A parasitic worm that makes the grasshopper it invades jump into water and commit suicide does so by chemically influencing its brain, a study of the insects’ proteins reveal.
The parasitic Nematomorph hairworm (Spinochordodes tellinii) develops inside land-dwelling grasshoppers and crickets until the time comes for the worm to transform into an aquatic adult. Somehow mature hairworms brainwash their hosts into behaving in way they never usually would – causing them to seek out and plunge into water.
Once in the water the mature hairworms – which are three to four times longer that their hosts when extended – emerge and swim away to find a mate, leaving their host dead or dying in the water. David Biron, one of the study team at IRD in Montpellier, France, notes that other parasites can also manipulate their hosts’ behaviour: “’Enslaver’ fungi make their insect hosts die perched in a position that favours the dispersal of spores by the wind, for example."
But the “mechanisms underlying this intriguing parasitic strategy remain poorly understood, generally", he says.
Now Biron and his colleagues have shown that the worm brainwashes the grasshopper by producing proteins which directly and indirectly affect the grasshopper’s central nervous system.
To view a video of the parasite and grasshopper in action, which includes a brief interview, in French, with lead researcher Frederic Thomas, visit the Canal IRD website (clip marked "Juillet 2005").
“It’s a very novel study, because there are very, very few papers on how behaviour actually changes," says Shelley Adamo at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Canada, an expert in insect behavioural physiology who is familiar with Biron’s work.
“One of the reasons they are interesting is that parasites are often able to get in there and selectively manipulate behaviour," she told New Scientist. She says the eventual hope is that understanding how parasites manipulate their hosts’ behaviour – by affecting the nervous and endocrine systems – might further the understanding of how human behaviour-systems link.
Biron and colleagues found that the adult worms – those ready to prime their hosts for a watery death – altered the central nervous system function of their hapless hosts by producing certain molecules mimicking the grasshoppers’ own proteins.
And grasshoppers housing the parasitic worm expressed different proteins in their brains than uninfected grasshoppers. Some of these proteins were linked to neurotransmitter activities. Others included those linked to geotactic behaviour – the orientated movement of an organism in response to gravity.
The team used an approach called “proteomics" to study the hijacking of the grasshopper’s behaviour. This technique analyses all the proteins expressed in a cell or tissue.
Biron and colleagues collected and analysed the proteins of grasshoppers (Meconema thalassinum) with and without parasitic hairworms before, during and after the grasshoppers’ suicidal plunges into a swimming pool at night-time.
“This is a unique approach and a very exciting one," says Adamo. “This is the first time it’s been used to address this issue."
A German brewer has concocted what he says is the world's strongest beer, a potent drink with an alcohol content of 25.4 percent that is served in a shot glass.Damn right we do. Don't we?
"Everyone who has tried it is enthusiastic. It tastes like a quirky mixture of beer and sherry," said Bavarian brewer Harald Schneider.
Schneider, who lives in southern Germany where beer is a tradition, said his beer fermented for 12 weeks for an alcohol content twice that of Germany's other strongest beers.
"People will only be able to drink two or three glasses, otherwise they'll drop like flies," he said.
Schneider expects the holders of the world's strongest beer, the Boston Beer Company, to put up a fight.
"I'm pretty sure the Americans have something up their sleeve."
In the last 10 years, American Airlines took in $180 billion in revenues and managed to lose almost a billion dollars.
This is the airline that is widely admired for a number of marketing innovations including the launch of the first frequent flyer program.
It"s not only American that has crashed financially. In the last 10 years, the five largest U.S. airlines (American, United, Delta, Northwest and Continental) rang up $657 billion in revenues and racked up $646 million in losses.
What"s wrong with the airline industry is also what"s wrong with many industries in America. Management makes decisions that are right in the short term and wrong in the long term. As a result, they lose focus.
Go back in history. Whenever an airline came to a fork in the sky, they took both forks. One of the first decisions that had to be made was, Should we carry passengers or cargo?
"Let's take both forks," was the almost unanimous reply. "We have extra space under the passenger compartments, so it's a no-brainer." So every major airline in America carries both passengers and cargo.
Not very much cargo, though. American Airlines' cargo revenue last year was only $558 million, or three percent of revenues. In comparison, cargo revenue last year at FedEx was $24.7 billion. And they managed to make $838 million in profits instead of losing a billion like American did.
Both forks thinking is very pervasive, however. At one point in time, United Parcel Service had the dumb idea of putting seats on its planes on the weekends and flying charter passengers.
The next fork in the sky for the airline industry was passenger destinations. Should we fly to business or vacation destinations?
"Let's take both forks," was the almost unanimous reply. "Why should we limit ourselves to one type of destination? Houston or Hawaii? We can do both."
The next fork in the sky was the scope of operations. Should we fly domestic or international?
"Let's take both forks," was the almost unanimous reply. So every major U.S. airline flies passengers to both domestic and international cities.
The next fork in the sky was the class of service. Should we offer first, business or coach service?
"Let's take all three forks," was the almost unanimous reply. So every major airline has multiple classes of service.
In retrospect, it's easy to see the fallacy of an all-forks strategy. But in the short term, many of these marketing moves increased revenues and profits. It's only in the long term, and in the presence of narrowly-focused competition, does an all-forks strategy fall apart.
Enter Southwest, the one-fork airline. Passengers only, no cargo. Business destinations only, no vacation locations. Coach class only, no first or business class service. Domestic flights only, no international service.
No forks on Southwest flights either. The airline serves no food. Won't carry pets. Doesn't allow advance seating reservations or inter-airline baggage exchange.
As a result of its one-fork strategy, Southwest Airlines can operate its system with only one type of aircraft, the Boeing 737. Delta, for example, operates six types of aircraft, not including aircraft operated by Delta Connection subsidiaries ComAir and Atlantic Southeast Airlines.)
A narrow focus can greatly improve operations. In Southwest's case, scheduling and maintenance is much easier to manage. If your mechanics are servicing only one type of aircraft, they can do a better job. (In 31 years of operations, Southwest Airlines has never had a passenger fatality.)
A narrow focus can greatly improve profits. In the last 10 years, Southwest Airlines took in $44.3 billion in revenues and had net income after taxes of $3.6 billion, or an astounding net profit margin of 8.1 percent.
On the stock market, Southwest Airlines is currently worth $12.4 billion, or more than three times as much as American, United, Delta, Northwest and Continental . . . combined.
So what are America's all-forks airlines doing to counter the Southwest threat? Do you suppose they are getting the message that the road to success is "narrowing the focus"?
Not at all. They are meeting the threat posed by Southwest (along with JetBlue and AirTran) with their usual strategy. When you reach a fork in the sky, take both forks.
Should we run a full-service airline or a no-frills airline?
"Let's take both forks," is their usual approach. So Delta Air Lines launches Song. And United Airlines launches Ted.
And what can you say about United's idea of launching a premium service (p.s.) on its transcontinental flights? So now in addition to first, business and coach fares, United will have first p.s., business p.s. and coach p.s. fares.
In the years ahead, I predict more turbulence in the skies for America's all-forks airlines.
Right Wing Attacks 9/11 Family Member Running for OfficeHe's incapable of speaking in the first person, much like Bob Dole. "9/11 Family Member Running for Office would like another glass of soymilk", said 9/11 Family Member Running for Office Andrew Rice to his wife, Mrs. 9/11 Family Member Running for Office Rice.
IT IS IN bad taste, I know, to speculate on the likely winners from events such as Hurricane Katrina so soon after they have struck. While the flood waters are still yielding up their grisly toll it seems insensitive to dwell on the question of who is on the up.
But it would be churlish to pretend that there are not, even now, men and women doing their level best to suppress a rising thrill at the prospect of huge contracts, enhanced international status, Pulitzer prizes. Politicians not being immune to these sentiments, it is fair to say that calculations are being made about where all this puts them in their ascent of the greasy pole.
So far, at least, the single principal political beneficiary of the disaster and its aftermath appears to be Rudolph Giuliani.
The absence of real leadership at any level — city, state or federal — after Hurricane Katrina stands in dismal contrast to the performance of the New York Mayor after September 11. The moaning Mayor of New Orleans and the lachrymose Governor of Louisiana have reminded Americans how much the city — and the nation — needed Rudy four years ago, and how they could do with him now.
Mr Giuliani’s impediments — a slightly complex personal life, views on abortion and gay rights that are way too permissive for most Republicans — crumble away when voters focus on who would be most likely to save their lives in another disaster.
Americans are angry and shamed at what has happened in the past week. If the presidential election were held tomorrow, the reassuring figure of “America’s mayor" would surely win easily. It is early, I reiterate. The next election is three years away; much could change. But it is hard not to be struck by the odd sense of irony that a putative Republican presidential candidate should look like the big winner from this tragedy.
Tomorrow [Wed. Sep. 14], New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly should order his men to escort the new hard-line president of the Islamic Republic of Iran to Kennedy International Airport, the minute he finishes speaking to the U.N. General Assembly at 3:10 p.m.I just wonder if he is going to be finger-printed at Kennedy International.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who took office in August after disputed elections, is not just any head of state. He has a terrorist pedigree that should make him an unwelcome guest in any civilized country, if having a terrorist "watch list" serves any purpose. But perhaps "civilized" is not an adjective that applies to the United Nations, which has standards all its own.
The State Department found Aug. 31 that the Iranian president was "excludable" by law from entering the United States, since he met the definition of an "international terrorist." Nevertheless, the wise heads at Foggy Bottom decided to waive the law.
The U.S. was bound by the Host Treaty agreement to allow anyone -- absolutely anyone -- to address the U.N. if they represented a sovereign state, the State Department lawyers argued. Besides, Mr. Ahmadinejad would not be allowed to travel more than 25 miles outside New York.
But that restriction has not dampened Mr. Ahmadinejad's plans to gather Iranian-Americans for a series of private meetings in Manhattan, where he plans to encourage them to lobby the U.S. government against the policies of the Bush administration, according to individuals who have been contacted by the Islamic Republic's U.N. delegation to attend the meetings.
Specifically, Mr. Ahmadinejad wants their support in discouraging the United States from referring Iran's violations of its commitments to the International Atomic Energy Agency to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions. He also wants pro-regime Iranians in the United States to lobby Congress and the White House to lift the U.S. trade embargo on Iran.
If Mr. Kelly and the New York Police Department feel they cannot prevent Mr. Ahmadinejad from addressing the U.N. General Assembly, they should escort him directly to Kennedy airport after his 5-minute speech so he can't turn the visit into a lobbying tour. There is nothing in the U.S. treaty with the U.N. that says we have to sponsor international terrorists who have come to the United States on a lobbying mission.