Science Briefs – March 8, 2011

Compiled by Kelsey Gobroski / Sun Star Reporter
March, 8, 2011

Damsels outsmart males

Female damselflies avoid unwanted males through sexual camouflage, according to a new study. While most females are khaki in color, females avoiding male attention masquerade as masculine with bright blue colors. These blue females are often ignored by males and can act bullish toward males. The males eventually pick up on the ruse as it becomes more common and the females become better mimics. This phenomenon may not be limited to damselflies, as it is one of the first case studies of an older mathematical model, and this tricking mechanism may pop up again in other organisms.

Source: Discovery News

Protein bait lures viruses

On the theme of masquerades, scientists built a fake cell that smells like the microscopic victims of mumps and measles. This trap, called a “protocell,” is coated in proteins that a class of viruses known as henipaviruses uses to track down their prey. The viruses sniff out the protein, then stab their victims — but, like bees, can only do this once. These traps keep viruses away from real cells. Viruses can’t evolve a resistance to the traps as well as they can to other antivirals.

Source: Popular Science

Plague scientist succumbs to Black Death

Malcolm Casadaban died in 2009, and now it surfaces that his death was caused by the plague. He contracted the bubonic plague in the workplace: he studied it. Casadaban worked with bacteria that had been weakened to the point of not even being able to kill a mouse. The bacteria was deemed so safe that safety precautions may have been ignored. Unfortunately for Casadaban, these bacteria’s weakness was their inability to absorb much iron, an enzyme building block — and Casadaban happened to have a disease where he was awash in extra iron. Saturated in one of their nutrients, the bacteria took hold.

Source: New Scientist

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