Discovery in France of the New Guinea flatworm – one of the 100 worst invasive alien species in the world
One of the consequences of globalization and increased worldwide freight trade is the introduction of invasive alien species. In the list of the 100 worst invasive alien species in the world, there is only one terrestrial flatworm: Platydemus manokwari, also called New Guinea flatworm. This species has now been found in France, Caen, and was identified by an international team led by Jean-Lou Justine of Institute of Systematics, Evolution, Biodiversity, Paris, France (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle / CNRS / UPMC / EPHE). This is the first discovery of the species in Europe, reported in an article to be published March 4th in the open-access journal PeerJ (http://PeerJ.com).
Magnetic Resonance Imaging, a technique familiar for its use looking inside biological systems, is now being used to look inside chemical processes in the hope of making greener technologies.
Professor Lynn Gladden CBE, recipient of the Royal Society Bakerian Lecture 2014, will be speaking at the Royal Society on March 4th about her work developing MRI methods to understand processes happening inside chemical reactors.
What goes on inside reactors is surprisingly poorly understood because of its complexity and at the moment is represented by predictions or oversimplifications. To ensure that the right products are made and that they are made safely, engineers have no choice but to ‘over-design’ reactors which means they can often be energy-inefficient.
“There is increasing pressure to design chemical plants and many other chemical and materials processing operations so that they are both energy-efficient and produce products which satisfy ever-more stringent specifications,” Professor Gladden says. “This requires an understanding of how complex molecular systems flow and react in different process environments.”
One of the basic drivers of evolution is natural selection, the gradual process by which traits take hold or disappear within a population depending on whether or not they confer a competitive advantage. Many of the traits nature selects for can be traced to small, random genetic changes in DNA that alter the dynamics or activity of individual proteins within an organism’s cells and confer some profound survival advantage, like the ability to resist a plague (or a catastrophic disadvantage, like the inability to resist the cold when the ice age cometh).
The promise of the emerging field of synthetic biology is that it will provide genetically engineered bacteria and other organisms that can produce useful chemicals or biological molecules in abundance — making renewable biofuels or therapeutic antibodies, for instance. A central goal of synthetic biology is to design sophisticated biological circuits that can perform complicated “computing-like” behaviors.
Pankaj Mehta and colleagues at the Boston University Center for Synthetic Biology are approaching this goal by laying bare the energetic constraints that limit a cell’s ability to perform certain information processing tasks. They look at the complex biochemical networks through which cells sense what’s around them, adapt to changes their environments and process information. By comparing the ability of cells to process information and perform computations to the processing ability of modern computers they are finding new theoretical insights that will help improve the design of synthetic circuits in engineered cells.
By combining fundamental physics principles with the power of computers, scientists have identified new, low-cost materials that have the potential to capture atmosphere-warming carbon dioxide before it is emitted from fossil-fuel-burning power plants.
The research being presented March 3 at the 2014 APS March Meeting in Denver, CO.