Somewhere, a little outside Houston, recently existed a massive colony of creatures that astounded scientists with their sheer size and intrigued them with their behavior.
The creatures even engaged freely in "suicidal altruism," in which some would sacrifice themselves for the greater good. (Would that Sean Hannity might see the wisdom in this. Kidding!! Kinda.)
And then, suddenly, the entire colony was gone -- vanished in a flash, never to be seen there again.
Actually, they weren't seen by most humans the first time, since the creatures in question were amoebas.
The New York Times reports this morning about the discovery, announced in the March issue of Molecular Ecology. (Check out the centerfold!! It's really tiny.)
As the Times puts it:
After producing superlatives like the world's biggest statue of a jackrabbit and the nation's most unpopular modern-day president, Texas can now boast what may be its most bizarre and undoubtedly its slimiest topper yet: the world's largest known colony of clonal amoebas.
Scientists found the vast and sticky empire stretching 40 feet across, consisting of billions of genetically identical single-celled individuals, oozing along in the muck of a cow pasture outside Houston.
And how did the Rice scientists find it?
"Joan Strassmann, an author on the paper along with another evolutionary biologist at Rice University, David Queller, said she and a team of undergraduates searched for the species by sticking drinking straws into dirt and cow dung to retrieve materials where the amoebas might be living," the Times reports.
Hey, no one said it was glamorous getting an article into Molecular Biology.
A week after the discovery, a heavy rain washed the colony away. Sic transit gloria and all that.
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Still, scientists are excited about the data, and are doing all kinds of scientific things to it.
You just never know what's growing in Texas muck. Unfortunately, for the most part.