Small print

 

A round-up of today's other stories in brief

Serial adultry and vicious sibling rivalry

ADULTERY, siblings devouring each other and males that do all the childcare while the females sleep around. When it comes to the marine whelk Solenosteira macrospira it is family life but not as we know it. The species lives in tidal mudflats off Baja California and the “shock horror” revelations of its private life were published yesterday in the journal Ecology Letters. Researchers at the University of California Davis studied the whelk in detail when some of its more gruesome tendencies began to emerge. For one thing it is one of a very small band of species that features male-only aftercare for the young.

Mind you this doesn’t amount to much: ferrying around capsules that contain whelk eggs that are glued onto their backs by the female. Surprisingly, the male seems oblivious to the fact that he is only a step-father given most of the eggs belong to other males, according to genetic analysis carried out by the researchers. Their female mates aren’t shy when it comes to multiple relationships. The male may be carrying whelk eggs from as many as 25 other males along with a small fraction of his own. “The promiscuity in the female snails is extraordinary,” says co-author of the paper Dr Stephanie Kamel.

Things don’t improve much once the youngsters start to hatch. It is no holds barred with the first hatchlings immediately setting to work devouring their nearby siblings. Wholesale fratricide ensues, with a typical load of 2,500 to 3,000 eggs being whittled down to just a handful of survivors who crawl off to start the whole process again when they become adults.

The scientists puzzled over why the male might be so compliant, with one theory holding it was a way for him to demonstrate he represented good parent material. “If he wants to get any action, he has to pay the price,” says the study’s author Prof Rick Grosberg.

Dick Ahlstrom

Record-breaking laser 1,000 times faster

RESEARCHERS IN Cork have tested a new laser that can send data 1,000 times faster than the average broadband speed in Ireland.

Developed by researchers at TU-Darmstadt under the EU-funded “Subtune” project, the laser was tested by collaborators at the Tyndall National Institute in Cork.

It is so fast that it would be able to transmit a typical high-definition film in less than five seconds. The laser used is “tuneable”, meaning the wavelength of the light it uses can be dialled up or down, explains Dr Brian Corbett, a lead investigator on Subtune at the Tyndall. Similar lasers are used in optical mice which means they are simple and low cost.

What it means for the consumer is being able to deliver bigger and faster data to our homes.

Tyndall’s role in the project had two parts: first to investigate the properties of these lasers and second to explore new applications for these devices in communications systems.

“In particular we investigated the possible use of the lasers in future ‘fibre-to-the-home’ applications, said Dr Corbett.

Researchers at Tyndall National Institute tested the entire tuning wavelength range of the new laser over 50km of optical fibre, finding error-free data transmission at speeds of 10 gigabits per second.

The record-breaking laser was developed by researchers Christian Griel and Karolina Zogal at TU-Darmstadt, Germany. They adapted another device originally provided by their Subtune collaborators. –

Becca Wilson

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