Photo-Cartoon contest (May 2008)

Well it seems this month the winner of the humor contest will be Almudena. If you do not know the rules, the picture was blanked initially. Giving words to the monkey’s image was the attendee’s job. Later on we (the jury) selected the 5 best options, and the readers chose eventually which one was the funniest in a poll. Almudena’s idea was by far the most voted option. Why? Well, I think you can imagine… ;-)

Spanish scientists open the way for developing transgenic grass that thrives in salty irrigation water

Plants have a biological mechanism which allows them to detect external agressions and even to protect against them, as it may be the case of a salt increase level, dryness or the lack of soil nutrients. This mechanism, discovered by a team of the Superior Council of Science and Research (CISC) of Spain, may have remarkable practical applications. It’s even possible that in a near future transgenic grass may be designed to accept seawater for the irrigation. No need to say that this will lowers the irrigation costs in the golf courts, reducing the ecological impact of these sport facilities. The results and findings of the research have been publised in the current edition of Molecular Cell.

Armando Albert, leading scientist of the study and member of the Rocasolano Physics and Chemist Institute in Madrid, said this finding will help to develop genetically engineered plants able to grow on salty soils, and also will lead to find natural variants with higher resistance to salt. “In order to irrigate golf courses – he said – one day we could use seawater from Levante aquifer (Mediterranean sea), therefore reducing the production expenses of the water from the desalination plants.” Two proteins, Kinase and Phosphatase, are the key in this process.

Translated from Científicos españoles abren la vía para crear césped transgénico que se puede regar con agua salada

Cautious, my precious!

A team of Spanish scientists has discovered in several caves along Castellon and Tarragona provinces (both on the Mediterranean seaside) a new kind of cave dweller invertebrate which is the first in his genus and specie. Scientists have named this small insect ‘Gollumjapyx smeagol‘, in honor of the character of J.R.R. Tolkien, because, like the villaine in “The Lord of the Rings,” this animal had an epigean origin (from outside), and later on adapted itself to the subterranean environment until it eventually evolved into a new specie.

The newly discovered invertebrate has characteristics typical of the subterranean environment: colourless cuticle, very elongated thorax and appendices and higly sensitive and developed antennas.

Its powerfull claw and its flexible body makes ‘Gollumjapyx smeagol‘ a fierce predator. In adition, this creature is likely to be the biggest cave dweller hexapode (six legs) in the Iberian Peninsula, with a length of more than 2 centimeters.

Scientist who discovered this invertebrate are Vicente Ortuño (researcher of the Alcala University) and members of the City of Valencia Natural History Museum. Their finding has been published in the American scientific journal Zootaxa, where they reported that this is a new genus and specie previously unknown to science.

First specimens of the ‘Gollumjapyx’ were found 25 years ago, but new speditions into the subterranean environment have supplied more data about its distribution by many caves in Castellon and in the south of Tarragona province. The study of this arthropod invertebrate, since its discovery up to the presentation in the scientific circles throughout ‘Zootaxa’, has lasted three years.

The name of this small insect is not fruit of the casualty, as Ortuño said, “there is a kind of tradition at dedicating names from the mythology to the subterranean fauna. We want to inmortalize this animal in this way, but Roman and Greek mythology are very well-worn so we turned to modern mythology,” he added.

Translated from Científicos españoles descubren un nuevo invertebrado cavernícola.

Life in Sulphuric Acid


A microorganism found by a group of scientist in a Russian area, is able to survive in sulphuric acid, feeding on some kind of pyrite. This fact suggest this creature has not evolve since the very first moments of life’s appearance on Earth, and thus this could be the most ancient form of life in our planet.

The paper, published in the last issue of the journal Nature, has been performed by Spaniard scientist of the CSID (Scientific Research Superior Council), in collaboration with researchers from the Technical University of Braunschweig and from the Helmhotz Centre for Infection Research (both in Germany), and from the Essex University (UK).

The microorganism called Ferroplasma acidiphilum had arose at the begining of the Earth formation, more than 5 billion years ago, said Manuel Ferrer (see picture on the right), one of the leading scientists in the research and member of the Petrochemist and Catalysis Institute in Madrid. Its features are unique in nature, due to its strategy for surviving in the sulphuric acid, added Ferrer.

Scientist have seen how this microorganism is able to feed in some way of a pyrite (mainly made of iron and sulphur), and in words of the Spaniard, “what it does is to rust the iron in order to do it soluble, and after that it’s incorporated into the microorganism metabolism as fixer element.

Iron works as a staple, stabilizing the structure of the proteins, which makes this metal more soluble and less toxic for the organism. Due to this, the bug can survive in sulphuric acid, he added.

Ferroplasma acidiphilum do not only eat iron, but it incorporates the metal to its interior in order to stabilize the special structure of its protein, something crucial for its survival in a middle so acid and unusual for the rest of organisms.

The main implication of this funding is related with the appearance of life on the planet, but what still remain unclear is how did Earth evolve from not organic matter to the living one we have now.

Ferrer reminded that modern theories point out that the ancient Earth was formed mainly by pyrite veins, and the question is how or which mechanism was developed by the first organism to leap from a fully inorganic catalysis based on iron and sulphur to another one based on proteins and enzymes.

First proteins, which resulted in the origin of life, have been found to use iron principally – which was really abundant in the primitive Earth – acting like a staple to stabilize and fix the structure of these first proteins.

On that time, he added – the environment was very harsh, very acid, really extreme, and proteins were rather unstable, therefore life could not arise.

In his opinion, this first microorganism, Ferroplasma acidiphilum (or other similar which surely are going to appear after this research) stabilized the first protein thanks to its anchor with iron, this stability allowed the biologically catalyzed procedures and later on, other life forms.