Thanks to its love for extreme depths and remote oceanic corners, no one had ever seen the blob, or even knew it existed
Deep in the dark, murky waters of our oceans, a gelatinous blob, shaped like a dislodged human molar, floats along the seabed.
Thanks to its love for extreme depths and remote oceanic corners, no one had ever seen the blob, or even knew it existed, until a team of scientists accidentally discovered it during a deep-sea dive off the coast of Puerto Rico in 2015, with help from an underwater, remotely-operated vehicle called ‘Deep Discover.’
Five years on, in a paper published this month, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have confirmed that the blob is an entirely new species of undersea creature, Duobrachium sparksae – a never-before-seen species of jelly-like ctenophore. It’s also the first time that researchers have discovered a species using high-definition video footage only.
“It’s unique because we were able to describe a new species based entirely on high-definition video,” explained NOAA marine biologist Allen Collins in a release.
“We don’t have the same microscopes as we would in a lab, but the video can give us enough information to understand the morphology in detail, such as the location of their reproductive parts and other aspects.”
Ctenophores, also known as comb jellies, have bulbous, balloon-like bodies, from which protrude two tentacle-like strings, known as cilia. There are between 100 and 150 species of comb jellies, according to the NOAA, and despite their name, they are not at all related to jellyfish. Ctenophores, the group explains, are carnivorous, and many are highly efficient predators that eat small arthropods and many kinds of larvae.
Three different specimens were filmed by the vehicle at depths around 3,900 metres, in an underwater area called the Arecibo Amphitheater, which lies within a trench known as the Guajataca Canyon, off Puerto Rico. One of the animals appeared to use its tentacles to touch the seabed, scientists said.
“It was a beautiful and unique organism,” oceanographer Mike Ford was quoted as saying in a release.
“It moved like a hot air balloon attached to the seafloor on two lines, maintaining a specific altitude above the seafloor. Whether it’s attached to the seabed, we’re not sure. We did not observe direct attachment during the dive, but it seems like the organism touches the seafloor.”
Identifying a new species solely via photographic and video evidence has often yielded contentious results, the scientists explained in their paper, as natural classification “relies heavily” on the physical specimen samples preserved in museums “to serve as references to which other material can be compared.”
“Indeed, the idea of using photographic evidence to establish new species has been highly contentious in recent decades.”
In this case, however, the team was able to avoid any pushback due to the high-definition quality of the footage they recorded of the three observed specimens. The team hopes to collect real-life specimens on future dives, but fears it may be decades before they run into the species again.
“Even if we had the equipment, there would have been very little time to process the animal because gelatinous animals don’t preserve very well,” Collins said.
“Ctenophores are even worse than jellyfish in this regard.”
Researcher expands plant genome editing with newly engineered variant of CRISPR-Cas9 – Phys.org
Alongside Dennis van Engelsdorp, associate professor at the University of Maryland (UMD) in Entomology named for the fifth year in a row for his work in honey bee and pollinator health, Yiping Qi, associate professor in Plant Science, represented the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources on the Web of Science 2020 list of Highly Cited Researchers for the first time. This list includes influential scientists based on the impact of their academic publications over the course of the year. In addition to this honor, Qi is already making waves in 2021 with a new high-profile publication in Nature Plants introducing SpRY, a newly engineered variant of the famed gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9. SpRY essentially removes the barriers of what can and can’t be targeted for gene editing, making it possible for the first time to target nearly any genomic sequence in plants for potential mutation. As the preeminent innovator in the field, this discovery is the latest of Qi’s in a long string of influential tools for genome editing in plants.
“It is an honor, an encouragement, and a recognition of my contribution to the science community,” says Qi of his distinction as a 2020 Web of Science Highly Cited Researcher. “But we are not just making contributions to the academic literature. In my lab, we are constantly pushing new tools for improved gene editing out to scientists to make an impact.”
With SpRY, Qi is especially excited for the limitless possibilities it opens up for genome editing in plants and crops. “We have largely overcome the major bottleneck in plant genome editing, which is the targeting scope restrictions associated with CRISPR-Cas9. With this new toolbox, we pretty much removed this restriction, and we can target almost anywhere in the plant genome.”
The original CRISPR-Cas9 tool that kicked off the gene editing craze was tied to targeting a specific short sequence of DNA known as a PAM sequence. The short sequence is what the CRISPR systems typically use to identify where to make their molecular cuts in DNA. However, the new SpRY variant introduced by Qi can move beyond these traditional PAM sequences in ways that was never possible before.
“This unleashes the full potential of CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing for plant genetics and crop improvement,” says an excited Qi. “Researchers will now be able to edit anywhere within their favorable genes, without questioning whether the sites are editable or not. The new tools make genome editing more powerful, more accessible, and more versatile so that many of the editing outcomes which were previously hard to achieve can now be all realized.”
According to Qi, this will have a major impact on translational research in the gene editing field, as well as on crop breeding as a whole. “This new CRISPR-Cas9 technology will play an important role in food security, nutrition, and safety. CRISPR tools are already widely used for introducing tailored mutations into crops for enhanced yield, nutrition, biotic and abiotic stress resistance, and more. With this new tool in the toolbox, we can speed up evolution and the agricultural revolution. I expect many plant biologists and breeders will use the toolbox in different crops. The list of potential applications of this new toolbox is endless.”
Qiurong Ren et al, PAM-less plant genome editing using a CRISPR–SpRY toolbox, Nature Plants (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41477-020-00827-4
University of Maryland
Researcher expands plant genome editing with newly engineered variant of CRISPR-Cas9 (2021, January 22)
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COVID-19 outbreak declared over at Coastal Gas Link work sites – MY PG NOW
Northern Health has declared an end to the COVID-19 outbreak at two workforce accommodation sites on the Coastal Gas Link (CGL) project.
There have been no new cases reported in association with the outbreak that was first declared on December 19th.
In total, 56 laboratory-confirmed cases were associated with the outbreak at 7 Mile Lodge and Little Rock Lake Lodge.
All of the cases have since recovered and have completed their required self-isolation.
This will be the final update regarding this outbreak.
The One Place on the Space Station Astronauts Aren’t Supposed to Clean – Universe Today
While most of us are now more fastidious about keeping our homes and workplaces clean, on board the International Space Station, cleanliness is imperative. Of high importance is anti-bacterial measures, since bacteria tends to build up in the constantly-recycled air inside the ISS. Every Saturday in space is “cleaning day” where surfaces are wiped down, and the astronauts vacuum and collect trash.
But there’s one spot on board the station where cleaning is a no-no. But don’t worry, its all for science!
The MatISS experiment, or the Microbial Aerosol Tethering on Innovative Surfaces in the International Space Station tests out five advanced materials and how well they can prevent illness-causing microorganisms from settling and growing in microgravity. MatISS also has provided insight into how biofilms attach to surfaces in microgravity conditions.
The experiment is sponsored by the French space agency CNES and was conceived of in 2016. Three iterations of the experiment have been used on the ISS.
The first was MatISS-1, and it had four sample holders set up in for six months in three different locations in the European Columbus laboratory module. This provided some baseline data points for researchers, as when they were returned to Earth, researchers characterized the deposits on each surface and used the control material to establish a reference for the level and type of contamination.
MatISS-2 had four identical sample holders containing three different types of materials, installed in a single location in Columbus. This study aimed to better understand how contamination spreads over time across the hydrophobic (water-repellant) and control surfaces. The upgraded Matiss-2.5 was set up to study how contamination spreads — this time spatially — across the hydrophobic surfaces using patterned samples. This experiment ran for a year and recently the samples were returned to Earth and are now undergoing analysis.
The samples are made of a diverse mix of advanced materials, such as self-assembly monolayers, green polymers, ceramic polymers and water-repellent hybrid silica. The smart materials should stop bacteria from sticking and growing over large areas, and effectively making them easier to clean and more hygienic. The experiment hopes to figure out which materials work the best.
ESA says that “understanding the effectiveness and potential use of these materials will be essential to the design of future spacecraft, especially those carrying humans father out in space.”
Long-duration human space missions will certainly need to limit biocontamination of astronaut habitats.
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