Random Samples

Science  16 Mar 2007:
Vol. 315, Issue 5818, pp. 1473
  1. MYSTERIOUS BEE-HAVIOR

    CREDIT: PHOTOS.COM

    Beekeepers in 26 states have lost up to 50% of their colonies this winter to a mysterious ailment scientists are struggling to understand.

    Dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), the malady began late last fall, but the extent of the problem became clear only in January. Afflicted bees stop tending their broods and eventually abandon their colonies. Unlike previous die-offs due to pesticides, bee corpses aren't turning up around hive entrances. “They just disappear,” says Sacramento beekeeper Franklin Carrier.

    To tackle the problem, scientists around the country have set up a CCD working group that is scanning for novel pathogens with gene chips and using neural networks to analyze the buzz at infected hives—which the U.S. Army has found to provide an early indication of airborne toxins. Researchers are also looking at bee genes to see whether Cape honeybees from Africa may have infiltrated U.S. populations. Cape females produce their own young rather than tending to the queen's brood, causing the social structure to collapse.

    So far, no prime suspect has emerged. Entomologist Diana Cox-Foster of Pennsylvania State University in State College thinks a toxin may be implicated, because wax-worms and neighboring bees are not invading deserted hives.

    CCD is only the latest in a string of misfortunes to hit commercial honeybees weakened by varroa mites and infections. The working group hopes to have an explanation by June. Time is of the essence: Bees provide 80% of the country's pollination services, and the almond trees are already in bloom.

  2. ONE WORLD, ONEGEOLOGY

    CREDIT: CNERC 2007

    Countries that have spent decades mapping their surfaces can now add their pieces to the global puzzle. OneGeology, a new international project to consolidate data from geologic maps around the world, made its debut in London last week. “Geology has no respect for national boundaries,” notes project leader Ian Jackson of the British Geological Survey. So national geological agencies “need to start thinking more in groups.”

    Some 55 nations have so far joined the effort, with each planning to contribute geologic maps of its territory at a scale of 1:1 million. The International Union of Geological Sciences will figure out how to standardize national databases. The project (at onegeology.com) will also transfer mapping know-how to less developed countries. The team hopes to have an online database available in 2008.

  3. NETWATCH: A Toothsome Resource

    With these shapely molars, an arctic fox (Alopex lagopus) can munch on lemmings, berries, or the remains of a seal carcass left behind by a polar bear. Researchers keen to analyze the fox's teeth or those of other mammals will find a wealth of data at MorphoBrowser from the University of Helsinki in Finland.

    The database holds 3D scans of molars and premolars captured using confocal microscopy, computerized tomography, and other techniques. Paleontologists, developmental biologists, and anthropologists can check out the choppers of more than 100 extinct and living species and of several transgenic and mutant mouse strains.

    To simplify comparisons, tools sort out similar teeth based on variables such as shape and crown type. Students might also find the database handy because it allows them to examine tiny teeth that are difficult to study in laboratory specimens.

    pantodon.science.helsinki.fi/morphobrowser

  4. ULTRASTRUCTURE GOES 3D

    CREDIT: JOHANNA HÖÖG/EMBL

    Using the microscopic equivalent of computed tomography, scientists have created a 3D map showing the precise locations of the innards of a cell, including nucleus, mitochondria, and the microtubules that hold it all together.

    A group led by Claude Antony at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, with Richard McIntosh's laboratory at the University of Colorado, Boulder, used the new technique, called electron tomography, to visualize the structure of fission yeast at a magnification of 14,500?. The work was published in the March issue of Developmental Cell. “This high-quality analysis … allows us for the first time to have a detailed description of the microtubular arrays,” says Nobel laureate Paul Nurse of Rockefeller University in New York City. Biologist Jeremy Hyams of Massey University in Palmerston North, New Zealand, says it “opens a new chapter in our understanding of cell structure.”

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