding habits, and for its ability to exude a fibrous slime from its body when it is agitated or threatened…
(read more: io9 - BioMimicry)
images from the Vancouver Aquarium
Species in the Rhinochimaera family are known as long-nosed chimaeras. Their unusually long snouts (compared to other chimaeras) have sensory nerves that allow the fish to find food. Also, their first dorsal fin contains a mildly venomous spine that is used defensively. They are found in deep, temperate and tropical waters between 200 to 2,000 m in depth, and can grow to be up to 140 cm (4.5 ft) in length.
Chimaeras (also known as ghost sharks and ratfish) are an order of cartilaginous fish most closely related to sharks, but they have been evolutionarily isolated from them for over 400 million years.
Velvet worm, once thought to be extinct is a fascinating ancient, caterpillar-like animals that have changed little over the last 400 million years.
Don’t let the downy appearance of the velvet worm fool you, they might be nearly blind but these curious creatures hunt their prey by spraying them with an adhesive mucous before sucking out their inside. It can slime its prey from 1-2 feet away, and paralyze it. The slime is also squirted in self-defence. An enemy with a face full of slime gives the velvet worm time to escape.
Something I didn’t know: these are not annelids. They’re probably most closely related to arthropods and tardigrades.
Western Underground Orchid
Jack Trott had bent to investigate an odd crack that had appeared in his garden’s soil, and had noticed a sweet smell that arose from the ground. Scraping away the soil, he soon uncovered a tiny white flower, about half an inch across, growing underground. What he had found was an entirely new type of orchid. The discovery generated such excitement that a wax model was toured around the British Isles.
The white leafless plant is made up of a fleshy underground storage stem (or tuber), which produces flower head consisting of around 150 tightly packed, tiny flowers. Unlike any other orchid in Australia, the Western Australian underground orchid remains completely underground for its whole life. Not being able to obtain the sun’s energy, it instead feeds on the broom honeymyrtle, a shrub. It is linked to it by a mycorrhizal fungus named Thanatephorus gardneri.
Cool study of mitochondrial DNA in prehistoric Central European populations. (The article in Science is paywalled, although the supplement isn’t.) The question being addressed here, which has been controversial for a long time, is this: do prehistoric changes in culture (as reflected in different types of pottery, etc.) reflect population replacements, or did the people stay in the same place and adopt the cultural features of neighboring populations? The mtDNA suggests that the former answer is correct, at least in this case.
Humans have inadvertently turned the oceans into jellyfish farms.
I love David Attenborough, obvs, but no.
(The other interesting thing, which Hawks doesn’t talk about here (although he has before), is that a larger population tends to evolve more quickly because it’s more sensitive to small selective advantages. I might dig out my books sometime and post the math, but it’s not too complicated.)
Translucent Creature Photos
1. Juvenile Cowfish. Photograph by Chris Newbert, Minden Pictures
2. Pelagic Octopus. Photograph by Chris Newbert, Minden Pictures
3. Sea Butterfly Snail. Photograph by Ingo Arndt, Minden Pictures
4. Hydromedusa in Antarctica.Photograph by Ingo Arndt, Minden Pictures
5. Jelly Larva. Photograph by Ingo Arndt, Minden Pictures
6. Larval Shrimp and Jellyfish. Photograph by Chris Newbert, Minden Pictures
7. Jellyfish, Antarctica. Photograph by Ingo Arndt, Minden Pictures
Happy Birthday to the Father of Modern Neuroscience, Who Wanted to Be an Artist
It took Santiago Ramón y Cajal quite a while to find his true calling in life. He tried his hand at cutting hair and at fixing shoes. As a boy in the mid-1800s, he planned for a career as an artist. But his father, an anatomy professor, shook his head and decided that young Ramón y Cajal would pursue medicine instead. The would-be artist went on to found the field of modern neuroscience, earning the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along the way. Born May 1, 1852, in Spain, Ramón y Cajal would have celebrated his 151st birthday today.
Before he began to stand out as a researcher, Ramón y Cajal had been an anatomy school assistant, a museum director and a professor and director of Spain’s National Institute of Hygiene. His most important work did not begin until around 1887, when he moved to the University of Barcelona and began investigating all of the brain’s different cell types. He discovered the axonal growth cone, which control the sensory and motor functions of nerve cells, and the interstitial cell of Cajal (later named after him), a nerve cell found in the smooth lining of the intestine. Perhaps most significantly, he developed the “neuron doctrine,” which demonstrated that nerve cells were individual rather than continuous cellular structures. Researchers consider this discovery the foundation of modern neuroscience.
In 1906, the Nobel committee awarded Ramón y Cajal and an Italian colleague the prize in Physiology or Medicine ”in recognition of their work on the structure of the nervous system.”
While Ramón y Cajal may have changed neuroscience forever, he maintained his original childhood passion. Throughout his career, he never gave up his art. He sketched hundreds of medical illustrations, and some of his drawings of brain cells are still used in classrooms today.
Images: 1. From “Structure of the Mammalian Retina” c.1900 By Santiago Ramon y Cajal.
2. Drawing of Purkinje cells and granule cells from pigeon cerebellum by Santiago Ramón y Cajal, 1899