Molecules/Matter & Energy

A moth with chemical weapons, light-up bubbles and insidious fungi in this week’s news

Moths get tough on pollen A pollen grain may remain intact even when soaked in the toughest solvents, but it’s no match for the delicate twirler moth. Scientists from Germany and China report that Deltophora moths can chemically dissolve sporopollenin, the supertough polymer in a pollen grain’s wall, a first in the animal kingdom. While the scientists have photographs to document the feat, they still haven’t figured out the moth’s chemical secret. A candidate is ethanolamine, a defense compound secreted by some insect larvae and the same stuff pollen researchers often use to remove sporopollenin in the lab, the team reports online April 28 in PLoS ONE . — Rachel Ehrenberg

Bubbles brighten
A bubble of gas struck by sound waves has lit up like a 100-watt bulb. This new demonstration of sonoluminescence, the conversion of sound to light, is 100 times brighter than any previously reported. Physicists at UCLA boosted the intensity by dropping a steel cylinder full of acid. The sound wave generated upon impact caused a bubble of xenon gas in the liquid to collapse, generating light and temperatures upwards of 10,200 kelvins. Reporting in an upcoming Physical Review E, the researchers say that the deformation of the spherical bubble may create instabilities that play a role in the strange and controversial phenomenon of sonoluminescence. —Devin Powell

TWISTED Twirler moths are the first animal reportedly capable of dissolving the walls of pollen grains, visible here on the moth’s curly mouthparts. S. Luo et al/PLoS ONE 2011

Rust fungi arsenals exposed
Two insidious plant-attacking fungi both have unexpectedly big guns in their molecular weapons caches. The genetic blueprints of two rust fungi — one that decimates wheat and another that attacks poplar trees — reveal that both pests can make a compound that mimics a major plant hormone. Each fungus also has more than 1,000 genes that probably help siphon nutrients from their hosts while suppressing the plants’ immune systems, an international team reports online May 2 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. —Rachel Ehrenberg

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