Hexbyte Glen Cove New species of ‘incredibly rare’ insect discovered

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The newly discovered leafhopper Phlogis kibalensis. Credit: Please credit Dr Alvin Helden, Anglia Ruskin University

A British scientist has discovered a new species that belongs to a group of insects so rare that its closest relative was last seen in 1969.

Dr. Alvin Helden of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) found the new species of leafhopper, which he has named Phlogis kibalensis, during with students in the rainforest of the Kibale National Park in western Uganda, and the discovery has been announced in the journal Zootaxa.

The new species, which has a distinctive metallic sheen, pitted body, and, in common with most leafhoppers, uniquely-shaped male reproductive organs—in this case partially leaf-shaped—belongs to a group, or genus, called Phlogis.

Prior to this new discovery, the last recorded sighting of a leafhopper from this rare genus was in Central African Republic in 1969.

Leafhoppers are closely related to cicadas but are much smaller, with the male of the newly discovered Phlogis kibalensis species just 6.5mm long. Leafhoppers feed mainly on plant sap, sucked directly from the phloem, and are preyed on by invertebrates, including spiders, beetles, and parasitic wasps, as well as birds.

Dr. Helden, a member of the Applied Ecology Research Group at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said: “To find this new species is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement, particularly as it’s closest relative was last found in a different country over 50 years ago. I knew it was something very special as soon as I spotted it.

Dr Alvin Helden carrying out field work in Kibale National Park, Uganda. Credit: Please credit Anglia Ruskin University

“Leafhoppers of this genus, and the wider tribe, are very unusual in appearance, and are rarely found. In fact, they are so incredibly rare that their biology remains almost completely unknown, and we know almost nothing about Phlogis kibalensis, the I found, including what plants it feeds on or its role in the local ecosystem.

“There is so much still to find out, not just about this species but so many others, including the many species that are still waiting to be discovered. It is incredibly sad to think that some species will become extinct before we are even aware of their existence.

Dr Alvin Helden photographing insects in Kibale National Park, Uganda. Credit: Please credit Anglia Ruskin University

“There are some wonderful places, like the Kibale National Park in Uganda, where wildlife will survive, but outside and reserves, the amount of rainforest that has been cleared in the tropics is devastating. Rare species could be living anywhere, but deforestation means it is inevitable that we will be losing before we have discovered them.”

General view of Kibale National Park in western Uganda. Credit: Please credit Dr Alvin Helden, Anglia Ruskin University

Dr. Helden has been leading student field trips to the Kibale National Park, close to Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, since 2015. As part of the work, he has been documenting the insects found within the , and has produced picture guides to Kibale’s butterflies, hawkmoths, and tortoise beetles.

Dr. Helden added: “I’ve been photographing insects in Kibale National Park over many years, and we have now started collating these into photographic field guides as we wanted to give something back to people of Uganda, who have been so hospitable to Anglia Ruskin University during our field trips.”

More information:
A new species of the unusual leafhopper genus Phlogis Linnavuori (Hemiptera: Cicadellidae: Signoretiinae) from Uganda, Zootaxa (2022).

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Hexbyte Glen Cove Scientists identify genes key to microbial colonization of plant roots

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Expression of the enzyme diguanylate cyclase (DGC2884, in green) by a bacteria called Pantoea sp. YR343 on tree roots when forming biofilms and colonizing those roots. Arrows indicate locations of bacterial colonization. Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Some microbes can form thin films called biofilms. These biofilms give them an advantage over other microbes by protecting them from stresses such as a lack of nutrients or the presence of harmful substances in the environment. Researchers often focus on the biofilms that pathogens use to resist antibiotics. However, some biofilms can be helpful to plants and other host organisms. In previous work, researchers found that Pantoea sp. YR343, a bacterium that promotes plant growth, forms robust biofilms along the root surface of Populus, the genus which includes willow and cottonwood trees. Scientists know relatively little about the mechanisms behind the formation of biofilms on plant roots, particularly at the genetic level. However, research has found that enzymes called diguanylate cyclases are key to biofilm formation. This new research has identified a diguanylate cyclase, DGC2884, that is expressed specifically in the presence of plants when bacteria colonize roots and form biofilms.

Diguanylate cyclases are found in many species of bacteria. These enzymes control multiple behaviors, including how bacteria form biofilms, cause disease, and move. This research shows that a particular diguanylate cyclase, DGC2884, operates specifically during biofilm formation and when bacteria are near a plant. This research also identified genes that could be involved in colonization, suggesting that root colonization may be controlled at the . This will help microbiologists and other researchers better understand how bacteria colonize root surfaces and how may play a part. The results may also help scientists study similar behaviors in microbes important to medicine and agriculture.

This study used promoter-reporter constructs to identify a diguanylate cyclase, DGC2884, that is expressed in the presence of a plant. The researchers characterized this enzyme further and determined that when overexpressed, it affected exopolysaccharide production, biofilm formation, motility, and pellicle formation. They also demonstrated that the N-terminal transmembrane domain, as well as a functional GGDEF active site, are required for the activity of DGC2884. Based on phenotypes associated with overexpression of DGC2884 in Pantoea sp. YR343, the scientists performed transposon mutagenesis to identify genes that no longer exhibited the unique phenotypes observed when DGC2884 was overexpressed. They identified 58 different genes with this screen and selected a subset of transposon mutants for further characterization. Interestingly, mutations affecting Type VI secretion, as well as a nucleoside-diphosphate kinase and ABC transporter, exhibited increases in colonization, while mutations affecting exopolysaccharide production resulted in decreases in colonization when compared to the wild type control. Further, they found that some mutants exhibited differences primarily in the patterns of root colonization, more than the amount of colonization, suggesting that certain patterns of root colonization may be modulated on a genetic level.

The research was published in PLOS ONE.

More information:
Amber N. Bible et al, Identification of a diguanylate cyclase expressed in the presence of plants and its application for discovering candidate gene products involved in plant colonization by Pantoea sp. YR343, PLOS ONE (2021). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0248607

Scientists identify genes key to microbial colonization of plant roots (2021, December 23)
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Hexbyte Glen Cove Using game-theory to look for extraterrestrial intelligence thumbnail

Hexbyte Glen Cove Using game-theory to look for extraterrestrial intelligence

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Credit: Unsplash/CC0 Public Domain

Astronomer Eamonn Kerins with the University of Manchester has developed an approach to looking for intelligent extraterrestrial beings on other planets that involves using game theory. He has written a paper describing his ideas and has uploaded it to the arXiv preprint server.

The current approach to looking for on other planets is basically two-pronged. One approach involves scanning the skies looking for signals from space that could be created by intelligent beings. The other involves scanning the sky for evidence of exoplanets that appear to be habitable. Kerins suggests that a way to meld the two approaches into a logical systematic search for is to use some of the logic inherent in game theory.

Kerins starts by noting that it seems possible that the reason scientists on Earth have not discovered signals from beings on other planets is because they are not sending any, fearing that doing so might draw the attention of unfriendly adversaries. He further suggests that if others are out there, they might be listening just as intently as we are. This leads to the SETI paradox, in which everyone is listening but no one is sending. And it also leads to the question of how such a paradox could be resolved. He notes that suggests that both parties should agree that the party with more access to information should be the one that transmits first to the other.

Kerins also suggests that both parties in such a situation try to use what he describes as “common-denominator information” to decide whether to send a target a signal. Such information, he notes, should be in a form that either party could recognize. He further notes that such signaling should begin with something very basic, like transit (the amount of starlight that is blocked by a planet as it moves in front of its star). Such a signal, he notes, is easy to measure and is also independent of any life forms that might be residing on a given planet. This approach would also narrow the search to only those that lie in a plane relative to their star compared to ours, and vice versa.

He concludes that following such an approach based on data currently available would narrow the search to just one exoplanet: K2-155d. He suggests that because it is more visible to us than the other way around, that we be the first to send a signal—and then to watch and listen for any reply.

More information:
Eamonn Kerins. Mutual detectability: a targeted SETI strategy that avoids the SETI Paradox, arXiv:2010.04089 [astro-ph.EP] , arxiv.org/abs/2010.04089

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