The evolution of beer yeasts, seedy pants and vampire bat venom-turned medicine

Beer yeasts: Researchers at Lund University in Sweden tracked the history of two yeasts—Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Dekkera bruxellensis—used in alcohol fermentation to pinpoint their role in ethanol production. They found that, around 150 million years ago, competition with other microbes, and the overall increase in sugar-rich fruits, encouraged the yeasts to withstand high ethanol concentrations—an adaptation that would allow them to survive in places other microbes could not. “Now, scientists are closing in on just how and why yeast evolved to [ferment sugars into alcohol],” wrote John Roach in an MSNBC article. “No, it wasn’t to get humans drunk.” Read more at “The why of yeast’s buzz-giving ways” or the press release “Wine yeasts reveal prehistoric microbial world.”

Camouflaged cuttlefish: “Cuttlefish are masters of camouflage. Like their relatives, the squid and the octopus, cuttlefish can change the colour of their skin to perfectly match a bed of pebbles, a clump of algae, or a black-and-white chessboard,” wrote Ed Yong of Not Exactly Rocket Science (see below video of previous research). Alexandra Barbosa from the University of Porto found that cuttlefish use visual cues to alter their appendages as well. In other words, when the cephalopods were placed against backgrounds of various striped patterns, they adjusted their tentacles to match the pattern that they saw. Read more and see photos at “Pocket Science – will all camouflaged cuttlefish please raise their tentacles?”

Seedy pants: One of the most topical quotes this week—“I wish nature would stop getting it on in my eyeballs”—was uttered by a fellow allergy sufferer. Allergy season is in full force in temperate locales, such as some parts of the U.S. East Coast, as trees flood the air with pollen in the hopes of reaching a female counterpart. There are several ways that pollen travels, such as the wind, but most of us have probably never considered the role of pants in tree pollination. Yes, pants not plants. As quoted in a recent NPR article, “‘Because of his great mobility,’ [British botanist Edward] Salisbury wrote (projecting from his personal data set), ‘man is probably the most active agent—though usually an unconscious one—for [the] external transport of seeds.’” Read more at “Strange Things Happen To Guys Who Wear Pants.”

Vampire bat venom: Scientists have tapped vampire bat saliva as a potential medication for treating stroke in humans, and the drug is actually called “Draculin.” It was announced this week that the drug would enter Phase 2 tests. “When vampire bats bite their victims, their saliva releases an enzyme called desmoteplase, or DSPA, into the bloodstream, which causes blood to flow more readily,” wrote Patrick Morgan on Discover’s blog 80beats. “Several years ago, scientists realized that the same enzyme that gives bats more blood for their bite may also help stroke victims by breaking down blood clots.” Read more at “Draculin, Stroke Drug From Vampire Bats, Moves Closer to Circulation.”

Seabird social lives: Ken Yoda from Nagoya University and colleagues used mini-video cameras to track the social behavior of young brown boobies (see below video). “The video cameras captured footage of them chasing other juveniles and following adults to feeding areas. The juvenile boobies also mingled with other seabird species, like brown noddies, streaked shearwaters and black-naped terns,” Jane Lee reported in a Wired Science article. The researchers noticed greater social interaction between young boobies and adult boobies; this is compared with the time they spent interacting with other young boobies. Read more at “Booby Cams Capture Young Seabird Social Lives.”

Also, the impact of recent flooding on wildlife, surface dwelling fish show signs of distress in the dark, eukaryotic sex, soy crops in the U.S., illegal trade in bear bile in Asia, fools gold in hydrothermal vents, chitin-less microscopic fungi, bed bugs and bacteria and is “teaching” a human-specific phenomenon?

Photo Credit: Nick Hobgood

Author: Katie Kline

Moderator of EcoTone and ESA's communications officer.

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