Scorpion fine-tunes its venom to ward off predators

The Australian rainforest scorpion (Liocheles waigiensis) has been found to be able to tweak the chemical profile of its venom following just weeks of exposure to a predator. The scorpion appears to do this to tailor its cocktail of venom toxins to deter predators that threaten it, rather than to hunt its preferred prey, insects.

The researchers presented scorpions in the laboratory with a taxidermied mouse to mimic a mammalian predator in the wild. They simulated mouse attacks on the scorpions three times a week for five weeks.

Towards the end of the experiment, the researchers found that the venom chemistry of predator-exposed scorpions differed from that of the unexposed scorpions. In exposed scorpions they found a relative increase in the production of some toxins that specifically target mammalian cells. Exposure to the dummy predator also decreased the production of toxins that scorpions use to catch prey such as insects.

Read the rest of the story here at Chemistry World.

Photo credit: Mark Marathon CC-BY-SA

Cracking the mystery of not cracking the eggshell

Greater Ani is not your regular cuckoo. Rather than dump its eggs in the nests of other species it builds its own and raises its young alongside other breeding Anis. The eggs bump into each other with quite some force as parent birds turn them during incubation. Now, researchers have shown that Anis have evolved eggs with the added protection of an uncommon mineral that keeps the eggs from cracking under pressure.

Vaterite, a form of calcium carbonate, sits on the eggshell of some birds in tiny spheres of varying size. It is less stable and abundant than calcite – another form of calcium carbonate that primarily constitutes the shell. Vaterite gives freshly laid Ani eggs their white chalky appearance. As incubation progresses, it gets scratched, exposing patches of the pigmented calcite underneath. When scientists studying nesting Greater Anis (Crotophaga major) in the Panama Canal noticed this change in the egg surface they decided to look deep into it.

Read the rest of the story here at Chemistry World.

Photo credit: Christina Riehl

Indian scientists applaud research budget

The newly-elected Indian government laid out its plans for the country in its 2014–15 budget last week and research has fared reasonably well. Indian scientists had feared that there would be cuts to the country’s science and technology base, but were relieved to see a small increase in overall funding.

About Rs 35.44 billion (£344 million) has been earmarked for the Department of Science and Technology in the proposed budget. It’s a hike of 11% over last year’s allocation of Rs 31.84 billion. ‘The Department of Science and Technology has some of country’s leading research centres in areas such as nanotechnology, materials science and biomedical device technology,’ Arun Jaitley, the finance minister, said in his budget speech. He added that the government will strengthen such centres through public–private collaborations.

Read the rest at Chemistry World.