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Harvard Scientists Create Hemihelix Using Rubber Bands

Hemihelix Illustration

Harvard scientists made a hemihelix using rubber bands. The shape is rarely seen in nature. The researchers stretched, joined, and then released rubber strips in the experiments. The videos below shows a hemihelix with only one perversion and hemihelix with multiple perversions. The scientists say that knowing how to make these types of structures could enable them to mimic the geometric features in new molecules. This could lead to breakthroughs in modern nanodevices.

Katia Bertoldi, associate professor of applied mechanics at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), says in a statement, "Once you are able to fabricate these complex shapes and control them, the next step will be to see if they have unusual properties; for example, to look at their effect on the propagation of light."

A research paper on the structural transition from helices to hemihelices was published here in PLoS One.

Photo: Jiangshui Huang/SEAS

Posted on April 24, 2014

Scientists Sequence Genetic Code of the Tsetse Fly

Closeup of a tsetse fly

The genetic code of the tsetse fly has been sequenced. Scientists at the International Glossina Genome Initiative (IGGI) have produced the first complete genome sequence of the fly, Glossina morsitans. The fly feeds on the blood of humans and other animals. It gives birth to live young.

The sequenced genome gives new hope in the battle against sleeping sickness. The tsetse fly is the sole transmitter of trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness. The fly can transfer the parasite to humans with its bite. The disease is fatal if left untreated. There are drug treatments but they have side effects. There is no vaccine.

Geoffrey Attardo from Yale University, a lead author of the study, says in a statement, "In a first phase of the project, we used computers to automatically annotate the genetic sequence of the tsetse fly and compare it with the sequences of similar species with known genomes, such as the fruit fly. The computers flagged segments of genetic material in the tsetse fly's genome known to code for proteins in other species and used this data to predict the tsetse fly's gene structure and function."

Doctoral researcher Jelle Caers and Professor Liliane Schoofs (KU Leuven) worked for two years in the IGGI group studying the tsetse fly's neuropeptide signaling genes. These genes could be targets for new insecticides.

The research was published here in the journal Science.

Photo: Geoffrey M. Attardo, Research Scientist, Yale School of Public Health

Posted on April 24, 2014

Fossil of Oldest Known Pterodactyloid Discovered

Fragmentary remains of Kryptodrakon progenitor

Scientists have discovered the fossil of the oldest known Pterodactyloid in northwest China. The newly named pterosaur species, Kryptodrakon progenitor, lived about 163 million years ago. This pushes the fossil record for pterodactyloids back by at least 5 million years. The research was led by USF paleontologist Brian Andres, James Clark of the George Washington University Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and Xu Xing of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The diagram above shows the fragmentary remains of Kryptodrakon progenito using a skeletal outline of Pterodactylus antiques.

Chris Liu, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Earth Sciences, says in a statement, "This finding represents the earliest and most primitive pterodactyloid pterosaur, a flying reptile in a highly specialized group that includes the largest flying organisms. The research has extended the fossil record of pterodactyloids by at least five million years to the Middle-Upper Jurassic boundary about 163 million years ago."

Kryptodrakon progenitor had a wingspan of about 4.5 feet, which made it one of the smaller pterodactyloids. The name is derived from Krypto (hidden) and drakon (serpent), which refer to the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which was filmed near where the species was discovered. Progenitor (ancestral or first-born), referring to its status as the earliest known pterodactyloid.

A research paper on Kryptodrakon progenitor was published here in Current Biology.

Image: Brian Andres/Peter Wellnhofer

Posted on April 24, 2014

Scientists Make 3D Glasses for Praying Mantises

Scientists have designed tiny 3D glasses for praying mantises. The research team, led by Dr Jenny Read from the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University, want to learn more about 3D vision in the praying mantis, which is the only invertebrate known to have they ability. They say it could provide clues about how 3D vision evolved.

Dr. Read says in a statement, "Despite their minute brains, mantises are sophisticated visual hunters which can capture prey with terrifying efficiency. We can learn a lot by studying how they perceive the world."

Here is a video of a praying mantis wearing the world's smallest 3D glasses. The glasses were applied to the praying mantis with beeswax. The mantis will be shown computer generated images on computer monitors. Take a look:

Posted on April 24, 2014

Quail Embryo Video Wins Nikon Small World in Motion Competition

A video showing virtual slices through a quail embryo won the Nikon Small World in Motion competition. The 3D reconstruction was created by Dr. Gabriel G. Martins of The Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciencia. More than 1,000 separate images were used to make the video.

A video of the beating heart of a two-day old zebrafish embryo took second place. The video was created by Michael Weber of The Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Germany. The zebrafish embryo heart is only 250 micrometers or just slightly larger than the diameter of a human hair.

Third place went to this video of a Live HeLa (cancer) cell by Dr. Lin Shao of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Janelia Farm Research Campus. The video reveals the inner details of the mitochondria in a living cell within a 3D image for the first time.

Posted on April 24, 2014

New Mineral Discovered in Western Australia

Research have discovered a new mineral, called putnisite, in Western Australia. The mineral was found in a surface outcrop at Lake Cowan by Dr. Peter Elliott, a University of Adelaide mineralogy researcher and Research Associate with the South Australian Museum. The mineral is found on volcanic rock and occurs as tiny pseudocubic crystals. The crystals are less than 0.5 mm in diameter.

Dr. Elliott says in the announcement, "What defines a mineral is its chemistry and crystallography. By x-raying a single crystal of mineral you are able to determine its crystal structure and this, in conjunction with chemical analysis, tells you everything you need to know about the mineral. Most minerals belong to a family or small group of related minerals, or if they aren't related to other minerals they often are to a synthetic compound - but putnisite is completely unique and unrelated to anything. Nature seems to be far cleverer at dreaming up new chemicals than any researcher in a laboratory."

putnisite chemical formula

The mineral combines the elements strontium, calcium, chromium, sulphur, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen.

Another photo of the mineral can be seen on A research paper on the new mineral was published here in Mineralogical Magazine.

Posted on April 23, 2014

Study Finds Male Black Widow Spiders Prefer Well-Fed Virgins

Female black widow spider

University of Toronto Scarborough have found that male black widow spiders prefer to mate with well-fed virgins. The study, authored by UTSC post-doc Emily MacLeod and Maydianne Andrade, a professor in UTSC's Department of Biological Sciences, found in both controlled field studies and the wild that males overwhelmingly chose to mate with well-fed, unmated females. The researchers also determined that male black widows can tell whether a potential mate is well-fed and unmated by pheromones released by the females. A female black widow is pictured above.

MacLeod says in a release, "This near unanimous preference by males for well-fed mates using only phermonal cues has not been documented in any other spider species. These are not visual or auditory cues they are picking up but smells they are sensing, often from far away."

One reason for the well-fed preference is that a hungry female might try to eat them. Males of the Latrodectus Hesperus black widow species are much smaller than the female, so they are vulnerable if the female is hungry. The researchers note that if the female is hungry her drive to feed will be greater than her drive to reproduce. Another reason for the well-fed preference is that mating with a fatter female may result in more offspring.

Andrade says, "It's important to remember that when a female eats a lot of prey, she's less likely to eat a potential mate."

The research was published here in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Photo: Ken Jones/

Posted on April 23, 2014

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