Earth ChangesS


How the jellyfish got its sting: From a bacterium, surprisingly

© NHPA/A.N.T. PHOTO LIBRARYThe venom of the box jellyfish can paralyse the central nervous system of its victims
Jellyfish may owe thanks to a humble bacterium for their ability to sting prey. Scientists have found that one of the genes necessary for them to sting is similar to a gene in bacteria, suggesting the ancestors of jellyfish picked up the gene from microbes. The research is published this week in Current Biology.

"The result was a great surprise," says developmental biologist Nicolas Rabet of the Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, France, who led the team. "[This kind of] horizontal gene transfer is often neglected, and could sometimes be more important than we thought." Unlike vertical gene transfer from parent to offspring, the horizontal variety happens between organisms, or even between different species. Common in microbes, it has only been described a few times in animals. Japanese beetles have picked up sequences from a parasitic bacterium and microscopic aquatic creatures called bdelloid rotifers have collected genes from bacteria, fungi and plants.


Six dead in Georgian landslide

Six people were killed overnight in a landslide in Georgia's Black Sea autonomous republic of Adzharia, a government source said on Monday.

The landslide struck a mountainous village, completely destroying one house. The landslide was caused by recent heavy rains in the region.


Typhoon Jangmi kills two in Taiwan

Two people were killed when a powerful typhoon struck Taiwan over the weekend, national media reported on Monday.

An 82-year-old man drowned after being swept into a flooded rice field, while an 18 year-old girl was killed by a fallen electric cable as Typhoon Jangmi wrecked havoc in Taiwan.

Better Earth

Sounds Travel Farther Underwater As World's Oceans Become More Acidic

It is common knowledge that the world's oceans and atmosphere are warming as humans release more and more carbon dioxide into the Earth's atmosphere. However, fewer people realize that the chemistry of the oceans is also changing - seawater is becoming more acidic as carbon dioxide from the atmosphere dissolves in the oceans.

increasing carbon dioxide
© MBARI; Base image courtesy of David FiersteinThis illustration shows how increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leads to an increase in the acidity of seawater, which in turn allows sounds (such as whale calls) to travel farther underwater.
According to a paper to be published this week by marine chemists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, these changes in ocean temperature and chemistry will have an unexpected side effect - sounds will travel farther underwater.

Conservative projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggest that the chemistry of seawater could change by 0.3 pH units by 2050 (see below for background information on pH and ocean acidification). In the October 1, 2008 issue of Geophysical Research Letters, Keith Hester and his coauthors calculate that this change in ocean acidity would allow sounds to travel up to 70 percent farther underwater. This will increase the amount of background noise in the oceans and could affect the behavior of marine mammals.


Ancient Arctic Ice Could Tell Us About Future Of Permafrost

Researchers have discovered the oldest known ice in North America, and that permafrost may be a significant touchstone when looking at global warming.

"Previously it had been thought that permafrost completely melted out of the interior of Yukon and Alaska about 120,000 years ago, when climate was warmer than today," said Duane Froese, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Science and lead author of the study.

Evil Rays

Powerful quake hits off New Zealand

A powerful earthquake with a 7.3 magnitude struck off New Zealand early Tuesday, the US Geological Survey said, but there were no early reports of casualties or significant damage.

Bizarro Earth

Floods, landslides kill 50 in Vietnam, Thailand

Flash floods and landslides have killed 50 people in Vietnam and Thailand, swept away thousands of homes and inundated farmland, official reports said on Sunday. In Vietnam, the death toll from typhoon Hagupit, which struck the Philippines and China earlier in the week, has jumped to 32 with another five people missing.

Thousands of homes were either washed away or destroyed by heavy rains and landslides in northern Vietnam, the government's storm and flood prevention committee said.

Hagupit, which means "lashing" in Filipino, killed at least eight people in the Philippines and three in China where it triggered a "once-in-a-century storm tide."


2 strong quakes rock Philippine capital

Manila, Philippines - Two strong earthquakes rocked the Philippine capital and nearby provinces nearly simultaneously Saturday, but no damage or tsunami alerts were reported, a senior seismologist said.

Renato Solidum, director of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, said a "moderately strong" tremor struck late morning Saturday followed by a "stronger one" five minutes later.


UK: Give a bee a home

The threat of extinction for British bees has prompted gardeners across the country to build new hives.

Home Hives

The beekeepers of Coventry are huddled around one of their hives at Ryton Gardens, in Warwickshire, headquarters of the charity Garden Organic. Dressed a little like astronauts, in protective white suits and hoods, they carefully lift one bee-coated frame after another to inspect them.

You might expect a bee-friendly organic garden to be a meadow dotted with dandelions and daisies, but Ryton is a series of well-kept beds with a herb garden, a rose garden and all the other trappings of formal horticulture. "A garden doesn't have to be a mess of wild flowers to seduce bees," says Peter Spencer, of the Warwickshire Beekeepers' Association. "It can be as neat and stylish as you like, but it must be planted with certain flowers." This is an excellent time to plant bee-friendly perennials, rich in easily accessible nectar and pollen, and get them established before winter sets in.


US: University of Minnesota researchers hope to revitalize the honey bee

Smoking beehive
Michael Simone squeezes smoke on the top of a bee colony before removing the honeycomb frame. Simone hypothesizes that the smoke disrupts the bees' chemical cues, confusing them and diverting their attention from the intruder.

Disease, mites and Colony Collapse Disorder all are threats to honey bee colonies, and helped cause 35 percent of U.S. bee colonies to die last winter alone.

Entomology Professor Marla Spivak is trying to change the 20-year decline in honey bee populations.