garnet tunnels
August 9, 2018 5:53 AM   Subscribe

Something Digs Intricate Tunnels in Garnets. Is It Alive? "Furthermore, the tunnels branch and connect with each other in a very unusual pattern, looking a bit like the structures made by some kinds of single-celled fungus colonies. "
posted by dhruva (21 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fungus? Don't be ridiculous. Everyone knows garnets are made of love.
posted by duffell at 6:33 AM on August 9 [14 favorites]


Teeny, teeny, teeny, tiny horta?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:44 AM on August 9 [21 favorites]


Wasn't there a Star Trek TOS episode about this?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:45 AM on August 9


Wasn't there a Star Trek TOS episode about this?

Yea, it was some sludgy monster that wasn't carbon based, at least as far as I remember, that was killing miners on a fuel-crystal mining planet. Spock or Kirk, can't remember which, figured out it was just protecting eggs and that it was a unique life form and arranged some sort of solution where it wasn't destroyed. Pretty good episode I think.

Yea, yea, so what, I recently watched TOS and TNG in order. Got tripped up after that but had intentions to watch all the other series in order as well but lost interest. Maybe the new Picard-bearing series will pull me back in...
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:22 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I read the Broken Earth trilogy recently and this garnet-eating is making me surprisingly uncomfortable.
posted by trig at 7:32 AM on August 9 [12 favorites]


There's no carbon in garnets for anything to eat, but a phys.org piece says these garnets came from iron-poor sediments in Thailand, so presumably the fungi were mining the garnets for iron.

But those tunnels are a lot more than a single cell deep, and don't seem to have the random walk lumpiness I'd expect from a single cell eating its way through a substrate, but if it was a filament of single cells, that would imply a lot of cooperation between the cells of the filament as well as cells at the surface, because carbon originating at the surface would have to be passed from cell to cell down to the growing tip, and iron would have to be passed from cell to cell back up to the surface.
posted by jamjam at 7:37 AM on August 9 [5 favorites]


Yea, it was some sludgy monster that wasn't carbon based, at least as far as I remember, that was killing miners on a fuel-crystal mining planet. Spock or Kirk, can't remember which, figured out it was just protecting eggs and that it was a unique life form and arranged some sort of solution where it wasn't destroyed. Pretty good episode I think.

At least some of TNG includes adaptations of TOS scripts. TNG "Home Soil" has many of the same ideas and plot beats as TOS "The Devil in the Dark." How to tell the difference?

The Devil in the Dark: "Paaaaaaaain!" or "I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer."
Home Soil: "Ugly bags of mostly water!"
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 7:45 AM on August 9 [5 favorites]


that would imply a lot of cooperation between the cells of the filament

Yesssssss: one vast, worldgirding microscopic network of unspeakable tunnelling ablife, a single biomass coordinated in its burrowing since the morning of time, working away eternally at a scale far beneath the threshold of human perception — burrowing then and burrowing still.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:46 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl. - Lovecraft, The Festival.
posted by SPrintF at 7:53 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


But those tunnels are a lot more than a single cell deep, and don't seem to have the random walk lumpiness I'd expect from a single cell eating its way through a substrate, but if it was a filament of single cells, that would imply a lot of cooperation between the cells of the filament as well as cells at the surface, because carbon originating at the surface would have to be passed from cell to cell down to the growing tip, and iron would have to be passed from cell to cell back up to the surface.

That depends a lot on the morphology of both the substrate and the organism in question. There's one bacteria, I can't remember the species name, that produces long curved filaments like cirrus clouds because it preferentially divides end-to-end rather than branching. Some wood-digesting fungi will follow grain patterns because that's where the preferred food sources are. So it wouldn't be a surprise if the filaments followed geometric patterns on a crystal substrate.

Passing nutrients (and other stuff) along filaments is what fungi do. Many species have porous cell walls to facilitate that. It's a really simple feature of colonial and multicellular life that appears to have independently evolved multiple times.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 8:23 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


This is so beautiful, now I want a tunneled garnet! (I really hope it is a fungus doing it!)

It reminds me of that one time in a fancy rock shop when I saw a piece of banded iron and wept with emotion -- just seeing those pulses laid down at the dawn of oceanic photosynthesis.
posted by heatherlogan at 8:30 AM on August 9 [26 favorites]


I saw a piece of banded iron and wept with emotion -- just seeing those pulses laid down at the dawn of oceanic photosynthesis.

Snif. I am among my people.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:37 AM on August 9 [17 favorites]


I am among my people.

There are fungus amongus.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:08 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


It's Alf, of course.
posted by scruss at 10:44 AM on August 9


So... is the next James Bond villain or Dr. Evil in an Austin Powers sequel going to hold the global garnet industry hostage with this?
posted by XMLicious at 11:32 AM on August 9


Yea, it was some sludgy monster that wasn't carbon based, at least as far as I remember, that was killing miners on a fuel-crystal mining planet. Spock or Kirk, can't remember which, figured out it was just protecting eggs and that it was a unique life form and arranged some sort of solution where it wasn't destroyed. Pretty good episode I think.

The backstory is actually rather offputting: the Enterprise is there as a jackboot of industry when sabotage delayed (and then jeopardized) a mining operation. Spock mind-melded with the Horta and Bones whipped up some hotpatch ("I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer") to fix where they'd blasted a phaser hole in it. Once there was a meeting of the minds everything was hunky-dory and the newly hatched helped in the mineral exploitation.

That episode provided the name for a rather notorious local Trek-inspired punk band, the No Kill I. They were great, but no Stovokor.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:25 PM on August 9


Get that Vulcan an aspirin. And if there's not a band called the Reverend Horta Heat, there should be.

This is a marvellous mystery. So many of those lines seem to be basically parallel, then curving off, or intersecting bunches of parallel lines on a different alignment. A quick look around shows that garnets have a lot of this sort of thing (The Origin and Significance of Snowball
Structure in Garnet
pdf), and I'm reminded why I wanted to be a mineralogist at certain points.

Those aren't fungal burrows. They're rabbit holes.
posted by Devonian at 1:58 PM on August 9


I am interested in the experiment they propose. I worry that getting a good answer might involve watching for a Very Long Time. How good are the sample archival practices of people in ... whatever field lives at the intersection of microbiology and mineralogy? Is an experiment practical if it might take decades? Or is my guess about the time course of this super off base?
posted by eirias at 2:46 PM on August 9


There is nothing in the original article that says anything about "single-celled fungi".
posted by acrasis at 3:58 PM on August 9


Biological processes prefer 12C, which could be a smoking gun if there's significant carbon in these tracks. Assuming that you can recover organic molecules from these tracks, you might be able to distinguish a biological origin by chirality. The hypothesis would be a lot more likely if we knew about other lithotropes with the necessary metabolism. But not really my field anymore so take that with a grain of sillicate.
posted by GenderNullPointerException at 4:02 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


When the researchers cracked the garnets open, they tested the insides of the tunnels and found signs of fatty acids and other lipids. . .
It took a while to get to the part that makes this seem like something other than wild speculation. (My initial reaction was, "yeah, and I've seen very pure and thoroughly dead thin-film crystals grow 3D structures that look suspiciously like cauliflower after twenty minutes on a hot plate.") But, there's a lot more to this idea. Neat!

Also, it's worth looking at the paper if only for the much larger collection of microscope images. These things are huge, by the standards of even optical microscopy, and they really are tubes! Very cool.

Someone with more time, artistic talent, and ambition than me should start buying these up and marketing cut versions as specialty jewelry in the same shops where they sell meteorite rings and fossil necklaces.
posted by eotvos at 7:20 PM on August 9 [2 favorites]


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