Lizard

An Imperiled Indonesian Lizard May Hold The Key To Fighting Superbugs

The military’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency is looking to “extreme animals” such as komodo dragons to find new ways to defend against infections.

Komodo dragons, the 10-foot, 300-pound lizards found in Indonesia, do not bite humans unless attacked, but when they do, it can prove deadly. Not only is the venom in their teeth potentially fatal, they may also harbor bacteria in their mouths that is dangerous to their prey (typically, deer and pigs).

The question of whether Komodo dragons deliver fatal bacterial infections to their prey when they bite has been somewhat controversial: A 2013 study, refuting previously accepted common wisdom, swabbed the mouths of 16 captive Komodo dragons and found they had less bacteria than other predators, such as lions.

Nonetheless, Komodo dragons in the wild eat carrion and live in environments rich in bacteria yet rarely become infected, though local prey such as water buffalo do. And one reason may be because of a special resistance to dangerous bacteria in the form of cationic antimicrobial peptides, a type of protein that fights off harmful bacteria and that researchers have found in the animals’ blood.

“Komodo dragons are known to harbor high levels of bacteria in their mouths. They don’t suffer from negative effects of bacteria in their own mouths,” said Barney Bishop, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor at George Mason University’s chemistry and biochemistry department.

Using the peptide in the dragon’s blood as inspiration, the researchers designed a synthetic chemical called DRGN-1, which imitates Komodo dragon blood.

As superbugs become more resistant to antibiotics, scientists are turning toward bioprospecting ― or looking to nature for potential medicines. In a recent study published in Biofilms and Microbiomes, researchers from George Mason University

Jimmy Kimmel slams critics of his emotional health-care plea, calls out Newt Gingrich

Jimmy Kimmel (screengrab via ABC)

A week after Jimmy Kimmel shared the news about his newborn son’s heart defect — and made an emotional plea about preexisting conditions amid the health-care debate — he returned to his late-night show on Monday to huge applause from his studio audience.

“I made an emotional speech that was seen by millions. And as a result of my powerful words on that night, Republicans in Congress had second thoughts about repeal and replace…I saved health insurance in the United States of America,” Kimmel said triumphantly. He paused, then was “shocked” to discover the controversial bill passed in the House. “What’s that? I didn’t? I didn’t save it? They voted against it anyway?! I really need to pay more attention to the news.”

Anyway, Kimmel said, his son Billy is doing well. Kimmel also thanked viewers for their support. Then he noted that some people were very critical of his health-care comments. As you might expect, he did not hold back.

“I know this is gonna shock you — there were also some not-so-nice things that people said online about me, including members of the media,” said Kimmel, showing headlines from the New York Post (“Jimmy Kimmel’s obscene lies about kids and medical care”) and the Washington Times (“Shut up Jimmy Kimmel, you elitist creep.”)

Kimmel said he was proud of that label, because when he was growing up drinking powdered milk when his family couldn’t afford the liquid, his dream was to become an out-of-touch Hollywood elitist. “I guess it came true!” he exclaimed.

He continued the sarcasm. “I would like to apologize for saying that children in America should have health-care. It was insensitive,” Kimmel deadpanned. “It was offensive and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.”

He saved most of his ire for Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House. “There are some very sick and sad people out there. Here’s one of them, his name is Newt Gingrich,” Kimmel said. He ran a clip of Gingrich on “Fox News Sunday” criticizing Kimmel’s comments and saying that when a newborn has a heart problem, doctors will help immediately, and not wait until the family cuts a check.

“Yes, it is true that if you have an emergency, they will do an operation. And that’s terrific if your baby’s health problems are all solved during that one visit. The only problem is…

The scales of the ocellated lizard are surprisingly coordinated

ocellated lizard
SPECKLED SKIN The green and black spots on the back of an ocellated lizard are arranged according to the rules of a cellular automaton, a concept from computer science. Scales flip colors depending on the colors of their neighbors.

A lizard’s intricately patterned skin follows rules like those used by a simple type of computer program.

As the ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus) grows, it transforms from a drab, polka-dotted youngster to an emerald-flecked adult. Its scales first morph from white and brown to green and black. Then, as the animal ages, individual scales flip from black to green, or vice versa.

Biophysicist Michel Milinkovitch of the University of Geneva realized that the scales weren’t changing their colors by chance. “You have chains of green and chains of black, and they form this labyrinthine pattern that very clearly is not random,” he says. That intricate ornamentation, he and colleagues report April 13 in Nature, can be explained by a cellular automaton, a concept developed by mathematicians in the 1940s and ’50s to simulate diverse complex systems.

A cellular automaton is composed of a grid of colored pixels. Using a set of rules, each pixel has a chance of switching…