Thursday, March 23, 2017

Art, Math, Nature and Politics

Saw a video on Facebook about this and decided to look further into it. I love that this artist combines so many aspects into her project!


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Can stress affect your gut microbiota, and vice versa?

I found this interesting when we briefly talked about the human gut microbiota at the beginning of the quarter, so I did a little digging. Turns out there is quite a substantial amount of communication between the gut microbiome and the HPA (Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis), which is the center of the neuroendocrine system. This means that the composition of your gut bacteria can affect stress levels in your brain. Meaning a person's diet can affect their stress response.
The following article from the Psychoneuroendocrinology (yes, this is a real word- three words jammed into one) Journal explains this phenomenon in great detail.
Abstract: There is now an expanding volume of evidence to support the view that commensal organisms within the gut play a role in early programming and later responsivity of the stress system. The gut is inhabited by 10¹³-10¹⁴ micro-organisms, which is ten times the number of cells in the human body and contains 150 times as many genes as our genome. It has long been recognised that gut pathogens such as Escherichia coli, if they enter the gut can activate the HPA. However, animals raised in a germ-free environment show exaggerated HPA responses to psychological stress, which normalises with monocolonisation by certain bacterial species including Bifidobacterium infantis. Moreover, increased evidence suggests that animals treated with probiotics have a blunted HPA response. Stress induces increased permeability of the gut allowing bacteria and bacterial antigens to cross the epithelial barrier and activate a mucosal immune response, which in turn alters the composition of the microbiome and leads to enhanced HPA drive. Increasing data from patients with irritable bowel syndrome and major depression indicate that in these syndromes alteration of the HPA may be induced by increased gut permeability. In the case of irritable bowel syndrome the increased permeability can respond to probiotic therapy. Detailed prospective studies in patients with mood disorders examining the gut microbiota, immune parameters and HPA activity are required to throw further light on this emerging area. It is however clear that the gut microbiota must be taken into account when considering the factors regulating the HPA.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Is the Holocene Epoch over? Are we now in the Anthropocene Epoch?

So the topic I chose to talk about as you may or not have remembered was about the Anthropocene debate, whether we are in it or not. The Environmentalists make a compelling argument that the Anthropocene is the epoch that is to proceed due to all the changes that humans have caused including mass extinction of certain animals and plants. So I guess the problem is really what we define as change and how we define when a new epoch is to be called upon.

My sources include:

Monday, March 20, 2017

Tiny Toasty Mammals

Though not quite the fossils used in the study, if this dog were
to keep overheating like this for about 10,000 years, we might
start to see a smaller version of it!
     We sure do love looking at small animals, from puppies to miniature pigs to that small mouse we obsessed over in CCS bio that one time. It seems that we could be heading in the direction of smaller mammals again! You might think this is great news, but of course, it's yet another result of good old global warming. This paper by Ambrosia (2107) looks into the fossil record to find if and how mammals have changed size in the past based on the average temperature of the earth. The paper focuses on the time periods known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum(PETM) about 56 million years ago and the Eocene Thermal Maximum 2(EMT2) about 53 million years ago. These two time periods were chosen because they were known as global warming periods. After looking at the tooth size of various fossils found to be from these two time periods, it was found that they decreased significantly in size as the periods went on, more so during the EMT2 time period as opposed to the PETM most likely due to the fact that EMT2 was more of an extreme change in temperature. Why do we care about this stuff? Because it's super cool! Animals get tiny because it gets hot and they need to conserve and that's just wild! It's also an important aspect to look into as we get further into our current global warming period and we need to think about how it could affect the earth and ecosystems over an extended period of time. Read the study to find out a ton more and learn about cool(or hot...) science!

Life Throughout Deep Time

"The Palaeos website is organised along two themes; time, being the geological timescaledeep time, which spans not the mere centuries or millennia of world history, but millions or even billions of years, and mapping out the evolution, specifically the evolution of life on Earth; the diversity of organisms that constitute the tree of life, beginning with simple bacteria and proceeding to ever more complex forms from there, as well as the interrelations between them. There is no reason to doubt that life could also have evolved elsewhere in the cosmos, and we also explore this topic. However, most of Palaeos is devoted to a detailed consideration of the history of life on Earth. "

Vernal Pools are Really Cool! (Ha.)

Vernal pools are an interesting landmark in Santa Barbara, but surprisingly not well known. If you live in the dorms, these unique ecosystems are just a couple hundred steps away. Vernal pools are, essentially, basins that fill up and drain over time, which creates a unique environment for flora, as pictured here:

 The pools are home to many endemic species, such as mole salamanders and fairy shrimp. Due to the nature in which they form, vernal pools usually do not have any fish and are thus able to support species that would not be able to survive in other aquatic environments.

In California, over ninety percent of vernal pools have been destroyed or otherwise damaged by human activity. Thus, restoration efforts have been necessary and have helped to account for some damage. On campus, all of the vernal pools are restored and surveyed by CCBER. 

One paper compares different types of vernal pool restoration and their effectiveness and gives a more in-depth insight on restoration specifically in Santa Barbara.

CCBER Website

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Nonhuman Primate "Talk" Hints at the Evolution of Human Speech

A recent paper in Science ("Learning from monkey 'talk'") described how there are aspects of primate communication that correlate with how humans speak. One of the more interesting points discussed was how nonhuman primate babies babble in the same way that humans do, and if the parents respond to only the appropriately formulated babbles of their babies, the babies will develop adult calls much earlier. This has been seen in humans, too! 

It is also possible that monkeys do not take turns when speaking because this turn-taking is a learned behavior. This particular finding is hard to prove, however, because the two studies that looked into it had opposing conclusions, and rather different methods. Nonetheless, it's an interesting concept to take into consideration. 

Another bit that I found quite cool was how humans and songbirds both have a set of genes involved in rapid articulation and sound sequencing that other species do not. The author, Charles T. Snowden, predicts that this could be the reason for monkeys not exhibiting similarly complex speech. But in reality, we don't know why other primates don't talk as we do. Yay for the unknown!

A link to the article, if you're curious:

P.S. Sorry to post so much so late... I thought we were only supposed to post 2 times. Completely my fault.