Tag: ‘Discovery’

Rare ‘Devil’s Cigar’ fungus discovered in Nara

06 Aug 2008

Chorioactis geaster found in Nara, Japan --

One of the world's rarest fungi, an exotic star-shaped mushroom known to exist at only three locations on Earth, has been discovered in the mountains of Nara prefecture.

The Devil's Cigar (a.k.a. "Texas Star") -- known to botanists as Chorioactis geaster -- had been observed only in central Texas and at two remote locations in Japan prior to the recent discovery in Nara. The peculiar fungus is described as a dark brown cigar-shaped capsule that transforms into a tan-colored star when it splits open to release its spores. It is also one of only a few known fungi that produce an audible hiss when releasing spores.

First reported in 1893 in Austin, Texas, the curious mushroom appears in a limited area of central Texas each year, and until now, the rare sightings in Japan have occurred in forests in Miyazaki and Kochi prefectures. The fungus is included on the red list of threatened species published by Japan's Environment Ministry.

The recent Nara discovery was made by Masakuni Kimura, curator of a natural history museum in the town of Kawakami (Nara prefecture). Kimura first encountered Devil's Cigars in October 2006 while surveying a forest near Kawakami, where he found 12 of them growing from a dead oak tree next to a mountain stream at an elevation of 470 meters (about 1,550 ft). Nearly a year later, in September 2007, he discovered four more of the mushrooms when he returned to the site with Shuichi Kurogi, curator of the Miyazaki Prefectural Museum of Nature and History. Their findings were presented at a recent meeting of the Mycological Society of Japan.

The site of the Nara discovery, like the previous Miyazaki and Kochi sites, is located in a humid forest. At all three sites, the Devil's Cigars were observed growing on dead oak trees near a stream.

Chorioactis geaster in central Texas --
Texas Star, the state fungus of Texas?!

In central Texas (which is located at approximately the same latitude as southern Japan), the rare fungus appears during fall and winter, growing from the stumps and dead roots of cedar elm trees.

Tsuyoshi Hosoya, head botanist at Japan's National Science Museum, says, "The DNA of the Devil's Cigar from Miyazaki is consistent with the one from Texas. They are regarded as the same species."

While it is unknown how this exceedingly rare mushroom came to appear only in Japan and central Texas, one intriguing theory suggests that spores from Japan were swept up in an Asian dust cloud and carried across the globe.

[Sources: Sankei, SAS via Watashi to Tokyo]

See also: Rainy season brings glow-in-the-dark mushrooms

Frozen baby mammoth headed to Japan

09 Jul 2007

Baby mammoth --- Researchers at Japan's Jikei University will soon be checking the mailbox for a cool package from Siberia -- the recently discovered frozen body of an ancient baby mammoth. The nearly complete body of the female calf, said to be one of the best-preserved specimens of frozen mammoth ever discovered, is estimated to have been less than one year old before it was preserved in ice about 10,000 years ago.

According to the Russian Tass news agency, a reindeer herder stumbled upon the 130 cm (4 ft 3 in) tall, 50 kg (110 lbs) frozen mammoth in May in an area of permafrost in northwestern Siberia, near the Yuribey River on the Yamal Peninsula, which extends into the Kara Sea. The mammoth, whose trunk and eyes remain intact and which still has some fur on its body, was shown to an international panel of experts that convened on July 5 in the town of Salekhard, near the discovery site.

Preparations are now being made to ship the baby mammoth to Jikei University School of Medicine, where researchers will use advanced computed tomography (CT) scanners to obtain three-dimensional images of its internal organs. "This is the first opportunity for anyone to perform an analysis on a complete mammoth body," says Jikei University professor Naoki Suzuki, "and it should provide a more complete picture of its anatomy and how it lived."

[Source: Yomiuri]

Unidentified deep-sea creature

12 Jun 2007

Unidentified deep-sea creature --

On June 11, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC) released photographs of a mysterious deep-sea creature believed to be an unknown species of comb jelly, or ctenophore, a jellyfish-like marine animal. Taken by JAMSTEC's "Kaikou" unmanned submersible at a depth of 7,217 meters (nearly 24,000 feet) in the Ryukyu Trench about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Okinawa, the photographs show a gelatinous animal with two pairs of long, spindly tentacles -- one pair extended horizontally in front of its body and one pair stuck to the ocean floor, allowing the creature to float in place like a kite.

The creature's elongated body is 10 to 20 centimeters (4 to 8 inches) long and 5 to 8 centimeters (2 to 3 inches) wide. The rear tentacles measure 1.5 to 2.5 meters (5 to 8 feet) in length, while the forward-reaching tentacles, which float on the current and catch prey, measure between 1 and 1.5 meters (3 to 5 feet) in length. The animal's gastrovascular system, which circulates nutrients through the body, appears whitish in color.

JAMSTEC filmed the gelatinous animal in April 2002, and subsequent research has led the researchers to conclude it is very likely a new species. However, they are unable to say for certain until they capture an actual specimen.

[Source: Asahi, JAMSTEC press release, photos]

Giant jellyfish eyed as commercial mucin source

05 Jun 2007

Echizen kurage, Nomura's jellyfish -- In the latest development in Japan's war against giant jellyfish invaders, scientists studying the biochemistry of echizen kurage (Nomura's jellyfish) have discovered a previously unknown type of mucin in the sea creatures.

Mucins, the main structural components of mucus, are complex proteins found in human saliva, gastric juice and the lining of the stomach, all of which play a key role in the digestive process. The recently discovered jellyfish mucin, according to the researchers from the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and science equipment manufacturer Shinwa Chemical Industries, can be put to use in a variety of pharmaceutical, medical, food and cosmetic products.

While the researchers have yet to release the details about the molecular structure of the jellyfish mucin, they claim it has a simple structure similar to a type of glycoprotein (organic molecule composed of protein and sugar chains) found in human digestive fluid, suggesting it could be used as a digestive supplement for elderly people with weak gastric juice. In addition, the researchers see potential uses for jellyfish mucin in products such as eyedrops, artificial saliva and surgical adhesives.

At least 12 types of mucins are known to exist in various locations in the human digestive tract, as well as in saliva and in the mammary glands. While mucins are also known to exist in animals and in some plants such as okra, lotus root and yams, only a few sources of the slimy substance have been tapped for large-scale commercial production.

To harvest the jellyfish, RIKEN says it is investigating the possibility of enlisting the help of Japan's fisheries to catch the giant echizen kurage, which can grow up to 2 meters (6 ft 7 in) in diameter and weigh up to 200 kg (440 lb) each. The group is also considering harvesting moon jellyfish, the culprits responsible for disrupting output at nuclear power plants last year after they clogged seawater coolant intake pipes.

Business negotiations are now underway between 20 organizations, including pharmaceutical companies, medical institutions and food and cosmetics manufacturers.

[Source: Fuji Sankei]

Found artifact resembles kappa head?

29 Aug 2006

Excavated artifact resembles kappa head?Archaeologists in the town of Umi in Fukuoka prefecture have excavated a piece of earthenware shaped as the head of a creature with googly eyes and a big grin. Opinions are divided about whether this artifact, which was unearthed from a site dating back to the Muromachi period (1336 to 1573 AD), is supposed to represent the head of a demon, dragon, snake or kappa.

Kappa are mythical (or real, according to some) creatures that live in Japanese rivers and ponds. Known as pranksters, kappa are notorious for luring people (particularly small children) into water and drowning them. They also like to eat cucumbers. Some theories suggest that the word kappa comes from the Portuguese capa, which refers to the "robe" worn by Portuguese monks who came to Japan in the 16th century. The kappa's hairstyle also resembles the tonsured hair of the monks. (Further reading: Wikipedia entry for kappa.)

The artifact, which is now on display at Umi Museum, measures 5.4 cm (2 in.) tall and is believed to be one of the feet of a larger earthenware vessel. It appears that a sharp bamboo implement was used to shape the eyes and mouth.

"If this is a kappa," says museum director Koji Hiranouchi, "it is a very old representation. The craftsman was probably playing around when he made it."

Others believe the artifact is supposed to represent some sort of reptile or amphibian.

[Source: Iza!]

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If you ever decide to keep a kappa as a pet, check out the indispensable Kappa no Kaikata (How to Raise a Kappa), a 26-part series of animated shorts on Animax, with English subtitles (viewable on YouTube). These videos will help you avoid some of the pitfalls of raising a kappa. For example, the first episode shows the disastrous effects of what happens when you feed kappa-maki (cucumber sushi rolls) to your kappa. Evidently, wasabi disagrees with its digestive system.

Polygonal spiral-shaped carbon nanotubes discovered

10 May 2006

Carbon nanotubeOn May 8, researchers from JFE Holdings, Inc. and Shinshu University announced the discovery of a new type of carbon nanotube (CNT) -- a polygonal tube shaped in a spiral configuration. Cross-sections of what are normally round tubes showed a structure with at least six sides.

This special structure appeared in CNTs that were synthesized using JFE's production method. The researchers speculate that the polygonal tube spirals arise because the production method’s high temperatures (over 3000 degrees Celsius) lead to high crystallinity, and the rapid cooling causes distortion in the crystal structure.

Using an arc discharge method of production, the company has succeeded in synthesizing 100-micrometer (1 micrometer = 1 millionth of a meter) thick CNT tape comprised of tubes with a purity of nearly 100%. This tape, according to the researchers, is the world’s first of its kind.

When the researchers analyzed the new CNT structure, they found that electron emission was at least several times better than conventional cylindrical CNTs, and they discovered that its strength as a material was at least dozens of times greater.

The company has begun test marketing the polygonal nanotubes, which they call nanocores, for applications in electronics and composite materials. Carbon nanotube tape can be used for such products as field emission displays, next-generation flat-panel displays, fuel cells and semiconductor parts.

[Source: Fuji Sankei]

The bioluminescent tail of Genji

16 Mar 2006

Scientists have succeeded in unraveling the mystery -- at the protein structure level -- of the mechanism at work in the glowing tail of the "Genji firefly" (Luciola cruciata Motschulsky), which is considered to have the highest luminous efficiency of any known source of light. The results of the joint research carried by the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (RIKEN) and Kyoto University are to be published in the March 16 edition of the British science journal Nature.

Bioluminescence

By tinkering with the chemical composition of luciferase (a bioluminescent enzyme), the research team succeeded in changing the emission color from its normal greenish-yellow to orange and red. Researchers are now attempting to recreate the blue glow of the sea firefly (Vargula hilgendorfii) and firefly squid (Watasenia scintillans) in order to have all three primary colors at their fingertips.

"This might prove useful in applications such as short-term emergency lighting when no source of electricity or combustion is available," says Kyoto University professor Hiroaki Kato. "Light could be created by mixing up a liquid protein solution."

Anytime energy is converted into light, there is some loss due to heat. Luminous efficiency is a measure of the proportion of energy supplied to a light source that is effectively converted into visible light energy (i.e. the amount not lost to heat or infrared radiation). The luminous efficiency of incandescent light bulbs is around 10%, while fluorescent light is around 20% and LED is around 30%. Firefly tails are significantly higher, at 90%. Scientists were aware that the Genji firefly used luciferase in combination with luciferin (a light-emitting substrate) and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) to produce light, but the detailed workings of the mechanism have until now remained a mystery.

[Sources: Jiji, RIKEN press release]

Combustible ice found off Niigata coast

21 Feb 2006

Methane hydrate: combustible iceOutcrops of combustible ice, or methane hydrate (also known as methane ice or methane clathrate), which many view as a potential source of fuel in the future, have been discovered on the ocean floor near the coastal city of Joetsu in Niigata prefecture. According to a statement made by scientists on February 20, the methane hydrate appears to be the exposed tips of ice columns that extend about 100 meters (325 feet) beneath the ocean floor.

The recent discovery marks the first time that exposed methane hydrate deposits have been found in Japanese waters. Methane hydrate, which is normally found several hundred meters beneath the ocean floor, is a sherbert-like substance that burns when exposed to flame. It forms when low temperature and high pressure under the ocean floor causes methane molecules to become trapped inside frozen water molecules.

Scientists from the University of Tokyo, the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) are working together to collect samples from two points located at depths of 800 to 1000 meters (2600 to 3300 feet), about 30 kilometers (19 miles) offshore. They are using unmanned submarines to collect the ice. Based on the high electrical conductivity of the ground beneath the ocean floor, the scientists suspect the existence of large underground columns of methane hydrate.

While methane hydrate is being hailed as a potential source of fuel in the future, methane is a greenhouse gas. Methane is generated when organic matter in deep layers of sedimentary rock breaks down due to heating. The methane moves into upper layers, where it accumulates and forms methane hydrate. As the temperature rises and pressure falls, methane hydrate dissociates into methane and water. The resulting methane concentration in the surrounding seawater ranges from dozens to thousands of times higher than normal.

The research group is also committed to exploring the impact that the use of methane hydrate will have on global warming.

[Source: Asahi Shimbun]

Marilyn Monroe-shaped daikon radish

06 Feb 2006

Marilyn Monroe-shaped daikon radishA daikon radish with a distinctly human shape is the talk of the town in Sasamicho, Wakayama prefecture.

Keiko Tanaka, 74, harvested the rather large daikon radish from her family farm. The daikon’s resemblance to a cross-legged woman surprised her as she unearthed it, prompting her to name it “Monroe-chan." She has since been showing it off around town.

“It has such a beautiful body line. I’m sure it will taste better than your average daikon,” says Tanaka.

How much steamy pleasure this daikon adds to the process of cooking oden remains to be seen.

[Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Yahoo! News]