The top three news stories of the week, as chosen by our resident students. This week’s top stories are methane-eating bacteria, microbial communities and dinosaur camouflage.

By Gintare Bucaite.


Methane eating bacteria to the rescue

One of the largest bodies of greenhouse gas methane is thought to exist beneath the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), and it all could be released to the atmosphere because of global warning. The release of methane concerns climate scientist because it would cause additional warming, resulting in runaway climate change.

A study published in Nature Geoscience this week analysed samples taken from Subglacial Lake Whillans (SLW), a large body of water lying 800 meters beneath the WAIS and the researchers have reported that there are methane eating bacteria living in the sediment of the lake. The researchers have found that sub-ice-sheet methane is produced by reducing CO2, and then most of the methane is subsequently consumed by aerobic oxidation at the SLW sediment-water interface. Although these bugs produce another greenhouse gas (CO2) during the methane digestion, the risk of methane release to the atmosphere is reduced and carbon dioxide is the lesser evil of the two, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.



What’s mine is yours

A recent study shows that cohabiting couples share more than just living space together. It appears that it’s not just your partner you have to put up with when living together it’s their microbes as well.

Researchers have studied microbiomes of 10 heterosexual couples by taking 330 skin swabs from each individual and using high-throughput sequencing to identify the species of bacteria and archaea living on their skin. Results have shown that each person’s microbial communities were significantly influenced by the microbes on their partner’s skin. Cohabiting couples share so many microbes that computer algorithms can be used to predict partners with up to 86% accuracy.

The study has also found that couples have most similar microbiomes on their feet, possibly because bare feet can pick up microbes your partner has shed around the house. So the next time your partner complains about your smelly feet let them know it’s their fault.




Camouflage dinosaurs

110-million-year-old specimen of B. markmitchelli is one of the most impressively preserved dinosaur fossils ever found. Discovered in 2011 in an oil sand mine in Canada, the fossil not only displays 3D features but also has organic layers preserved, such as epidermal scales and intact horn sheaths. A study published in Current Biology this week has used mass spectrometry to reveal that even heavily armoured herbivore dinosaurs had to use camouflage to get away from the predators.

B. markmitchelli dinosaur belongs to a group of dinosaurs called ankylosaurids and weighed around 1300 kilograms and was 5.5 metres long. The size of a tank and heavy armour with dense angular horns was apparently not enough to deter the predators. Coloration analysis revealed that this particular dinosaur species has used a form of camouflage, called counter-shading and had russet-coloured spikes and a pale belly.

Counter-shading effect is seen in many smaller and medium sized prey animals alive today, such as deer, but elephants and rhinos, the largest herbivores living today, do not exhibit counter-shading, as predators know better than to mess with them. This suggests that B. markmitchelli may have experienced high predation pressure from even bigger predators, such as Acrocanthosaurus – a Tyrannosaurus rex-like dinosaur roughly 11.5 metres in length, so life was anything but easy back in dinosaur era.


COUNTER-SHADED B. markmitchelli.                                   Illustration: Julius Csotonyi


Written by Gintare Bucaite