Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Chimps can Mourn!

Through several data stating that chimpanzees and humans are 97%, 98%, or 99% similar DNA wise mean one thing: chimpanzees are very closely related to humans. It can be easily observed that our body structure, intellect, and especially behavior and those of chimpanzees display some commonalities. With these in mind, do chimpanzees feel any emotional attachment to others? In a recent article, two experiments were initiated to observe how chimps respond to the death of those close to them.

Chimpanzees actually respond to dying chimps as well as dead chimps. This shows how highly developed their awareness of death in contrast to what has been suggested before. Researchers believe that this aspect is involved in their sense of self awareness much like their being able to self-recognize and displays of empathy for others.

A major difference between how humans react to the death of a close one and how the chimp reacts is truly different. Chimps tend to be more calm compared to humans be frenzied and becoming traumatized.

In the first study, the researchers were able to observe how much attention is paid to a dying adult female chimp. Before the chimp died, those around her groomed her as well as caressed her. By caressing her, the other chimps are testing for any signs of life or death. Right after she dies, the other chimps left her while her daughter stuck beside her mother throughout the night. For many days, the chimpanzees avoided going near the dead chimp’s sleeping spot.

In a different study, five members of semi-isolated chimp community were witnessed dead. Of the five, two were infants. The response from the mother chimps to her child’s death was to carry it on her back for weeks and months following their death. They also treat the dead as though they were alive such as carrying them everywhere, grooming them, and taking them into the nests during the day and night. As days pass, the mothers are able to let go little by little, allowing others to handle the dead.

This exemplifies how highly aware chimpanzees are concerning death. Also, this displays how strong the bonds are between mother and infant chimps. It’s truly amazing how readers are able to understand somewhat how the mother chimp feels or how an infant chimp feels about the death of the other. What truly surprised me was the fact that in spite of the dead infant chimp, the mother would allow other infants to play with the dead corpse as though it was normal. That’s going to an extreme.

Posted by Vinh Tran

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Male Combat Favors Female Biased Populations in Species

A group of herpetologists from Indiana University’s Biology Department, Steven Freedberg and Michael Wade, decided to combine several theories of environmental sex determination, and female gender selection to provide a more inclusive theory on reptilian sex determination. There was no actual experiment done to test their hypothesis, but the evidence and proven background theories provide a realistic commentary within their proposal.

Male vs. Male combat is present in many species throughout the animal world. However it is more rare in cold-blooded animals. Both the snapping turtles and in many crocodilians this male combat has shown determine male territories and establish a social hierarchy throughout the population. In snapping turtles males often have a significant amount of scars and missing claws when compared with females, which are indicative of a male cost to reproduction. As many of you know, the males at the top of the hierarchy achieve more access to mates and therefore have a higher reproductive success rate. This means that a male’s adult morphology plays a much larger role in how successful they are in passing their genes on to the next generation.

On the other side of the spectrum are the females. Crocodilian females typically live and breed in a male’s territory that he has established through fighting. A number of females can live within one male’s territory and all mate with the male who supplies the environment for them.

One theory that plays a role in sex determination in crocodilians is ESD or Environmental sex determination. This theory is relatively self-explanatory. It simply means that sex is determined through environmental cues such as temperature. This theory yields the hypothesis that an equilibrium sex ration is not 1:1, but rather favors the gender that is produced more frequently in poorer environments

Another theory that actually calculates which sex should be produced in these particular environments is the Trivers-Willard Hypotheses, which states that mothers produce females in poorer environments (particularly in species with male combativeness). In reptilians, temperature does play a role in gender identification, however there is no temperature pattern that coincides with gender determination across all species of reptilians.

A last theory that contributes to this overall picture is Shuster-Wade’s sexual dimorphism theory. In species where there is male combativeness there seems to be two outstanding male attributes. The first being that males have a selective pressure on size represented in their disparity in size when compared with females of the same species and secondly in their forced insemination patterns.
Freedberg and Wade are conveying a summary of these theories that pertains to species of Herps that display male combativeness. Their theory states that females are more common within these species because it is more fitness effective. Males have a larger selective pressure (competitive combat) in their adult stages to be successful breeders than females do. Therefore mothers will produce more females in poorer environments (which are more common in nature) and more males in richer environments to achieve their own reproductive success. These species achieve this gender determination by through environmental cues specific to their species. (ESD)

Friday, April 23, 2010

Promoting Health Through Coffee

Coffee is one of the most demanded drinks by people. People drink coffee to get up in the morning and to stay awake during the day. It seems like everyone is drinking coffee. For me, however, coffee isn’t such a big deal. I never drink it and feel that I would rather go without it because I like my body to naturally wake up on its own without the aid of some outside substance such as coffee. Although I assumed coffee as only helping a person wake up, it seems like coffee has other effects.

According to an article on science daily, coffee can help many different aspects of a person’s health. From the article, it seems like coffee can help lower chronic inflammation and raise our good cholesterol. It also contains nutrients such as calcium and other compounds that may promote health. Coffee’s role in helping to reduce type 2 diabetes was also mentioned in this article and, for me, was the most interesting and surprising.

Although I am still hesitant to drink coffee because I don’t want to become reliant on it, it seems like coffee would be good to drink for other reasons other than trying to become more awake in the morning and throughout the day. Because this article does not talk much about coffee’s role in helping to prevent type 2 diabetes, I would like to look at other sources to see more about this.

Posted by Kayla Perry

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Male monkeys use babies to make guy friends

It seems like a good plan. Whether it’s a cute baby or dog a cute defenseless being somehow allows one to better socialize with other. It’s the same for some monkeys as well, but I thought the benefit would be only meeting more females. Turns out I’m wrong.

A new study published in Animal Behavior has found that male Barbary macaques have a better chance of bonding when one is carrying an infant on their back. When the two males meet they undergo a ritual of sorts. Julia Fischer, one of the authors describes it, "[they] sit together, embrace each other, then they hold up the infant and nuzzle it. Their teeth chatter and lip smack while making low frequency grumbling noises."

There are significant benefits to having a bunch of guys as friends as well. One monkey rose from fifth to second place on the social ladder by having the most male friends. The baby also doesn’t even have to belong to male carrying it.

However the research also found a cost to using your baby as a “social tool.” Feces samples taken from males, who carry their babies, showed that they had higher stress levels. Baby macaques sound very similar to human infants when they cry, so its not surprising that the male gets stressed out when this happens.

Social benefits are known to occur for females holding a baby as well (more grooming and attention). Although, I was surprised to learn that the same thing occurred with males getting popular with the other men in the group and rising in rank. Yet another interesting behavior displayed by monkeys.

Posted by Daniel Solomon (3)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Could Excessive Friday Night Drinking Lead to Cancer?

Typically college students spend their weekends partying. This social environment can lead to excessive drinking and alcohol consumption problems. We've heard that too much drinking can affect your liver and kidneys but today was the first time I heard it can affect the structure of your telomeres. What is the big concern? Well, your telomeres are important to the genetic stability of your cells. The telomeres are already shortening as age progresses due to the natural processes of the body which makes the genetic information in the cells less stable normally. Recent research has shown that excessive alcohol consumption could increase the progression of these telomeres shortening more rapidly that normal. This idea makes you wonder if the telomeres shortening is what makes heavy drinkers typically appear older than they really are. When cells are less stable due to telomeres shortening there is a greater risk of genetic mutations, which is the main cause of many cancer types.

In a recent article, " Excessive Alcohol Consumption May Lead to Increased Cancer Risk" the author describes current research lead by Andrea Baccarelli, M.D, Ph. D. who is the head of the Center of Molecular and Genetic Epidemiology , Ca' Granda Hospital Foundation at the University of Milan, Italy. Baccarelli currently is involved in research testing the relation of excessive drinking to shortening of telomeres. She preformed Polymerase Chain Reaction testing or PCR on all of her participants. This group was divided into people who abused alcohol and people who have variable alcohol consumption. To eliminate many variables this group were all similar in age, environment, diet, and other factors related to their everyday life. After testing results showed that the length of the telomeres where dramatically shorter in those participants who were excessive drinkers.

I was interested to see the results of this study. You always here of smoking being a lead cause in some cancer types and now excessive alcohol drinking is coming more serious in other ways the alcoholism. This article isn't saying that having one drink is going to cause your telomeres to dramatically shorten and cause a genetic mutation. This article is more of a warning that alcoholism can pose as a greater risk to health than we may have thought. So think twice before you drink that whole bottle of vodka next weekend it may not be worth it.


By Valerie Silva

Toward a Urine Test for Detecting Colon Cancer

When we reach certain age it advised by medical professionals to get colonoscopy at least every 3 years to screen for colon cancer which is reported to be the third most common cancer in the United States. Colonoscopy involves using a flexible, lighted tube to see inside the colon, is the most effective tool for the early screening of colon cancer. The process of going through the test can be embarrassing for some people, thanks to science now moving towards a urine test to detect colon cancer.

The article from ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2010) — Scientists are reporting an advance toward development of a urine test for detecting colon cancer. Such a test could eventually compliment or even reduce the need for colonoscopy, the mainstay screening test used today. when scientists analyzed urine samples from 123 people 60 with colon cancer and 63 without, for differences in its composition. They identified 16 substances that appear in unusual amounts in colon cancer. The changes include increased levels of tryptophan, one of the 22 amino acids that are found in proteins. The results demonstrate the potential of using urine as a tool for diagnosing colon cancer as per involved scientists .

This is good news, it will reduce the pain, fear/anxiety or embarrassment that goes with the actual colonoscopy test. I guess this could also save a lot of money and time because patients will now be able to just provide urine sample for their initial assessment and probably not to undergo the colonoscopy unnecessarily .

Posted by Anna Moreno

Friday, April 16, 2010

Unaffected By Your Body Image Women? Think Again.

It seems that society has, is, and will most likely, always advertise an idealistic image of what a "typical" woman should look like to everyone. The question is not whether or not these images are right but what affects do they have on us? There will always be women that are negatively influenced by media sources when it comes to what they feel they should look like but what about the women that believe they are happy with how they look? Are they completely unaffected?

A study was done to better understand if the female brain was hardwired to be concerned with body image. This study focused on the resemblance between the brain of bulimic women versus the brain of healthy women when confronted with the thought that they might be overweight. The hope is that these findings might eventually aid doctors in better evaluating and treating body image issues regardless of how subtle they may be. This study could be evidence for the suspicion that most women are walking a fine like between having and not having an eating disorder.

To conduct the study this group focused on a particular part of the brain they referred to as the medial prefrontal cortex. This portion of the brain seems to be stimulated when people are exposed to questions that force them to engage in serious self-reflection. Scientists suspect that this particular area of the brain may betray the subconscious thoughts that people may have. This article made reference to another study with word association that showed people who did not believe themselves to be racist actually showed racist tendencies when they have no time to consciously override what is under the surface.

By using fMRI machines scientists scanned the brains of 10 "healthy" women who had all passed eating disorder screening tests and therefore, theoretically, felt perfectly fine with their bodies. While hooked up to brain scanners these women viewed images of models that were both skinny and overweight. These women were also told to imagine that someone else was telling them that these models looked like them. When the images were of overweight women the medial prefrontal cortex lit up in all women. The mere thought that these women were imagining themselves overweight seemed to trigger a response indicating that the women were questioning their sense of self. After these tests however, the women claimed that the tests were boring or meaningless. It seems that this article suggests that even though women say that they are comfortable with their body image and are well adjusted, subconsciously, they may really care.

While most men, excluding body builders, were unaffected by this kind of test we see that women seem to be. Even though women that have bulimia have a stronger reaction in their medial prefrontal cortex they seem to show similarities with women who do not suffer from it. Therefore, concluding from this study, there may just be an even finer line women walk between being healthy and suffering from an eating disorder. It just goes to show that even if you feel like you are the most confidant woman in the world you may be betrayed by your subconscious.

Caitlin Lavin

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A World without Sleep

Ever had trouble sleeping at night or staying asleep? Imagine not being able to sleep at all or very little each and every night. I have been learning a lot about sleep disorders and other disorders that cause insomnia and it is really interesting to know that almost everyone will have some type of insomnia in their lifetime. This can be caused by many several factors and can be associated with a great number of conditions that include diabetes, heart disease, obesity, as well as depression. Conversely, not getting enough sleep increases the risks of developing diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

Sleep is an extremely crucial part of a healthy lifestyle, and without sleep, our brains would not be able to function properly. We need sleep for our bodies to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. Without sleep, many people can begin to develop blurred vision, dizziness, confusion, hallucinations, insanity, as well as memory loss. A person who is running on little sleep is almost as dangerous behind the wheel of an automobile as a person under the influence. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, it is estimated that 100,000 car accidents occur each year as a result of a fatigued driver. Reaction times and performance rapidly decrease with a lack of sleep.

It is no wonder our country is low on sleep considering we depend highly on coffee consumption, spend hours a day on the computer, on the phone or watching television. Furthermore, we have become so dependent on copious amounts of drugs such as caffeine in order to function, but in reality it is just contributing to our problems. In sum, it is vital to get a good night’s sleep every night to maintain good health and reduce many consequences that people can face without sleep.

Posted by Amanda Makowski (2)

The Claim: Milk Makes You Phlegmy

I am a big fan of milk, I drink about 2 gallons a week all by my self! I heard many people saying milk increases the chances of upper respiratory congestion, bu personally I have never experience that but on the other hand I know some people who suffer with some respiratory congestion and they all blame on milk. I did not quite understand what was going on

The article from New York Times on health section published on April 12, 2010 reported possible explanation that only a small group of people are susceptible. Research pointed to studies showing that not all milk is the same it depend on breed of cow, some breed contain a protein called beta-CM-7, which reported to stimulate mucus glands in the digestive tract that are also found in the respiratory tract, where they are known to overproduce mucus in conditions caused by inflammation, like asthma.

After reading this article now I know why some people experience these type of symptoms while others do not experience them. I think I will try to find out how can we determine the brand of milk and the breed of cow related, and test this theory.

Posted by Anna Moreno

Oil Tanker's Coral Shredded Hull Scars The Barrier Reef

Australia is most identified by the massive coral reef that encompases much of the Continent's coast- the Great Barrier Reef. The Barrier reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world for its immesne size and the vital role it plays on the natural world. The only living thing on Earth that is visible from space, the Barrier reef is larger than the Great Wall of China ( But as massive as the Barrier Reef is, its not impervious to humans. As mankind's presence continues to exented into the inner workings of the natural world, we are seeing the Great Barrier Reef stripped- reef after reef- into a lifeless abyss. On April 3rd, the Barrier Reef was dealt another blow. It happened when the Chinese-registered coal carrier- Shen Neng 1- veered 17 miles off-course into protected waters, where it grounded and gouged a 2 mile long scare into the Douglas Shoal.

According to an article issued on April 14th by Discovery, the 750-ft Chinese vessel was carrying a payload of 68,000 tons of coal and leaked roughly 2 tons of oil into the water in its wake. Oil spills can have devastating effects on marine biology, and the location of this spill couldn't be worse. Globules of oil have washed ashore on beachs on North West island, which conservationists describe as a "globally important nesting site for seabirds and green and loggerhead turtles, which are currently hatching and travelling down to the beach" ( The oil spills appear to be isolated to a small area, but unfortunately oil may not be the most destructive apsect of this incident.

Experts cited in the discovery article believe that the worst part of the ordeal is the toxic paint that was scratched off the ships hull and smeared the coral beds lying in the vessels path. The Chinese vessel, like many ships, was covered in a paint prevents the growth of plants on the hull that create drag. Scientists state that the destruction of the corals and the spread of this paint will make recovery a tedious process: innitial assesments indicate it may take 20 years for the reef to recover ( Certain types of these "anti-fouling" paints simply act as a barrier, while other prevent any growth from forming. If the paint used on the Shen Neng's hull was the latter of the two, its possible that the paint would not simply kill the marine life, but would inhibit any new growth from occuring there. Tests are being run on the paint left on the reef to determine which type of paint was used.

The natural world contains some of the most striking elexamples of elaborate systems working in harmony to achieve a balance- an level of order amongst the choas. No such system coincides more intricately and effectively as coral reef environments. The Great Barrier Reef reflects synergy in its purist form, and humans are the wrecking ball. Affecting one organism in a reef can produce a cascade of affects that ripple accross many species. Unless we can find a way to exist in harmony with nature- like the synergetic relationships shown throughout The Barrier Reef- we will destroy one of the most vital ecosystems on the planet. The captains of the Shen Neng are being put on trial for their destruction to the reef, where they will surely face the maximum penalty if found guilty for their accused crimes.

Posted by Alexander Norregaard (2)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lucy, Ardi, and Ida

In lieu of my recent evolution exam, I decided to research the evolution of homo sapiens, also known as anthropogenesis. Humans fall under the genus “homo,” and all 12 species other than homo sapiens have gone extinct. The tribe hominine share several derived characteristics, such as bipedalism, the skull placed directly on top the vertebral column, reduced canines, a more bowl-shaped pelvis, and a loss of toe opposability. Brain size scaled to body size is measured by EQ, or an encephalization quotient. Homo sapiens have an average EQ of 5.8, while basal hominins range from 2.2 to 2.9. The earliest species of the homo was the homo habilis which lived until 1.4 million years ago. It diverged from the Australopithicines. H. habilis has smaller molars and larger brains than the Australopithicines. The homo neanderthalensis, or Neanderthals, died out 24,000 years ago, and a new discovery suggests Homo floresiensis lived up to 12,000 years ago. This ancestor, nicknamed Hobbit, had a remarkably small brain and stature. A skull and tibia of a 30 year old female proposed that she was 3 ½ feet tall.

I found an interesting video on entitled “The Analysis of Ardipithecus ramidus--One of the Earliest Known Hominids.” On October 1, 2009 paleontologists announced the discovery of a relatively complete skeleton of a small-brained Ardipethecus ramidus female, named “Ardi” which was first unearthed in 1994. Until the discovery of this hominid, the most famous fossil of early human relatives is Lucy, an Australopithecus afarensis. This is an extinct hominid that is common to both Australopithecus and the Homo genus. Lucy lived approximately 3.2 million years ago. She was discovered in 1974. She was 3 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 65 pounds. Though she looked like a common chimpanzee, she walked upright. Ardi lived one million years before Lucy, and is closer to the last common ancestor between humans and chimpanzee. This ancestor was bipedal, around four feet tall and weighed 110 pounds. She had large arms and hands, and grasping ability of toes. This suggests she was able to climb trees, and probably omnivorous. Most importantly, the skeleton had flexible hands and wrists, so it was not a “knuckle walker” like chimpanzees and gorillas. This shows that chimps and gorillas evolved separately, and our ancestors did not necessarily walk on knuckles like we originally thought.

Another very old famous fossil named Ida was discovered in 1983 in Germany. Its scientific name is Darwinius masillae. It lived approximately 47 million years ago in the Eocene epoch. The single fossil of this genus was a juvenile female that was 23 inches in length and appeared similar to a modern lemur. Though this species is much less associated with human evolution, it is an important intermediate in primate evolution between the strepsirhines and the haplorhines, two subgroups of primates. Ida has several primate characteristics, such as grasping hands with opposable thumbs and nails instead of claws. In addition, Ida along with most primates are generally thought to be adapted to arboreal life, or life in trees. The fossil is 95% complete, and is only missing the left rear leg.

Image 1. Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) fossil

Image 2. Ardi (Ardipithecus ramidus) fossil

Image 3. Ida (Darwinius masillae) fossil

Posted by Minwoo Ji (11)

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What do we really know?

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has once again shown what is so exciting, and frustrating about science. The report throws a wrench it to the thought that birds evolved from dinosaurs. The thought was that birds descended from ground-dwelling theropod dinosaurs. The team looked at an 2003 specimen, a microraptor, the team used models and discovered the raptor more adapt to gliding rather than flying.

Prof John Ruben feels that some of the species we think of as dinosaurs were actually birds that had lost their flight. Ruben feels the evidence points to this fact. Ruben feels that their may have been a common ancestor, but then evolved on their own path. This part gets me Ruben says that the velociraptor is actually a bird that lost its ability to fly, this is why they resemble a bird more than a dinosaur. The over all feeling is that the ground-dwelling theropods were not the best design for a ground up flight, however they were able to glide down from trees.

What does this tell us it tells us that sometimes even scientists see what they want to see. The evidence is there, but for what ever reason the dots are connected just a little off. Its not a bad thing scientists are only going with what they have in front of them, and with out a complete fossil record these things are bound to happen every twenty years or so. I feel this keeps scientists working, and to never give up because a new species may come around and blow every ones mind all over again.

Ray Cliche Jr (10)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Man Trapped in His Own Body for Decades

Rom Houben is the victim of a horrific car crash that, since 1983, has left Houben completely paralyzed. Doctors described the man to be in a “vegetative state” until in 2006, then a brain examination revealed a high level of neurological activity. Soon thereafter doctors explained how Houben has experienced “locked-in-syndrome” where his functional brain has been literally trapped in a completely dysfunctional body for twenty three years before the truth was discovered. Many doctors believe that Houben was probably initially in comatose then slowly regained mental function. Houben, however, seems to say otherwise. He has described, in detail, decades of being completely aware of his surroundings, yet not being able to signal to anyone in any way that he was conscious.

Then comes the million dollar question; How did Houben finally tell his story without the ability to move in any way?

And that is where the story begins to fall apart. Houben told his story by looking at a keyboard and then someone would type the letter he was looking at. Videos show, though, that often times the typist would continue writing even when Houben was not looking at the keyboard. Scientists are quickly pointing out flaws in this unlikely story. The distinction between who is actually communicating, the typist or Houben, is unclear. To add to the skepticism, numerous cases like this have been reported for numerous years, all of which have been largely discredited.

I remain unrealistically optimistic about this story. Though it is clear that evidence is weak and the story appears to be too good to be true, I can only hope that Houben really is the mind behind the commentary. After all, I would not want to make the mistake of believing that Houbel is brain dead for over twenty years, and then potentially claim his words are just part of a big hoax.

Posted by Matt Grazewski (10)

New Drug to Treat Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is a chronic neurological disease that attacks the central nervous system and typically occurs in young adults ages 20-40 years old. MS is characterized by a disappearance and degeneration of the myelin covering on their nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. Some researchers think that MS is an autoimmune disease where the body’s own immune system attacks the myelin. Symptoms of multiple sclerosis include difficulty in walking, balance and coordination as well as fatigue, numbness, bladder dysfunction and spasticity. There are four main types of multiple sclerosis, the most common initially diagnosed being Relapsing-Remitting MS.

The FDA recently approved a new drug called Ampyra which became available to patients in March 2010. This drug is marketed to improve the walking ability in patients with any of the four courses of MS. Ampyra is a sustained- released oral tablet of dalfampridine with the chemical name 4-aminopyridine and is used as part of a symptomatic therapy. This type of therapy concentrates on a particular aspect of a disease but does not change the underlying cause or limit the damage that may follow. Contraindications of the drug include seizures or renal impairment.

The mechanism by which the drug works is as a broad spectrum potassium channel blocker. The Dalfampridine is taken orally and once in the system blocks potassium channels on the surface of nerve fibers. By inhibiting potassium channel it is thought that it may improve conduction of action potentials in nerve fibers that have lost fatty insulation due to the demyelination of the axons. I think it is great that medical research is coming so far and that we are finding treatments for more and more ailments that we once thought to be hopeless. Multiple sclerosis is just one of the many debilitating diseases that will one day have a cure, but for now new treatments are improving the lives of those that suffer from it.

Posted by Asia Barnes (10)

Paro, He's Anything But Your Average Pet Seal

For the past year my grandmother has been living with us because she can no longer live on her own. As an 88 year old women who is suffering from a severe case of dementia it is hard to imagine what she has been going through. Dementia is defined as a condition in which there is a gradual loss of brain function; it is a decline in cognitive/intellectual functioning. The main symptoms are usually loss of memory, confusion, problems with speech and understanding, changes in personality and behavior and an increased reliance on others for the activities of daily living (Royal College of Psychiatrists). It is not a disease in itself but rather a group of symptoms which may result from age, brain injury, disease, vitamin or hormone imbalance, or drugs or alcohol. A person with dementia may also exhibit changes in mood, personality or behavior.

Some days she seems happy and pleasant to be around then others she is angry, combative, and confused. The one thing I have noticed from my interaction with her is that she tends to fixate on particular animals she sees in pictures or stuffed animals that her great grandchildren bring over when they visit. Seeing someones understanding of everyday things start to diminish was, and still is, difficult to witness. Her fixation of the stuffed animals reminded me of a segment I had watched a few years ago about this revolutionary therapy break through that was introduced to elderly people, Paro. The idea behind this cybernetic "pet" baby seal is to have positive effects on the mental health of some elderly people.

There have been studies done in nursing homes in Japan as well as the United States and around the world, that show the benefits of Paro. Paro is an advanced interactive robot developed by a leading Japanese industrial automation pioneer. It allows the documented benefits of animal therapy to be administered to patients in environments such as hospitals and extended care facilities where live animals present treatment or logistical difficulties. This seal pup had been found to reduce patient stress and their care givers, stimulate interaction between patients and caregivers, and it has been shown to have a psychological effect on patients, improving their relaxation and motivation. Paro also seems to improve the socialization of patients with each other and with caregivers and it has been deemed the World's Most Therapeutic Robot certified by Guinness World Records.

Paro has five kinds of sensors: tactile, light, audition, temperature, and posture sensors, with which it can perceive people and its environment. Paro can recognize light and dark, can feel being stroked and beaten by tactile sensor, or being held by the posture sensor. Paro can also recognize the direction of voice and words such as its name, greetings, and praise with its audio sensor. This robotic seal pup can learn to behave in a way that the user prefers, and to respond to its new name if given one. For example, if you stroke it every time you touch it, Paro will remember your previous action and try to repeat that action to be stroked. If you hit it, Paro remembers its previous action and tries not to repeat it. With these abilities Paro can respond as if it were alive. Its head and legs move, it makes sounds, and is able to show the owners preferred behavior. With all of these impressive functions Paro's price tag is just around $4,000. I wonder , however, if the "pet" robots whose target consumer audience is children, not to mention much more affordable, would or could help lower stress levels, comfort people to an extent, or help with communication even with out all the sensory abilities that Paro has?

Caitlin Lavin

Airborne pigeons obey the pecking order

I have always wondered how pigeons and some other birds fly in a certain order, they line up so perfectly it is just hard to imagine. You will see the birds at the front of a flock leading the navigation and all the group follows.

The article from Nature News published on 7 April 2010 reported that although pigeons have an almost 340ยบ field of view, the researchers found that the birds at the front of a flock tended to make the navigational decisions. Moreover, birds responded more readily to a leader's movements if the leader was on their left side. When researchers used Global Positioning System (GPS) devices was able to collect data at a rate of five times per second.These researchers strapped lightweight GPS devices to individual pigeons and tracked flocks of up to 10 birds during free flights lasting around 12 minutes and 15-kilometer homing flights. In total, the GPS logged 32 hours of data and captured 15 group flights. These researchers were unable to pinpoint individuals' exact positions within a flock, but were able to accurately compare birds' directions of motion. These researchers looked first at the behavior of pairs of birds. For each possible pairing, the team identified a leader — the bird that changed direction first — and a follower, which copied the leader's motion. According to these researchers followers reacted very quickly, within a fraction of a second.

The animal behavior is very interesting, it is amazing how they communicate and come up with this unique presentation. I do not have enough knowledge when it comes to animal behavior, but I think it is very interesting field of study.

Posted by Anna Moreno

Did man really walk on the moon?

In my opinion, the Discovery Channel’s show Mythbusters is one of the best shows on television. An episode I recently watched sought to “bust the myth” that so many people and groups have been skeptical and critical about since it occurred in 1969. The myth that this show focused on was “Man did not really walk on the moon, it was simply a show put on by NASA.” At the end of the show, they proved that man did in fact walk on the moon through four points of dissention among conspiracy theorists. These points were: 1) The tape that shows Neil Armstrong running was filmed in a studio and slowed down to get the “zero-gravity” effect. 2) The photo taken of Buzz Aldrin stepping off the lunar module shows him stepping into a shadow, yet he is perfectly lit. This effect could only be achieved in a studio. 3) The video taken of the US Flag being placed in the ground on the moon shows it waving. This is impossible as there is no wind or atmosphere on the moon. 4) The photo of the footprint on the moon has too much ridge detail. In order for that kind of ridge detail to be achieved there would need to be moisture in the air and in the soil, something which is lacking on the moon.

One main point of contention among conspiracy theorists states that the clip of the astronaut running could simply have been achieved by having him run across a studio and slowed the tape down. In order to analyze this, the Mythbusters put on full astronaut gear and filmed them running across the studio and slowed the tape down. A certain sense of weightlessness was indeed achieved. To further investigate, they took a trip in the Zero Gravity plan in Florida. The plane achieves periods of weightlessness by flying in a parabolic arch pattern. At the top of each peak, the inside of the plane experiences zero gravity. At the bottom of each trough, however, the inside of the plane experiences double the earth’s gravity. To achieve 1/6 gravity, as on the moon, the Mythbusters had the pilot amend the amplitude of the parabolic flying pattern. When the team experienced 1/6 gravity, they had a member fully dressed in astronaut gear run from one end of the plane to the other while being filmed and the two tapes were compared. From this comparison, it was obvious that while the effects were similar, it was obvious that the tapes from the moon were in fact filmed in 1/6 gravity and not simply slow-motion film.

Another point of contention is that the photo taken of the astronaut descending the ladder out of the lunar module shows him stepping into the shadow of the spacecraft. The critics theorize that he should be in the shadow as well, as opposed to illuminated as he appears to be in the photo, as there is no second source of light on the moon, just the sun. To assess this theory, the Mythbusters set up a miniature model of the astronaut and the spacecraft with only the one light source. To get the effect exactly right, they obtained artificial lunar dust from NASA and added that to their model. When they snapped a photo, the light from the “sun” was reflected off the lunar dust and illuminated the astronaut even though he was in the shadow of the lunar module, confirming that this was possible on the moon.

The third point of contention is that the flag seems to wave, something that is impossible on the moon as there is no wind or atmosphere. To assess this, they set up a vacuum, which is the environment on the moon. They placed a flag in the vacuum and designed a robotic arm to twist it as if it was being planted in the ground, being careful to repeat the motions of the astronaut as accurately as possible. They found that in the vacuum, the after-effects of the twisting motion did indeed cause a “waving” of the flag, which is seen on the film from the moon. This also supports the theory that man did actually land on the moon.

The last, and sometimes overlooked, point of contention among conspiracy theorists is that the boot imprint in the lunar dust is too clean-cut with too much ridge detail for an environment without moisture. To assess this, first the Mythbusters compared a boot imprint in wet and dry sand. After this first experiment, it seemed that the conspiracy theorists may be correct, as the dry sand held little to no shape of the imprint. To investigate further, they obtained the artificial lunar dust from NASA and repeated the boot stomping in a vacuum with a robotic leg. This time, the boot imprint held in the lunar dust and did not fall apart.

In conclusion, all four experiments separately proved that yes, man did land on the moon. Conspiracy theorists will continue to contest this, despite the growing pile of evidence supporting NASA. The simple fact is that the environments are not the same on the moon as they are on Earth, and the physics of the way things happen (flag waving, boot impressions, light reflections, etc) will not act the same in a vacuum as they will on a non-windy day on Earth. So to all those conspiracy theorists in Bio 312 who don’t believe that man landed on the moon…that myth has been busted!

Posted by Amanda Hostetter (10)

Science's Little Helpers

In this day and age many technological innovations have been created to assist individuals who have certain disabilities. There are machines that can make those who cannot walk mobile. There are pieces that can help people who are hard of hearing, prosthetic limbs that serve in the place of those no longer there. There are even new gadgets in the work that could potentially replace tools that people are using today. When most people think of individuals with disabilities, scientists and professors are far from such thought. Thanks to such hi-tech support, individuals with disabilities no longer have to make their career take a back seat in the scientific field.

In a recent article published in Science magazine, readers are introduced to a couple of lives that have been made a bit more manageable thanks to the scientific breakthroughs. An interesting case is that of Scott Mackler, a neuroscientist who has been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. Although this illness has virtually incapacitated him, his mind is not and the machine he’s hooked up to allows him to communicate his thoughts. Although some of these cases have not completely worked out the bugs, it has certainly made strides from what technology proceeded it.

Personally I find it great that these individuals have been able to make the best of their situations. Back in the day when tragedy struck individuals they were often told that it would be difficult to live life normally. There were very few options in dealing with certain situations. After reading these accounts I certainly began to appreciate my scientific endeavors a lot more. This article also gives me a greater hope for the technology that is to come. I have no doubt that in the future, we will have perfect prosthetics, be able to restore sight to the blind, and help individuals plagued with skeletal/ muscular problems to be able to move freely and comfortably.

Posted by Charly Almonte (10)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Traveling Birds Eat Fruit for Stress

Whenever I’m in for a long trip overseas I make sure I have a snack packed for the plane ride in case they aren’t serving any meals. Some rides can be over 6 hours long and I need a lot more than just a complementary bag of peanuts to hold me over. According to a new study, some migratory birds do the same but for a different reason than what you’d expect.

This research shows that some insectivorous birds have been recorded switching to fruit just before migrating south for the winter. Yet this isn’t for fattening up or storing extra energy for the long journey ahead. It’s to deal with the stress from migration by using the berries’ antioxidants. The study collected 12 different kinds of berries that birds ate on Block Island located near Rhode Island. Looking at the micronutrients and antioxidants of bird food is a new way of studying their diet. Even though the knowledge that some birds switch to fruit isn’t unknown this is one of the first times its been specifically considered in research.

It’s very unusual because of the fact that these birds are adapted to eating insects and look very awkward when they try to swallow a small berry. In addition to this, the behavior isn’t learned since the time when migration occurs is when many of the new birds are 8 to 9 weeks old and all alone. So is all this due to instinct? Researcher David Bonter believes that there is a certain chemical compound that is attracting the birds. This new research method also offers a different way for biochemists to search for useful compounds in nature. Just follow the animals.

Posted by Daniel Solomon