Highlights from New Scientist – A Hangry Caterpillar, A New Antifungal and A Worm That Produces ‘Milk’

Photo One by Maria L. Evans, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Monarch caterpillar (Photo One)

Dear Readers, this might sound like it comes from the Department of the Blooming Obvious (as my Dad used to say), but scientists have found that caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly are more aggressive when they’re hungry, headbutting and lunging at their neighbours in a most indecorous way. Furthermore, the less food there is, the more fighting goes on. Bigger caterpillars, who are closest to pupation, are the most irritable, probably because they need the most food. The larvae are never aggressive when the caterpillars around them are simply resting, but things get ‘interesting’ if they’re competing over the same leaf.

You can read the whole article here.

Well, this accords pretty much with my personal experience – the less food there is, and the hungrier I am, the more likely I am to be confrontational and generally unpleasant. It’s interesting to see that it occurs in such a distant branch of the animal kingdom, however. The fight for scarce resources, be they food, mates or territory, creates the vast majority of the aggression in the animal world, and, as we are animals too, I expect things to get even more exciting than usual as climate change affects things like water resources and food supply.

So there’s a cheery thought to be going on with.

Photo Two by Vincent Kruger, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Golden sea squirt (Polycarpa aurata) (Photo Two)

Much cheerier is the discovery that the microbiomes of sea squirts contain a potent anti-fungal, which can combat even treatment-resistant fungi. Historically, finding anti-fungals has been fraught with problems: strange as it might seem, the cells of the humble mushroom are so similar to those of humans that any many drugs can’t tell the difference, and so while they might kill the fungi, they might also have the side-effect of killing the patient.

The scientists, from the University of Madison- Wisconsin, isolated a range of compounds from the bacteria that live the sea squirt. One of them, which they’ve named turbinmicin – targets a fungal protein called SEC14p, which no other anti-fungal targets. Turbinmicin seems to be particularly adept at combatting Candida auris, a fungus that targets immuno-compromised people, and can infiltrate the lungs, heart or central nervous system, so this is a very exciting development, especially as there are no signs of toxicity so far.

You can read the whole article here

Photo Three by By Shawn Lockhart - This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #21796.Note: Not all PHIL images are public domain; be sure to check copyright status and credit authors and content providers.Deutsch | English | македонски | slovenščina | +/−, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54680002

Candida auris (Photo Three)

And finally, who knew that a little worm could produce milk? Well, actually ‘milk’ is a bit of an overstatement, but tiny nematode worms(Caenorhabditis elegans) produce a bodily secretion to feed their offspring which contains yolk protein (the scientists who discovered this propose calling the substance ‘yolk milk’). Although we think of mammals as being the only creatures that produce food for their young from their own bodies, lots of other animals, including pigeons (who produce ‘milk’ in their crops) and many insects and spiders also secrete nutritious fluids for their offspring.

What is interesting is that, after laying hundreds of eggs in just a few days, these tiny worms may actually break down their own body tissues in order to feed their young. This is triggered by a chemical signalling pathway that is associated with ageing in many animals. Is ageing a side effect of having offspring, one that has a biological purpose? After all this year’s shenanigans I often see parents looking as if they are disintegrating, so maybe there’s something in the theory 🙂

You can read the whole article here.

Photo Four By The original uploader was Kbradnam at English Wikipedia.(Original text: Zeynep F. Altun, Editor of www.wormatlas.org) - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.(Original text: Donated by Zeynep F. Altun), CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2680458

Adult nematode (Caenorhabditis elegans) (Photo Four)

Photo Credits

Photo One by Maria L. Evans, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Two by Vincent Kruger, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo Three by By Shawn Lockhart – This media comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Public Health Image Library (PHIL), with identification number #21796.Note: Not all PHIL images are public domain; be sure to check copyright status and credit authors and content providers.Deutsch | English | македонски | slovenščina | +/−, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54680002

Photo Four By The original uploader was Kbradnam at English Wikipedia.(Original text: Zeynep F. Altun, Editor of http://www.wormatlas.org) – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.(Original text: Donated by Zeynep F. Altun), CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2680458

2 thoughts on “Highlights from New Scientist – A Hangry Caterpillar, A New Antifungal and A Worm That Produces ‘Milk’

  1. Anne

    The tinge of humour saves the potentially gloomy forecast of humans competing for food and water – already becoming a reality in parts of Africa. Yet, unbelievably, good agricultural land continues to be covered by concrete and tar to provide housing and infrastructure for the ever expanding population! This round up of scientific news is very interesting, thank you!

    Reply

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