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Friday Fellow: Flat-Leaved Scalewort

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Time and again, if we want to understand all the nuances of life on Earth, we have to look to the small things that live close to the ground or on the bark of the trees. And one of this small creatures is the flat-leaved scalewort, Radula complanata.

Growing on rocks or trees, the flat-leaved scalewort is quite common in the northern hemisphere, especially in North America and Eurasia, and belongs to the diverse but hidden group of the liverworts.

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Radula complanata growing on the trunk of an ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) in England. Credits to BioImages – the Virtual Fieldguide (UK).*

In Europe, the flat-leaved scalewort occurs in dense forests, where it finds shelter to the direct exposure to the sun. In this forests, it shows a clear preference for growing on broad-leaved trees and shrubs, such as the goat willow Salix caprea and its hybrids. It usually grows friendly with other epiphytic liverworts on the same tree, although not much clustered.

Although usually harmless, the flat-leaved scalewort can cause skin irritation (more precisely, allergenic contact dermatitis) when handled, which seems to be related to the presence of certain alcaloids, such as bibenzyls, in its tissues.

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References:

Asakawa, Y.; Kusube, E.; Takemoto, T.; Suire, C. (1978) New Bibenzyls from Radula complanataPhytochemistry, 17: 2115–2117. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0031-9422(00)89292-4

Heylen, O.; Hermy, M. (2008) Age structure and Ecological Characteristics of Some Epiphytic Liverworts (Frullania Dilatata, Metzgeria Furcata and Radula Complanata). The Bryologist, 111(1): 84-97. https://doi.org/10.1639/0007-2745(2008)111[84:ASAECO]2.0.CO;2

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Friday Fellow: Scaly Lepidodermella

by Piter Kehoma Boll

From the longest animal seen last week, today we will see one of the shortest. Measuring only 190 µm in length, our fellow is called Lepidodermella squamata, which I turned into a “common” name as scaly lepidodermella.

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A specimen of Lepidodermella squamata. Photo by Giuseppe Vago.*

The scaly lepidodermella belongs to the phylum Gastrotricha, commonly known as hairybacks, which are all microscopic and distributed worldwide in aquatic environments. Found in freshwater environments worlwide, the scaly lepidodermella has the trunk covered in scales, hence its name. It feeds on other small organisms, such as algae, bacteria and yeast, as well as on detritus.

One of the most interesting aspects of the biology of the scaly lepidodermella is its reproduction. Although being hermaphrodite, this species usually produces only four eggs during its lifetime and those develop without fertilization. This means that the reproduction is parthenogenetic. However, strangely enough, the individuals become sexually mature after laying those four eggs, producing sperm and sometimes laying additional eggs, but most of those never hatch or, when they do, they produce offspring that rarely manage to become adults. Sexual reproduction, therefore, would be theoretically possible, but it has never been observed and there is no known means by which sperm could be transferred from one individual to the other.

This late sexual development may therefore be nothing but a vestige of its sexual past. Perhaps in future generations these traits will disappear and nothing but the perthenogenetic reproduction will last.

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References:

Hummon, M. R. (1984) Reproduction and sexual development in a freshwater gastrotrich 1. Oogenesis of parthenogenetic eggs (Gastrotricha). Zoomorphology 104(1): 33–41. https://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF00312169

Hummon, M. R. (1986) Reproduction and sexual development in a freshwater gastrotrich 4. Life history traits and the possibility of sexual reproduction. Transactions of the American Microscopical Society 105(1): 97–109. https://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3226382

Wikipedia. Lepidodermella squamata. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lepidodermella_squamata&gt; Access on September 3, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Bootlace Worm

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Long ago I presented some of the extremes of the animal world, including the largest, the cutest and the leggiest. Now it’s time to introduce another extreme: the longest. And this animal is so long that it seems impossible. Its name: Lineus longissimus, commonly known as bootlace worm. Its length: up to 55 meters.

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An entangled bootlace worm. Photo by Bruno C. Vellutini.*

The bootlace worm is a member of the phylum Nemertea, commonly known as ribbon worms, and is found along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in Europe. Most of the time, the worm is contracted, forming what looks like a heap of entagled wool threads that has no more than 30 cm from side to side. Although there are reports of specimens measuring more than 50 m, most of them are much shorter, with 30 m being already a very large size. Its width is of about 0.5 cm, so it is almost literally a long brown thread.

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Lineus longissimus photographed in Norway. Photo by Guido Schmitz.**

As all nemerteans, the bootlace worm is a predator and hunts its prey between the rocks on sandy shores, stunning them with its long poisonous proboscis and then swallowing them whole. Soft and fragile, the bootlace worm has no way to protect itself from predators using any physical defense, but it is known to have a series of different toxins on its epidermis, including some similar to the deadly pufferfish poison tetrodotoxin (TTX) that is produced by bacteria living in the mucus that surrounds the body of the worm.

Now, before leaving, take a look at this video of a bootlace worm swallowing a polychaete:

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References:

Cantell, C.-E. (1976) Complementary description of the morphology of Lineus longissimus (Gunnerus, 1770) with some remarks on the cutis layer in heteronemertines. Zoologica Scripta 5:117–120. https://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1463-6409.1976.tb00688.x

Carroll, S.; McEvoy, E. G.; Gibson, R. (2003) The production of tetrodotoxin-like substances by nemertean worms in conjunction with bacteria. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 288: 51–63. https://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0022-0981(02)00595-6

Gittenberger, A.; Schipper, C. (2008) Long live Linnaeus, Lineus longissimus (Gunnerus, 1770) (Vermes: Nemertea: Anopla: Heteronemertea: Lineidae), the longest animal worldwide and its relatives occurring in The Netherlands. Zoologische Mededelingen. Leiden 82: 59–63.

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Friday Fellow: Lyre ship diatom

by Piter Kehoma Boll

It’s time for the next diatom, and just as with the radiolarian from the last week, it’s a hard task to find good pictures and good information of any species to present here.

Today I’m introducing a species of the most diverse (I guess, or at least one of the most diverse) genus of diatoms, Navicula, a name that means “little ship” in Latin due to the shape of the cells. There are more than 1200 species in this genus, and one of them is called Navicula lyra, which I decided to call the lyre ship diatom. I have also seen it with the name Lyrella lyra, being the type-species of a genus Lyrella (little lyre) that was split from Navicula. I don’t know which one is the official form today, but it seems that Lyrella is sometimes something like a subgenus of Navicula, although sometimes both genera are not even in the same family!

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Navicula lyra, a lyre little ship. Photo by Patrice Duros.*

Anyway, the lyre ship diatom is a planktonic species that is found in all the oceans of the world, being present in species lists everywhere. It measures about 100 µm or less, a typical size for a diatom.

As with other diatoms in the genera Navicula and Lyrella, the lyre ship diatom has different varieties, which may eventually be revealed to be separate species, I guess. See, for example, the variety constricta shown below. It looks considerably different from the picture above, which appears to be from the type variety.

Navicula_lyra

Lyrella lyra var. constricta. Extracted from Siqueiros-Beltrones et al. (2017)

Despite being a widespread species, little seems to be known about the natural history of the lyre ship diatom. Aren’t you interested in studying the ecology of these tiny little glass ships?

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References:

Nevrova, E.; Witkowski, A.; Kulikovskiy, M.; Lange-Bertalot, H.; Kociolek, J. P. (2013) A revision of the diatom genus Lyrella Karayeva (Bacillariophyta: Lyrellaceae) from the Black Sea, with descriptions of five new species. Phytotaxa 83(1): 1–38.

Siqueiros-Beltrones, D. A.; Argumedo-Hernández, U.; López-Fuerte, F. O. (2017) New records and combinations of Lyrella (Bacillariophyceae: Lyrellales) from a protected coastal lagoon of the northwestern Mexican Pacific. Revista Mexicana de Biodiversidad 88(1): 1–20.

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Friday Fellow: Twisted-Spined Sponge Radiolarian

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Oh, it’s time for our next radiolarian. As as usual, it’s hard to find good information on any species. (If you work with radiolarians and have good available resources and nice species to suggest, please contact us!)

It’s hard to find pictures of live radiolarians, especially those identified to the species level, but one that I found is seen below and is called Spongosphaera streptacantha, or the twisted-spined sponge radiolarian, as I decided to call it.

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A nice photo of a liveSpongosphaera streptacantha. Extracted from Galerie de l’Observatoire Océanologique de Villefranche-sur-Mer.

The twisted-spined sponge radiolarian is found in warm waters in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans (perhaps the Indian too?) and, as one can notice, may have a diameter of more than 1 mm if we count the longest spines. As with most radiolarians, the cell of this species has two concentric shells and a set of spines, which are 6 to 15 in number.

The food of the twisted-spined sponge radiolarian consists of smaller organisms, such as bacteria and algae, which it captures with the long rod-like pseudopods called actinopodia.

As with most radiolarians, the twisted-spined sponge radiolarian is understudied regarding its ecology. Let’s hope more people get interested in studying this fascinating group of organisms.

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References:

Kurihara, T.; Matsuoka, A. (2004) Shell structure and morphological variation in Spongosphaera streptacantha Haeckel (Spumellaria, Radiolaria). Science Reports of Niigata University (Geology), 19: 35–48. http://hdl.handle.net/10191/2141

Matsuoka, A. (2007) Living radiolarian feeding mechanisms: new light on past marine ecosystems. Swiss Journal of Geosciences, 100: 273-279. https://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00015-007-1228-y

Radiolaria.org: Spongosphaera streptacantha. Available at: < http://www.radiolaria.org/species.htm?sp_id=90 >. Access on August 8, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Brown spot of maize

by Piter Kehoma Boll

I’ll continue the parasite trend from last week, but this time shifting from human parasite to maize parasite, and from a prokaryotic to a eukaryotic parasite. So let’s talk about Physoderma maydis, commonly known as the brown spot of maize or brown spot of corn.

The Brown spot of maize is a fungus of the division Blastocladiomycota that infects corn (or maize) plants. Its common name comes from the fact that it causes a series of brown spots on the leaves of an infected plant.

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The brown spots seen on this corn leaf are due to an infection by Physoderma maydis. Credits of the photo to Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series.*

The life cycle of the brown spot of maize is as complex as that of many fungi. The infection of the plants occur through spores that remain in the soil during winter and are carried to the host by the wind, germinating in the rainy season. The germinated spores produce zoospores, flagellated spores able to swim. Swiming through the maize leaf, the zoospores infect single cells and produce zoosporangia at the surface of the leaf. The zoosporangia release new zoospores that infect new cells. In late spring and summer, the zoospores produce a thallus growing deep inside the maize leaf that infects many cells and produces thick-walled sporangia. After the plants dies and the leaves become dry and broke, the sporangia are released and reach the soil, where they wait for the next spring to restart the cycle.

The brown spot of maize is a considerable problem for maize crops in countries with abundant rainfall. Heavy infections may kill the maize plant or severely reduce its fitness before the ears are ready to be harvested. Although fungicides may help in slowing down the infectio throughout the crops, one of the most efficient ways to reduce the damage is to destroy, usually by fire, the remains of the last harvest.

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References:

Olson, L. W.; Lange, L. (1978) The meiospore of Physoderma maydis. The causal agent of Physoderma disease of maize. Protoplasma 97: 275–290. https://dx.doi.org/10.1007/BF01276699

Plantwise Knowledge Bank. Brown spot of corn (Physoderma maydis). Available at: < http://www.plantwise.org/KnowledgeBank/Datasheet.aspx?dsid=40770&gt;. Access on Agust 7, 2017.

Robertson, A. E. (2015) Physoderma brown spot and stalk rot. Integrated Crop Management News: 679. http://lib.dr.iastate.edu/cropnews/679/

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Friday Fellow: H. pylori

by Piter Kehoma Boll

I already introduced three species of bacteria here, all of them free-living and/or friendly little ones. But we all know that many bacteria can be a real annoyance to us humans, and so it’s time to show some of those, right?

I decided to start with one that I thought to have living inside me some time ago (but it happened that I don’t), and this is the ill-tempered Helicobacter pylori, which as usual lacks a common name, but is commonly called H. pylori for short by doctors, so that’s how I’ll call it.

empylori

Electron micrograph of a specimen of H. pylori showing the flagella.

The most common place to find the H. pylori is in the stomach. It is estimated that more than half of the human population has this bacterium living in their gastrointestinal tract, but in most cases it does not affect your life at all. However, sometimes it can mess things up.

H. pylori is a 3-µm long bacterium with the shape of a twisted rod, hence the name Helicobacter, meaning “helix rod”. It also has a set of four to six flagella at one of its ends, which make it a very motile bacterium. The twisted shape, together with the flagella, is thought to be useful for H. pylori to penetrate the mucus lining the stomach. It does so to escape from the strongly acidic environment of the stomach, always penetrating towards a less acidic place, eventually reaching the stomach epithelium and sometimes even living inside the epithelial cells.

In order to avoid even more the acids, H. pylori produces large amounts of urease, an enzyme that digest the urea in the stomach, producing ammonia, which is toxic to humans. The presence of H. pylori in the stomach may lead to inflammation as an imune response of the host, which increases the chances of the mucous membranes of the stomach and the duodenum to be harmed by the strong acids, leading to gastritis and eventually ulcers.

The association between humans and H. pylori seem to be very old, possibly as old as the human species itself, as its origin was traced back to East Africa, the cradle of Homo sapiens. This bacterium is, therefore, an old friend and foe and it will likely continue with us for many many years in the future.

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References:

Linz, B.; Balloux, F.; Moodley, Y. et al. (2007) An African origin for the intimate association between humans and Helicobacter pyloriNature 445: 915–918. https://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature0556

Wikipedia. Helicobacter pylori. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helicobacter_pylori >. Access on August 5, 2017.

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