Category Archives: Science Sturff

Glow in the dark plants!

Cheers to The Scientist Image of the Day by Stephen Howell.

This tobacco plant glows because it’s expressing the luciferase gene. Luciferase codes for oxidative enzymes that help produce bioluminescence — organisms that glow! The name comes from ‘lucifer’ and derives from the Latin root ‘lucem ferre’, which means ‘light-bearer’.

Why should dinoflagellates and fireflies have all the fun? #weird #dope #cool #plants


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Plants are cooler than you think. Just check out these spores dancing!


Equisetum plants (horsetails) produce tiny spores 0.05 mm wide attached to “elaters” — the swinging arms and legs that curl up or flail to make these spores “jump” when the surrounding air dries. This jumping mechanism allows the spores to get above other plants and get off the ground to catch wind currents. Catching the wind is important to take them to new locations — away from competition with other plants — where they can germinate to create new Equisetum plants (gametophytes). I wish I had elaters to rock on outta boring dates or a party that dries up!


Thanks to Philippe Mamottant, Alexandre Ponomarenko, and Diane Bienamé for this research and awesome video. Their full paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B is here.

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Year’s best shooting stars tonight!

If you’ve been missing the Perseid Meteor shower, no worries, because there’s still a chance to see the best meteor shower of the year until 24th August!  Can’t get outside?  Watch the peak of the meteor shower tonight thanks to NASA’s live feed here.


The further away from light pollution you are, the better, so seek out dark skies. Fortunately the crescent moon is helping to darken our skies. After the moon sets around midnight is your best chance to spot these fireballs as they hurtle past the Perseus constellation at a velocity of 59 km per second. Under the best conditions, we might see up to 60 meteors streaking across the night sky every hour!

Curious about what causes these fleeting streams of light?  Debris from the “Swift-Tuttle” (or 109P) comet is the source of the Perseid meteors, and was discovered by Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle in 1862. The next time this comet will swing through our skies will be 2126 AD.  Learn more from NASA’s ScienceCast:


Above photo by Dani Pozo, Getty Images: multiple exposure of Perseid meteor shower early morning 11th August, 2013 in the mountains of Sierra Norte de Madrid

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Sturff Hero: why you should know Rosalind Franklin’s name

The famous photo 51 and the real story of DNA discovery

It has been 60 years since Watson and Crick announced their discovery of DNA.  It has been 51 years since they were awarded the Nobel prize for it, leaving out one of the most important people involved in its discovery. You see, Watson and Crick came up with the first correct model of DNA based largely on photographs of it. The most famous of these, Photo 51, is currently on display at Somerset House in London if you wish to behold this historical triumph in person.


But Watson and Crick didn’t take these photos themselves. It was the x-ray crystallography wizard, Rosalind Franklin, who captured the images of DNA that allowed Watson and Crick to work out its structure. Rosalind was working with Maurice Wilkins at the time, who was awarded the Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Watson and Crick.

Why was Rosalind’s role in the discovery of DNA ignored?

Some say it’s because Watson and Crick didn’t realize it was her work because Wilkins released it to them without her knowing. Others claim it was sexism of the times. Or perhaps it was a case of out-of-sight, out-of-mind because Rosalind died tragically of Cancer at age 37, just four years before the Nobel Prize was awarded. But now we know to celebrate Rosalind Franklin’s achievements. Cheers to Google shining a spotlight on this extraordinary scientist on what would have been her 93rd birthday. Sturff also recognizes Rosalind Franklin as one of our great heroes!


Google Doodle’s image posted 25 July celebrates Rosalind Franklin who helped discover DNA

–Photograph of Rosalind Franklin working at the microscope thanks to Science Source–

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Forget aliens! New life form discovered here on Earth!

Imagine a virus so big and with genes so different that scientists aren’t sure how it evolved. This is Pandoravirus, and it calls into question everything we think we know about viruses.  It was just discovered off the coast of Chile by French biologists Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel from Aix-Marseille University. For the full story click here, and check out their paper published 19 July in the journal Science.

So how big is big, and how small is small?

Viruses are the smallest organisms on the planet. They can get away with having few genes and internal components because they rely on the cells of their host to do the hard work. How small is small?


These miniature lifeforms are typically less than a millionth of a metre in size, up to about 0.3 micrometers – so small that scientists have to use special electron microscopes to see them. That is, until the discovery of Pandoravirus, which is a full micrometer in size! So how big is big?

Compared to the common flu virus, Pandoravirus is 1000 times bigger in volume. This means you can see these guys with a regular light microscope. And they’re bigger than some bacteria! Freaky.


What does this all mean?!

Pandoravirus is so named because it opens Pandora’s box for scientists by raising a lot of questions. Organizing lifeforms into lineages based on similarities and differences in their genes tells us how organisms are related, how they originated, and what potential they have for differentiating in the future. In other words, where everything comes from and where it’s going. This is important stuff, especially when trying to predict and prevent pandemics. But these assessments only work when the genes are comparable to those from other organisms.


Pandoravirus has a massive genome with 2.5 million bases (the building blocks of DNA), but only 7% of its genes are recognizable to us. So what’s going on with the other 93% of foreign genes? Support for this research will help scientists get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, there’s speculation that Pandoravirus may have descended from a eukaryotic cell. Hold onto your hat, because this would mean this virus is relative of us humans! The lid to Pandora’s box has indeed been lifted.

Before you run away screaming…

Pandoravirus only attacks amoebas. And although scientists will have to rethink classifications of life to understand this ginormo-virus, we’ll gain new insights into the origins of life, and its strange genes may provide new tools for our biotech and pharmaceutical industries. Pretty damn cool.

–Pandoravirus microscopy images by Chantal Abergel & Jean-Michel Claverie–

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