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Cells’ powerhouses were once energy parasites: Study upends current theories of how mitochondria began

Parasitic bacteria were the first cousins of the mitochondria that power cells in animals and plants — and first acted as energy parasites in those cells before becoming beneficial, according to a new University of Virginia study that used next-generation DNA sequencing technologies to decode the genomes of 18 bacteria that are close relatives of mitochondria.

The study appears this week in the online journal PLoS ONE, published by the Public Library of Science. It provides an alternative theory to two current theories of how simple bacterial cells were swallowed up by host cells and ultimately became mitochondria, the “powerhouse” organelles within virtually all eukaryotic cells — animal and plant cells that contain a nucleus and other features. Mitochondria power the cells by providing them with adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, considered by biologists to be the energy currency of life.

The origin of mitochondria began about 2 billion years ago and is one of the seminal events in the evolutionary history of life. However, little is known about the circumstances surrounding its origin, and that question is considered an enigma in modern biology.

"We believe this study has the potential to change the way we think about the event that led to mitochondria," said U.Va. biologist Martin Wu, the study’s lead author. "We are saying that the current theories — all claiming that the relationship between the bacteria and the host cell at the very beginning of the symbiosis was mutually beneficial — are likely wrong.

"Instead, we believe the relationship likely was antagonistic — that the bacteria were parasitic and only later became beneficial to the host cell by switching the direction of the ATP transport."

The finding, Wu said, is a new insight into an event in the early history of life on Earth that ultimately led to the diverse eukaryotic life we see today. Without mitochondria to provide energy to the rest of a cell, there could not have evolved such amazing biodiversity, he said.

"We reconstructed the gene content of mitochondrial ancestors, by sequencing DNAs of its close relatives, and we predict it to be a parasite that actually stole energy in the form of ATP from its host — completely opposite to the current role of mitochondria," Wu said.

In his study, Wu also identified many human genes that are derived from mitochondria — identification of which has the potential to help understand the genetic basis of human mitochondrial dysfunction that may contribute to several diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes, as well as aging-related diseases.

In addition to the basic essential role of mitochondria in the functioning of cells, the DNA of mitochondria is used by scientists for DNA forensics, genealogy and tracing human evolutionary history.

Journal Reference:

Zhang Wang, Martin Wu. Phylogenomic Reconstruction Indicates Mitochondrial Ancestor Was an Energy ParasitePLOS ONE, 2014 DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0110685

(via mindblowingscience)

Grandma’s Radioactive China Cabinet!

Vaseline Glass is glass which has had uranium added to a glass mix before melting for coloration. The proportion usually varies from trace levels to about 2% by weight uranium, although some 20th-century pieces were made with up to 25% uranium.

See other objects with a Flourescent Glow

Vaseline glass, also known as Uranium Glass or Canary Glass, was once made into tableware and household items, but fell out of widespread use when the availability of uranium to most industries was sharply curtailed during the Cold War in the 1940s to 1990s. Most such objects are now considered antiques or retro-era collectibles, although there has been a minor revival in art glassware. Otherwise, modern uranium glass is now mainly limited to small objects like beads or marbles as scientific or decorative novelties.

Uranium dinner plates as well?

The most typical color of uranium glass is pale yellowish-green, which in the 1920s led to the nickname vaseline glass based on a perceived resemblance to the appearance of petroleum jelly as formulated and commercially sold at that time. Specialized collectors still define “vaseline glass” as transparent or semitransparent uranium glass in this specific color.

"Vaseline glass" is now frequently used as a synonym for any uranium glass, especially in the United States, but this usage is not universal. The term is sometimes carelessly applied to other types of glass based on certain aspects of their superficial appearance in normal light, regardless of actual uranium content which requires a black light test to verify the characteristic green fluorescence.

In the United Kingdom and Australia, the term “vaseline glass” can be used to refer to any type of translucent glass. Even within the United States, the “vaseline” description is sometimes applied to any type of translucent glass with a greasy surface luster

Images above © Ted Kinsman / Science Source.

The Sheer Beauty of a Total Solar Eclipse!

The video clip above is of a total Solar Eclipse sequence. It shows the passage of the Moon in front of the Sun and the diamond ring effect as it nears totality and finally the appearance of the solar corona at totality.

See photos of the Solar Corona

The corona is a cloud of low-density plasma (hot ions) surrounding the Sun. Normally it is not visible, being obscured by the brightness of the Sun’s visible surface. It is beautifully revealed during a total solar eclipse. This moment of totality lasts for only a few minutes. Total solar eclipses usually occur less than once a year, and can only be seen from a small area of the Earth’s surface.

© York Films, Planetary Visions / Science Source 

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Little Mini Microfossils!

The images shown above are scanning electron micrographs of the internal siliceous skeletons of Radiolarians.  They are an amoeboid protozoa and have existed since the beginning of the Paleozoic era, producing an astonishing diversity of intricate shapes during their 600 million year history. Their silicate skeletons have pores through which pseudopodia (false feet) of protoplasm project. As it floats in ocean currents, the pseudopodia trap food particles on which the radiolarian feeds.

See more amazingly intricate Radiolarian skeletons

Radiolarians are found as zooplankton throughout the oceans of the world. Individual are normally in the size range of hundredths to tenths of millimeters. Some, however, may reach a millimeter or more, large enough to be seen with the naked eye. When a radiolarian dies, it’s shell sinks. After millions of years of radiolarian shells raining down on the sea floor, they accumulate in great quantities. Much of the sea floor of the deep oceans are covered in this radiolarian “ooze”. 

All images above © Manfred Kage / Science Source

Blue LED Inventors Awarded Nobel Prize for Creating White LED Lighting Revolution!
by Sebastian Anthony/Extreme Tech
The three Japanese scientists who invented the first efficient blue LEDs in the mid 1990s have received the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics. The invention of efficient blue LEDs was a foundational step in the creation of the bright white LED lights being produced by the likes of Cree and Philips, which are driving the most significant transformation in lighting technology since the invention of the incandescent bulb. Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura will share the 8 million Swedish krona prize (approximately $1.1 million U.S.).
See more images of LED Technology
As you probably know, we’ve had red and green light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for a long, long time — but blue LEDs, for a variety of reasons, had evaded our scientists until fairly recently. This is why all of your old gadgets like TVs, VCRs & modems were adorned with red and green LEDs…until out of nowhere, at the end of the ’90s, blue LEDs were suddenly everywhere. The overuse of bright blue LEDs is a bit obnoxious in my opinion, but after some 40 years of using just red and green I can understand why device makers were suddenly keen to put blue LEDs on everything.
LEDs are very simple devices, essentially consisting of a single piece of semiconducting material, like gallium arsenide (GaAs), that has been doped to create a p-n junction. When electricity is applied to this p-n junction, electrons rush to fill any electron holes, releasing energy in the form of photons (light). The exact frequency of the light (i.e. the color) is dictated by the bandgap of the p-n junction (i.e. how much current is required to jump the gap). Thus, by changing the semiconducting material, thus changing the bandgap, different color LEDs can be created. 
See images of Gallium Arsenide
In the 1990s, working together and separately, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura discovered that gallium nitride (GaN) was capable of creating efficient, bright blue LEDs. This is the invention that has netted them the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics. Later work including indium-gallium-nitride (InGaN) quantum wells improved efficiency yet further and allowed for tuning of the light frequency. And now… well, as you know, there has been an explosion in both blue LEDs and, more importantly, white LEDs. -ExtremeTech-
Read the entire article
Image above © GIPhotoStock / Science Source

Blue LED Inventors Awarded Nobel Prize for Creating White LED Lighting Revolution!

by Sebastian Anthony/Extreme Tech

The three Japanese scientists who invented the first efficient blue LEDs in the mid 1990s have received the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics. The invention of efficient blue LEDs was a foundational step in the creation of the bright white LED lights being produced by the likes of Cree and Philips, which are driving the most significant transformation in lighting technology since the invention of the incandescent bulb. Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura will share the 8 million Swedish krona prize (approximately $1.1 million U.S.).

See more images of LED Technology

As you probably know, we’ve had red and green light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for a long, long time — but blue LEDs, for a variety of reasons, had evaded our scientists until fairly recently. This is why all of your old gadgets like TVs, VCRs & modems were adorned with red and green LEDs…until out of nowhere, at the end of the ’90s, blue LEDs were suddenly everywhere. The overuse of bright blue LEDs is a bit obnoxious in my opinion, but after some 40 years of using just red and green I can understand why device makers were suddenly keen to put blue LEDs on everything.

LEDs are very simple devices, essentially consisting of a single piece of semiconducting material, like gallium arsenide (GaAs), that has been doped to create a p-n junction. When electricity is applied to this p-n junction, electrons rush to fill any electron holes, releasing energy in the form of photons (light). The exact frequency of the light (i.e. the color) is dictated by the bandgap of the p-n junction (i.e. how much current is required to jump the gap). Thus, by changing the semiconducting material, thus changing the bandgap, different color LEDs can be created. 

See images of Gallium Arsenide

In the 1990s, working together and separately, Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura discovered that gallium nitride (GaN) was capable of creating efficient, bright blue LEDs. This is the invention that has netted them the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics. Later work including indium-gallium-nitride (InGaN) quantum wells improved efficiency yet further and allowed for tuning of the light frequency. And now… well, as you know, there has been an explosion in both blue LEDs and, more importantly, white LEDs. -ExtremeTech-

Read the entire article

Image above © GIPhotoStock / Science Source

A Lunar Eclipse, and a Little Something Extra, on October 8

If you missed the first total lunar eclipse of the year in mid-April, the last chance to see one in 2014 will be this Wednesday, October 8. Though it’s best viewed from the Pacific Ocean (or the West Coast), landlubbers in the New York area can enjoy the sight, too: during eclipse totality beginning at 6:25 EDT, the Moon will turn a shade of “blood” red  and appear as a giant, low-hanging sphere over the western horizon for about 40 minutes, until moonset. For more detailed information, check out NASA’s map of worldwide eclipse visibility

As the sun rises on October 8, sky gazers across the United States should keep their eyes peeled for a seemingly impossible sight: a glimpse of the eclipsed setting Moon and rising Sun sharing the sky, an effect called a “selenelion.” Since the Sun and the Moon are aligned in a straight-line configuration during a lunar eclipse, such an observation should not be possible—except that Earth’s atmosphere distorts the view, bumping images of each celestial body above the horizon for several minutes before the Sun actually rises and the Moon sets. East of the Mississippi River, this distortion translates into a brief window—2 to 9 minutes long—to see the elusive selenelion. 

For regions of visibility during this phenomenon, and to learn much more about the particular phases of this total lunar eclipse, head over to the Museum’s astronomy blog, the Sky Reporter.

Trying To Look Bad Ass!

Psst, the image you’re seeing at the top is not a snake. It’s a Caterpillar mimicking a Snake. You could have fooled us. This is the defense mechanism of a particular species of the Hawkmoth Caterpillar. Many of these caterpillars have a backward curving spine or “horn” on the final abdominal segment. 

See more images of Hawkmoth Larva (Caterpillars)

Most Hawkmoth caterpillars (a.k.a.larva) have large eye spots that help to deter predators. This particular species has an added trick up its sleeve. When threatened or startled, it pulls in its legs and head and expands the front part of its body, which takes the appearance of a snake. The brown part which appears to be the top of the snake’s head is the underside of the caterpillar. 

Caterpillars are often preyed upon by birds but they sometimes shy away from caterpillars in this “snake” pose. It is not known whether the birds take the caterpillar to actually resemble a snake or are frightened by the sudden change in shape from a familiar food item.

Now, if you’ve read down this far, we’ve got a fun little assignment for you.  Please go to our website (www.ScienceSource.com) and type in the image number, SP0929. Do you remember the name of the movie that made this Hawkmoth famous?

Image above © Science Source 

Afraid of EV-D68? Another Deadly Virus Is Actually Killing Kids in U.S.

by Maggie Fox/NBC News

It’s ’s all over the headlines: Enterovirus D-68 (EV-D68) is making kids sick in what appear to be unprecedented numbers. It might be causing paralysis or maybe not. It may have infected some adults.

But EV-D68 is nothing compared to the viral killer that really concerns Dr. Paul Checchia of Texas Children’s Hospital, who treats sick kids all day long.

“Hysterical — that’s the way I describe it,” Checchia said about the reaction to EV-D68.

Every year, Respiratory Syncytial Virus or RSV sends 75,000 to 125,000 children to the hospital and kills as many as 200 every year, numbers that are a little fuzzy because hospitals are not required to report deaths from RSV. Last year, influenza killed at least 105 kids. No deaths from EV-D68, which has been linked to several hundred illnesses nationwide, have been reported.

See more images of Respiratory Syncytial Viruses

“Enterovirus must have a really good PR agent because it is getting all the press and there is no real need for it,” Checchia told NBC News. “It is a significant respiratory pathogen, but it is not really different from a lot of other respiratory pathogens out there.”

Most of the seriously affected children appear to have underlying lung diseases, such as asthma, or a neurological disease, and these children are at high risk from many viruses.

See video of how Viruses Infect our Bodies 

RSV infects almost everyone by the time they turn 2. It causes a very bad cold in most, but in a few, especially newborns, it can bring on very severe disease. RSV kills between 66,000 and 199,000 children annually worldwide, most of them in developing countries, where the population is more vulnerable and supportive care less available.

Checchia believes many more U.S. babies die from RSV and it’s just never reported. Adults also can catch RSV, and it kills 10,000 elderly Americans every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read the entire article

The AMAZING Cave of Crystals!!

These images show geologists in the Cave of Crystals (Cueva de los Cristales) in Naica Mine, Chihuahua, Mexico. The main chamber contains giant selenite crystals, some of the largest natural crystals ever found. Selenite is a form of gypsum (calcium sulphate).

See more images of La Cueva de los Cristales

Naica lies on an ancient fault and there is an underground magma chamber below the cave. The magma heated the ground water and it became saturated with minerals, including large quantities of gypsum. The hollow space of the cave was filled with this mineral-rich hot water and remained filled for about 500,000 years. During this time, the temperature of the water remained very stable at over 50 °C (122 °F). This allowed crystals to form and grow to immense sizes.

See more images of Selenite Gypsum

The crystals were discovered after the water was pumped out of the mine. The Cave of Crystals is 290 meters deep, and was discovered in 2000.  The cave is extremely hot with air temperatures reaching up to 58 °C (136 °F) and with 90 to 99 percent humidity. The cave is relatively unexplored due to these factors. Without proper protection people can only endure approximately ten minutes of exposure at a time.

The cave was featured on the Discovery Channel program Naica: Beyond The Crystal Cave in February 2011. Exploration hinted at the existence of further chambers, but further exploration would have required demolition of the crystals. It was stated that the cave would eventually be resealed and the water level allowed to rise again.

Images above © Javier Trueba / MSF / Science Source

Do Your Eyes Need A Break From Contact Lenses?

Image BP3051 (SEM, Contact Lens).

The image above is an SEM (Scanning Electron Micrograph)  of a contact lens after three weeks of use. Bacteria (blue green), organic deposits (brown) from tear fluid, epithelial cells, and dust can be found on the surface. If the lens is not replaced in time, this can lead to inflammation of the eye. Magnification 2.500:1 (at image size 12x12 cm).

See more Contact Lens micrographs

Long-term use of soft hydrogel contact lenses has been shown to alter the following in the cornea: epithelial oxygen uptake, epithelial thickness, stromal thickness, and corneal endothelial morphology. Furthermore, the formation of epithelial vacuoles and microcysts has been observed following long-term contact lens wear. Vacuoles are fluid-filled chambers that begin to appear one week after extended contact lens use begins; their number increases over time with extended contact lens wear. Microcysts tend to appear three months after contact lens wear begins and increase in number over time as long as contact lens wear resumes. On average, over five times as many epithelial microcysts than normal have been observed in long-term contact lens wearers.

© Eye of Science / Science Source

(via sciencesourceimages)

A Nerve Impulse: From Point A to Point B

The image at top is a scanning electron micrograph of a nerve ending. It has been broken open to reveal vesicles (orange and blue) containing chemicals used to pass messages in the nervous system.

See more Nerve Synapse illustrations

A nerve is an enclosed, cable-like bundle of axons (the long, slender projections of neurons) in the peripheral nervous system. A nerve provides a common pathway for the electrochemical nerve impulses that are transmitted along each of the axons to peripheral organs. Vesicles are a basic tool used by the cell for organizing cellular substances. Vesicles are involved in metabolism, transport, and enzyme storage. They can also act as chemical reaction chambers.

See more SEMs of Neurons

Neurotransmitters are endogenous chemicals that transmit signals from a neuron to a target cell across a synapse. In response to an electrical signal in the transmitting neuron, vesicles containing neurotransmitters fuse with the cell wall allowing the neurotransmitters to enter the synapse. Pictured in the image at the bottom, they move toward the receiving neuron and attach themselves to receptors (green), relaying the message. Extra neurotransmitters migrate back to the transmitting cell via reuptake transporters.

Images above © Science Source

Abalone Armor? No, Baloney!  

Abalones are a type of edible mollusk. They’re found in oceans throughout the world but the majority of abalone species are found in cold waters, such as off the coasts of New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Western North America, and Japan.

See more images of Abalone and their shells

The shells of abalones have a low open spiral structure and are characterized by several open respiratory pores in a row near the shell’s outer edge. The thick inner layer of the shell is composed of nacre, which in many species is highly iridescent, giving rise to a range of strong changeable colors, which make the shells attractive to humans as decorative objects, jewelry, and as a source of colorful “mother-of-pearl”.

Two of the images pictured above are color enhanced SEMs of a section through an Abalone Shell. (Haliotis sp.) The shell is composed of layers of overlapping platelets of calcium carbonate crystals, or aragonite. You can see that these microscopic tiles are stacked like bricks. Between the layers are thin sheets of protein (not visible). This structure makes the shell much stronger than the materials would be in any other arrangement. Material scientists are trying to recreate this structure in the lab for use in body armor.  (Magnification: x1660 when printed at 10 cm wide)

Images above © Science Source

3Y4890 (Abalones are univalve shellfish, top view)

BK7072 (Abalone Shell, SEM)

3Y4861 (Abalones are univalve shellfish, inside view)

BK7071 (Abalone Shell, SEM)

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft successfully entered Mars’ orbit at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 21, where it now will prepare to study the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere as never done before. MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars.

“As the first orbiter dedicated to studying Mars’ upper atmosphere, MAVEN will greatly improve our understanding of the history of the Martian atmosphere, how the climate has changed over time, and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability of the planet,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”

See more images of the planet Mars

After a 10-month journey, confirmation of successful orbit insertion was received from MAVEN data observed at the Lockheed Martin operations center in Littleton, Colorado, as well as from tracking data monitored at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) navigation facility in Pasadena, California. The telemetry and tracking data were received by NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna station in Canberra, Australia.

“NASA has a long history of scientific discovery at Mars and the safe arrival of MAVEN opens another chapter,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “Maven will complement NASA’s other Martian robotic explorers—and those of our partners around the globe—to answer some fundamental questions about Mars and life beyond Earth.”

Following orbit insertion, MAVEN will begin a six-week commissioning phase that includes maneuvering into its final science orbit and testing the instruments and science-mapping commands. MAVEN then will begin its one Earth-year primary mission, taking measurements of the composition, structure and escape of gases in Mars’ upper atmosphere and its interaction with the sun and solar wind.

"It’s taken 11 years from the original concept for MAVEN to now having a spacecraft in orbit at Mars,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU/LASP). “I’m delighted to be here safely and successfully, and looking forward to starting our science mission. -NASA-

Read the entire article

Image © NASA / Science Source

mindblowingscience:

Today over 300,000 people marched in ‘The Peoples Climate March’ in New York City; many more thousands marched in cities around the world.

We need to take action for the future.