Thursday, June 22, 2017

Why does spicy "burn"?

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-is-it-that-eating-spi/

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Search for Alien Megastructures

You guys might remember the huge internet explosion about alien megastructes back in 2015 when scientists suggested the unusual dimming patterns of a distant star, KIC 8462852, may be due to alien megastructures or Dyson Spheres hypothisized by physacist Freeman Dyson in 1960. Dyson Spheres or alien megastructures are hypothetical massive structures built around a star to harvest its energy, sounds awesome right? Well the search for alien megadtructures has continued since the excitement in 2015 and along with it, the observation of KIC 8462852. Perhaps the main argument against the dimming patterns of KIC 8462852 being due to an alien megastructure is the lack of infrared radiation detected from the star. If there was a massive alien structure absorbing the star's energy it would give off more energy than the star alone. Hope is not lost in the search for alien megastructures though; physicist Zaza Osmanov pointed out it would be better to build one of these energy-harvesting megastructures around the reminants of the dead stellar heart of a once giant star, a pulsar. Pulsars radiate their energy in narrow beams akin to the beams of a light house, which would enable extraterrestrials to build ring-like structures to harvest the energy as opposed to something that would encapsulate an entire star. Pulsars may be the best possibility to investigate in our search for alien megastructures.

Article info is from: https://www.theguardian.com/science/across-the-universe/2017/jun/15/alien-megastructures-where-we-should-look-next

Chimeric Pancreases Used to Cure Diabetes in Mice

This year the first human-pig chimera was made. This could be a huge step for regenerative medicine because if we could manipulate animals such as pigs to grow human organs it would eliminate the need for organ donors and organ wait lists. Human transplants are likely still a long ways off, but this February researchers sucessfully created rats with pancreases made from mouse pluripotent stem cells. They first used CRISPR to create rats without the ability to make their own pancreases, then injected the rat embryos with mouse stem cells which sucsessfully formed normally-functioning pancreases in the rats. From there they surgically removed the rat-mouse pancreases and transplanted them into diabetic mice. The transplanted pancreases succesfully normalized to the mice and maintained normal blood glucose levels in the host mice. The mice survived for over a year without immunosuppressants. This is the first time a chimeric organ has been used to treat a disease. This line of research shows promise for developing a long-term cure for diabetes.

Article: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v542/n7640/full/nature21070.html#affil-auth

Behavioral Switch Genes

I'm sure you guys have heard of HOX, the set of growth genes active during early development almost entirely responsible for determining the physical proportions of the body (body plan). HOX genes are physical switch genes regulating growth and physical development. There is clearly a genetic basis to certain aspects of behavior but is there anything a drastic as HOX genes? Are there behavioral switch genes? The answer remains debatable for humans, but the fru gene in Drosophila has been identified as one such gene. The fruitless (fru) gene is spliced sex-specifically in Drosophila giving rise to distinct male and female proteins. Male Drosophila preform an elaborate, innate mating ritual that shows almost no variation between individuals and is always directed towards females but when fru is mutated this mating ritual can is often disrupted even though physically the males show no mutations. Females never engage in courting behavior. Researchers created male Drosophila with forced female splicing of fru and found the males no longer showed courtship behavior; they were behaviorally female in mating. The males showed no significant differences in their anatomy. They then created female Drosophila with forced male splicing of fru and found the females displayed the male courtship behavior, performing the entire, elaborate male courtship ritual directed towards other females without changing their anatomy. These experiments demonstrate the sex-specific splicing of fru in Drosophila is both necissary and sufficent to confer mating behavior and sexual preference. These findings not only raise questions about the existence of behavior switch genes in other more complex animals, including humans but also about the basis of sexual orientation. Is it possible sexual orientation is controlled by a similar behavioral switch gene in humans? Behavioral switch genes are extremely hard to locate because our understanding of the biological basis of behavior is still so limited, however, the discovery of the fru gene's role in sexual orientation/mating preference in Drosophila may provide clues to the identification of related behavioral switch genes in other animals.

Here's the original paper:  fruitless Splicing Specifies Male Courtship Behavior in Drosophila
File

Monday, June 12, 2017

WHY BATS MATTER

So, my grandmother has this huge fear of bats. And, as she and my grandfather lived in the mountains for about 10 years of my childhood, we all experienced plenty of bats both inside and outside the house. (Yes, a cute little bat family decided that a great nesting area would be the attic!!!) Let's just say my grandmother wasn't ecstatic.
Anyhow, I was thinking about bat pollination. Yes, some bats eat insects mainly, but some are also huge pollinators. I found a cool website that explains so many reasons as to WHY BATS MATTER. So many reasons having to do with pest reduction (aka eating insects), but also to do with pollination. I think I might share this with my grandmother to a) get a laugh out of her reaction b) perhaps change her negative opinion on bats c) educate her on their helpfulness within ecosystems.
Some cool, common bat pollinated flowers (these just happen to turn in to fruit!!) are as follows:
MANGO
BANANA
COCOA (though I can't quite appreciate this one, as I am allergic to chocolate)
DURIAN
GUAVA
AGAVE (fun fact folks, this is used to make tequila)
I'd say bats are pretty important, personally.
http://www.bats.org.uk/pages/why_bats_matter.html

Sympathetic Touch?!

I thought that this was a really cool article. It has to do with synesthesia, and it was found that even simply watching another person being touched stimulates a neural circuit, which some people then said caused them to feel the sensation of touch as well. This correlated with a higher empathic ability, so this showed a consistency with the idea that simulation allows us to empathize with others. Some people who experienced this synesthesia felt the touch on their left cheek when the left cheek of the person being touched was poked, (lol, it also amused me that they just poked people's cheeks), but some felt it on the right, thereby feeling sensation as one would in a mirror image.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Are these bees going to a rave?

     No! They just happen to be fluorescent thanks to science! This experiment discusses the ways to track bees for ecological purposes and compares fluorescent powders to protein powders. The bees were marked using a tube placed at the entrance of the beehive that would coat the bees in either a fluorescent powder or a protein powder made with egg whites or powdered milk as they leave. This allows for scientists to track where bees are for the purposes of counting populations, determining spread of pollination, and many other tracking reasons.
     The paper determined that the fluorescent powders were significantly more accurate in coating the bees than the protein coatings and was easier to recognize later as well as produced a lower false positive percentage. This method of marking bees could be used widely in ecology and is an important look into the ways we can continue to SAVE THE BEES!

https://academic.oup.com/jinsectscience/article-lookup/doi/10.1673/031.011.14301