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培养一万只蜘蛛做什么?

更新时间:2017/10/17 10:32:21 来源:本站原创 作者:佚名

The room that's home to 10000 spiders
培养一万只蜘蛛做什么?

“I suppose it’s quite a lot of spiders…” Alistair McGregor says casually, rotating his hand to catch a plump, leggy female who is making a bid for freedom. “We can never have too many though – they eat each other.”

"我想,这儿的蜘蛛非常多…"阿利斯泰尔·麦格雷戈(Alistair McGregor)不经意地说,一边转过手去抓住一位试图挣脱他的体格丰满、腿部修长的女士。"不过,我们永远不可能会有太多的蜘蛛,因为它们会相互残食同类。"

We’re standing in the spider room at his lab in Oxford, home to 10,000 American house spiders and a menagerie of other disturbing animals, from centipedes to tarantulas. The air is deliberately musty, to emulate the dark corners they like to lurk in, and the walls are laden with shelves upholding row upon row of glass jars, tanks and petri dishes.

我们站在他的牛津大学实验室蜘蛛培育房里,这儿培育着1万余只美洲家蛛和一群从蜈蚣到狼蛛的其它躁动不安的动物,为模拟这些生物喜欢偷偷潜入的阴暗角落,室内空气被有意弄成霉臭味,墙边布满了书架,书架上摆放着成排的玻璃罐、容器、和培养皿。

“Sometimes the crickets escape and we can hear them singing in the corridor,” McGregor chuckles – then quickly follows that they’ve never had a spider on the loose. (His students later tell me that this happens regularly.)

"有时候,蟋蟀会跑出来,我们可以在楼道里听到他们的叫声,"麦格雷戈嘿嘿一笑,马上补充说从未有蜘蛛逃逸。(不过,他的学生后来告诉我,蜘蛛逃逸也是常事)

The room is fronted by an appropriately heavy-duty door, like the hatch of a submarine. Being old, sometimes it gets stuck and his students then get trapped inside.

实验室的房门相当笨重,有点儿像潜水艇的舱口。门已经老旧,有时候会卡住,他的学生就会被困在里面。

Keeping one eye on the exit, I pick up a jar and look inside. A single spider is reclining on a silvery mat of silk. Eight gangly legs poke out from under her perfectly rounded globe of a body; it’s so unwieldly, it looks more like a marble that has rolled over and crushed her. “They usually have a male in there too, but she must have got to him already,” says McGregor.

留心着实验室的出口,我拿起了一个罐子,往里看。一只蜘蛛正躺在银色的丝网上,它的八只长腿从圆滚滚的躯干下伸出来。它很笨重,看起来更像是被一块大理石压在身上。"通常,也会有一只雄性蜘蛛在里面,不过,她肯定已经吃了他,"麦格雷戈说。

Some spiders can use their hairs to listen in on you from across the room. Others can camouflage their bodies to look exactly like a leaf. At least 18 kinds can swim and catch fish, while the brown recluse spider boasts potent, flesh-rotting venom (and a penchant for hiding in bedsheets and shoes).

有些蜘蛛能通过它们的绒毛辨听人们进入室内的动静。有些会将身体掩饰成一片树叶,非常像。至少有18种蜘蛛会游泳捕食鱼类,而褐皮花蛛则拥有能够分解肉体的强大毒液(而且还喜欢躲藏在床单下和鞋子里)。

But the only talent McGregor’s arachnids, Parasteatoda tepidariorum, have is for producing inelegant, three dimensional webs. “They evolved more recently than the ones that produce symmetric webs,” he explains, as though this somehow excuses them. Instead they produce the creepy wisps of silk that hang over chandeliers in horror movies.

麦格雷戈的温室希蛛(Parasteatodatepidariorum)拥有的唯一一项技能是编织外形难看的立体蛛网。"与那些编织对称形蛛网的蜘蛛相比,温室希蛛进化的要更晚一些,"他解释说,好像这在一定程度上能成为它们的借口。恐怖片中从吊灯上垂下来的那种令人毛骨悚然的丝线就是温室希蛛的作品。

Nevertheless, they are not to be underestimated. The most frequently encountered spider in North America is surprisingly effective at snaring insects, and individuals are regularly seen dragging pieces of debris into their webs to hide behind. When they sense a catch, they throw more silk over their victim and draw it up into their mouths. Then they drain its body fluids, leaving an empty husk of a body behind.

虽然如此,它们却不宜被低估。这种北美地区最常见的蜘蛛可是捕食昆虫的高手,人们时常可以看到单只家蛛拖着猎物的残骸往它们的网内拽,然后藏起来。当发现有猎物可捕食,它们会向受害者吐出更多的丝,通过这些丝将猎物拽到嘴里。然后,它们会吸干猎物的体液,仅留下一个空壳。

But McGregor’s spiders aren’t just here to scare journalists. In recent years, scientists have been moving away from a long-established reliance on the stars of medical research, such as fruit flies and mice, to embrace a new range of bizarre creatures, including near-invincible microscopic animals and fish which can hunt on land.

不过,麦格雷戈的蜘蛛可不是摆放在这儿吓唬记者用的。近年来,科学家们开始寻求摆脱长期以来对某几种医学研究用动物"明星"的依赖,例如果蝇和老鼠。转而开始用一些新奇生物做研究,包括那些几乎天下无敌的微生物,以及可以在陆上捕食的鱼。

Spiders may soon be part of this trend too. In fact, they’re ideal research subjects, for two reasons. The first is that they share a genetic secret with humans.

也许,不久蜘蛛也会成为医学研究课题。事实上,蜘蛛是理想的研究对像。原因有二。其一,蜘蛛与人类共享一个基因秘密。

Though we’re separated by upwards of 800 million years of evolution and they don’t even have a proper heartbeat, spiders and humans are remarkably similar. We already know that, for example, spiders use the exact same gene as us, Pax-6, to make their four pairs of beady eyes. Take this ancient gene from a human and replace it with the spider version, and the real-life spider man you’ve created will grow normal, human eyes.

尽管人类的进化与蜘蛛的进化相差达8亿年之久,蜘蛛甚至没有正常的心跳,但令人吃惊的是,蜘蛛却有着与人类很大的相似性。比如,我们早已知道,蜘蛛通过与人类完全一样的基因Pax-6形成它们的四双圆眼睛。从人体上取出这种古老的基因,替换成蜘蛛的基因,人们创造的现实版蜘蛛人就会长出正常的人类眼睛。

Of course, many animals, from cats (90% of genes in common) to cows (80% of genes in common) are much more ‘human’.

当然,很多动物,如老鼠(90%的基因与人类相同)和牛(80%的基因与人类相同),要更加"人类化"。

There’s one way spiders have a pressing advantage, however. Way back in their evolutionary history, an ancient spider accidentally made babies which had two full sets of genetic instructions, instead of one. This is a big deal. It happens all the time in plants, but it’s only known to have happened five times in the entire history of the animal kingdom. And two of these occurred in the ancestors of all vertebrates, including humans.

但是,蜘蛛有一项绝对的优势。回溯它们的进化史,一只远古蜘蛛偶然生出了拥有两整套基因指令的小蜘蛛,而不是只有一套基因指令。这可是件大事。植物界无时无刻不在发生着这种事,可是,这种事情在动物界的整个进化史中总共只发生了五次。其中,两次发生在脊椎动物的远祖身上,包括人类。

On the face of it, having an extra copy of every gene sounds like a really, really bad idea. After all, Down’s syndrome is caused by a single extra chromosome. But they are actually a major driving force in evolution. While the first copy must carry on with its original function, the second copy is freed up to take on a new role. In the early ancestors of vertebrates, they’re thought to have helped to turn soft tissues, such as cartilage, to bone.

表面上看,多出一整套备份的基因似乎是件非常非常糟糕的事。毕竟,唐氏综合症(Down's syndrome)就是由多出的一个染色体造成的。不过,这却是进化的一个重要驱动力。在第一套继续保持其原有功能时,第二套备份基因却获得了自由,可以扮演新的角色。正是这一套备份基因,帮助脊椎动物的早期先祖将软骨类软组织演变成了骨骼。

By studying spiders, McGregor’s team is getting to grips with the consequences of these rare events more generally. Which brings us to the second reason they’re so useful. Many of these bonus genes play an important role in early development; to study their function, the scientists need embryos.

通过研究蜘蛛,麦格雷戈的团队更多地了解了这类罕见事件的后果。这就引出了蜘蛛重要的第二个原因。很多这类多余基因在早期发展中发挥着重要作用。要研究它们的作用,科学家需要胚胎。

Here, spiders can’t be beaten. Arachnophobes may wish to skip this next paragraph, unless they’d like to know that a single female house spider can produce up to 400 eggs every five days. They’re perfectly translucent, allowing scientists to watch the development of the embryos inside without killing them.

你知道,蜘蛛是无敌的。蜘蛛恐惧症患者可能希望略过下一段,除非他们想知道一只雌性蜘蛛每五天就能够生产400只蛛卵。这些卵非常透明,科学家可以不用杀死它们就能够观察胚胎的发育过程。

To make sure he has a constant supply, McGregor’s lab is basically a breeding program for spiders. It all starts with a silken cocoon, which is woven by an expectant mother in the early hours of the morning. The eggs are fertilised as they’re laid (unlike in some spiders, which fertilise their eggs in the ovaries), so each one is at the exact same developmental stage – very useful if you’re a scientist.

为了保证供应的可持续,麦格雷戈的实验室基本上是从事蜘蛛的饲养。一开始,只是一只待产的母蜘蛛在凌晨时分编织起来的丝茧,卵是在产下时授的精(不同与其它在卵巢里授精的蜘蛛),因此,每一个卵的发育阶段完全一样,这一点对科学家非常有用。

Each cocoon is given its own petri dish and left to develop for 10 days. When they first emerge, baby spiderlings are immobile, hairless and translucent, except for a dash of red in their eyes.

每一只卵茧都有自己的培养皿,它们在要里面发育10天。刚出来时,幼体蜘蛛不会动,身上没有毛而且透明,只是眼里有一丝红色。

But within a few days, they already resemble their terrifying parents. The petri dish becomes a wriggling, fuzzy mass as they begin to move around, produce silk, and cannibalise their siblings.

但是,几天后,它们就会长得和它们的阴森可怖的父母一样。这些幼蛛开始四处爬行、吐丝并吃掉自己的兄弟姐妹,培养皿随之变成了毛茸茸、爬行的一团。

This is where it gets a bit tricky. It’s great that they snack on each other, because they don’t need to be fed. However, left to their own devices, eventually each dish would boil down to one very fat spider. Instead a few lucky survivors are separated out into their own private quarters.

从这时起,它开始变得狡猾机警。它们相互以对方为食,不过,这很好,人们无需喂食。作为这种生存机制的结果,每一个器皿最终都只会剩下一只非常肥胖的蜘蛛。其中,为数不多的幸存者会被分开,各自生存在自己的区域。

From then onwards they’re fed on a banquet of flies – conveniently, the other half of McGregor’s lab studies fruit flies – and crickets supplied by pet shops. Eventually, after several rounds of growth and shedding their hard, outer shells, they’re about 9mm long and ready to mate.

从那以后,它们会开始以苍蝇和蟋蟀为食。苍蝇很方便,麦格雷戈的实验室另一半就研究果蝇,蟋蟀则来自宠物店。慢慢地,经过几轮生长、脱掉坚硬的外壳后,它们就会有9厘米长,并且开始交配。

My host looks contemplatively at a vial of spiders. “I’m just wondering, are they mating, or is she about to eat him?” he says. In the wild, suitors tend to run away afterwards (in contrast to male red widow spiders, which force-feed themselves to their girlfriends by repeatedly placing themselves into their mandibles), but in such close confines, it rarely ends well for them. Luckily, most spiders only need to mate once.

我的主人在认真观察一个装有蜘蛛的小瓶子。"我就在想,它们是在交配呢,还是她将吃掉他?"麦格雷戈说。在野外,求欢者常常会在交配后逃走(红色雄性寡妇蛛则不同,它们会反复将自己送到女友的嘴里,强迫女友吃掉自己)。但是,在这样一个封闭的空间里,它们很难幸存。幸运的是,大多数蜘蛛只需要交配一次。

Today McGregor’s entire brood is descended from just 10-20 individuals collected from Göttingen, Germany. “When scientists speak at conferences, they tend to show slides of where they collected their animals – usually beautiful islands and beaches,” he said. “We collected ours from a student’s basement.”

今天,麦格雷戈养的这一窝是10至20只从德国哥廷根(Göttingen)采集来的蜘蛛的后裔。"科学家们在作报告时,喜欢用幻灯片展示他们采集动物的地方,通常都是美丽的岛屿和海滩,"他说,"我们则是从一个学生的地下室里采集来的。"

Though spider research is barely more than a decade old, it’s already led to some fascinating insights into so-called “gene duplication”. One example is kneecaps.

虽然蜘蛛研究才不到十年,但对所谓的"基因复制"的研究已经取得可喜的进步。其中一个例子就是膝盖骨。

To begin with, a group of scientists based at Georg-August-University in Göttingen wanted to know why some spiders have relatively short legs, while others have the blood-curdling, spindly kind. They turned to a gene which would surely hold the answer: the Dachshund gene, which is named after the stumpy-legged Dachshund dog.

乔治-奥古斯都-哥廷根大学(Georg-August-University of Göttingen) 的一组科学家想弄明白,为什么有些蜘蛛腿比较短,而有些蜘蛛则有着令人毛骨悚然的细长腿。他们从基因中找到了答案:达克斯猎狗基因(Dachshund gene)。这种基因取名于腿粗短的达克斯猎狗。

The scientists compared two common house guests, American house spiders and the aptly-named daddy long-legs – which gives spiderphobes across the globe the shivers thanks to its extravagantly long limbs. They looked for differences in the gene – but they didn’t find any.

科学家们对比了两组常见的家蛛,美洲家蛛和长脚蜘蛛。长脚蜘蛛的名字非常形象,它有着极其夸张的令全球蜘蛛恐惧症患者心惊胆颤的长腿。科学家们试图从基因中找到差异,但是,什么也没有发现。

Instead, lo and behold, both spiders had an extra copy. To find out what the gene was up to, the scientists turned it off in the American house spider embryos. The mutant spiders were born with their knees fused to their legs, in one single segment – they didn’t have any kneecaps. The structures that allow spiders to scuttle across the bathroom floor, or delicately pick their way across a sticky web, evolved thanks to a big evolutionary mistake.

相反,让人吃惊的是,两种蜘蛛都有着一个多余的基因。为了弄明白这种基因的作用,科学家们从美洲家蜘蛛胚胎中取出了它。那些变异蜘蛛的膝盖已与腿融合,成为腿的一部分,它们已经没有膝盖骨。那种使得蜘蛛能够穿越浴室地板或灵巧地在黏糊糊的蛛网中爬行的肢体结构,正是得益于一个重要的进化错误。

And there have been other breakthroughs. In the last few years, spider research has provided clues to conditions as diverse as heart disease and ageing, while proteins found in their venom may one day treat brain damage, muscular dystrophy, and even impotence.

此外,还在其它方面取得了突破。过去几年间,对蜘蛛的研究还提供了心脏病和人体老化等一系列问题的线索。而在蜘蛛毒液中发现的蛋白质兴许有一天能够帮助人们治疗脑损伤、肌肉萎缩甚至阳萎。

I’d like to say I’ll never look at their hairy bodies, eight eyes and fangs the same way…. but, no, I’m sorry. They’re still creepy.

(了解这么多关于蜘蛛的科学知识之后)我很想说我对他们会另眼相看……但真的不行,对不起,蜘蛛怎么看就是阴森可怖。

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