May 30, 2013

    Photo: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Mosquitoes Lose Taste For Humans

Scientists genetically modify scent gene

Mosquitoes: spawn of the underworld. Disrupter of idyllic summer moments. But a solution may be at hand in the ongoing war against these increasingly DEET-resistant pests.

Scientists have genetically engineered mosquitoes without the desire for human blood. While many mosquito species are generalists when it comes to their food preference, two strains, Anopheles gambiae and Aedes aegypti, have evolved a strong preference for humans. This makes them particularly potent carriers of diseases such as malaria and Dengue fever.

"By disrupting a single gene, we can fundamentally confuse the mosquito from its task of seeking humans," said study author Leslie Vosshall, a neurogeneticist at The Rockefeller University in New York.

Vosshall and her team discovered that a single gene, the orco gene, was responsible for the mosquito’s ability to detect odors. Once disrupted using genetic engineering techniques, the mutant Aedes aegypti were no longer able to differentiate between animal and human scents, though they remained drawn to the CO2 that naturally emanates from any living body.

With any luck, this research will lead to new and better repellants, striking another blow for humanity.


    Photo: Kurzon

Mammoth Blood Found in Russia

Could aid cloning project

Russian scientists hope that liquid blood recently found in a mammoth carcass in Siberia will help them in their project to clone the prehistoric creatures. Researchers from the Northeast Federal University in Yakutsk were on an expedition in Russia's Lyakhovsky Islands when they discovered the well-preserved female specimen frozen in the ice.

In a statement on their website, the team said the mammoth's blood and soft tissues were exceptionally well-preserved; after 10,000 years, only parts of the body, head, and one leg were skeletonized.

"The blood is very dark, it was found in ice cavities below the belly and when we broke these cavities with a poll pick, the blood came running out," said expedition head Semyon Grigoriev. The expedition's scientists say the blood may have some cryoprotective, or anti-freezing, properties, since it stayed liquid at temperatures as low as 19 degrees.

Besides its value as a research specimen, the University hopes to use material from the mammoth in a joint project with a South Korean team aimed at cloning the animals.

According to CNN, the controversial head of the project, Hwang Woo-suk, is known as the researcher who confessed to fabricating data after he announced in 2004 that he had cloned human embryonic stem cells.


    Photo: Nejron Photo via Shutterstock

Himalayas in Danger of Tsunami

Glacial melt and earthquakes increase risk

In the Himalayas, you tend to worry about icefall or snowstorms. Tsunamis—not so much. At least, that was the pre-global warming situation. Researchers at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) say that alarming rates of glacial melting could up the risk of a Himalayan tsunami.

When glaciers melt and form lakes, the natural barriers holding them back can give way with the help of water pressure, erosion, or earthquakes, unleashing a torrent of meltwater. With warming temperatures, some glaciers are melting at concerning rates. More glacial lakes increase the possibility of outbursts, and more frequent outbursts mean a higher tsunami risk.

What would happen if a tsunami did occur? Residents of at-risk regions may not have much time to prepare. One power station near the village of Jhirpu Phulpingkatt would only be able to detect and send out a warning for floodwaters once they are in Nepali territory, leaving only a few minutes to evacuate. “All of us would have to run for our lives,” the manager of the station said.


    Photo: College of Natural Sciences via Flickr

Ants Ring Doorbell

Terrify 75-year-old lady

A nest of ants was found terrorizing a 75-year-old woman in the German town of Offenburg, repeatedly ringing her doorbell throughout the evening. The woman called police at 3 a.m. to report the mysterious ringing.

Officers soon discovered a colony of ants had made their home in the switch, pressing elements together to ring the bell. They silenced the colony by removing them from the door with a knife.

The officers couldn't identify the species of ant responsible for the scare, but The Guardian speculates that the pharaoh ant may be to blame. This warmth-loving insect is attracted to electric currents and can only survive in cold northern Europe with the help of humans.