Discovered: British bee output plummets; documentarians stumble on polar bear sanctuary; how E. coli learned to attack plants; new spiders discovered dwelling in Brazilian trees.
E. coli survives the leap from animals to plants. Salad-eaters with good memories will recall the nasty outbreak of E. coli in spinach six years ago. Everyone was so busy focussing on what was and wasn't safe to eat that they may have overlooked how scientifically weird the outbreak was. After all, the E. coli bacteria makes its natural home in mammals' gastrointestinal tracts. So what was it doing on our leafy greens? Scientists from the Institute of Food Research have been studying how the bacteria survives in plants. They took 100 isolates of E. coli from agriculture grown in England and compared it with cultures from the warm, nourishing guts of animals. They found that the term E. coli encompasses many different strains of bacteria; the types able to survive hostile plant environments were better at forming biofilms, "protective extracellular matrix of proteins and sugars." Researcher Sacha Lucchini writes, "While it was known that different environments harboured different E. coli populations, we now have an idea on how and why this happens. Knowledge of the mechanisms involved in plant colonisation by E. coli provides targets for developing strategies aimed at preventing potentially dangerous E. coli strains from colonising vegetables, thus keeping them off our plates." [Norwich BioScience Institutes]
Unseasonable summer eviscerates British bees. The U.K. experienced an unusually cold and rainy summer this year, and sunbathers aren't the only ones turning out in lower numbers as a result. The British Beekeepers Association estimated that honey output from bee populations is down 72 percent from last year. The average crop per bee hive came out to about eight pounds this year, while 2011 yields came to an average of 30 pounds. Over 2,700 beekeepers in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales were surveyed, and 88 percent attributed the low honey crop to bad weather. Peter Hutton, a Kentish beekeeper, tells The Guardian, "It has been the most difficult year I have known in my 53 years of beekeeping. Bad weather in spring prevented honey bees in many areas from collecting nectar from early-flowering crops such as oilseed rape, and the rain continued in many places throughout June and July, preventing honey bees from foraging on later crops." [The Guardian]
Look at these new tarantulas. It's the kind of things arachnophobes must picture in their nightmares: tarantulas of indeterminate species hiding out in Brazilian trees, planning something evil. The nine new types of tarantula Dr. Rogério Bertani has discovered might not be conspiring, but they definitely haven't been described in any academic journals up until this point. "Instead of the seven species formerly known in the region, we now have sixteen," says Dr Bertani. "In a resurrected genus with a mysterious single species known from 1841, we have now five species." Bertani notes that the Brazilian Atlantic Rainforest is currently suffering much human encroachment, and urges conservation efforts as well as more research to discover other hidden species in the region. Here are some photos of the fuzzy little arachnids, the smallest tree-dwelling tarantulas yet known to scientists: [ZooKeys]
Dr. Rogerio Bertani
Twenty more polar bears discovered. Finally, some good news from the polar regions. The film crew for the BBC documentary Operation Iceberg has stumbled across a polar bear sanctuary on Peterman Iceberg in Baffin Bay, not far from the Canadian coast. It's summer in the Arctic, and scientists are confounded by the discovery that these polar bears are still living on ice. It's widely believed that polar bears need to migrate to solid ground during the summer months. One theory as to why their stay on icebergs singles out hunters in countries like Greenland and Canada. Perhaps the bears have learned to avoid these hostile zones. Or maybe they came to solid land, only to have it break away from the mainland. Dr. Keith Nicholls of the British Antarctic Survey, a member of the documentary expedition, says, "In recent years we've been seeing a lot more big tabular icebergs come off the Greenland ice sheet and they're now ending up in Baffin Bay." [BBC News]