University of Tokyo scientists observe predicted quantum biochemical effects on cells.
Radical pairs<p>The phenomenon observed by scientists from the University of Tokyo matched the predictions of a theory put forward in 1975 by <a href="https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/how-birds-see-magnetic-fields-an-interview-with-klaus-schulten" target="_blank">Klaus Schulten</a> of the Max Planck Institute. Schulten proposed the mechanism through which even a very weak magnetic field—such as our planet's—could influence chemical reactions in their cells, allowing birds to perceive magnetic lines and navigate as they seem to do.</p><p>Shulten's idea had to do with radical pairs. A radical is a molecule with an odd number of electrons. When two such electrons belonging to different molecules become entangled, they form a radical pair. Since there's no physical connection between the electrons, their short-lived relationship belongs in the realm of quantum mechanics.</p><p>Brief as their association is, it's long enough to affect their molecules' chemical reactions. The entangled electrons can either spin exactly in sync with each other, or exactly opposite each other. In the former case, chemical reactions are slow. In the latter case, they're faster.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQzNDcxNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzMxNDc0N30.fvjXhn5uNKgbISXfMjj9J6-PIs0EgwqXA1X0PTPa7cc/img.jpg?width=980" id="52415" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d675ae83cf35b04342cd7d75b65ba0b0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1234" data-height="1440" />
Researchers Jonathan Woodward and Noboru Ikeya in their lab
Credit: © Xu Tao, CC BY-SA
Cryptochromes and flavins<p>Previous research has revealed that certain animal cells contain <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptochrome" target="_blank">cryptochromes</a>, proteins that are sensitive to magnetic fields. There is a subset of these called "<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flavin_group" target="_blank">flavins</a>," molecules that glow, or autofluoresce, when exposed to blue light. The researchers worked with human HeLa cells (human cervical cancer cells), because they're rich in flavins. That makes them of special interest because it appears that geomagnetic navigation is <a href="https://jeb.biologists.org/content/204/19/3295" target="_blank">light-sensitive</a>.</p><p>When hit with blue light, flavins either glow or produce radical pairs — what happens is a balancing act in which the slower the spin of the pairs, the fewer molecules are unoccupied and available to fluoresce.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTQzNDcyMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3MTIxMTkyNX0.jkJMYwj6Sbpmy6Lj4vLIc6IMXSLoBDeDC6ixhTdn-Ro/img.jpg?width=980" id="8f1c0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8b639aedfc9b1a5f3a77159fe1ab7d82" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1200" data-height="402" />
HeLa cells (left), showing fluorescence caused by blue light (center), closeup of fluorescence (right)
The experiment<p>For the experiment, the HeLa cells were irradiated with blue light for about 40 seconds, causing them to fluoresce. The researchers' expectations were that this fluorescent light resulted in the generation of radical pairs.</p><p>Since magnetism can affect the spin of electrons, every four seconds the scientists swept a magnet over the cells. They observed that their fluorescence dimmed by about 3.5 percen each time they did this, as shown in the image at the beginning of this article.</p><p>Their interpretation is that the presence of the magnet caused the electrons in the radical pairs to align, slowing down chemical reactions in the cell so that there were fewer molecules available for producing fluorescence.</p><p>The short version: The magnet caused a quantum change in the radical pairs that suppressed the flavin's ability to fluoresce.</p><p>The University of Tokyo's <a href="http://gpes.c.u-tokyo.ac.jp/faculty-staff/measurement-and-evaluation/jonathan-r-woodward.html" target="_blank">Jonathan Woodward</a>, who authored the study with doctoral student Noboru Ikeya, <a href="https://www.u-tokyo.ac.jp/focus/en/press/z0508_00158.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">explains</a> what's so exciting about the experiment:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The joyous thing about this research is to see that the relationship between the spins of two individual electrons can have a major effect on biology."</p><p>He notes, "We've not modified or added anything to these cells. We think we have extremely strong evidence that we've observed a purely quantum mechanical process affecting chemical activity at the cellular level."</p>
One of the world's most isolated island groups has just been made one of the world's largest ocean reserves.
- The small island group of Tristan da Cunha has created one of the world's largest ocean sanctuaries.
- Neither fishing nor extractive activities will be allowed in the area, which is three times the size of the United Kingdom.
- Animals protected by this zone include penguins, sharks, and many seabirds.
Tristan da where now?<p> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tristan_da_Cunha" target="_blank">Tristan da Cunha</a> is a British Overseas Territory consisting of an archipelago in the south Atlantic. The titular island is the largest in the group at about 100 square kilometers. Those hoping to visit will have to get there by a week-long boat ride from Cape Town. The island's government gleefully notes that it takes longer to get there than it takes astronauts to get to the Moon. <br> <br> The marine protection zone will cover 627,247 square kilometers (over 242,000 miles) of the ocean around the islands. It will be the "gold standard" in ocean conservation, with neither fishing nor other extractive activities allowed, often referred to as "no-take." It will be the largest no-take zone in the Atlantic, and the fourth largest anywhere in the world. <br> <br> The zone includes small areas just off the inhabited islands in which sustainable fishing will be allowed, but these areas are a small fraction of the no-take area's size. Given the historical reliance of the island's economy on the sea, this consideration is quite understandable. <br> <br> These protected areas join many others covered by the United Kingdoms' <a href="https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-blue-belt-programme" target="_blank">Blue Belt Programme</a> of marine protection, which aims to preserve 30 percent of the world's oceans by 2030. </p>
Most important of all, what animals are protected by this?<p> The now protected fish that inhabit the waters are a vital food source for many kinds of animals, all of which will benefit from not having to share their food supply with humans. </p><p>The vast area is home to many species of whales, sharks, and seals. Endangered species of albatross also drop by. Many birds that live on the islands and cannot be found elsewhere, such as the Wilkins bunting and the Inaccessible rail, also stand to benefit from the new protections. </p><p>Most adorable of all, the endangered northern <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockhopper_penguin" target="_blank">rockhopper penguins</a> make a home on one of the archipelago islands. With luck, they may not be endangered much longer. </p>
Crows have their own version of the human cerebral cortex.
Action-packed pallia<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ0NzkyMS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzk1NzM1OH0.Tjb3zulFW2gwhteR124F9HGbmdnCqNqQFOBQouieTJ8/img.png?width=980" id="2bbc9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2907e4035e553565f4446e968ee73d92" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="980" data-height="551" />
Fun with Ozzie and Glenn<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQ0Njk2MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzY4Njc2MX0.ZgpsPMCK6qOj2o0kErvVPjdua1EnMCIwCuHHGrb3LiY/img.jpg?width=980" id="acbeb" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e286fecbb228a5ca8aa26fcd19f95a2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="two crows in a tree" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Ozzie and Glenn not pictured
Credit: narubono/Unsplash<p>The kind of higher intelligence crows exhibited in the new research is similar to the way we solve problems. We catalog relevant knowledge and then explore different combinations of what we know to arrive at an action or solution.</p><p>The researchers, led by neurobiologist <a href="https://homepages.uni-tuebingen.de/andreas.nieder/" target="_blank">Andreas Nieder</a> of the University of Tübingen in Germany, trained two carrion crows (<em>Corvus corone</em>), Ozzie and Glenn.</p><p>The crows were trained to watch for a flash — which didn't always appear — and then peck at a red or blue target to register whether or not a flash of light was seen. Ozzie and Glenn were also taught to understand a changing "rule key" that specified whether red or blue signified the presence of a flash with the other color signifying that no flash occurred.</p><p>In each round of a test, after a flash did or didn't appear, the crows were presented a rule key describing the current meaning of the red and blue targets, after which they pecked their response.</p><p>This sequence prevented the crows from simply rehearsing their response on auto-pilot, so to speak. In each test, they had to take the entire process from the top, seeing a flash or no flash, and then figuring out which target to peck.</p><p>As all this occurred, the researchers monitored their neuronal activity. When Ozzie or Glenn saw a flash, sensory neurons fired and then stopped as the bird worked out which target to peck. When there was no flash, no firing of the sensory neurons was observed before the crow paused to figure out the correct target.</p><p>Nieder's interpretation of this sequence is that Ozzie or Glenn had to see or not see a flash, deliberately note that there had or hadn't been a flash — exhibiting self-awareness of what had just been experienced — and then, in a few moments, connect that recollection to their knowledge of the current rule key before pecking the correct target.</p><p>During those few moments after the sensory neuron activity had died down, Nieder reported activity among a large population of neurons as the crows put the pieces together preparing to report what they'd seen. Among the busy areas in the crows' brains during this phase of the sequence was, not surprisingly, the pallium.</p><p>Overall, the study may eliminate the layered cerebral cortex as a requirement for higher intelligence. As we learn more about the intelligence of crows, we can at least say with some certainty that it would be wise to avoid <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/26/science/26crow.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">angering one</a>.</p>
Acorn woodpecker battles over prized territory are serious business.
- Acorn woodpeckers are highly socialized birds who are, let's say, unusual.
- Small teams of acorn woodpeckers battle for days over coveted territory.
- Up to 30 spectators attend the battles, leaving their own territories unattended to do so.
Acorn woodpeckers<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzgwMDAzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NDc1ODExN30.A2m8gTkzBndTUjghwOh6Rc2NWwTXMjkMo7jH9eezq1k/img.jpg?width=980" id="9b2f8" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7093a92289c1e00f38e76504ad3dc596" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="acorn woodpecker" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: Ondrej Prosicky/Shutterstock<p>Much of what's known about these birds, including the new research, comes from a long-running project at the <a href="http://hastingsreserve.org" target="_blank">Hastings Natural History Reservation</a> in California's Monterey Country. Acorn woodpeckers first arrived at the sanctuary in 1968 and have been under observation since 1974. The birds are common in the oak woodlands of western North America.</p><p>Acorn woodpeckers have a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polygynandry" target="_blank">polygynandrous</a> mating system, something that's rarely seen in nature. A group will consist of as many as seven co-breeding males and four joint-nesting females. Breeding members of the group couple promiscuously within the group, and never outside it.</p><p>It's an incestuous arrangement by human standards, with father and son competing for and breeding with the same females. And though the females use the same nests, it's pretty competitive — one female will remove and eat another mother's eggs to make room for her own. Over time, according to Hastings, this results in a balance in the number of chicks among the females.</p><p>In addition, an acorn woodpecker group will also include other, non-breeding community "helper" members — they're the woodpeckers who go into battle for acorn granaries. Though the woodpeckers primarily feed on insects, acorns provide them with non-perishable nutrition for those colder months when bug meals are few and far between.</p>
Fight Club<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzgwMDAzOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MTcxMDU5Nn0.ep-PNigMZayCRdAp47v-5aBWp9a3x9iwkVLdlOqZEkM/img.jpg?width=980" id="33cea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fe92b1641ba8518f164dd274e69cc44e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="acorns embedded in tree holes" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: David A Litman/Shutterstock<p>A granary for which an acorn woodpecker will fight is reminiscent of a human wine rack: An array of vertical storage compartments for their precious winter food. And they're dead serious about acquiring this storage: "These birds often wait for years, and when there's the right time and they have the right coalition size, they'll go and give it their all to win a really good territory," <a href="https://phys.org/news/2020-09-acorn-woodpeckers-wage-days-long-vacant.html" target="_blank">says Barve.</a></p><p>The balls-to-the-wall action of acorn woodpecker battle have made it difficult for human researchers to keep track of what's going on, so Barve and his colleagues devised a solution: They outfitted woodpeckers with radio tags that allowed the researchers to tell when two birds were in the same location, and to track the origin of combatants, and also to make detailed observations of a melee.</p><p>While the researchers had thought that acorn woodpeckers living nearby would most fiercely make a play for a nearby granary, this turned out not to be the case. It's not yet known what prompts one group of woodpeckers to commit to battle, though the researchers suggest that a group's internal calculus somehow produces a decision whether to try and acquire a particular granary.</p><p>Yet commit they do. The researchers found that woodpecker teams will fight for as long as 10 hours straight, and will return day after day. This was something of a surprise to researchers, making them wonder how they even sustain themselves that long.</p>
"Get ya acorns heayah, acorns, get ya acorns heayah!"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzgwMDA0Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzkyMDMwMX0.MH5tJaZk4PQrANKic92UKkVIG8kuW7gAgrFRQHk1YMk/img.jpg?width=980" id="9a454" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9af4e854af92f7a5c48aba5a86359366" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="woodpeckers" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: Petr Simon/Shutterstock<p>Previous research missed the spectators because the brouhaha was so overwhelming and attention-grabbing. As many as 30 woodpeckers have been observed in the peanut gallery.</p><p>The researchers have seen birds coming from as far as three kilometers (1.9 miles) away. These onlookers may spend up to an hour each day in attendance. Among the spectators are woodpeckers who already have adequate granaries of their own — whatever they get out of watching has to be worth the time spent leaving their own granaries unattended. The researchers suggest the watchers may be curious about changes a battle could make to the local status quo.<span></span></p><p>These highly social birds may also actually be rooting for one fighting group over another. "They potentially have friendships," <a href="https://phys.org/news/2020-09-acorn-woodpeckers-wage-days-long-vacant.html" target="_blank">says Barve,</a> "and they probably have enemies. The next step is to try and understand how their social networks are shaped, and how they vary across the year."</p>
Maybe you've been wondering if you're seeing one persistent squirrel or a rotating cast of characters.
Watching the wildlife outside your window can boost your mental well-being, and it's something lots of people have been doing a lot more of lately.