December 16, 2017

The Scallop Sees With Space-Age Eyes — Hundreds of Them

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From the New York Times:

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It's hard to see what's so special about a scallop. It looks a lot like a clam, mussel or any other bivalve. Inside its hinged shell lurks a musclebound creature that's best enjoyed seared in butter.

But there's something more to this ubiquitous entree: the scallop sees its world with hundreds of eyes. Arrayed across the opening of its shell, the eyes [above and below] glitter like an underwater necklace. Each sits at the tip of its own tentacle and can be extended beyond the rim of the shell.

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While some invertebrate eyes can sense only light and dark, scientists have long suspected that scallops can make out images, perhaps even recognizing predators quickly enough to jet away to safety. But scallop eyes — each about the size of a poppy seed — are so tiny and delicate that scientists have struggled to understand how they work.

Now, a team of Israeli researchers has gotten a look at the hidden sophistication of the scallop eye, thanks to powerful new microscopes. On Thursday, they reported in the journal Science that each eye contains a miniature mirror made up of millions of square tiles. The mirror reflects incoming light onto two retinas, each of which can detect different parts of the scallop's surroundings.

Our own eye has been likened to a camera: it uses a lens to focus light on the retina. The new research suggests that scallop eyes are more akin to another kind of technology: a reflector telescope of the sort first invented by Newton. Today, astronomers build gigantic reflector telescopes to look in deep space, and they also build their mirrors out of tiles.

Earlier studies had given scientists hints that the scallop eye was weirdly complex. Each has a lens, a pair of retinas, and a mirror-like structure at the back. Scientists suspected that light passed through the lenses and the retinas, which are mostly transparent, bounced off the mirror, and struck the retinas on the return.

But no one knew how the mirror works, or why scallops needed two retinas when other animals need only one.

Benjamin A. Palmer, a postdoctoral researcher at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, and his colleagues recently used a powerful new tool known as a cryo-electron microscope to look at scallop eyes.

He and his colleagues froze slices of the eyes, making it possible to inspect the tissue down to its fine molecular details. (Last month, three pioneers of cryo-electron microscopy won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.)

Researchers have long known that the mirror in a scallop eye is made from a molecule called guanine. It's best known as one of the main ingredients of DNA, but in some animals guanine is packed into crystals that reflect light.

Some fish have a silvery tint to their scales thanks to guanine crystals. Chameleons use guanine crystals to help them change the color of their skin. But no one knew how guanine helped scallops to see.

Using cryo-electron microscopes, Dr. Palmer and his colleagues discovered that scallops make a kind of guanine crystal never seen before in nature: a flat square. "We were amazed," he said. "We knew this would be something cool."

The researchers found that the mirrors are made of twenty to thirty layers of guanine, each containing millions of squares that fit together snugly like tiles on a wall.

"To see that square tiling is completely new," said Daniel I. Speiser, a visual ecologist at the University of South Carolina who was not involved in the study.

Dr. Palmer and his colleagues took X-rays of the scallop eyes to determine that these layers form a flat-bottomed bowl. The scientists created a computer model of the entire eye based on these findings, allowing them to trace the paths that light took as it bounced off the mirror.

Paradoxically, the guanine squares don't reflect light on their own — they're transparent. But their arrangement turns them into a collective mirror. 

The layers of tiles are separated by thin layers of fluid, and as a ray of light passes through them, it gets bent further and further from its original direction. Eventually the light gets turned completely around, heading back toward the front of the eye.

This arrangement is well suited for underwater vision, the researchers found, because it is better at bouncing back some colors of light than others. "You have a mirror that basically reflects a hundred percent of the blue light it receives," Dr. Palmer said. "It makes a lot of sense that it reflects all the light it has in its environment."

The model created by Dr. Palmer and his colleagues may also solve the mystery of the two retinas. The researchers found that each retina receives sharply focused light from different parts of the animal’s field of view.

One retina can create a sharp image of what’s right in front of the eye. The other retina gives a better view of the periphery.

Dr. Palmer speculated that scallops might use each retina to face a different challenge in their lives.

The retina that sees the central field of view might allow scallops to quickly recognize oncoming predators, allowing them to beat a hasty retreat by swimming away.

Scallops may pay attention to their peripheral vision instead when they're searching for a spot on the sea floor where they can settle down to feed.

Each eye, the new study demonstrates, is exquisitely complex. What's more, the hundreds of eyes on a scallop all deliver signals to a single cluster of neurons, which may combine that information to create a rich picture of the outside world.

To Dr. Speiser, it all seems like overkill. Why does a fairly ordinary bivalve need Star Wars vision technology? "It's still a puzzle why they see so well," he said.

Dr. Palmer said that scallop eyes may provide inspirations for new inventions. There's certainly precedent: NASA has built X-ray detectors to study black holes that mimic lobster eyes. Perhaps an artificial scallop eye could take pictures in dim seawater.

But Dr. Palmer is more excited by the prospect of creating materials that are new to engineering. His study shows that scallops have evolved a mastery over forming crystals, guiding them into shapes that researchers didn’t think possible.

At this point, no one has any idea yet how they do it. "Understanding that could open the door to much bigger things than just making a single device," Dr. Palmer said.

 

December 16, 2017 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

14-year-old Jimmy Page — yes, THAT Jimmy Page — plays skiffle on 1957 BBC talent show

He appeared on the show "All Your Own," hosted by Huw Wheldon.

December 16, 2017 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Faux Marble Shower Curtain

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Linen.

$225.

December 16, 2017 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 15, 2017

Take a ride aboard NASA's Juno spacecraft as it dives beneath the clouds of Jupiter

Utterly fantastic.

Pro tip: go full screen.

Back story here.

December 15, 2017 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

What's Your Superhero Name?

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Mine's Green Remote.

What's yours?

December 15, 2017 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

"Stuck on Ewe" Sheep Push Pin Holder

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Kawaii.

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75 for 

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$13.75.

December 15, 2017 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 14, 2017

Elizabeth Taylor on "What's My Line" — November 14, 1954

She was 22 years old.

December 14, 2017 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Pule is the world's most expensive cheese — it's made from Balkan donkey milk

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Ever try to milk a donkey?

nuf sed*

From Atlas Obscura:

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The most expensive cheese in the world comes from Balkan donkeys. In 2016, a pound of pule cost as much as $1,700.

It's not that the cheese possesses highly unusual qualities: it's white with a crumbly texture and a flavor like strong manchego. No expensive ingredients are added during the cheesemaking process. The donkeys milked for the cheese aren't wild, either. They're domesticated and live on a farm in a Serbian natural reserve called Zasavica.

But, donkey milk is exceptionally rare and difficult to produce. A jenny (female donkey) produces only about 1.5–2 liters of milk per day, compared to one cow which can produce up to 60 liters. Donkey milk also contains significantly fewer solids than cow milk, meaning far more milk is needed to make the equivalent amount of hard cheese. 

Costs of labor also influence pule's sales price. Donkey milking — which occurs three times per day — must be done by hand, as no milking machinery exists to accommodate such a small, specialized industry.

Despite pule's rarity and hefty price tag, its milk base is shockingly similar in nutritional makeup to a milk that millions have sampled free of charge: human breast milk.

It's very difficult to purchase pule, but you might get some if you visit the Zasavica Natural Reserve.

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* my rap name

December 14, 2017 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Shark Attack Mug

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Ceramic.

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Holds 12 ounces.

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$7.49.

December 14, 2017 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 13, 2017

Beautiful chemistry, viewed at high speed

Back story here.

December 13, 2017 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

What is it?

Zzz

Answer here this time tomorrow.

Hint: smaller than a bread box.

Another: very expensive.

A third: edible.

December 13, 2017 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

New boots from Hermès

Aaaa

Apply within.

December 13, 2017 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 12, 2017

Macaw featherwork tabard from the Nazca/Huari transitional period, 700-1100 AD

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December 12, 2017 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The easiest and hardest languages for a native English speaker

Language-Difficulties

[via Open Culture]

December 12, 2017 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Have a New York City 212 area code no matter where you live

333

Apply within.

December 12, 2017 at 08:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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