NEWS | IN BRIEF
Scorpion’s tail subdued prey
Scientists once thought the long, jagged-edge spine on the tail of the ancient sea
scorpion Slimonia acuminata was used for
self-defense. But a newly discovered fossil
of S. acuminata, described this month
in The American Naturalist, suggests
the tail was also a weapon of primordial
destruction. The scorpion, which grew up
to 40 centimeters long, was a eurypterid,
a diverse group of predators; some were
fierce hunters the size of an adult human,
whereas some—such as those without
claws or tail spines—likely filtered the
water for prey or scavenged the sea floor
for food. The 430-million-year-old fossil
had a tail preserved in a highly curved
configuration, suggesting it would have
been able to finish off prey held with its
front limbs. And unlike its modern-day
namesake, which strikes with an over-the-back movement, this sea scorpion likely
brandished its tail from side to side.
Since 2013, the U.S. National Commission
on Forensic Science has made recommendations to the Department of Justice (DOJ)
on improving the scientific grounding of
forensic techniques such as fingerprint
comparisons and bloodstain pattern
analysis. Last week, DOJ announced it
would not renew the commission’s charter.
Microbiologist and commission member
Arturo Casadevall of Johns Hopkins
University in Baltimore, Maryland, reflects
on its legacy. http://scim.ag/ForensicsComm
Q: Why was the panel created?
A: The big innovation of the commission
was that you had mainstream scientists
sitting at the table with judges, prosecutors, and forensic [practitioners]. … We
[scientists] were there because science
has traditions and approaches that
Q: What are the commission’s key products?
A: The document that was voted on in
September  stating that new techniques of forensic science need to be
independently validated is a really important
line in the sand. … Today, if you develop
a new technique to characterize white
powders, and you start a company, you
can sell this to police departments without
necessarily going through any [validation]
mechanism … and then use it in court.
Q: What about invalidated techniques,
such as bite mark evidence, that are already
used in court?
A: We wanted [the document] to be retrospective, but we had to compromise to get
the votes. … [But] there is a greater awareness now that if you’re going to introduce
any of these things into court, you may be
asked, “Where is your error rate? How do
you really know what a match is? What does
that mean?”… You can’t put the genie back
in the bottle. The questions are out there.
Scientists found the first living specimens of giant shipworms within these long, chalky tubes.
BY THE NUMBERS
Number of newborn babies in
California in 2015 affected by drugs
transmitted from mothers during
pregnancy or through breast milk—a
21% increase in comparison with 2014,
although birth rates decreased.
(Office of Statewide Health Planning
Number of health conditions (including
diabetes and pneumonia) diagnosed by
a Star Trek–inspired “tricorder” that won
the international Qualcomm Tricorder
XPRIZE competition last week.
Number of tree species currently known
to science and now in the online database
Global TreeSearch. Brazil, Colombia, and
Indonesia have the most diversity; each
is home to at least 5000 species. (Journal
of Sustainable Forestry)
228 21 APRIL 2017 • VOL 356 ISSUE 6335
Creatures from the sulfurous lagoon
A former log storage pond in Mindanao, Philippines, is home to the first live speci- mens ever found of the giant shipworm Kuphus polythalamia. The elusive creature was previously known only through the 1- to 1.5-meter-long calcium carbonate shells it left behind. The researchers found the tubes, buried 3 meters down in the dark mud of the pond. After extracting several of the chalky tubes, the team
chipped away at one end of a tube and a long, black mass oozed out from its casing,
they reported online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Despite its colloquial name, K. polythalamia (like other shipworms) is actually a bivalve,
a class that includes clams, oysters, and scallops. Although the giant shipworm doesn’t
directly feed on wood (unlike other shipworms), the rotting wood in the pond does
help provide its food: Wood-munching microbes in the mud produce hydrogen sulfide,
and other microbes living in the gills of K. polythalamia use that hydrogen sulfide as
an energy source to make carbon molecules that help sustain their shipworm host.
Studying the shipworms’ transition from eating wood to relying on sulfur, the researchers say, might help illuminate the evolution of animals such as the deep-sea mussels and
giant tube worms that consume hydrogen sulfide from hydrothermal vents.