Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hell’s Gate Hides Methane-Eating Microorganism

Son of Satan © Marvel Comics
U of Calgary biology professor Peter Dunfield and colleagues describe the new methane-eating microorganism, Methylokorus infernorum , found in the geothermal field known as Hell’s Gate, near the city of Rotorua in New Zealand. It is the hardiest “methanotrophic” bacterium yet discovered.

“This is a really tough methane-consuming organism that lives in a much more acidic environment than any we’ve seen before,” said Dunfield. “It belongs to a rather mysterious family of bacteria (called Verrucomicrobia) that are found everywhere but are very difficult to grow in the laboratory.”

Methanotrophic bacteria consume methane as their only source of energy and convert it to carbon dioxide during their digestive process. Methane (commonly known as natural gas) is 20 times more potent a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and is largely produced by decaying organic matter. Scientists have long known that vast amounts of methane are produced in acidic environments, not only geothermal sites but also marshes and peat bogs. Much of it is consumed by methanotrophic bacteria, which serve an important role in regulating the methane content of the world’s atmosphere.

Distinct groups corresponding to broad microbial taxa can be delineated, with the exception of Crenothrix polyspora, which groups apart from other Gammaproteobacteria. The tree was constructed on the basis of 165 amino-acid positions by using TREE-PUZZLE29, a quartet maximum-likelihood method. The support value from 10,000 puzzling steps for the branch to the Verrucomicrobia was 86%. The scale bar represents 0.1 change per amino-acid position.

Ref.: Methane oxidation by an extremely acidophilic bacterium of the phylum Verrucomicrobia. 2007. Peter F. Dunfield. et al. Nature 450, 879-882.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Lightening Detected On Venus

The occurrence of lightning in a planetary atmosphere enables chemical processes to take place that would not occur under standard temperatures and pressures. Although much evidence has been reported for lightning on Venus, some searches have been negative and the existence of lightning has remained controversial. A definitive detection would be the confirmation of electromagnetic, whistler-mode waves propagating from the atmosphere to the ionosphere.

Here we report observations of Venus' ionosphere that reveal strong, circularly polarized, electromagnetic waves with frequencies near 100 Hz. The waves appear as bursts of radiation lasting 0.25 to 0.5 seconds, and have the expected properties of whistler-mode signals generated by lightning discharges in Venus' clouds.

Lightning on Venus inferred from whistler-mode waves in the ionosphere. 2007. C.T. Russell, et al., Nature 450: 661-662.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Evolution of Nakedness in Homo sapiens

Evolution of nakedness in Homo sapiens. 2007. M. J. Rantala. Journal of Zoology 273: 1-7.

Homo sapiens is the only existing primate species lacking in functionally effective thermally insulating fur. As all other primates have considerable hair covering, it has always been accepted that our ancestors must once have had a respectable amount of body hair. Unfortunately, fossils cannot help us when it comes to differences in skin and hair. Recent DNA analysis, however, has given us some idea of when and where the great denudation took place.

A number of hypotheses have been proposed to account for this feature, but none of these has gained general acceptance. All will be explained here.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Real Atomic Surgery In The Forbidden Dimension!

Jackson Phibes' band The Forbidden Dimension have just released their new LP, A Cool Sound Outta Hell, on Saved By Vinyl.

In honour of this monumentous event Atomic Surgery now brings you a real tale from the *choke* atomic surgery operating room! :


Witches tales © Eerie Publications

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Born This Day: The Invisible Man

Claude Rains Nov. 10, 1889 – May 30, 1967

Debuted This Day: The Motorcycle

Black Cat © Harvey Comics
In this day in 1885, the world's first motorcycle, designed by Gottlieb Daimler, made its debut. The frame and wheels were made of wood. A leather belt transfered power from the engine to large brass gears mounted to the rear wheel. The leather saddle wasn't very comfortable since there was no suspension (front or rear). The single cylinder engine had a bore of 58mm and stroke of 100mm giving a displacement of 264cc's. The engine gave 0.5hp at 700 rpm. The top speed for the motorcycle was 12 km/h. This was built as an experimental vehicle to test the new Daimler engine, which was to power Daimler's first motorized carriage the following year.

The Black Hood © Archie Comics
Only in France....

Friday, November 9, 2007

The Origin of the Laser & Why Super-Villians Are Born

Avengers © Marvel Comics
On this day in 1957, Gordon Gould began to write down the principles of what he called a laser in his notebook during a sleepless Saturday night. By Wednesday morning he had a notary witness and date his notebook. Therein, he had described what he called "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation," or, from those initials, "laser."

Unfortunately, he misunderstood the patent process, and did not file promptly. But, other scientists, Charles Townes and Arthur Schawlow, did file for a patent on their similar but independent discovery of how to make a laser. When Gould belatedly tried to get a patent, it took decades to eventually establish priority and gain what had then grown to be profitable royalties from the established laser industry.

From Today In Science History

X-15 Sets Speed Record

On this day in 1961, the X-15 rocket plane achieved a world record speed of 4,093 mph (Mach 6.04) and reached 101,600 feet (30,970 m or over 19 miles) altitude, piloted by U.S.Air Force Major Robert M. White. Its internal structure of titanium was covered with a skin of Inconel X, a chrome-nickel alloy. To save fuel, the X-15 was air launched from a B-52 aircraft at about 45,000 ft.

Test flights between 8 Jun 1959 and 24 Oct 1968 provided data on hypersonic air flow, aerodynamic heating, control at hypersonic speeds and piloting techniques for reentry used in the development of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spaceflight programs. The X-15 reached 354,200 feet (107,960 m, 67 miles) on 22 Aug 1963 and Mach 6.7 on 3 Oct 1967.

From Today In Science History

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Monday, July 30, 2007

Once & Future Captain Canada

Created by Peter Evans (writer) and Stanley Berneche (artist), Captain Canada made his debut in Fuddle Duddle (# 4, below), the counterculture humour magazine published in Ottawa by Jeffrey R. Darcey (JRD Publishing) from 1971 to 1972. He also appeared in the next issue in a radically reworked style.


The version below of Capt. Canada appeared on the newsstands last Christmas:

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Valentina Tereshkova, 1st Woman In Space

On this day in 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Tereshkova returned to Earth after spending nearly three days as the first woman in space and made 48 orbits of the Earth. She had been interested in parachute jumping when she was young, and that expertise was one of the reasons she was picked for the cosmonaut program. She became the first person to be recruited without experience as a test pilot. From Today in Science History

Monday, June 18, 2007

Steve Ditko Explains Science To The Masses

After Steve Ditko left Spider-Man and Marvel Comics in a huff in the mid-‘60’s he landed at 3rd string publisher Charlton where he created The Question, and revamped Capt. Atom and The Blue Beetle.

Blue Beetle © DC Comics
Ditko’s growing obsession with the dictates of Objectivism soon dominated his work. In the pages of this Blue Beetle story, recently published in “The Action Heroes Archives” by DC, Steve sort of explains the difference between Science and Technology:

Dig the dialogue Steve scripted for this otherwise standard fight scene between BB and The Specter (a precursor to Ditko’s later creation, The Missing Man):

Finally, a recap on why scientists are better than you:

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The War That Time Forgot

Here's the 1st part of a story from 'The War that Time Forgot' from Star-Spangled War Stories #116, 1964. It's not a classic example of all-out dinosaurs vs. marines carnage that most stories were, but it's enough to give you a feel for what they were all about.

The War that Time Forgot © DC Comics


And here's what else you could have been spending your allowance on way back when:

Buy "The War That Time Forgot" HERE

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Steranko's TALON


Talon © Steranko
One of the great 'often promised but never published' concept's was Jim Steranko's 'Talon'. It first appeared as a poster in Steranko's Comicscene (or it may have been Mediascene by then), and then again (above) in one of Marvel's sword & Sorcery mags in the 70's. Too bad it never got off the ground.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Fermilab Physicists Discover "triple-scoop" Baryon

Physicists of the DZero experiment at the Department of Energy's Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory have discovered a new heavy particle, the Ξb (pronounced "zigh sub b") baryon, with a mass of 5.774±0.019 GeV/c2, approximately six times the proton mass. The newly discovered electrically charged Ξb baryon, also known as the "cascade b," is made of a down, a strange and a bottom quark. It is the first observed baryon formed of quarks from all three families of matter. Its discovery and the measurement of its mass provide new understanding of how the strong nuclear force acts upon the quarks, the basic building blocks of matter.

The cascade b is produced in high-energy proton-antiproton collisions at Fermilab's Tevatron. A baryon is a particle of matter made of three fundamental building blocks called quarks. The most familiar baryons are the proton and neutron of the atomic nucleus, consisting of up and down quarks. Although protons and neutrons make up the majority of known matter today, baryons composed of heavier quarks, including the cascade b, were abundant soon after the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe.

Six quarks -- up, down, strange, charm, bottom and top -- are the building blocks of matter. Protons and neutrons are made of up and down quarks, held together by the strong nuclear force. The DZero experiment, in which six Louisiana Tech researchers participated, has discovered the cascade-b particle, which contains a down quark (d), strange quark (s) and bottom quark (b). It is the first particle ever observed with one quark from each generation of particles. (Graphic and information supplied by Fermilab.)

The Standard Model elegantly summarizes the basic building blocks of matter, which come in three distinct families of quarks and their sister particles, the leptons. The first family contains the up and down quarks. Heavier charm and strange quarks form the second family, while the top and bottom, the heaviest quarks, make the third. The strong force binds the quarks together into larger particles, including the cascade b baryon. The cascade b fills a missing slot in the Standard Model.

Once produced, the cascade b travels several millimeters at nearly the speed of light before the action of the weak nuclear force causes it to disintegrate into two well-known particles called J/Ψ ("jay-sigh") and Ξ- ("zigh minus"). The J/Ψ then promptly decays into a pair of muons, common particles that are cousins of electrons.

Direct observation of the strange b baryon Xi_b^{-}. 2007. Authors: D0 Collaboration, V. Abazov, et al., Physical Review Letters, preprint.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Designer Lizards

Researchers have found that female side-blotched lizards are able to induce different color patterns in their offspring in response to social cues, "dressing" their progeny in patterns they will wear for the rest of their lives. The mother's influence gives her progeny the patterns most likely to ensure success under the conditions they will encounter as adults.

Spider-Man & The Lizard © Marvel Comics

The lizards' main predator, the coachwhip snake, is a highly efficient hunter, and the lizards need just the right combination of traits to avoid being eaten. Sneaky yellow-throated males like to hide in the grass and need a barred pattern that breaks up the outline of their body so it blends in with the background. Aggressive orange males spend a lot of time in the open and need stripes to help them escape from predators (the optical effect of stripes on fast-moving prey makes them hard to catch).

The researchers reported that female side-blotched lizards give an extra dose of the hormone estradiol to their eggs in certain social circumstances. The extra hormone affects the back patterns of lizards that hatch from those eggs, creating either lengthwise stripes down their backs or bars stretching from side to side. Whether they get stripes or bars depends on the genes for other traits.

"This is the first example in which exposure to the mother's hormones changes such a fundamental aspect of appearance. Even more exciting is that the mother has different patterns at her disposal, so she can ensure a good match between back patterns and other traits that her offspring possess," said Lesley Lancaster. link

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Chance Chemistry of Life

A pair of UCSF scientists has developed a model explaining how simple chemical and physical processes may have laid the foundation for life.

The basic idea is that simple principles of chemical interactions allow for a kind of natural selection on a micro scale: enzymes can cooperate and compete with each other in simple ways, leading to arrangements that can become stable, or “locked in,” says Ken Dill.

The scientists compare this chemical process of “search, selection, and memory” to another well-studied process: different rates of neuron firing in the brain lead to new connections between neurons and ultimately to the mature wiring pattern of the brain. Similarly, social ants first search randomly, then discover food, and finally build a short-term memory for the entire colony using chemical trails.

They also compare the chemical steps to Darwin’s principles of evolution: random selection of traits in different organisms, selection of the most adaptive traits, and then the inheritance of the traits best suited to the environment (and presumably the disappearance of those with less adaptive traits).

Like these more obvious processes, the chemical interactions in the model involve competition, cooperation, innovation and a preference for consistency, they say.

In its simplest form, the model shows how two catalysts in a solution, A and B, each acting to catalyze a different reaction, could end up forming what the scientists call a complex, AB. The word “complex” is key because it shows how simple chemical interactions, with few players, and following basic chemical laws, can lead to a novel combination of molecules of greater complexity. The emergence of complexity – whether in neuronal systems, social systems, or the evolution of life, or of the entire universe -- has long been a major puzzle, particularly in efforts to determine how life emerged.

“A major question about life’s origins is how chemicals, which have no self-interest, became ‘biological’ -- driven to evolve by natural selection,” he says. “This simple model shows a plausible route to this type of complexity.” link
Stochastic innovation as a mechanism by which catalysts might self-assemble into chemical reaction networks. 2007. Justin A. Bradford and Ken A. Dill. PNAS

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Cannibalistic Fish Keep Their Shape

Some fish of the same species display very different features (“resource polymorphism”) even though they live in the same lake because they eat different foods. A team of European researchers found that early cannibalism is found in all species displaying resource polymorphism.

The effect of early cannibalism is twofold. First, it stabilizes the variation in the number of individuals over time, which in turn increases the benefit of specializing on any resource since the risk of being dependent on a vanishing resource decreases. Second, an early disappearance of small newborn individuals increases the abundance of their prey due to decreased consumption from the small ones, hence increasing the benefit for larger individuals to specialize on this specific prey (typically zooplankton). link
Stabilization of population fluctuations due to cannibalism promotes resource polymorphism in fish. 2007. Jens Andersson, et al. American Naturalist 169:820–829.

Super Fungi Feed on Radiation

Art © Steve Ditko. Space Adventures © current copyright holder.

Scientists have long assumed that fungi exist mainly to decompose matter into chemicals that other organisms can then use. But researchers have found evidence that fungi possess a previously undiscovered talent with profound implications: the ability to use radioactivity as an energy source for making food and spurring their growth.

Those fungi able to "eat" radiation must possess melanin, the pigment found in many if not most fungal species. But up until now, melanin's biological role in fungi—if any--has been a mystery.

"Just as the pigment chlorophyll converts sunlight into chemical energy that allows green plants to live and grow, our research suggests that melanin can use a different portion of the electromagnetic spectrum—ionizing radiation—to benefit the fungi containing it," says Dr. Dadachova.

The research began five years ago when Dr. Casadevall read on the Web that a robot sent into the still-highly-radioactive damaged reactor at Chernobyl had returned with samples of black, melanin-rich fungi that were growing on the reactor's walls.

Fungi exposed to levels of ionizing radiation approximately 500 times higher than background levels grew significantly faster (as measured by the number of colony forming units and dry weight) than when exposed to standard background radiation. link
Ionizing Radiation Changes the Electronic Properties of Melanin and Enhances the Growth of Melanized Fungi. Ekaterina Dadachova, et al. PLoS ONE 2(5): e457.