Monday, May 8, 2017

What your parents aren't telling you about weed.

Weed. Marijuana. Mary Jane. Whatever you call it, it's a drug; it comes from a plant; and it can make you high. It's also used as a pain killer. You probably already knew all of this. But what I bet you didn't know is that new research suggests that marijuana may be able to reverse aging!! This is probably because WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT and also
because the paper was just published today. Believe it or not, researchers were able to return the state of old mice to that of two-month-old mice with prolonged low-doses of THC. They are now looking to start clinical trials in people. This novel role for marijuana holds exciting possibilities for the development of future treatments for age-related diseases such as dementia. Read the full article at the link below. Crazy stuff man!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Fancy New Species

Hey guys!
So after Claudia talked about the cool new species in class I did some research to see what else was discovered recently.
My personal favorites are

Lasiognathus Dinema - this is a type of Angler fish living at depths below 500m. The thing that drew me to this was how crazy it looked! I feel like most biologists have an idea of what an angler fish is supposed to look like (especially with movies like Finding Nemo) but check this out!

Lasiognathus dinema, female about 30 mm long. Image credit: Theodore Pietsch.

It was discovered very recently so there aren't really any papers on it, but here's an article talking about its discovery.

Phyllopteryx Dewysea - also known as the Ruby Seadragon. Not only does this look pretty cool since it is related to seahorses, but it is only known from 4 preserved specimens!

Image result for Phyllopteryx dewysea

Recently it was found in the ocean and they actually got a video of it! Check out the video here.

Anyways, I thought these were pretty cool. Unfortunately there isn't too much research on either of these due to a lack of availability (only 4 ruby seadragons found, and the angler fish is super deep and very rare/hard to find) but hey if you're interested it seems like a cool area of research!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Chaos! It's weird

So today in class when we were talking about chaos, I attempted to describe this gif:

It's pretty cool and illustrates lag pretty well. The top rod goes back and forth (duh) but the bottom rod lags behind and over compensates for the changes, leading to the cool pattern. According to wikipedia this is "one of the simplest dynamical systems that has chaotic solutions." The article has lots of math, but some other very cool visuals, some of which I do not understand.

Also this shell apparently looks like a representation of chaos called rule 30, which was developed by the guy behind Wolfram Alpha.  If you're looking for a fin Wikipedia hole to fall down, chaos theory is a good place to start.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Remember when we learned about that enigma fossil prototaxites? The one that maybe looked like a giant... well... it looked vaguely phallic. Some say it was actually a roll of liverwort moss. I'm skeptical of this, but the way I found these articles on the Web of Science is hilarious.

At the bottom of the page was this article:

Above that, was an article by the same people from later that year:
with the title:

Directly above was an article from the SAME ISSUE AS THE LAST:

Wow. So much salt. 

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

CRISPR and Human Gene Therapy

Hey guys!
So this doesn't have as much to do with our current topics in the class, but I think it is a pretty important area of modern Biology (it was first discovered only in 2005) so I thought I would post about it (and it's kind of about biodiversity in bacteria and archaea).
I recently started working at the Arias lab that works in virology primarily with CRISPR-Cas9.
Many bacteria and archaea have a section of DNA known as CRISPR (Clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) that will produce RNA that will create a complex with a protein called Cas9. This complex is designed to find and cut apart foreign DNA from phages or plasmids and is a powerful form of defense for these organisms. Scientists have managed to develop our own versions of this complex; one of the most exciting parts of the CRISPR-Cas9 complex is that it can actually be engineered to cut out specific parts of a genome and then that area can be potentially replaced with whatever the scientist chooses. Our usage of this complex is not too advanced yet, but the potential for gene therapy and the ability to literally design a complex that can entirely cut out a genetic disorder in a developing baby is pretty huge. This is currently one of the primary contenders for gene therapy and it will be exciting to see how the technology develops in  the future.

Cool video explaining how it works

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Endosymbiosis of the Powerhouse of the Cell

Does anyone else find it entertaining when you mention the mitochondrion during a discussion entirely in context and someone instinctively blurts out "mitochondria are the powerhouses of the cell"? Well, as we discussed just last week, they weren't always the powerhouses of eukaryotic cells. It turns out that the scientific community currently has more questions than answers about when, why, and how endosymbiosis most likely occurred.

Summary of this review paper, entitled "The origin and early evolution of mitochondria"

  • Organism with genetically "richest" mitochondrial genome (most likely resembles ancestral protist that underwent symbiosis) is called Reclinomonas americana
  • Like viruses, mitochondrial genomes underwent "reductive evolution," in which their genomes decreased in size by throwing out genetic information that was redundant within the host cell's genome
  • Genome sequencing alludes to the possibility that ALL mitochondria are derived from a single mitochondrion, meaning that this relationship arose only once in evolution
  • While it is not clear when exactly the mitochondrion entered the eukaryotic cell, the evidence is clear that they primarily evolved together to create the Eukarya domain
  • Mitchondria likely arose from a parasitic intracellular alpha-proteobacteria
While all of this is exciting, the evidence needs to be considered with a skeptical frame of mind. Much of the data to support the claims above came from genome sequencing, and the parts determined to be ancestral to the original mitochondrion may well just be ancestral to the universal common ancestor (for argument can be made that some of the genetic material in the mitochondrion that was considered in these studies have very far relatives in bacteria, archea, and eukarya).

So while it was an interesting read, and I think a lot was learned, not a lot was definitively claimed. But so is science.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Since when was the tundra biome considered aesthetically pleasing?

I personally have never found the cold, barren plains of the tundra biome to be very beautiful, especially when compared to the others, such as chaparral (yep that's us! aka Santa Barbara, one of the most desirable places to live in the world). Last time I checked, people weren't jumping to pay millions of dollars for small houses on even smaller lots nestled in the most barren areas of Alaska or Canada or get the point. However, contrary to my belief that the tundra biome could rarely be considered "aesthetically pleasing," a study in 2007 found that college students actually favor the tundra and coniferous forest biomes!! To be honest, I had to read that twice. Maybe my opinion is in the minority though, so what do you think? Is the tundra biome actually a gem?