Wings and White-nose Syndrome in Bats * Moss Revived After Centuries Under Ice * Fleshing out Allosaurus * Glitches in a Neutron Star * How the Turtle got its Shell * Malaria's Malign Modification of Mosquitos

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Today on the program, we start with new insights into white-nose syndrome, which is devastating North American bats.  We also look at the fascinating discovery of moss emerging from under the ice of a retreating glacier; we'll learn about glitchy neutron stars; we'll hear how the turtle got its shell, how Allosaurus defleshed its prey and how malaria manipulates mosquitos.

 

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Wings and White-nose Syndrome in Bats

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Little brown bat with white nose syndrome.  Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service
The bat population in North America is in serious decline as a result of an infectious fungal disease known as White-nose Syndrome.  It is an infection that only affects the skin of the bat, and is so named because it appears as a white mark on the bat's nose.  But a new study by Dr. Craig Willis, an Associate Professor and Chancellor's Research Chair in the Department of Biology at the University of Winnipeg, has focused on the bat's wings, where the infection results in lesions similar to burns.  The resulting dehydration causes the thirsty bat to warm up too often during hibernation and use up fat reserves too quickly.

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Moss Revived After Centuries Under Ice

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Moss revived after 400 years under glacier.  Dr. Catharine La Farge

The Teardrop Glacier fills an 80-kilometre-long valley on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian High Arctic.  In recent years, the glacier has been receding by approximately 4 metres per year.  Among the rocks and mud yielded by this recession is a type of vegetation known as bryophytes - mosses and lichens.  It had always been assumed that any vegetation underneath a glacier would be dead, but a new study by Dr. Catherine La Farge, from the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, found surprising results.  Tiny green stems suggested signs of life, so she brought samples back to her lab where the ancient moss - dated between 400 and 600 years old - was able to regenerate itself.  The study suggests the landscape beneath retreating ice may now be regarded as an untapped genetic reservoir.

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Fleshing out Allosaurus


Allosaurus was an earlier, slightly smaller cousin of the great Tyrannosaurus Rex, but it was still a fearsome predator.  In new work, Dr. Eric Snively, a paleontologist, post-doctoral researcher and instructor at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, and his colleagues, have helped fill in the story of just how fearsome Allosaurus actually was.  They used some new modelling technology to do a reconstruction of the head and neck muscles of the dinosaur, and this allowed them to understand how it moved, attacked and fed.  They suggest the animal had a light and mobile head, and musculature optimized for driving the teeth down and pulling flesh from its prey. 

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Glitches in a Neutron Star

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Neutron star (bright blue) surrounded by a supernova remnant.  ESA/XMM-Newton/M. Sasaki et al.
Dr. Vicky Kaspi, Professor and Canada Research Chair in Observational Astrophysics at McGill University, studies Neutron stars, the burnt-out cinders of large stars after they've gone supernova.  These stars rotate at tremendous speeds, and emit extremely accurate clockwork pulses of radiation.  But these stars also experience "glitches," during which their rotation speeds up fractionally for a brief period of time.  These "glitches" are thought to be related to the complex interior of the star, parts of which may involve an exotic neutron superfluid.  Recently, Dr. Kaspi's team observed a star suddenly slowing down - an "anti-glitch" - an unexpected event that may give further glimpses into the interior of these exotic objects.

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How the Turtle got its Shell


Animation by Stroma Studios 
The evolution of the turtle's shell has been something of a mystery, as there have been few fossils found of "transitional turtles" with incomplete or developing shells.  In the fossil record, turtles seem to show up, shell intact, about 200 million years ago.  But new work by Dr. Tyler Lyson, Peter Buck Post-doctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, may have uncovered a turtle in the making, and may help tell the story of the turtle's shell.  Dr. Lyson has been studying a South African fossil of an animal possessing broad ribs with flattened protective plates that were likely on the path to becoming a full shell.

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Malaria's Malign Modification of Mosquitos


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Anopheles gambiae mosquito
The malaria parasite is one of the world's most fearsome diseases, causing 200 million cases and nearly a million deaths every year, worldwide.  And part of its strategy seems to be giving superpowers to the mosquitos that carry it.  Uninfected mosquitos are normally attracted to humans, as they need a blood meal from us to reproduce.  But Dr. James Logan, senior lecturer in medical entomology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and his colleagues, have found that mosquitos infected with malaria are far better at finding human hosts than normal mosquitos.  They suspect that somehow the parasite is enhancing the mosquito's ability to smell human odours.

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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein, Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0