Namibia's strange 'fairy circles' resemble skin cells
Friday, April 17, 2015, 7:37 PM - One of 'nature's greatest mysteries' just became a whole lot stranger. For centuries, scientists have been left scratching their heads over Namibia's 'fairy circles' -- round patches of bare earth surrounded by grass that can be as large as 49 feet in diameter. Now, a new study has found a peculiar link between the strange circles and microscopic skin cells.
"It's a completely amazing, strange match,” said Prof. Robert Sinclair, head of the Mathematical Biology Unit at OIST, in a statement.
Scientists around the world have been trying to determine why fairy circles form for years -- and the OIST study could shed some new light on the phenomenon.
While the distribution of desert fairy cells may look random, the new study suggests they have a pattern that mimics the distribution pattern of skin cells.
"A pattern spanning such drastically different size scales -- microscopic skin cells and the desert landscape -- is almost unheard of in nature," OIST says in a statement.
"It is still difficult to say why exactly they are similar, but the fact that they are similar is already very important,” Sinclair adds. “This is suggesting there may be such types of patterns that cover really different size scales.”
The team used a computer to draw lines around satellite images of fairy circles to create "boundaries", not unlike cell walls.
"Other researchers had calculated skin cell neighbors several years ago," OIST says.
"The results were almost identical. Both the majority of fairy circles and majority of cells have six neighbours. But the similarity gets even more specific -- the percentage of fairy circles with four, five, six, seven, eight and nine neighbours is essentially the same as the skin cells."
It's suspected the patterns are similar because skin cells and fairy circles have to compete for space. If the theory holds true, scientists may be able to learn about other unexplained phenomenon simply by analyzing patterns.
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