Undersea Novelty: Glowing Blue Slime

A rather common marine creature with an unusual ability, the parchment tube worm (Chaetopterus variopedatus) secretes a mucus that glows blue.  The worm is named for its habit of forming paper-like cylindrical tubes around itself and inhabits shallow coastal waters in temperate and tropical climates.

The bioluminescence of the parchment tube worm is uncommon for several reasons.  For one, most other species of tube worms have no form of bioluminescence at all.  In addition, the striking blue color of the slime is itself a rarity.  The reason that green bioluminescence is more common is because of the frequency of green light, which is longer than that of blue and purple light and will therefore travel farther through water.

Although the bioluminescence of the parchment tube worms is not a new discovery, scientists with the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego and Connecticut College have decided to reopen the case after a 50 year dormancy in order to learn more.  One scientist, Dimitri Deheyn, has determined that the glow is made possible by a specific “photoprotein” that does not require oxygen to function, a noteworthy characteristic as bioluminescence normally occurs when two chemicals react in the presence of oxygen.

Scientists are unsure of the practical function of the mucus, but say it is likely either a way to attract prey or to ward off potential invaders of the worm’s home (“the glowing mucus could stick to an intruder, making it more visible to its own predators”).  Another theory is that the mucus somehow plays a role in the formation of the worm’s tubes.  However, the blue color remains a mystery.

In another plot twist, the strange bioluminescence seems also to depend on vitamin B12, or riboflavin, yet it cannot be synthesized by the worm itself.  Researchers have come to believe that the worms must either be consuming the riboflavin or obtaining it through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria that is able to synthesize it.

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(the nature of the blue glow makes it hard to capture on camera, so it appears green)

Obama Combats Ivory Trade

Inside a government warehouse in Denver, Colorado sat six tons of illegal elephant ivory. On November 14, all of it was be crushed in the jaws of a rock-crushing machine.  President Obama insisted upon this course of action, and “the crush” was done in front of visiting foreign dignitaries, as well as TV cameras.  The hope is that the President’s dedication to ending the illegal ivory trade will inspire other world leaders to do the same, as well as send a message to illegal traffickers that the trade will soon grind to a halt.  Those six tons of ivory, however, represent only a small fraction of the ivory circulating through the back channels of the illegal market. 

One way to combat the poaching is to pass laws making the trade less profitable and increase the penalty for those guilty, and the Obama administration is beginning to do just that.  Unfortunately, elephants have already been pushed to the edge.  Every day, roughly 100 elephants are killed for their ivory, feeding the voracious $10 billion dollar industry.  With a new surge in demand, traffickers now have the means to poach elephants using more advanced methods.  In Zimbabwe, poachers killed 300 elephants using cyanide. 

Aside from the obvious detriment to elephants, some nations descending into terrorist-induced chaos also have the ivory trade to blame.  Al-Shabaab, the terrorist organization that attacked the Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi, obtains 40% of its funds from ivory blood money.  In 2012, incumbent secretary of state Hillary Clinton became so concerned with the terrorism link that she declared wildlife trafficking a national security threat. 

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Iceland Looks to Harness Its Renewable Energy

In the 2008-2011 Iceland economic crisis, all three of the country’s major privately owned banks collapsed due to an inability to refinance short-term debt.  When taking into account the small size of Iceland’s economy, the crisis was the largest seen in any country.  Ever.  Now on the rebound, new projects are being developed to make use of Iceland’s abundant sources of clean energy.

This makes sense, as Iceland is already a global green energy leader.  The country uses oil only to satisfy transportation needs, relying on geothermal and hydroelectric power for all else.

One project in the works, by the Landsvirkjun firm, is an ambitious undersea power cable designed to transfer hydroelectric power to Scotland.  The pipe will cost an estimated $2.1 billion, but is predicted to be very profitable if successful.  Some Icelanders worry, however, that the pipe will cause a spike in energy prices within Iceland.  The parliament and cabinet now must decide whether to move forward.

Carbfix is another project, with potential implications far outside the Icelandic borders.  Created at the University of Iceland, Carbfix provides an ingenious way to pull CO2 from the atmosphere and stash it permanently.  It pumps the greenhouse gas into underground water, where it reacts, dissolves, and eventually solidifies as a carbonate.  Reykjavik Energy is set to begin the using process to deal with unwanted hydrogen sulfide, a byproduct of geothermal energy production.

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Glowing Jellyfish Ice-cream

In the spirit of Halloween, one ice-cream company has really taken their product to the next level.  Lick Me I’m Delicious, the brainchild of Charlie Harry Francis of Wales, has recently announced a glow in the dark ice-cream, rendered luminescent using a jellyfish protein that the company ordered from a scientist in China who was synthesizing it in a lab.  The ice-cream is designed to light up at each lick and the price is set at about $225 per scoop.  Unfortunately, the ice-cream does not seem to be available for retail.  So, for now, we’ll just have to settle for the “non-jellyfish version” gin and tonic ice-cream that glows under UV light.

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