“Stars hung suspended” — robot camera finds ice-dwelling anemones

A robot camera in the Antarctic Ocean found something that no one was looking for: bloodless sea anemones anchored to the underside of the Ross Ice Shelf. The researchers, from the University of Nebraska, dropped their camera-robot through the 270-metre-thick ice to explore sea currents and test their machine. The team did not include any biologists but they preserved some of the tiny animals for later study. These are the first anemones found that live in or on ice: ANDRILL team discovers ice-loving sea anemones in Antarctica. They are only a couple of centimetres high.

“The white anemones have been named Edwardsiella andrillae, in honor of the ANDRILL program.” I guess we’ll have to look at PLoS One to discover why they were placed in Edwardsiella so quickly. (the anemones, not the bacteria): Edwardsiella andrillae, a New Species of Sea Anemone from Antarctic Ice.

The large-scale image of the discovery is stunning.

Ice-dwelling anemones

Weather alert for Toronto, 5 January 2014

When I checked the weather alerts, I found that our ‘special weather statement’ has been updated to a warning.

City of Toronto
4:51 PM EST Sunday 05 January 2014
Freezing rain warning
for City of Toronto continued

A couple of hours of freezing rain likely north of lakes Erie and Ontario this evening. Significant freezing rain over Eastern Ontario overnight. Risk of a flash freeze for rush hour Monday morning.

An intensifying storm centred over Southern Indiana is forecast to cross the Greater Toronto area overnight reaching Petawawa Monday morning. Heavier snow is beginning to develop across parts of Southern Ontario in advance of the low. It will quickly spread across many areas this evening from Southwestern Ontario and to the east of Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.

The snow is forecast to transition to freezing rain then to rain later this evening as temperatures rise above the freezing mark. One or two hours of freezing rain is likely north of Lake Erie and around the west end of Lake Ontario. More prolonged freezing rain is possible overnight in Eastern Ontario with potentially several hours worth before temperatures rise above zero very early Monday. This is not expected to be anything like the recent severe ice storm.

In the wake of the storm, bitterly cold west to northwest winds will develop on Monday. There is a risk of flash freeze conditions near the path of the low where temperatures have briefly risen above zero then fall sharply early Monday. This may include the Greater Toronto area. These winds will also produce widespread dangerous wind chills beginning Monday night as some of the coldest air in years produces record-shattering cold. Wind chill warnings will likely be issued later tonight.

Travel conditions are expected to deteriorate and become hazardous due to slippery conditions from snow and freezing rain, especially on untreated surfaces.

Environment Canada will continue to monitor this evolving situation and update warnings accordingly.

Please monitor the latest forecasts and warnings from Environment Canada at http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca.

I went out and bought milk and bread. I can stay home tomorrow, check my e-mail, and communicate by computer. That sounds like a good plan. Stay safe if you have to drive and bundle up if you have to be outside for long.

Weather alert for Toronto, 4 January 2014

I like these detailed weather alerts.

City of Toronto
5:23 PM EST Saturday 04 January 2014
Special weather statement
for City of Toronto continued

Winter storm with heavy snow later Sunday and Sunday night, with mixed precipitation for some regions. Windy and sharply colder again Monday with some blowing snow and lake effect snow-squalls.

Old man winter is about to have another go at Southern Ontario as a winter storm developing over Oklahoma threatens the region.

A weak cold front from a separate weather system affecting Northern Ontario will slip into Southern Ontario tonight. This front will give a few centimetres of snow to many areas by Sunday morning, with 5 cm or more falling in locales east of Lake Huron to the south of Georgian Bay. This front will likely stall north of lakes Erie and Ontario on Sunday.

Meanwhile, a low pressure system developing over Oklahoma today will intensify and track northeastward along the line of the stalled front, crossing Southern Ontario Sunday night.

Some disorganized snow is expected on Sunday over some regions. As the deepening low approaches, the snow will become heavy over Southwestern Ontario Sunday afternoon and over the remaining regions Sunday evening. The snow will likely change to some rain near Eastern Lake Erie and Lake Ontario as well as parts of Eastern Ontario later Sunday evening. There is also a threat of some freezing rain in these areas. Any freezing rain that occurs will have virtually no impact on hydro for those areas impacted by the recent ice storm. But more significant freezing rain may impact travel to some degree over Eastern Ontario. Freezing rain warnings will likely be issued later tonight. The precipitation will taper off overnight Sunday or by early Monday in the east.

It appears that regions north of a line from roughly Leamington to London to Barrie to Pembroke will receive snowfall amounts of 15 to 20 cm. Amounts will likely be up to 5 cm south of that line with locally 10 cm in some areas.

In the wake of the storm, bitterly cold west to northwest winds will return on Monday, producing blowing and drifting snow in areas which receive the most snow from the storm. Furthermore, intense snow squalls are forecast to develop off Lake Huron and Georgian Bay Monday and persist into mid week.

Travel conditions are expected to deteriorate and become hazardous due to accumulating snow and poor visibility in heavy snow over Southern Ontario Sunday. If freezing rain falls, untreated surfaces may quickly become icy and slippery.

There is still some uncertainty as to the exact track of the storm centre and where the freezing rain and heaviest snow will fall. Environment Canada will continue to monitor this evolving situation and issue warnings accordingly.

It should be noted that widespread dangerous wind chills are likely especially from Monday night through Wednesday as some of the coldest air in years seems poised to settle across the region accompanied by brisk winds.

The public is advised to monitor future forecasts and warnings as warnings may be required or extended. Please monitor the latest forecasts and warnings from Environment Canada at http://www.weatheroffice.gc.ca.

What is squalene, anyway?

The short answer is given here, in the organic molecule directory, alkenes page:

Squalene is found in shark liver oil, and is also a major component of the lipids on the surface of human skin. Although it is not obvious from the way the structure above is drawn, squalene is a precursor for the biosynthesis of cholesterol. Through a complex series of enzymatically controlled reactions, squalene is converted into an intermediate called lanosterol, which undergoes a number of subsequent reactions to become cholesterol.

Here is what the molecule looks like. Every angle or terminus has a carbon atom, with enough hydrogen atoms to fill the unused bonds up to carbon’s complement of four per atom. A double line indicates a double bond.

squalene_01

Placoderms evolved penetrative sex

Placoderms are an extinct class of armoured fishes containing several orders. Placoderm comes from Greek words for “plate” and “skin.” They are jawed fishes, but so ancient that they precede both sharks & rays and bony fishes: some elements of the skeleton are cartilaginous while others are bony and there are bony elements in their skin armour. Yes, bones and teeth are derived from skin tissue. They appeared in the fossil record about 420 Ma in the Early Silurian and by 400 Ma in the Devonian all major placoderm orders were present. (See “Australia: The Land Where Time Began: Placoderms“.}

402px-Dunkleosteus_terrelli_2 (From Wikipedia)

Before placoderms, all fertilization of eggs by sperm occurred outside the body, as females released eggs and males released sperm into the water. They might hover near each other, but if sperm found egg it was partly by chance. Female fishes release their eggs through a cloaca, an opening for both eggs and bodily wastes. As the fish that were closest had the most success, eventually males began to position themselves at the cloaca. One group of placoderms, the group of placoderms, the ptyctodontids, have these external claspers to hold the female, as do sharks. The pelvic fin perhaps developed a tube shape to funnel the male’s sperm into the female’s cloaca. Some modern fish mate in this way. What is known is that some placoderms gave birth to live young, which means that that at the very least, eggs were fertilized while still in the female. In short, these early fishes invented internal fertilization.

Two prehistoric fish swimming

Rhamphodopsis threiplandi, a placoderm with claspers (from Wikipedia)

There are two pathways after internal fertilization. One is ovivipary, where eggs are retained and hatch inside the mother, who then expels the young. Some sharks still do that. In fact, in some sharks the first young to hatch eat the other eggs to nourish themselves until birth. Females may develop areas of nourishing skin that the young can scrape off. The other main path is for the young & the female to cooperatively grow a placenta, which attaches to the her and extracts nourishment from her blood. (Placentas could  not have happened without a retrovirus inserting itself into the genome, but that’s another topic.)

At first, scientists thought that young placoderms inside larger fossils could have been evidence of predation; but at last a tiny fossil placoderm was found with a tiny umbilical cord, still attached to the mother.

In memoriam: Frederick Sanger

250px-Frederick_Sanger2Frederick Sanger, the only Briton to have won two Nobel prizes, has died. He worked in biochemistry, studying DNA and proteins. His first Nobel prize was awarded for being the first to sequence a protein, insulin. At the time, it required years of work to do so.  He found that it was made up of two peptide chains: all proteins are one or more peptide chains. He spent nearly ten years removing one amino acid at a time from the end of the protein and identifying it, then going on to the next.

Winning the prize enabled him to afford better facilities and gather bright students around him. His second prize was for an ingenious and efficient way of discovering the sequence of nucleotide bases in a molecule of DNA or RNA. The linking of base pairs gives the molecule its ladder structure. The Sanger method cuts the molecules at different places, sorts them by weight (and therefore length) and identifies the base on the end using fluorescent dyes of different colours. According to Wikipedia, he used the method sequence human mitochondrial DNA (16,569 base pairs) and bacteriophage λ (48,502 base pairs). His method was used to sequence the human genome and many others.

His work allowed us to understand the genetic basis of mutations and diseases and was important for the development of better vaccines. Frederick Sanger was also honoured with the Order of Merit for distinguished service in science as well as several other awards.

The Telegraph has quite a nice obituary: Frederick Sanger.

Signal boost: more about squalenes

I put this into a comment but it deserves a wider readership.

squalene_01

Squalene is found in foods and your body makes it and uses it on the pathway to making cholesterol, which is a precursor to vital hormones. Your own blood contains sqalene. It is sold as a food supplement in the form of shark’s liver oil. Traces found in vaccines where it is not added appear to come from the oils left by fingerprints on laboratory glassware. The amounts found are far less than the concentration already in human blood.

The anthrax vaccine given to U.S. soldiers used aluminum hydroxide as an adjuvant. The purpose of an adjuvant is to boost immune response and allow us to use less of the antigen (disease substance that we want to become immune to). The U.S. doesn’t use squalene as an adjuvant in any vaccine. See this Q&A paper from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (Portable Document Format file).

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