Departments - RearView

News and notes from industry and the insect world.

January 29, 2013
PCT Magazine

Have roaches outlasted Twinkies?

Urban myth has long assured us that in a hypothetical post-nuclear war world, we humans (those of us who survive, anyhow) can depend on at least two things: plenty of Twinkies to eat and one lingering pest species to battle, the ever-resilient cockroach.

A reimagining of that cream-filled dystopia may be in order, however, after it was announced in late November that Hostess, makers of the Twinkie and other timeless sugary snacks, would be forced to shut down all operations and sell its assets, encumbered by a two-week Bakers Union strike. The announcement marked a dark day for sugar junkies, indeed, but a victory for the Twinkie’s six-legged, post-apocalyptic rival. Both the Twinkie and the cockroach are renowned for their supposed longevity, but in the race to the end of the world, it appears that the yellow sponge cake may have stumbled before the finish line.

The Twinkie’s fate might not yet be sealed, however. Since the announcement, multiple news outlets have reported that although Hostess may be no more, a potential sale of the Twinkie recipe (and others — some of us here at PCT prefer the Ho Ho) could ensure that the iconic golden sugar bomb can live on, though that’s not yet certain. As of this writing, Twinkie listings clutter eBay, some at far more drastic markups than others.

The Twinkie is dead. Long live the Twinkie. — Bill Delaney


Those in the affirmative say, ‘Bzzzzz’

Who knew that honey bees and American citizens operated under the same political system? According to Cornell professor Thomas Seeley, bees are naturally a part of a democratic society.

Every spring, beehives become so rich with honey and so overcrowded with baby bees, that half of the hive has to venture out to find a new home. And they do this in a surprisingly democratic way.

A group of older, more experienced bees form what ends up being a sort of house-hunting “Senate,” if you will, and they conduct a search for the best new home they can find. Once they find a potential hive-hosting property, they do a little dance, which lets the other bees know how to fly to that site.

If the site ends up being spectacular, then the bees will give it another dance, which will direct even more bees to it. This process continues until all the bees have agreed on a location and proven their affection for it with their little bee boogies.

What is decidedly quite different from our own political system is that in the bee population, no individual bees are ever stubborn or overly passionate about their favorite hive.

Once scout bees have finished their dance, no matter how attached to a particular site they are, they immediately stop caring. Called the retire-and-rest hypothesis by Seeley, bees are easily able to effectively “forget” what they were once passionate about.

Seeley points out that scientists might be able to learn a little something from this strange behavior. People often tend to drop out of debates reluctantly and not for a long while, whereas bees do so automatically. Perhaps, Seeley wonders, science could progress more rapidly if only scientists behaved a bit more like bees. Preferably without the dancing.


Fruit fly research could be critical in Lou Gehrig’s Disease research

You can thank the fruit fly for a step forward in the study of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — better known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, according to recent research at Purdue University.

James Clemens, an assistant professor of biochemistry at Purdue, identified a gene called VAPD that, when mutated, leads to a genetic variation of the disease. Clemens used the fruit fly as a model in his research, according to Purdue, and determined that VAPD is critical to delivering a cell surface receptor called the Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule, or Dscam, to the neuron’s axis, according to the university.

“VAPB is important for the trafficking of Dscam and potentially other cell surface receptors down axons,” Clemens said in a recent post for Purdue’s Agriculture News (bit.ly/10P3RSC). His findings were published in The Journal of Neuroscience. “This may be the reason why people with mutations of VAPB develop ALS.”

Clemens added that he hopes the discovery in fruit flies will eventually lead to the development of new ways to detect or treat ALS.