OSU Science Roundup, Jan-Mar 2020

It’s been a few months since our last OSU Science Roundup. Even though the world’s slowed down considerably due to COVID-19, many of OSU’s researchers are still hard at work, making plenty of impactful discoveries. Here are few examples of what they’ve been working on:  

Non-oxygen Breathing Parasites  

As if parasites weren’t already alien enough, OSU microbiologists have recently discovered the first animal that doesn’t require oxygen to live.  

Henneguya salminicola is a miniscule parasite comprised of less than ten cells. It makes its home in the muscles of salmon, where it gets the latter half of its name. It is thought to be a relative of jellyfish and coral, and has been put into the subphylum “myxozoa,” which is full of other slimy aquatic parasites.  

The singular nature of this newly discovered species has been changing the way scientists have been thinking about animal life. Until now, the assumption has been that all animals require oxygen to survive. While this parasite does use oxygen as a major source of energy, it has evolved the ability to forgo oxygen altogether.  

While anaerobic life forms do exist, they’ve always been known as fungi or amoebas never anything in kingdom animalia.  

The research was done by senior research associate Stephen Atkinson and head of Microbiology Jerri Bartholomew, alongside peers from many other universities.  

Atkinson suspects that more oxygen-free animals will be found in the future.  

“Our findings expand our understanding of what it means to be an animal, and shows that even complex life can evolve a way to succeed in environments without oxygen,” said Atkinson in an article released by OSU.  

Curbing CO2 Emissions  

Kryiakos Stylianou, a new professor of chemistry at OSU, has made some groundbreaking discoveries regarding methods of curbing CO2 emissions.  

The discovery is based on metal-organic frameworks. These are porous, crystalline materials composed of metal ions and linked by organic molecules called “ligands.”  

Within Stylianou’s research, MOFs are used to selectively bind with CO2, separating it from water. This allows for an efficient method of filtering out CO2, while also being non-intrusive. However, MOFs often break down in the presence of water, or tend to bind with water molecules instead of CO2. To this end, Stylianou gave much credit to a colleague, Peter Boyd, stating that Boyd had developed a library of over 325,000 MOF materials.  

“We were inspired by his study, and we went into the lab and synthesized the two materials which both have this active site,” said Stylianou in a College of Science article. “The design was perfect.”  

Out of the library of 325,000, only two MOFs were able to remain stable in the presence of water while also selectively binding with CO2.  

Building off of this, graduate student Arunraj Chidambaram was able to synthesize MOFs that successfully separated CO2, outperforming previously existing carbon removal materials.  

Stylianou has also received a $30,000 grant from the Betty Wang Discovery Fund in order to continue his research. “Hopefully we can combine our fundamental results and our materials with industry partners and maximize the potential of these materials,” said Stylianou. “OSU is the right place to explore this.”  

Primitive Bees  

Stuck in tree resin and preserved in amber for 100 million years, an ancient female bee from the mid-Cretaceous period was recently discovered in Myanmar.  

Professor Emeritus George Poinar Jr. was able to classify the preserved bee into its family, genus and species: Discoscapa apicula.  

The fossilized bee shares many traits with its modern kin. However, it also shares traits with the apoid wasps from which bees are believed to have evolved – features such as low-placed antennal sockets and certain wing-vein features.  

“Something unique about the new family that’s not found on any extant or extinct lineage of apoid wasps or bees is a bifurcated scape,” Poinar is quoted. This refers to the antennae base being in two segments. “The fossil record of bees is pretty vast, but most are from the last 65 million years and look a lot like modern bees. Fossils like the one in this study can tell us about the changes certain wasp lineages underwent as they became palynivores pollen eaters.”  

Yet it may have been a grand twist of coincidence that allowed such an unfathomably old creature to be preserved at all. Twenty-one parasitic beetle larvae were found preserved alongside the bee, likely hitching in order to infect the bee’s hive.  

“It is certainly possible that the large number of triungulins [beetle larvae] caused the bee to accidentally fly into the resin,” said Poinar.  

By Thomas Nguyen