A geologist who once helped discover rock-eating microbes a mile beneath the ocean floor soon will be looking for rocks in the other direction: up. More than 36 million miles up, in fact. NASA has invited Martin Fisk to join a 28-person team to guide Curiosity, the rover currently en route to Mars. When it lands in August, it will scan the red planet for samples of soil and rock — and signs of water and life.
The food web, it turns out, is more complex than anyone knew. In a stunning discovery, researchers found that the tiny life forms called Archaea (unknown until 1977) nourish organisms higher up on the meal chain. Vent worms eat the one-celled microbes, which in turn feed off methane seeping from the ocean floor, reports Andrew Thurber, a post-doc in ocean ecology.
Stop or go? When the traffic light turns yellow, drivers have only seconds to decide. That uncertainty can be dangerous, even deadly, researchers say. So transportation engineers have developed ways to minimize driver mistakes by bringing more precision, consistency and uniformity to the danger zone. “We want conscientious drivers to know what is the right thing to do,” says Professor David Hurwitz.
Seeking clues to the die-off of coral reefs around the world, scientists have turned up a possible culprit: viral disease. While investigating pathogens that might explain the alarming rate of coral decline, microbiologist Rebecca Vega- Thurber discovered viruses in the herpes family living among the coral. Whether these viruses are actually causing disease is not yet known.
For more on these stories, see “In the News” at blogs.oregonstate.edu/terra
CATEGORIES: Print Issues Spring 2012