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Byron Shire
March 22, 2023

You may have missed… sobering up drunk mice, bitter news for global coffee supply, Mezcal worm identified, and flipping anemone fossils

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Your hit of the best of last week’s science.

A bottle of mezcal with a larva floating in it. Photo www.wikipedia.org

There’s just one species of worm inside your Mezcal bottle

Scientists have finally identified the species of larva found in bottles of Mezcal as the moth species Comadia redtenbacheri, according to a new study in Peerj Life & Environment.

Mezcal are distilled Mexican alcoholic beverages made from any type of agave plant (one of the most popular being tequila).

Closeup image showing a worm inside a bottle of “Lajita Reposado” mezcal. Credit: Photo by Akito Y. Kawahara. CC BY 4.0.

In the 1940-50s a “mezcal worm” or “tequila worm” began to be added during the bottling process, which increased public attention and gained global interest for the drink. But until now, it’s been unclear just which species of larvae are being bottled up.

Researchers analysed the DNA of larvae inside 21 commercially available mezcals purchased between 2018 and 2022, to determine their identify.

And while historically there are about 63 species of larvae consumed in Mexico, the study found that all mezcal larvae were from a single species.

Larvae of C. redtenbacheri are one of the most popular edible insects in Mexico, but they are thought to be declining in numbers. In response, researchers have begun to develop methods to cultivate these larvae in captivity.

Palaeontologists flip the script on anemone fossils

Despite the fact that billions of sea anemones live on the bottom of the Earth’s oceans, they are among the rarest fossils because their bodies lack hard parts that are easily fossilised.

But now, a team of researchers has discovered that countless sea anemone fossils have been hiding in plain sight for nearly 50 years.

According to the new study in the journal Papers in Palaeontology, they re-examined thousands of museum fossil specimens that had long been interpreted as jellyfish. The exceptionally preserved fossils (Essexella asherae) come from the 310 million-year-old Mazon Creek fossil deposits of northern Illinois in the US.

Essexella, a 310 million-year-old fossil sea anemone from Illinois. Image Papers in Palaeontology

The fossils had a unique feature found in no living jellyfish anatomy – a tough “curtain” that was previously interpreted to have hung off the umbrella-like bell which is the top part of a jellyfish.

“It quickly became obvious that, not only it wasn’t a jellyfish, but turned upside down it was clearly an anemone, probably one that burrowed into the seafloor,” says Roy Plotnick, Professor Emeritus of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois Chicago, and the study’s lead author.

“The ‘bell’ was actually an expanded muscular foot used to wiggle the anemone into the seafloor,”

And the tough “curtain” was the barrel-shaped body of the anemone.

“Anemones are basically flipped jellyfish. This study demonstrates how a simple shift of a mental image can lead to new ideas and interpretations,” says Plotnick.

Drunk mice sober up after a hormone shot

Injecting mice with a hormone called fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) protects them against ethanol (alcohol)-induced loss of balance and righting reflex, according to a new study in Cell Metabolism.

“We’ve discovered that the liver is not only involved in metabolising alcohol but that it also sends a hormonal signal to the brain to protect against the harmful effects of intoxication, including both loss of consciousness and coordination,” says co-senior author Steven Kliewer, Professor of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in the US.

Graphical abstract. Image Cell Press

“We’ve further shown that by increasing FGF21 concentrations even higher by injection, we can dramatically accelerate recovery from intoxication. FGF21 does this by activating a very specific part of the brain that controls alertness.”

FGF21 mediated its anti-intoxicant effects by directly activating noradrenergic neurons in the locus coeruleus region in the brain.

The researchers say that additional studies will be required to determine whether FGF21’s anti-intoxicant activity translates to humans.

Bitter news: climate hazards could impact global coffee supply

New Australian research has confirmed that global coffee production is facing major threats due to increasing and concurrent hazards fuelled by climate change.

Researchers from CSIRO and the University of Southern Queensland found that between 1980 and 2020, climate hazards – like extremes in temperature and rainfall – have increased across all 12 of the top coffee producing regions globally.

“Coffee crops can fail if the annual average temperature and rainfall is not within an optimal range,” says Dr Doug Richardson, a research scientist who led the research while at CSIRO.

Map of coffee producing countries. Image Cbahrs via Wikimedia Commons

“The frequency of climate events has been increasing over the last 40 years and we see clear evidence of global warming playing a role, as the predominant types of climate hazards have shifted from cold and wet to warm and dry.

“Taken together, the cumulative impacts brought on by climate change suggest coffee production will experience ongoing systemic shocks due to sub-optimal growing conditions and a shrinking area of land suitable for coffee cultivation.”

The new study is in PLOS Climate.

This article was originally published on Cosmos Magazine and was written by Imma Perfetto. Imma Perfetto is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Science Communication from the University of Adelaide.

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  1. Accept I grow 4 coffee trees in my backyard that give me a few hand fulls of beans each year, and coffee isn’t even suppose to grow here. Should have made the story about coco trees as they are crazy hard to grow outside their zone without tenting them.


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