Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Science of Aging

Since the beginning of time man has searched for the secret to immortality, so naturally modern day science has also joined in the cause. This ongoing quest for an elixir to life is discussed in "The genetics of Ageing" in Nature Magazine's most recent edition. Aging has been seen for a long time as simply the process of deterioration. It's previously been found that telomere maintenance is what determines the length of human lifespan and is the cause of rapid aging diseases like Dyskeratosis congenita or progeria. This sort of research was thought to hold the key to longer life, which may be partially true, but recent research has found evidence that other genetic factors may play an important role. The problem with lengthening telomeres is that mutant mice with enhance telomere length need to also be engineered as cancer resistant to survive as long as their telomere potential. Certain signaling pathways and transcription factors have been identified in small, comparatively short-lived organisms like yeast, worms, flies and mice. These types of life lengthening factors offer a new approach to immortality.

Most would think that this type of prolonging life would just eventually lead to humans suffering from late on-set diseases like Alzheimers for a longer time. Contrary to this belief scientists have found that these types of condition can also be combated by techniques to prolong life. Insulin and insulin like growth factors have been found to signal pathways that lead to aging. If these growth factors are inhibited, not completely deleted, it has been shown to increase the lifespan of mice, flies and worms. These insulin growth factors being knocked out in humans however is what can cause type 2 diabetes. Transcription factors and kinases such as AMP kinase and kinase targeting of rapamycin. The research is extensive and extremely complicated, as might be expected of discoveries involving the cure to aging. In general though scientists have found that certain factors like dietary restriction, heat and oxidative stress, reproductive signals, reduction of respiratory rates and chemo/thermosensory signals.

As opposed to completely genetically altering organisms or lengthening their telomeres in an invasive way scientists now look to maintain these telomeres and slow down other aging effects using mechanisms already in place in the body. By slightly altering a few genes scientists may one day be able to take advantage of the homeostatic pathways of humans to help them help themselves. These pathways are the cause of all aging we know today, wrinkling, muscle distrophy, loss of memory, tissue death and system failure. All of these could be stopped if the interacting pathways that control them are changed. Not only could we be living longer, but we could stay young for a long time, imagine going on a dinner date with a 50 year old who looks like they are 25. The potential for this type of research is really exciting and could open so many doors not only for prolonging lifespans of humans, but actually improving on the heath and wellness of these humans as well. Many genes and transcription factors are involved in the process of aging and much work has yet to be done, but one day hopefully we can unlock the key to improving and lengthening our lives.

-Tom Roper

The Science Behind Hyneas' Laughter

Pretty much everyone has seen the Disney movie, The Lion King,Hyenas where the animals that lived in the graveyard were always laughing about something. Hyenas are known for their constant giggling but could it actually have a significance? Research has shown that there is actually a system behind these constant giggles.

Frédéric Theunissen, from the University of California at Berkeley, USA, and Nicolas Mathevon, from the Université Jean Monnet, St. Etienne, France lead a research team at a Berkley field station where they observed the behavior of Hyenas. Science Daily quotes one of the researchers Theunissen,"The hyena's laugh gives receivers cues to assess the social rank of the emitting individual. This may allow hyenas to establish feeding rights and organize their food-gathering activities." Here he describes that the laughter may actually have social meaning.

One thing they found is that the pitch of the laughter describes the age of that hyena. Aside from the actual pitches of the laughter, the spacing between each noise can tell what the social status is of that particular hyena. These qualities can be important when interacting with other hyenas especially when it involves food. When a group of hyenas are competing for a particular food source revealing that they are older and of higher priority could help then win the fight for the food.This laughter can be started by an individual out of purely expressing their emotions. Theunissen and his team believe that groups of hyenas interact using these signals and can choose whether or not to join the group.

I'l admit I'm not one to jump on the opportunity of studying animals but, I find the animal behavior of these animals very interesting. It is amazing how just a "laughter" to us can mean so much in the animal world.I'm now wondering how many other species have communication systems like this?

-Valerie Silva-


Water For All?

Whenever I want or need water I know I can get it. All I have to do is turn on the faucet or go to the store. However, for billions of people in other countries, getting water isn’t that simple. Not only is it hard to get water in these other countries, but it is also difficult to get clean water. To solve this problem, countries around the world met to make a declaration for making water a human right, meaning that water should be made safe, affordable, and accessible to everyone. However, countries like the Unites States, Canada, and Russia refused to accept this declaration.

Some people wanted this declaration accepted because it could save a lot of people’s lives. Having clean water would reduce diseases caused by water-borne infections, which kill millions every year. Most of these people that die from these infections are young children. Those who wanted the declaration also said it would be beneficial to the whole world. This is because every country is not safe from climate changes, pollution, and population growth, and thus will someday have water problems because each of those changes could affect water. This is actually being true for the United States who is experiencing its greatest water shortages of all time.

I personally believe we should make a declaration for water being a human right. It would be hard for me to refuse someone clean water or water period even if I only had a little of it just like it would be hard to refuse someone food if they were hungry. I was thinking about why the United States would refuse such a declaration. If it is because they are currently feeling there is not enough water to go around, then I could understand. But if it is because of other reasons such as not making water a human right because it would put bottled water business out of business then I can’t understand. I think trying to make money from bottled water business then helping to save lives is wrong. You can read this article on ScienceDaily

Posted by Kayla Perry

Pacemaker in Stomach Helps Against Vomiting

Science and Technology is growing and expanding,I hear a lot about pacemakers and I know they help taking care of certain heart condition, but I am just realizing pacemakers goes beyond treating heart conditions. New studies shows electrical stimulation from pacemaker leads to reduced nausea and fewer days in hospital. Severe nausea and vomiting known as Gastroparesis occurs when the stomach empties very slowly without the evidence of blokage, mostly seen in gastric surgeries or diabetes.

According to the article on ScienceDaily (Mar. 31, 2010) stimulation somehow acts on the brain's center for nausea and vomiting by activating the neural pathways running from the stomach to the brain, (Andersson 2010). When 27 patients were included in a study testing electrical stimulation of the stomach. 22 had fewer symptoms as a result of initial temporary stimulation, and 20 of these then had a permanent pacemaker surgically inserted into the stomach. 90% Of the patients who responded well to temporary stimulation, with good results in a long term follow up of surgically inserted pacemaker. We have come a long with science and technology I think this is great news for people who suffer from gastroparesis especially people with advanced stages of diabetes.

Posted by Anna Moreno

When is Mate Choice Permanent in Tungara Frogs

A group out of the University of Texas, Austin, tested some variables that go into the female mate selection of Tungara frogs. Males of this species can often be heard using dynamic signaling to call females from quite a distance a way. The males have two somewhat distinct calls. The more preferable whine chuck sounds like a higher pitched whine followed by a sharp chuck or series of chucks and the less preferable monotonous whine. Previous research had been done on which method of calling was the most preferential so this group, continued on this path testing timing and volume of these signals.

The group wanted to test at which point a female mate choice was permanent. Using over 350 female frogs the researchers set up a stable testing environment. A football field like arena was set up approximately 2 meters in width and 3 meters in length. At either end of the arena there were target speakers that would play the whine or the whine chuck simultaneously. In the middle was a circular area called the release point where the females being tested were held under a small, perforated cone. “Switch boundaries” (equivalent to yard lines on a football field) were drawn at 60cm, 75cm, and 100 cm.

The experiments were run in a very controlled fashion to reduce errors in observations. In the control, the on speaker played the whine chuck while the other played the whine. The females were individually put in the center of the arena and held under the cone for 3 minutes while the male signaling was played. Once the 3 minutes were up the cone was release, the speakers continued to play and the female was drawn to one of the mate calling speakers. All 373 females were tested in the control and in all 373 control tests the female chose the whine-chuck speaker. This told the researchers that not only was the whine-chuck call the more preferable one, but that the females would actually travel to the speakers 100% of the time.

In the next 19 experimental procedures the Researchers manipulated the speakers volume, and switched the signaling calls once the females reached one of the switch boundaries. For example, in Experiment 1 once the female was released and reached the 75cm boundary of the whine-chuck speaker, the signals on the speakers were switched and the now distance whine-chuck speaker was amplified 2 decibels. This procedure was done for each of the 373 females. The next 18 experiments were all manipulations of experiment 1 that played with the volume and the distance of the females.

In almost all cases a percentage of females switched paths and went to the distant whine-chuck speaker. This showed the researchers that the female mate choice was not permanent at any of their boundary distances. Even though in some cases this percentage was small, a 100% permanent mate choice at a certain distance was never achieved.

Some Issues were noticed within the results and in the way the researchers quantified the data. The way the data was organized and quantified made it very ambiguous on which of the variables (distance or volume) was the prominent variable in choice reversal. A new experimental procedure testing one specific variable at a time should be done to determine which one is the more confounding variable.

Patrick Salome

Monday, March 29, 2010

A Coma Will Just be a Quick Nap

Our brain is what makes us who we are, is it not? All aspects of our life are stored into this one unit. Knowing that we can definitely say that, an injury to the brain is a completely different story compared to that of a broken limb or a punctured lung. It's not as easy for the brain to heal and regain function after being damaged. Traumatic brain injury, often referred to as TBI, is thought to be extremely difficult to recover from. Well how about we inject some “female hormones” and see what happens?

In a recent article, Rita Rubin writes of an individual who suffered a serious injury from a traffic incident in 2004. This led to him receiving many scars and more importantly brain damages, landing him into a truly deep coma. Fascinatingly, he was able to recover in less than a year of his predicted “revival”. The key factor here is progesterone.

We tend to think progesterone as just being a steroid hormone involved in processes such as the menstrual cycle, pregnancy and fetal development. Progesterone actually has greater potential, such as functioning as a “protective hormone”.

It is not fully understood how progesterone works in protecting the brain though. Scientists do know that progesterone helps in the development of neurons of brain cells as well as reducing swells from trauma.

In an experimental study of progesterone, 100 patients with TBI were chosen to be tested on to ensure the safety of the hormone. The results displayed that there were no real side effects, but instead the study found that patients were 50% less likely to have died from brain trauma when administered progesterone compared to those who received placebos. Also, those with progesterone were less disabilitated.

The National Institute of Health, the NIH, has invested more than $14 million to this research to prove that it works. The trial will consist of 1,140 newly brain-injured patients at 17 hospitals and administering them progesterone or a placebo. This process would eventually take about four years to see results.

If this solution proves to be successful, then there will definitely still be concerns, especially ethical. The progesterone must be given to patients within a couple of hours after being injured. Therefore, it’s difficult to get consent from the individual’s family or even themselves. They would need to be informed of potential risks.

“The FDA granted an exception to the consent rule in this case, on the grounds that getting patient permission would make the research impossible and that treatment could significantly improve patients' health.” Would the patient and their family feel comfortable about this though?

Posted by Vinh Tran

Sunday, March 28, 2010


I think it's safe to say we all have a mutual acquaintance named Tyrannosaurus Rex. Up until now, these gentle giants (yea, right) were thought to be hemispherically biased: the fossil record showed that they were only living in the northern hemisphere. Until now, that is. At an aptly named Dinosaur Cave somewhere in Australia, a hip bone was recently found. According to a T-Rexpert, the anatomy of the bone is "almost identical" to that of our familiar northern tyrannosaur, thought it is considerably smaller.

This is where I did some digging and found some quirky news: I guess there's this idea that the T. Rex had a smaller relative that pre-dated it, which I could totally see being the case. The idea is that the T. Rex evolved to be so big being a successful predator after the traits of small forelimbs, large legs, and massive jaws appeared first. It makes sense. But for some reason, a few scientists think that this bone found in Australia is the bone of the aforesaid new species of T. Rex, the so-called "southern cousin" of the T. Rex from the north. If this is the case, that's pretty cool... but if this is just some new scientist jumping the gun to be able to say that he discovered a new species, then it's not pretty cool. It's only one bone, it could easily be from a juvenile, and the only conclusion is that T. Rex's were further spread than we originally thought. Or, it could be a new species entirely... until the conclusions are made, we can only guess. Until then...

Alex Mojcher



Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bluefin Tuna on the Brink

Anyone who's ever indulged in sushi, myself included, has probably sampled the bluefin tuna. Most people are totally unaware at how close we are to losing this fish forever, and that's exactly the problem.

I first heard about the serious decline in Atlantic bluefins, 97% since 1960, just a couple of years ago when I was on vacation. The sushi bar I was dining at didn't have any tuna, since the price has gone through the roof. In fact, the more highly prized Pacific bluefin can now go for over $100,000. Since that time, I've stayed away from the tuna altogether.

What's most troubling to me is the most recent meeting of CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species [of Wild Fauna and Flora]), where they voted against a ban on the bluefin. I first heard about this on the news, and read more about it in the blog linked above. Apparently, the enormous demand in Japan (where a few friendly folks still hunt whales) has created enough opposition to stop the ban.

Apparently this is our stance: Economy > Environment

Seriously, it's not like we depend on the Earth or anything. Ecosystems are definitely not fragile.
You're detecting a bit of sarcasm, I know.

What does everyone else think? The bluefin tuna in one step away from being extinct in the wild. Don't you think we would have done something already if this was an animal that wasn't tasty? I'm far from vegetarian, but we have to draw a line somewhere.

Posted by Andrew King (8)

Predicting Earth's Natural Disasters

The Earth, rain, snow, ice, water, and heat are taking control of our planet, so will there be a day when we can predict the future earthquakes, tsunamis and other disacters? Technological advances are in our favor. There are networks that produce the earthquakes locations, satellites that quantify the Earth’s movements, and an enormous history of past earthquakes that are due to slips in the fault lines. Much is done to help the devastation they cause, but not enough is done to help save it from happening in the first place, but there is hope that one day we will be able to. You would think that there would be some clue as to when the Earth will suddenly release a burst of energy in its crust.

The hurricane in New Orleans, Tsunami in Indonesia, global warming nationwide, and more recently the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile are all undoubtedly horrific events that created great amounts of wonder and disaster. Why can’t we predict their arrival? We can predict the weather to a certain extent, so why do we not know when a massive wave is going to strike or an earthquake will erupt in one the poorest country in the world? The two recent events are constant reminders that we are still not capable of predicting earthquakes. Many have tried, but were unsuccessful. They are attempting to predict the unpredictable. Some of these disasters such as earthquakes do occur spontaneously and are not similar to hurricanes that can be precisely predicted.

I hope that one day we will be able to predict tragedy but only time will tell? How about animals? An enormous amount of information is around to suggest that animals can feel an earthquake or tsunami coming a few days before these disasters actually happen. However, until more research is done on these disasters and animals abilities this will remain unknown. We are getting better at predicting the weather and severity of certain storms but there is so much more we cannot do.

Posted by Amanda Makowski (8)

Hazards: Lead Found in Indian Spices and Powders

To my knowledge , I have always been thinking that lead that can harm people comes from house paint, imported toys and other sources but I never once thought lead could come from spices or herbs that are perceived to be natural.

The article from New York Times on March 22, 2010 reported lead being found in Indian spices and powders. In Indian ceremonies they use vermilion powder to apply along the hair line or as a dot to the forehead. Pediatricians at Children's Hospital in Boston and Massachusetts Public Health tested 157 products after 4 young children were refered to a Hospital with elevated blood lead levels. 50% of these products were reportedly contaminated with lead according to researchers involved, 81% of these contaminated products were ceremonial powders and other cosmetic products used in Indian ceremonies and 19% were from Spices and Herbs. Rabin (2010) reported that Indian Children as young as 3 years old use powder applied to their forehead regularly for religious ceremonies.

I am not sure how the Public Health Department will handle the issue like this, especially when religion is involved with all the laws around that. These people are not doing these to harm the children, it is their religious belief and culture and yet the department of Public Health may attempt to try to protects these children but it can be challenging because this seems to be the delicate area especially if Government laws and religious belief gets involved.

Posted by Anna Moreno

A New Theory on Down Syndrome

Down syndrome occurs when a individual is born with an extra chromosome 21, giving them 47 chromosomes instead of the normal 46. It has been universally thought that the disease is caused by the presence of excess levels of proteins associated with the extra chromsome. However recent studies have shown confounding evidence to this notion, and that the disease may be caused by the underproduction of certain proteins, not an overproduction.

According to an article published in, Terry Elton at Ohio State University has shown that individuals with Down syndrome lack a protein found in the brain that "could contribute to the cognitive impairment and congenital heart defects that characterize the syndrome." Upon further research, Elton and his colleagues found that 5 microRNAs sit chromosome 21, and that each of them are over expressed in the the brains, hearts, and tissues of Down syndrome patients. According to Elton, one of these microRNAs is directly associated with cardiovascular disease- microRNA-155. Another key finding is that the overabundance of these 5 microRNAs causes a decreased level of a transcription factor- meCP2- in the brain. As it turns out, this transcription factor has a significant role in the regulation of genes that are known to be associated with neural development. Down syndrome most commonly results in impaired cognitive abilities and congenital heart defects, suggesting a strong link between the elevated presence of these microRNA's with deficient levels of proteins.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 13 out of every 10,000 babies born in the United States each year have down syndrome. There is no treatment available for patients with Down syndrome. This new approach offers several new avenues for which therapeutic treatment may be achieved for individuals with Down syndrome.

Posted by Alexander Norregaard (8)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Six-Pack Trout May Change Aquacultural Practices

In an article titled “Development of More Muscular Trout Could Boost Commercial Aquaculture” from, scientist from the University of Rhode Island (URI) have created a transgenic trout that shows increased musculature. Professor Terry Bradley, a professor of fisheries and aquaculture, has inhibited the protein myostatin which is responsible for slowing muscle growth in many animals. Similar transgenic species have been produced, such as cattle, which demonstrate far more muscle mass than wild type cattle.

The research team injected 20,000 rainbow trout eggs with DNA types that stop the protein from forming. Much to their surprise 300 of the fish (most of the original 20,000 eggs did not hatch at all) showed increased musculature. The fish seemed to have six-pack abs and large shoulder muscles.

The research team is excited about the findings as they can lead to more efficient aquaculture practices. Now instead of meeting the increasing demand for fish by producing larger numbers of fish in hatcheries, instead the fish can be genetically altered and more mass will be produced. Also, these fish do not require more food than wild type fish so more food will not need to be wasted.

In my opinion this is a great idea! Over 500,000 metric tons of trout are produced each year in aquaculture plants. These are closed systems that simply produce the fish then send them off for commercial uses. By making this process more efficient, the high demand of fish can be accommodated without being wasteful. If these fish were released into the wild, though, I would be more concerned because I am not sure how these larger fish will disrupt the ecosystem they are placed into.

Posted by Matt Grazewski (7)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


In high school we are taught that brain cells do not repair themselves once they are damaged no matter what, but now that I am taking upper level biology courses I have found this is not the case. Recently, I have begun learning that adults can grow new neurons and repair themselves in certain areas of the brain. Regulated by growth factors, neurogenesis develops new brain cells from multi-potent neural stem cells which divide in the brain into neurons or glia. These cells move away from the multi-potent cells to mature and those that survive make connections with neurons and are able to begin sending signals. This process has been shown to occur in both the hippocampus and the olfactory bulb. Neurogenesis offers hope to those suffering from many neurological disorders including Parkinson’s, Alzheimers, and Huntingtons through the use of drugs that stimulate areas of the brain to replace its own cells.

recent study on adult neurogenesis involved the possibility of preventing cocaine addiction and relapse by increasing neurogenesis in the hippocampus. Researchers used lab rats to test their hypothesis by demonstrating that decreasing neurogenesis by blocking new growth of certain nerve cells increases vulnerability for cocaine addiction and relapse. Those involved aimed to decrease the neurogenesis in the brain and believe it could potentially help those being medically treated with potentially addictive medications, as well as those who are recovering from addiction. The hippocampus is the center of memory and learning, and it makes sense that altering the part of the brain that forms drug-context relationships could help to prevent relapse by helping to forget associations previously made while using the drug. They tested their theory by first manipulating the grow of the neural cells through advanced radiation delivery techniques in order to prevent growth in the hippocampus. Researchers found that rats where more likely to self administer cocaine with a lever than those who did not receive radiation. A second test with the rats involved them first self administering cocaine with the lever, and a round of radiation while not ingesting the drug. Rats that were radiated, with decreased neurogenesis, took longer to realize when there was no longer cocaine attached to the lever. Because the addicted rats continued to push the lever even though there was no physical satisfaction or stimulation of receiving the drug, it supports the notion that decreased neurogenesis fueled the process of addiction rather than the actual drug changing the brain.

Do you think that manipulating a single part of the brain can really have a large impact on improving or curing addiction to drugs? Addiction is more than just a memory formed one region of the brain, the hippocampus. Addiction is physical and takes a toll on your body. Also, many drugs affect pleasure regions in the brain so one would think the neuron growth would need to be reduced in multiple places in order for this to be plausible.

Posted by Asia Barnes (7)

Leave No Gene Unturned

Not long has passed since scientists acquired the ability to map out the human genome. Since then people have been finding ways to put this costly procedure to good use. While some people have used this strategy to discover what genes determine what outcomes in an individual, some have are trying to implement a strategy that would try to pin point what genes cause certain heritable diseases. Imagine being able to find out exactly where in a person’s genome is the cause for giving rise to some of the harmful, inherited illnesses known to man.

In a recent Science article, some geneticists have stepped forward to have their own genomes in hopes of locating the sight from which their own personal illnesses have risen. As a result of searching James Lupski’s and his family’s genes, they were able to hone in on certain genes that were known for causing certain neurological diseases. They were even able to find a mutation that had not been reported before.

A lot of these advances bring many questions to mind. Though it would be beneficial to know in advance whether your genes are prone to transmit mutations or not, when will this be available to the average person. The article itself states that an average mapping cost around 50,000 dollars. Also, is there anyway to reverse any mutations found in your gametes as to reverse any harm before it can be done to your offspring? It would be one thing to be able to find the cause for certain diseases; it would be another to be able to correct the damage done and eradicating illness everywhere. Although I know we are far from it, the fact that such technology is in its crawling stages is astounding.

Posted by Charly Almonte (7)

Cattle Drug May Help Tackle River Blindness

River Blindness is a parasitic infection that afflicts 37 million people worldwide. People catch this infection when bitten by black flies that carry a nematode known as Onchocerca volvulus. The worm larvae mature and mate, producing up to 1000 offspring per day, which migrate to the surface of the skin and to the eyes. When the offspring die, they cause itchy lesions that can lead to blindness. The effects are severe, but according to the February 9th 2010 issue of Science, a veterinary drug that kills worms in cattle may also fight this infection.
Doctors previously treat river blindness with ivermectin, a drug that kills the offspring and lowers the fertility of the adult worms. The drug works fairly well, but doesn’t target the nearly-mature worms that cause new infections from a black fly’s bite. Instead the drug controls the symptoms until the worms eventually die out. Researchers stumbled upon the veterinary drug closantel, which kills live parasites in cattle. The enzyme in this drug, known as chitnase, breaks down and rebuilds the O. volvulus larvae's outer casing during the final molt before adulthood. If closantel has the same effect in humans, it could prevent infections from starting. And because it works in a completely different way from ivermectin, any strains of O. volvulus that show resistance to ivermectin in the future could be treated with closantel.
Many researchers are optimistic about working with closantel because it has already proven safe in farm animals. However, it binds strongly to a protein found in the blood, which could lead to side effects in humans. The research on closantel is still being worked on, but if it does prove successful it could end up helping a lot of people through out the world.

Posted by Ryan Brooks

Hope for Schizophrenics

This article I read was very interesting. It dealt the initial idea of exercise being able to stimulate neuron growth of the hippocampus in healthy adults. Why is this important? It is because the disease known as Schizophrenia is associated with a reduced volume in the hippocampus. A February article from Archives of General Psychiatry states that the brain retains the ability to adapt, this is also said to be true for people suffering with psychotic disorders. This increase was brought upon by exercise.
The study was conducted by taking eight Schizophrenics, and eight controls, and having them cycle for thirty minutes a day three times a week. They also took eight additional Schizophrenics and had them play table tennis, which is not an aerobic exercise. The study showed an increase in the volume of the hippocampus in the individuals that participated in the aerobic exercise by 12 percent for the afflicted, and 16 for the controls. The interesting part is the afflicted that played table tennis actually had a decrease of 1 percent.
There will of course have to be more research on the subject, but I can't hid the fact that this intrigues me I don't feel keeping yourself fit will cure all that could afflict you, but the research of late shows a healthy body with help give a healthy mind. This idea is not new, but now we have some hard data to go alone with the feeling that the idea was correct.

Ray Cliche Jr (7)

Dead Zones: Can You Hear Them Now?

Dead Zones, they are not just the scary cell phone commercials you see on T.V, they are the horrifying threat to our marine ecosystems. Dead zones are located in coastal areas where the oxygen concentrations are too low to sustain marine life. Dead zones are caused by excess nutrients, mainly phosphorous and nitrogen, seeping into the water system. These nutrients then fertilize algae blooms throughout the coast. After plants (microscopic plants) die and sink to the bottom, bacteria are fed. Bacteria consume the oxygen in the water which does not allow for fish and other bottom dwelling organisms to survive. Dead zones can be seasonal, usually appearing in the spring and fall, but can last year round if the nutrient levels stay high.

Throughout the world there are more than 400 dead zones today, compared to the 162 dead zones in the 1980's. The largest of these is the Baltic Sea. In National Gepgraphic's Daily News, the article starts out with the worry in the disappearance of the white-tailed eagle. The white-tailed eagle is a main focus for tourist attraction and is greatly affected by the algae blooms. Another species that is affected by algae blooms is the Baltic cod. The Baltic cod, however, has the effect on the sea's well being. The Baltic cod feeds on an organism that in turn, somewhere down the line eats algae. Overfishing is another problem that lessens the numbers of cod, which in turn increases the amount of algae.

Algae blooms are a huge problem. They affect the diversity and the sustainability of the coastal waters. Mainly, nutrients have the biggest impact on creating rapidly expanding blooms. These nutrients are from fertilizers and sewage, which are mainly human produced. Other factors increasing algae blooms are things like overfishing. Even though algae blooms, dead zones, have a major impact on the coastal marine life, other parts of the environment are affected. Surrounding food chains, such as the white-tailed eagle, are effected. Overall, dead zones are a huge problem that may not be able to be reversed and should be taken seriously since they cause a variety of environmental issues.

Websites and Pictures:

Posted by Amanda Hostetter (7)

A prehistoric hominid meets a 16 foot long crocodile

I think crocodiles are fascinating and so had to stop and read more about a new species unearthed in skeleton form from Africa's Olduvai Gorge. It was found in an area that also contained fossil evidence of early hominids Homo habilis. Some of the bones found had bite marks which were determined to be consistent with a crocodile bite. Some poor hominid ancestor got to close to the waters edge where these creatures lay in waiting. According to the researchers the new croc is similar to the Nile crocodile although generally larger and with enough differing features to earn itself designation as a new species. According to the fossil evidence, the team predicted they could be up to 16 feet long. The best part of the article I found was the name they are giving the new crocodile. They are calling it Crocodylus anthropophagus. I was fortunate to take a year of ancient Greek in high school and can tell you anthropophagus means man eater. I love when comedy meets science. The orignal paper can be found here for anyone interested in more of the details of the find.

posted by Chris Bonci (1)

Discovery in Legumes Could Reduce Fertilizer Use, Aid Environment

Most of the things we eat are cultivated using artificial fertilizers that are made with chemicals, some could be not so good for our health. Looks like there are someways of avoiding these chemicals in some circumstances. A lot of people are turning to pure organic foods for fear of eating chemicals.

The article from Science Daily (Mar. 10, 2010) described how Nitrogen plays a vital for all plant life. Researchers found out that nitrogen-producing bacteria living inside legumes such as soybeans could help the agriculture to be more sustainable. They have discovered a new biological process, by which leguminous plants control behavior of symbiotic bacteria. Sharon Long (2010) reported that "These plants have a specialized protein processing system that generates specific protein signals which can cause nitrogen fixation which enables the ability of legumes to capture nitrogen from the air and turn it into plant food and leave the soil enriched riched through the plant matter left after harvesting, creating a natural fertilizer for other crops, which is the basis for crop rotation. Researchers reported alternating legumes with other crops has been a major component of agriculture around the world for thousands of years. Long (2010) uncovered a plant gene that triggers a critical chemical signal which helps the nitrogen to get fixed by bacteria.

I think this system is great if it works because it will reduce damage to the enviroment from articial chemicals used to make fertilizers also this may help us to eat much healthier food with less chemicals. But this can be chalenging because using natural fertilizers may delay plant maturity so it may not be economically favourable to farmers, it may take two times longer for plant food to be ready. Another thing I am not sure if these legume plants can grow in every kind of soil. But otherwise I think it is great idea to try to use natural fertilizers instead of artificial ones.

Posted by Anna Moreno

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Whales and Carbon Credits

With the planet’s climate predicted to change, there are a lot of ways for us to live differently to stop this change or at least make it bearable for the other organisms that we live with. One way is using whale conservation as a way to obtain carbon credits.

Oceanographer Andrew Pershing wants carbon credits for whale conservation and suggests that if the whale populations made a comeback it they could uptake 9 million tonnes of carbon in their biomass. Put into perspective, 9 million tonnes is comparable to 11,000 square kilometers of forest. Sort of like a tree taking carbon from the atmosphere, but instead the whales take it out of their environment through what they eat. In addition to this, when they die and their bodies sink to the ocean floor, it is so deep that the carbon can take centuries for it to resurface into the air. Of course it doesn’t make a dent in the 7 billion tonnes of carbon made by humans, but it’s a starting place for whale conservationists to jump in on the carbon credits idea.

Pershing’s proposal was met with optimism by other scientists who agree and see it as a way to help conservation efforts for whales. There are other benefits that can come from this idea as well. Whale feces are high in iron and can help algal growth in oceans. This means more algae in the ocean and thus more food for many different organisms. The same idea can also be used for large fish like bluefin tuna and big sharks.

Either way this idea seems to suggest a new way for conservationists to gain incentive for rebuilding populations of large animals that hasn’t been thought of before. It soon may be advantageous for the environment to help protect and care for these large animals due to their role in the carbon cycle. This would help give a more concrete reason to preserve the animals than solely relying on their aesthetic value and their importance in their “separate” environment.

I’m still a little skeptical of the whole “carbon credits” method of controlling our green house gasses. Yet this idea certainly puts it to good use by motivating people to protect whales in the ocean.

Posted by Daniel Solomon (3)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A New Hope for Diabetes Patients

Many people struggle with diabetes each day, with constantly having to check blood-sugar levels and supplement themselves with insulin. Diabetes is known for having high blood-sugar levels due to the body producing little to no insulin itself. Insulin is a hormone typically produced in the body of normal functioning humans which affects the metabolism of a person as well as taking in glucose from blood and storing it as glycogen in other body cells. I personally don't have diabetes but I have a grandmother who does and for many years I have seen her struggle in dealing with the imbalance of her blood-sugar levels. Constantly having to insert a shot of insulin must become a pain after a while. Diabetes patients are constantly known for having several medical conditions such as kidney failure, blindness, and limb amputation. I know my grandmother has dealt many years with skin problems, and recently muscle problems that are due to having diabetes.

There are two main type of diabetes type one and type two. Type one is more fatal because the body doesn't produce any of its own insulin. Before insulin was supplemented into the bodies of diabetes' patients, having diabetes was very fatal if you had type one diabetes. After the discovery of injecting insulin into type one patients the fatal condition turned into just a chronic diesease ( Couzin-Frankel). Type two diabetes is the more commonly seen type which is characterized when the body produces insulin but doesn't properly respond to it. Therefore, injected insulin into both types of patients is beneficial. However, there are always side affects and bodies don't always respond properly to insulin causing the correct dosage hard to be distinguished.What can we do about this difficulty in regulation? In the article " Appetite Suppressors Could Be an Alternative to Insulin" published in Science, new research is being done to propose that the appetite suppressor hormone, leptin, could be used as a replacement to insulin.

Researcher Roger Unger at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas has been studying the affects this hormone has on diabetes. His research included 15 diabetic mice who were pumped with leptin for 12 days and 15 mice who were pumped with regular insulin. So far his research has proved that both groups of tested mice were able to gain normal glucose levels. If this hormone can do the same thing as insulin what does it matter? Well, Unger has stated that he also believes the use of this hormone will alleviate the changes in blood-sugar levels that many patients suffer from.

Overall I think research of this hormone is a great idea I know many patients suffer from imbalance in their blood- sugar levels. Like much research in this field, use of the hormone leptin is still only in animal testing phase. I still wonder if certain side affects will be able to be solved. Because an appetite suppressor hormone is being used there are weight loss side affects expected. I also wonder what the affect of messing up with naturally occurring hormones will do to the body. The idea of this research seems promising hopefully someday we will see a way to make the lives of these patients easier.

Valerie Silva (3)

Dog Dealer Crackdown

We are all aware that animals have been used in science to make advances that would otherwise have been impossible. The use of mice, cats, pigs and dogs in experimenting has given scientists the chance to investigate diseasess, devlope drugs and test new methods of medication. The biology fields of genetic engineering and pharmacology are especially depended on animal testing. In February's issue Science discusses the controversy over using animals bought from class B animal dealers acquiring their stock from"random sources". The American Physiological Association have said actions to shut down these dealers is "premature" and that "it would be enormously disruptive" to the science community. Some say these animals offer a chance to research otherwise unavailable conditions because labs cannot get genetically unique specimens from traditional breeding facilities..

In 1966 Lyndon Johnson signed the Laboratory Animal Welfare act that created new policies concerning the humane treatment of animals being sold to laboratories. This act made two classifications for businesses selling laboratory dogs and cats, A and B. Class A dealers are predominately corporate organizations that breed dogs, cats and other animals on site for selling to labs. Class B licenses are issued mainly to small dealers who collect and sell animals from shelters, other breeders or even other dealers. This type of acquisition is said to be from "random sources". The class B dealers have been doing very well since the act was passed. However in the 1990's these dealers came under fire from animal humane societies as abused and stolen animals continued to show up. In 2003 HBO did a special on animal abuse that featured footage from an infiltrated class B dealers business. Since then the USDA has stepped up efforts to enforce the laws in place for class B dealers that require inspections every year. Due to this effort numbers of class B dealers have dropped from over 200 to only 11. These 11 dealers cannot meet the demand for genetically diverse dogs and cats needed at research companies. They currently supply 3% (3,000) of the 90,000 dogs and cats used in research today.

Personally I think it's regrettable but essential for animals to be used in scientific research. Should the USDA shut down class B dog and cat dealers disrupting a vast number of scientific discoveries being made right now or is this a necessary evil ? Its always awful to see videos of animal cruelty on farms or pounds, but without this cruelty would we have enough food? Would we be so far along making medical advancements? I don't think we would. According to science "Large-chested Dalmatians have helped doctors develop some of the first artificial-heart devices and lung-transplant procedures. And cats and dogs gathered from the general population harbored a variety of genetic diseases and infections that led to insights into everything from sleep apnea to AIDS." All of us in the biology fields will at some level most likely depend on animal testing, what do you think?