Top Story: February 24, 2012

Neutrinos and Microbes

Kamchatka

Slower neutrinos and speciating microbes: our news round-up/follow-up from the past week!

As reported earlier this week, the folks at CERN are excited to start the OPERA experiment back up in May to retest neutrino speed. Yesterday, they reported that they will probably NOT see neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light this spring due to two possible problems with the technology used to measure the speed in the past.

The first possible effect concerns an oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS synchronizations. It could have led to an overestimate of the neutrino's time of flight.

The second concerns the optical fiber connector that brings the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock, which may not have been functioning correctly when the measurements were taken. If this is the case, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos.

We also reported on amazing microbes earlier in the week and have a follow-up to that story. PLoS Biology published a paper this week on a species of archaea splitting into two separate species in a hot spring in Kamchatka, Russia (pictured here). Ed Yong reports in Discover that the research team

has found that the species has pretty much split into two separate lineages. Both share the same water, and they can trade genes with one another, but they have started to part ways and are becoming increasingly distant. In this hot, hostile and acidic world, the origin of the species is playing out before our eyes.

The idea of sympatric speciation (one lineage diverging into two or more species with no physical or mechanical barriers keeping them apart) is controversial and tricky to prove, especially in microbes, says the University of Illinois’ Rachel Whitaker, who led the study.

"One of the big questions, from Darwin on, is how do species diverge if they are living together?" she says. "That question really hasn't been answered very well, even in the macro-organisms that we've studied for hundreds of years."

These exciting findings could provide the first evidence of sympatric speciation in a microbe.

Photo by Rachel Whitaker

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