Monday, 12 October 2009

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Johnald's Fantastical Daily Link Splurge

Kinder, Gentler Spider Eats Veggies, Cares for Kids

Posted: 12 Oct 2009 10:47 AM PDT


Each of the world's 40,000 spider species survives by hunting and killing — except, that is, for Bagheera kiplingi, the world's first vegetarian arachnid

Found in Central America, the order-defying jumping spider eats nutrient-rich structures called Beltian bodies, which are found on the tips of Acacia trees. Trees produce the bodies to feed ants that defend them, which is a textbook example of what's called co-evolutionary mutalism, and one that B. kiplingi has evolved to exploit.

In a paper published Monday in Current Biology, researchers describe the spider's ant-evading habits and provide a molecular analysis of its body composition, proving that B. kiplingi is indeed what it eats: plants, with a few larval ants on the side. (After all, 400 million years of evolutionary habits die hard.)

A few other spiders have been documented consuming nectar, but only as a snack. No other spider is so predominantly vegetarian. And that's not all: It looks like B. kiplingi males help care for eggs and young — something entirely unprecedented in the spider world.

The researchers are now studying whether there's a link between B. kiplingi's predilection for plants and parental concern. Maybe going veggie softened its heart.

Image: Current Biology

See Also:

Citation: "Herbivory in a spider through exploitation of an ant-plant mutualism." By Christopher J. Meehan, Eric J. Olson, Matthew W. Reudink, T. Kurt Kyser, and Robert L. Curry. Current Biology, Vol. 19, Issue 19, October 13, 2009.

Brandon Keim's Twitter stream and reportorial outtakes; Wired Science on Twitter. Brandon is currently working on a book about ecosystem and planetary tipping points.

Photonic Six Pack Provides Better Quantum Communication

Posted: 12 Oct 2009 09:10 AM PDT


To send a quantum message, it helps to have a photon six-pack.

When bound together by a process called quantum entanglement, a set of six photons can withstand the hard knocks that ordinarily would erase quantum information, researchers have shown.


Papers describing the new experiment appear in the Oct. 9 Physical Review Letters and the October Physical Review A.

"This is an exciting landmark in experimental capabilities," comments physicist Aephraim Steinberg of the University of Toronto, who was not involved in the work. Creating the six-photon entanglement is an impressive technical achievement, he says. "This is the first demonstration of such large entangled states" with high quality.

Quantum communication offers an absolutely secure way to send secret messages, such as encoded military secrets or financial transactions. But quantum information is fragile, quickly destroyed by even slight interactions with the environment.

While a conventional bit of information can have only one value, 0 or 1, a quantum bit, or qubit, exists as a combination of 0 and 1 simultaneously. A qubit stays in this undecided state until something, whether a stray atom or a scientist trying to measure its properties, interacts with it, forcing it into a single state. This collapse of possibilities, known as quantum decoherence, can be detected farther down the line to catch eavesdroppers. But it can also keep qubits from reaching their destination intact.

Fortunately, theorists have shown that some quantum-mechanical systems are immune to certain interactions. One of these resilient systems is a set of four or more photons that are intimately bound, or entangled, a property of quantum systems that links particles' fates even when they are separated by large distances.

Delicate quantum bits find safety in numbers. The more photons are entangled, the more data can be encoded and transmitted reliably. Four photons can encode one robust qubit of information, and six photons can encode two, theorists have calculated.

Now, a team of physicists led by Magnus R├ądmark of Stockholm University has experimentally demonstrated a set of six entangled photons that can fly down flawed, noisy fiber-optic cables and emerge unscathed.

"You'll get exactly the same state out as you sent in, even if the fiber is being stressed and the temperature is changing, and all of the environmental factors that would normally make it a no-go," Steinberg says.

The key to preserving the state is to make sure all six photons are altered in exactly the same way. Temperature changes around the fiber-optic cable can alter the way it bends light, which in turn can rotate photons unpredictably. But if the photons travel in a close pack, they will all feel the same twists and bends.

"If I take all six photons and rotate them in the same way, I will get exactly the same state I started with," says Mohamed Bourennane of Stockholm University, a coauthor on the papers. "It's like nothing has happened."

As a bonus, this property means that the sender and receiver don't need to agree on which way is up. Changing the reference frame is just another rotation, the same kind of noise the photons ignored in the fiber.

The photon sextet could also be useful in quantum computing, which could in principle manipulate entangled qubits to solve certain problems that are impossibly difficult for conventional computers.