All posts by Ansel Oommen

Ansel Oommen is a multimedia artist, poet, and science writer with publishing credits in over six countries. A gardening fanatic, he suffers from a prolific green thumb that threatens to turn his house into a raging jungle. Check out Ansel's tremendous portfolio of art here.

Why do worms surface when it rains?

Image: Allan Henderson via flickr
Image: Allan Henderson via flickr

“Why do worms come out onto the street when it rains?
It seems to happen more in the spring but it’s been raining for 24 hours and I haven’t seen any yet…”

While it may be raining cats and dogs, it’s usually the worms that come out to play. A heavy downpour can often trigger a mass exodus of earthworms crawling on our streets, driveways, and yards.

Contrary to popular belief, worms don’t surface to escape drowning. In fact, they can survive under water for several days as long as there is enough oxygen. That’s because earthworms breathe through their skin, unlike us. But if the surroundings get too hot, their skin can dehydrate, putting them at risk of drying out. For this reason, the sun is their biggest threat.

Since their surroundings must be moist, earthworms are generally confined underground. However, the wet, humid conditions of a rainstorm provide the perfect opportunity for mating and travel. Earthworms take this chance to migrate overland and can trek much farther using this route than if they had tunneled through the soil.

Scientists also believe the pitter-patter vibrations caused by raindrops can mimic the vibrations created by moles, a common predator. As a result, worm sightings could be due to an underground evacuation.

But whatever the motive may be, it is clear that earthworms save their big entrance for a rainy day.

Answer by Ansel Oommen

Question from Linda via website

Article by Ansel Oommen

June 17, 2013

Ansel Oommen is a multimedia artist, poet, and science writer with publishing credits in over six countries. A gardening fanatic, he suffers from a prolific green thumb that threatens to turn his house into a raging jungle. Check out Ansel's tremendous portfolio of art here.


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Why don’t plants get sunburnt?

“How do plants avoid DNA damage? Humans burn in the sun and increase their cancer risk but plants expose their leaves with no effect.”

Sun Flower by aresauburn™, on FlickrIt’s no secret that human beings are vulnerable to UV radiation, which is a known cause of skin cancer. But while we cook like a lobster under the sun, plants just seem to shrug it off. That’s because they’re equipped with a special enzyme called photolyase which can repair DNA damage.

On the molecular level, when UV light hits DNA, it causes some of the bonds that hold DNA together to break. These broken bonds can then form incorrect linkages, or ‘dimers’. In turn, these dimers prevent DNA from replicating properly, potentially leading to a genetic mutation.

Plants, however, nip the issue in the bud using an enzyme called photolyase. The enzyme binds to the damaged DNA site and harnesses energy from sunlight to remove the dimers and re-correct the bonds again.

But plants aren’t unique in this feature. In fact, marsupials, birds, fish, amphibians, bacteria, viruses, and yeast all have it. Most mammals on the other hand, including us, lost the ability to make photolyase some 170 million years ago (blame it on our genes).

Answer by Ansel Oommen

Question from @Winbiology via Twitter

You can learn more at

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/insidenova/2010/07/repairing-sun-damaged-dna-with-light.html

Article by Ansel Oommen

June 10, 2013

Ansel Oommen is a multimedia artist, poet, and science writer with publishing credits in over six countries. A gardening fanatic, he suffers from a prolific green thumb that threatens to turn his house into a raging jungle. Check out Ansel's tremendous portfolio of art here.


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