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Biotech Science

Scientists Create Zombie Cockroaches 243

Posted by Zonk
from the almost-as-good-as-'them' dept.
Reservoir Hill writes "Zombie insects might sound like a B-movie plot device (quicktime video) but to the emerald cockroach wasp (Ampulex compressa), they're a tried and tested way to provide food for their hungry larvae. The wasp relies on cockroaches for its grisly life cycle but unlike many venomous predators, which paralyze their victims before eating them, the wasp's sting leaves the cockroach able to walk, but unable to initiate its own movement. Researchers have discovered that the wasps sting the cockroaches once to subdue them, then administer another, more precise sting right into their victim's brain. The venom works to block a neurotransmitter called octopamine with a similar action to dopamine, which is involved in preparations to execute complex behaviors such as walking. Then the wasp grabs the cockroach's antenna and leads it back to the nest 'like a dog on a leash', says one researcher. The team found that they could restore spontaneous walking behavior in stung cockroaches by giving them a compound that reactivates octopamine receptors in the insects' central nervous system. Researchers were also able to create their own zombies by injecting unstung cockroaches with a compound that blocks the receptors producing a similar effect to that of the venom."
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Scientists Create Zombie Cockroaches

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  • Eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fyngyrz (762201) * on Friday November 30, 2007 @05:23AM (#21530021) Homepage Journal

    "Scientists create Zombie Cockroaches"

    Yes, and then we elect them. Wake me up when the system changes.

  • by AlXtreme (223728) on Friday November 30, 2007 @05:28AM (#21530041) Homepage Journal
    Linking a 40MB quicktime movie from Slashdot somehow doesn't seem like a very smart idea...

    For the wasp this looks like a very useful move. Why haul your food when it can walk for you?
  • by jacquesm (154384) <j@ww.3.14159com minus pi> on Friday November 30, 2007 @05:34AM (#21530069) Homepage
    as if humans would ever take the credit for things found in nature...
  • by DaedalusHKX (660194) on Friday November 30, 2007 @05:35AM (#21530073) Journal
    Why rob people (which is a risky business when robbing men and women) when they can raise people as zombies, so they bravely volunteer themselves into servitude via taxation and voting for fixed choices. Top that off with voluntarily putting their young through zombification processes known as "free public schooling" (which isn't free but the zombies don't know that, so don't tell'em.)
  • by Plutonite (999141) on Friday November 30, 2007 @05:37AM (#21530087)
    This is the most awesome thing I've read in some time. In highly complex behaviors like these, I often wonder how the hell the evolutionary development [of the wasp] proceeded in order for the organism to deal with its prey like that. Not just one carefully administered sting, but two, then drags it home as if it knows what it just did. Hot damn.
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Friday November 30, 2007 @05:46AM (#21530139) Journal

    When jocks inject large amounts of toxic liqued into women to get them to loose control over their bodies, that is just guys being guys, but when nerds do it "CALL THE COPS". For the humor impaired, alcohol is far easier to obtain in large doses then insect venom

    I say enough is enough, we have to strike back. Revenge of the nerds!

    Mmm, sounds like a good title for a movie, what is the number for hollywood?

  • by FredDC (1048502) on Friday November 30, 2007 @05:49AM (#21530153)
    The smallest creatures on this planet offer some of the most interesting behavioral patterns to study. I've always been fascinated with bees, ants, ... The solutions that nature has come up with for what appear to be impossible tasks are simply astounding!
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Friday November 30, 2007 @08:27AM (#21530887)
    Right, they usually blame some deity for it.
  • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by One Childish N00b (780549) on Friday November 30, 2007 @08:37AM (#21530965) Homepage
    This should serve once and for all to dispel the myth of a benevolent creator.

    Alright, you've posted with your real account, which has no history of trolling, so either this is a genuine statement or you forgot to hit 'Post Anonymously'.

    I have to ask, at the risk of being modded troll myself... why?

    People have been doing worse things than this to one another for centuries, usually in the name of one God or another, and you are taking the existence of a zombie cockroach as your final proof of a Godless universe? Is there a justification here I'm just not seeing?
  • by E++99 (880734) on Friday November 30, 2007 @10:42AM (#21532235) Homepage

    The evolution is easily explained. Wasps sting and kill cockroaches and lay an egg on the dead roach to provide ready food for their larvae. Some wasps had less potent venom, strong enough to paralyze but taking longer to kill. These roaches would stay alive longer and provide better, less rotten bodies for the larvae. Now you can see the selection mechanism, give it a few million years and a billion generations, you can see behavior that is incredible.

    Perhaps I'm missing something. How can a DNA mutation make the wasp know how to locate the brain and lodge the stinger directly into it? When this change happened, it would have presumably killed the roach if the venom wasn't already a dopamine analogue rather than a toxin. If the roaches were killed after this change, the venom couldn't have been changed by successive steps into a dopamine, as a small change from dead is still dead. If the venom was already a dopamine analogue before the wasp learned to inject into the brain, then how? Dopamine, at least in humans, can't cross the blood-brain barrier, so would only be effective if injected into the brain.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:14AM (#21532661) Journal
    It definitely did not happen in one generation. You could not have a mother wasp that killed and the daughter who carefully drove the roach.

    Let us start with wasps that stung a roach, killed it and laid eggs on the corpse. Some small variation in the gene that made the poison slightly stronger or slightly weaker. If it is so weak the roach took longer to die, the wasp larvae had better food so they were at an advantage. So they dominate and crowd out the wasps making stronger venom. It was probably not even the weakness of the venom, it could be amount of venom, or a tendency to seek larger roaches... anything that changes how long it takes for the roach to die. But if it reaches a stage where the roach was not even paralyzed then those genes lost the race. Thus over a long period, a species of wasp that paralyzed but not killed the roach developed.

    From this species each individual made a slightly different potion of chemicals and the one that reduced the flight instinct of the roach had better survival rate. All it takes is simple differential survival rates and such incredible developments could occur.

    Of course you don't have to believe all this explanation. You could go with a designer God who created a creature so diabolical it trained its young to eat roaches alive. The earlier speculation was that the roaches lost their fight-of-flight instinct. But now it looks like their muscles are paralyzed, but instinct is present in the brain. So the roach is being aware of being eaten alive and probably not even numbed to pain, just it is not able to run away. It makes it even more horrifying. If you want to believe in a God who could be so diabolical and evil, go ahead and believe.

    Direct result of such a micro-managing designer God is that, He designed me to believe in evolution. God is the one who is making me fight the fundies trying to inject religion into the class room. God is responsible for my strenuous opposition to Discovery Institute. You also have to excuse every murderer, rapist, child molester because, it is God who is ultimately responsible for the actions of the human machines He designed.

    After tying yourself into knots trying to find a way out using "Free Will" dogma, you will eventually long for the simplicity of the explanation of "evolution is responsible for this. We can't extrapolate any morality from this roach and wasp".

  • by kalirion (728907) on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:22AM (#21532759)
    It's that mind control step that seems the biggest leap. Are you saying that a single random mutation (or sequence of mutations on the same individual wasp) just happened to give the wasp the right venom for mind control and the instinct to sting a second time and attempt to lead the beast home for dinner? How do you subdivide that into valid evolutionary steps?
  • by oni (41625) on Friday November 30, 2007 @11:54AM (#21533183) Homepage
    How can a DNA mutation make the wasp know how to locate the brain and lodge the stinger directly into it?

    A common tactic among people who don't believe evolution, is to use phrases like "DNA mutation" as if to imply that there was no brain locating behavior, and then a single mutation happens and (like magic) a fully-formed brain locating behavior exists. As if this one wasp named Neo was born and he was their savior. That's a straw man. You're arguing against something that no evolutionary scientist claims.

    What scientists do say is that there is variability in every generation. Wasps don't just sting at random. In their tiny brain, they have the ability to make choices, and they prefer some things over others. Think of it this way: Your favorite flavor of ice cream is in part an inherited trait. If your mom and dad both liked strawberry, then you are more likely to prefer strawberry. There is variability in every generation, so there's a chance you like vanilla. It's not accurate to say, "omfg you have a mutation that makes you like vanilla!" In fact, it's disingenuous to say it that way. It's a straw man argument. It's just variability.

    A wasp likes to sting a roach in a certain place. In part, this is due to the fact that its parents had the same peference. Eons ago, the wasp's sting was powerful enough to kill a roach. Any location preference was ok - but, any wasps that preferred an area near the brain killed the roach more quickly, were more efficient (killed more roaches), and had less chance of getting injured as the roach thrashed around. As a result, those wasps left more offspring. Even today, there is variability. In every generation (millions of wasps) a few are born that prefer to sting the roach on its ass. Today, those wasps don't leave any offspring.

You can't have everything... where would you put it? -- Steven Wright