Life Sciences

At least half the time, it seems that when I take on a relatively new topic with every intention of just doing one post about it I somehow end up doing more than one post. I don't know why that is. It just seems to happen. Sometimes, I find something related to but sufficiently different that interests me, sometimes seemingly quite at random. Sometimes someone responds to my post in such a way that I feel obliged to answer. Sometimes, readers make me aware of variations on a theme, so to speak, either in the comments or by e-mailing me links. That's what happened this time. Yesterday I posted…
Magnetite in a fish nasal cell. Image: The Scientist from Herve Cadiou, University of Cambridge In a prior blog, we talked about different animals that are able to sense the Earth's magnetic field. The mystery of how fish, and perhaps other animals, do this may be solved. Animals use the magnetic field like a compass. This is an important skill especially to migratory species who don't have the benefit of Google Maps. It is sort of a built-in GPS system. Dr. Michael Walker from the University of Auckland discovered that brain cells connected to the nasal cavity of fish can be stimulated by…
A lot of animal cams suck. The angle is bad, the lighting is poor, the animal is usually not there, etc. etc. But this puffin cam is actually pretty darn good. When the bird pecks at the camera you want to duck. Check it out. It's from Audubon. Here's some text from the press release: Seal Island, Maine – June 27, 2012 – explore.org, the philanthropic media organization and division of the Annenberg Foundation, is expanding its collection of live HD cameras to bring people into the world of the charismatic and much-revered Atlantic Puffin. Through a multiyear partnership with Audubon,…
This is the last of 16 student posts, guest-authored by Jessica Waters.  Climatologists have been warning us about the ongoing and impending consequences of global warming for years. But the results of climate change affect more than just polar bears and penguins  - if you live anywhere in the northeastern, north-central or west coast states of the U.S.., you could be at a greater risk for contracting Lyme Disease. Lyme disease is an infection of the Borrelia burgdorferi bacterium that is spread through black legged ticks (otherwise known as deer ticks) who feed on the white footed mouse…
This is the thirteenth of 16 student posts, guest-authored by Jessica Ludvik.  One Disease, Many Species Brucellosis, more commonly known as undulant fever in humans or bangs disease in cattle, is one of the oldest bacterial scourges of livestock-producing nations, especially those in which the animals live in close proximity with the human population.  The disease is caused by bacteria of the genus Brucella.  Within this category are many species of bacteria, each almost exclusive to a particular animal species.  A few of the most common seen in veterinary and human medicine today are…
This is the twelfth of 16 student posts, guest-authored by Stanley Corbin. Disease in wildlife is an important concern to the health and safety of humans and domestic animals. The expanding growth of our nation and resultant land use changes with urbanization has resulted in a shrinking habitat and fragmentation for all animals, including humans. The effects of ecological disruption are universally recognized and adversely effects wildlife through multiple mechanisms. Hand it to the coyote (Canis latrans) for its ability to exist with humans. The resilience of this animal can be attributed to…
This is the eighth of 16 student posts, guest-authored by Michelle Formanek.  For many of us in the scientific world, particularly budding infectious disease epidemiologists like myself, the Plague (or, more dramatically, the “Black Death”) is a prime example of the rapid and devastating spread of an infectious disease. So devastating, in fact, that it wiped out nearly one-third of the population in Europe in the mid-1300’s. That’s roughly equal to 25 million people. It then persisted and has caused various outbreaks throughout history, most notably the Great Plague of London in which 1 in 5…
  Image from Scientific American   Great news for cougars: According to a recent study published in The Journal of Wildlife Management, cougars (Puma concolor) are beginning to repopulate the Midwest after an extended absence going back to the early 20th century. Their population declined in the Midwest when prey dwindled and they were being hunted to protect livestock and humans. Visit this website for a timeline of their decline across the Midwest. By the end of the 20th century, the animals were mainly restricted to the Western United States.   Cougar populations actually started to…
This is the second of 16 student posts, guest-authored by Eileen Ball. The beauty of dogs and cats as companions is that we don’t have to raise them to go out into the world and be successful.  As pet parents we can set the household “rules” according to what works for us and get on with enjoying our pets; hopefully for many years.   According 2011-2012 APPA National Pet Owners Survey cats have now surpassed dogs as the most common household pets in the United States.  Despite this fact  the same survey reports that in 2010 only 30% of US veterinary patients were cats.  As a companion animal…
At last! Here is the much delayed Carnival of Evolution 48! I must begin by apologizing for my tardiness, especially since John Wilkins managed to post the last one on time. I was traveling in the 2½ weeks preceding the deadline for CoE, and the combination of spotty internet access, extreme jetlag (British Columbia to Germany to Iceland, where the sun hovered around the horizon all night long, just messed me up), and of course, the incredible distractions of exotic foreign lands, meant that I was disgracefully dilatory in putting it all together. To reward your patience (or punish you…
It's always amusing to see creationists try to explain why Charles Darwin was wrong, especially when they make up lists of reasons "Darwin's theory of evolution does not hold up to scientific scrutiny." These are always people who wouldn't know what scientific scrutiny was if it knocked them immobile with a carefully measured dose of Conus snail toxin, strapped them to an operating table, and pumped high-intensity Science directly into their brains with a laser. As I often wish I could do. Anyway, some ignorant jebus-lover hacked together a list of 10 "mistakes" that Darwin made. Strangely,…
Note: Today's a travel day. I'm driving home from the AACR. As a result, I decided to post something that appeared elsewhere, doing a quick edit to make it a bit more "insolent." I realize that since the show I discuss aired an episode during which he featured a psychic medium in a segment called Medium Vs. Medicine: Char Margolis Shares Afterlife Secrets. I meant to blog it, but somehow I missed my window of opportunity. Oh, well, maybe I still will. Or maybe not. It's too painful, and the window has passed. In the meantime, there's this blast from the recent past. It's not a secret that I…
The emergence of "new" diseases is a complicated issue. "New" diseases often just means "new to biomedical science." Viruses like Ebola and HIV were certainly circulating in Africa in animal reservoirs for decades, and probably millenia, before they came to the attention of physicians via human infections. Hantavirus in the American southwest has likely infected many people, causing pneumonia of unknown origin, before the Four Corners outbreak led to the eventual identification of the Sin Nombre virus. Encroachment of humans into new areas can bring them into contact with novel infectious…
Our initial optimism over Huffpo science being a haven for reason in a den of disease-promotion and quackery appears now to be misplaced. It appears the animal rights cranks have made inroads with Bruce Friedrich, a member of PETA and advocate of animal liberation, who has jumped from Huffpo "green" to Huffpo "science". The science gatekeepers at Huffpo have clearly failed. Writing about "Speciesism: The Movie", he exposes the anti-science ideology of the animal rights movement, and Huffpo science doesn't seem to have noticed: Every now and then, a movie comes along that is capable of…
New research conducted by Dr. Gary Beauchamp from the Monell Chemical Sciences Center in Philadelphia has shown that seven of twelve species of carnivorous mammals tested lack taste receptors for sweets. According to the article, Dr. Beachamp and his colleagues identified mutations in the mammalian taste receptor for sweets (Tas1r2/Tas1r3) in animals from the Pinnipedia order (sea lions, fur seals and Pacific harbor seals), bottlenose dolphins, Asian small-clawed otters, Spotted hyenas, fossa (member of the mongoose family), and cat-like banded linsangs. In contrast, normal sweet receptors…
While I was editing and posting the pictures for last night's family blogging, SteelyKid came in and said "Daddy, we watched [indistinct name] today, and they created their own story on the show. But I don't know how to do that." "Sure you do, honey," I said. "You create stories all the time. You were telling me a story last night, something about bears in a cave. You can create stories if you want to." That cheered her up, and after a little bit of negotiation about who was going to write on what, she created the following story: That's a SpongeBob activity book that she got from I-don't-…
There are quite a few reasons why I blog. After all, to crank out between 500 and 3,000 words a day, with an average of somewhere around 1,500 by my reckoning) takes quite a commitment. One of the main reasons that I do this is to combat the irrationality that permeates the world, and, since I know medicine, I tend to concentrate mostly on medicine, although I certainly do not limit myself to medicine. Still, over the last seven years I've noticed myself writing less and less about other topics and more and more about medicine. It's been quite a while, for instance, since I've written about…
David Klinghoffer is surprised that his Disco. 'tute colleagues managed to get an article published at the Huffington Post. Klinghoffer's colleague must've known this was coming, and HuffPo isn't notorious for refusing essays, so I can't fathom why it was any sort of surprise. Nor is "pleasant" the word that came to mind on reading the essay, or anything coming from Disco. Anyway, Klinghoffer asks us to "Try to Imagine Our Country's Founding if the Founders Had Not Been Advocates of Intelligent Design: The Huffington Post pleasantly surprised us today with an excellent piece on the…
In 1977, NASA sent a pair of unmanned probes named Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 into space. Among the infrared spectrometers and radio receivers included on each probe were identical copies of the same non-scientific object: the Voyager Golden Record. Sheathed in a protective aluminum jacket, the Record is a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images chosen to portray the diversity of life on Earth: bird calls, whale songs, the sounds of surf, wind, and thunder, music from human cultures, and some 55 greetings in a range of languages, alive and dead. Like lonely time capsules,…
Typically when we think of flying things and influenza viruses, the first images that come to mind are wild waterfowl. Waterbirds are reservoirs for an enormous diversity of influenza viruses, and are the ultimate origin of all known flu viruses. In birds, the virus replicates in the intestinal tract, and can be spread to other animals (including humans) via fecal material. However, a new paper expands a chapter on another family of flying animals within the influenza story: bats. I've written previously about the enormous diversity of microbes that bats possess. This shouldn't be…