Monday, May 31, 2010

A fatty world record

Spot the outlier. Okay, the fact that it is in red is a bit of a giveaway. What this chart shows is the weight of a very, very exclusive club - people who have run a 10,000m race in under 27 minutes (that's over six consecutive miles at 4:20 pace).

Until earlier this month there were just 30 members of this club. Then in a fast race at Stanford, set up so Galen Rupp could have a go at the American Record (27:13) Chris Solinsky simply ran away from the field over the last two and a half laps and got to join this exclusive club. Rupp did beat the old American record but it was a bit of a moot point since Solinsky had just crushed it. Just watch:


What is so unusual about Solinsky's win is not his ethnicity but his size. Yes, the other members of the club are all African but they are also all very light. Solinsky, at 161 pounds was 20 pounds heavier than the next heaviest runner to break 27 minutes and about 40 pounds heavier than the average (121 pounds).
My teammates always make fun of me for being a fatty and stuff, and the first thing they said after the race was "that's probably a fatty world record."

Of course from the perspective of almost everyone else Solinsky is hardly a 'fatty'. In fact he's almost exactly the same height and weight I am, I think he's about 1" shorter and essentially the same weight, giving him a BMI that is smack in the middle of normal.

This all relates to several issues related to human physiology that we covered last week and will cover tomorrow. Of particular interest is the suggestion that a 'large' runner such as Solinsky can only match the smaller runners in cool conditions - as heat and humidity rise even human runners approach limits set by their ability to shed heat. A notable example was seen in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics where the unexpected winner was the 95 pound Josiah Thugwane of South Africa. In the hot and humid conditions the tiny Thugwane had a considerable advantage that allowed him to win in the relatively slow time of 2:12.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Final exam

Write an editorial about the news that researchers led by J. Craig Venter have built a genome from scratch and used it to control a cell. Is this a giant step forward or just another day at the office? Some distinguished folks discuss the issue here.

(Not an actual final exam, but I hope that you all have some background and some enthusiasm for the topic that you could attempt this).

New campus seminar calendar

Did you know there are dozens of research-related events from all disciplines happening on campus every week? Now you can get all the details in one place with the Office of Research’s new events calendar at http://www.research.ucsb.edu/resources/events.shtml

The calendar includes seminars, lectures, symposia, conferences, colloquia, and other events from UCSB-affiliated researchers and visiting scholars that are open to a campus audience.

The events are stored as a Google Calendar, so you can subscribe with a Google account or export the information for use in other calendar programs including CorporateTime.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Stephen Colbert's Inner Fish

I mentioned this book earlier in the quarter and it is a very good read. I hadn't realized that the author, Neil Shubin, had been on the Colbert Report until Vincenzo mentioned it to me. He does a pretty good job at getting his points across, letting Stephen Colbert get his laughs, and not coming across as a clueless scientist. Nice job.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

STRESS


So as finals and the end of the year approach us, I thought it would be appropriate to bring up a feeling that most of us are feeling at the moment--stress. As Claudia and John talked about in class a couple weeks ago, stress in humans is really wacky because we have the ability to kind of turn it on whenever, and in some cases this is not exactly a good thing. It can lead to shorter life-spans, gray hair, heart problems, lack of sleep, you know not good stuff. However, in a pinch under some sort of chaos, it can really help you out. I'm a firm believer and lover of podcasts, and I just happened to come across this great one by Radiolab about stress. They've included a bunch of people's stories about how they have used stress to help/hurt themselves, and a lot of interesting commentary. I strongly recommend you guys listen to it, it's really interesting.

here's the link:

Nicotine mode of action



By binding to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, nicotine increases the levels of several neurotransmitters - acting as a sort of "volume control". It is thought that increased levels of dopamine in the reward circuits of the brain are responsible for the euphoria and relaxation and eventual addiction caused by nicotine consumption.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Favorite Quote

I've got to say- I got pretty excited about the lecture on immunology. It reminded me that I've been meaning to post what is, quite possibly, one of my favorite quotes of all time. Written by Claude Combes, a parasite ecologist, I think it really nicely wraps up the main idea behind the Red Queen hypothesis as it pertains to coevolution with pathogens:

"One might add that being genetically unvarying when one has a determined parasite for an adversary is like taking the same route home every day when threatened by terrorists."
 -Claude Combes

I like it so much that I even have it on my facebook profile. 

Rubbish flyers

R. L. Nudds, G. J. Dyke. Narrow Primary Feather Rachises in Confuciusornis and Archaeopteryx Suggest Poor Flight Ability. Science, 2010; 328

The fossil birds Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis had feathered wings resembling those of living birds, but their flight capabilities remain uncertain. Analysis of the rachises of their primary feathers shows that the rachises were much thinner and weaker than those of modern birds, and thus the birds were not capable of flight. Only if the primary feather rachises were solid in cross-section (the strongest structural configuration), and not hollow as in living birds, would flight have been possible. Hence, if Archaeopteryx and Confuciusornis were flapping flyers, they must have had a feather structure that was fundamentally different from that of living birds. Alternatively, if they were only gliders, then the flapping wing stroke must have appeared after the divergence of Confuciusornis, likely within the enantiornithine or ornithurine radiations.

Or, as ScienceDaily summarized: The evolution of flight took longer than previously thought with the ancestors of modern birds "rubbish" at flying, if they flew at all, according to scientists.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Male antelope scares female into staying for sex

During mating season, male topi antelope trick females with false alarms of nearby danger to boost chances for sex, a new study says. If a female starts wandering out of a male's territory, the male will begin snorting and staring, ears pricked, at nonexistent predators."The female will be walking away, and the male runs in front, looks not at the female but where she's going, makes this snort, and she typically stops," said lead researcher Jakob Bro-Jørgensen of the University of Liverpool.

The paper is in The American Naturalist (Male Topi Antelopes Alarm Snort Deceptively to Retain Females for Mating) and there's a news report at the National Geographic site.

Sharks can become invisible?!


So this isn't exactly related to what we are learning in class right now, but I had to post. Up to 10% of sharks are "luminous" - they emit light from organs called photophores. This creates an optical illusion making them invisible to predators and prey! It also turns on sharks of the opposite sex. Pretty crazy.

Here's the link to the article:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T8F-4YWBJSM-1&_user=112642&_coverDate=05%2F31%2F2010&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1347934181&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000059608&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=112642&md5=66e2f1a151994981804dffb1694ab4c9

Monday, May 24, 2010

Smells like Teen Spirit, or maybe lilac....

Did you know that the 2004 Nobel Prize was awarded to Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck for their discoveries of "odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system"?

There's a nice summary of their research on the Nobel website (this is the summary of the summary - check the link for the full version):

The sense of smell long remained the most enigmatic of our senses. The basic principles for recognizing and remembering about 10,000 different odours were not understood. This year's Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine have solved this problem and in a series of pioneering studies clarified how our olfactory system works. They discovered a large gene family, comprised of some 1,000 different genes (three per cent of our genes) that give rise to an equivalent number of olfactory receptor types. These receptors are located on the olfactory receptor cells, which occupy a small area in the upper part of the nasal epithelium and detect the inhaled odorant molecules.

Each olfactory receptor cell possesses only one type of odorant receptor, and each receptor can detect a limited number of odorant substances. Our olfactory receptor cells are therefore highly specialized for a few odours. The cells send thin nerve processes directly to distinct micro domains, glomeruli, in the olfactory bulb, the primary olfactory area of the brain. Receptor cells carrying the same type of receptor send their nerve processes to the same glomerulus. From these micro domains in the olfactory bulb the information is relayed further to other parts of the brain, where the information from several olfactory receptors is combined, forming a pattern. Therefore, we can consciously experience the smell of a lilac flower in the spring and recall this olfactory memory at other times.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Phagocytosis



This video, taken from a 16-mm movie made in the 1950s by the late David Rogers at Vanderbilt University, shows a neutrophil chasing down and consuming bacteria. Although some or all of the movement of the bacteria may simply be due to Brownian motion the movement of the neutrophil is clearly directed, in this case by chemical gradients. There's another nice video showing neutrophil chemotaxis here.

Unfortunately internet memes run a strong and I immediately thought of the following BoingBoing post - Adding the Benny Hill Theme to Anything Makes it Funny. So it was no surprise to find someone had already done that.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A moift and wet foil

You have probably all used JSTOR at one time or another to get access to online journals. What you might not realize is that JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization helping the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways.

JSTOR is currently collaborating with The Royal Society to digitize, preserve, and extend access to their Philosophical Transactions back to 1685. So, for example, you can now read the first journal report on the medicinal powers of willow bark (now known to be due to high concentrations of salicyclic acid - closely related to the active ingredient in aspirin.) Salicyclic acid is now known to be an important compound in mediating what is known as 'systemic acquired resistance' in plants - the plant equivalent to the innate immune system found in animals.

At this time in human history the 'doctrine of signatures' was still widely believed - that a plant shaped like a body part or disease would be useful in curing it (hence the names liverwort, woundwort, toothwort, wormwood etc). This was a theological reasoning rather than a scientific observation - it was reasoned that the Almighty must have set his sign upon the various means of curing disease which he provided. Through time this concept was expanded so that the "signature" could also be identified in the environments or specific sites in which plants grew.

Hence the following passage:

'As this tree delights in a moift and wet foil, where agues chiefly abound, the general maxim, that many natural remedies carry their cure along with them, or their remedies lie not far from their caufes, was fo very appofite to this particular cafe, that I could not help applying it; and that this might be the intention of Providence, I muft own had fome little weight with me.'

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Undergraduate Research Colloquium

This Thursday, 20th May, is the UCSB Undergraduate Research Colloquium - A poster exhibition that recognizes the scholarly achievements of students and acknowledges the faculty who have contributed to the development of student research and creative projects.

It is held from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m in the Corwin Pavillion - so it is very convenient for you to wander across after class and take a look around. This is usually quite a large event with over a hundred posters.

Don't forget Brad Hawkins talk today at 4pm (see below).

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Golden Years Truly Are Golden

As I mentioned in class the AAAS website reported on a PNAS paper out online yesterday: A snapshot of the age distribution of psychological well-being in the United States

In contrast to other, similar, studies this one used a large sample with fewer questions. In fact the sample size was over a third of a million people!

Stone's team found that global well-being declines from the 20s to age 50, then increases steadily. Happiness and enjoyment also increase after age 50. Although sadness is fairly flat throughout the age groups, most negative feelings decline with age. Worry stays level until about 50, then drops. Anger falls steadily from the 20s; stress peaks in the 20s, starts a decline, then plummets after age 50. The patterns are almost identical for men and women, although women have more stress, worry more, and are sadder at all ages, despite reporting better global well-being than men at most ages.
The findings make sense to anyone who has gotten out of their 20s, says Stone. "If you were to do a survey and say, 'How many of you would like to be 25 again?' you don't get a lot of takers," he says.

Hopefully this news is not too depressing to those of you looking at 25 from the other side!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

xkcd on Field Biology

Dog's noses

With regard to the post below, if any of you are members of alternative rock bands then I think 'Phineas Gage was not an asshole' would be a great name for a song.

And now for something completely different.....

When a dog sniffs, he uses a different route of airflow than for normal breathing. A structure just inside the nostrils called the alar fold, opens allowing air to flow through the upper area of the nasal passages. A bony pocket traps odor molecules and they are dissolved in the mucous covered scent receptors where signals of this chemical change travel from the receptor along the olfactory nerve to the olfactory bulb at the end of each nasal passage.

When the dog exhales, the alar fold closes off the upper part and pushes air down and out through the slits on the side of the nose, which stirs up even more scent particles.

Odor molecules emanate from the source in a cone shape. Depending on environmental factors, odor molecules will be denser at the source and thinner as they disperse into the air. Scent detection dogs will scan this scent cone as they trail the source, often making a ‘whuffing’ sound.

From the Cadaver Dog Handbook by Andrew J. Rebmann, Marcella H. Sorg, Edward David

(Scooter can make 'woofing' sounds but I don't think that's what they are talking about.....)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage and the tamping rod that went through his brain.

Curse you Wikipedia, by making it easy to check up on facts and stories you are spoiling it for everyone.

As we saw in class the story of Phineas Gage is quite well known and often repeated in psychology and anatomy classes. But like all good stories, is it too good to be true?

Psychologist Malcolm Macmillan, in his book An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage, surveys scores of accounts of the case (both scientific and popular), finding that they are varying and inconsistent, typically poorly supported by the evidence, and often in direct contradiction to it. Accounts commonly ascribe to Gage drunkenness, braggadocio, "a vainglorious tendency to show off his wound," an "utter lack of foresight," inability or refusal to hold a job —even "sexually molesting small children," according to curricular materials at one medical school— none of these mentioned by Harlow nor by anyone else claiming actual knowledge of Gage's life.

A daguerreotype portrait of Gage—"handsome...well dressed and confident, even proud," and holding the tamping iron which injured him—was identified in 2009. One researcher points to it as consistent with a social recovery hypothesis, under which Gage's most serious mental changes may have existed for only a limited time after the accident, so that in later life he was far more functional, and socially far better adapted, than has been thought.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What are we good at.? (ans=sweating)

There's been a resurgence of interest lately in what led to the evolution of bipedalism in humans and the importance that running may have had in our evolutionary past. From Christopher Moore's best selling book 'Born to Run' to cover stories in the prestigious journal Nature (eg Endurance running and the evolution of Homo), running, especially barefoot running and endurance running, is quite the hot academic topic these days.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the actual sport of endurance running. I would guess that only a tiny handful of Americans are aware the right now the world 24 hour running championship is going on in Brive, France. The race started about 12 hours ago and will continue for another 12. You can get live updates here if you are so inclined. There is both an individual race and also a team event, with the combined distances of the top 3 runners counting for the national championship. At the last check the USA men's team and the Japanese men's team were separated by a meter! Men:JPN 421.872km, US 421.871km

The lead runners are averaging about 12km/h or 7.5 mph. That's 8 minutes per mile- hardly a slow jog. And they have been doing that for 12 hours..... with 12 more to go......

I find these performances literally amazing. What is equally interesting is that the participants don't look like freaks. They aren't muscle bound, neither are they all incredibly thin (one of the US team was over 300lbs until recently and still tips the scales around 200), they aren't all short and they aren't all tall, they aren't all young and they aren't all old - they actually look like a cross section of people you might find anywhere. (I like this picture - the tiny Russian lady on the left is 61 !)

Most animals have to pant to lose heat. Animals cannot pant and run simultaneously, limiting how long they can run before they have to stop to pant and cool down. Humans can lose heat by sweating so we can run for much, much longer. But sweating loses water and salt. So the good ultra-runners have to be exceptionally good at maintaining their fluid and salt levels.

In many ways this race is the world homeostasis championship.

Update: Exciting finish with the USA men's team holding onto third place and Scott Jurek completing 165.7 miles to beat the American record. The men's winner, Shingo Inoue from Japan, completed 170 miles and the Women's winner, Anne Cecile Fontaine of France, completed 149 miles. The second place finisher for the US (12th overall) Michael Henze finished with a 22 minute last 5k...... The tiny Russian lady above completed 117 miles.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Biodiversity: The Spice of Life ... or Life Support?

T H E 52nd A N N U A L
H A R O L D J. P L O U S A W A R D L E C T U R E

Bradley Cardinale
Biodiversity: The Spice of Life ... or Life Support?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 / 4:00 PM / FREE
Donald Bren School of Environmental Science& Management / Room 1414

The world is currently in the midst of one of the greatest waves of species extinction that has ever occurred in the history of life. But even as rates of species extinction are approaching those of prior mass extinctions, we know little about the different roles that species play in natural environments. We know even less about how the well-being of our own species might be linked to the great variety of life that is the most striking feature of our planet.

In this lecture, I will evaluate the evidence for a classic ecological hypothesis that Earth's life-support systems depend critically on the variety of species that inhabit our planet. The idea that biological diversity regulates the production of food, the cleanliness of air and water, and outbreaks of pests and disease, has been around since the time of Darwin. But while these 'services' of natural ecosystems are often touted by environmentalists to justify conservation, they have been highly controversial among scientists. Until the 1990's there was very little evidence that could establish any clear link between biological diversity and the rates of biologically essential processes. I will review the explosion of new research that has accumulated on this topic over the last two decades, and I'll begin to ask the difficult, but crucial question of how many species our planet needs to support higher life.

Bradley Cardinale is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at the University of California - Santa Barbara. He received his Ph.D. in Biology from the University of Maryland in 2002, and completed his postdoctoral research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cardinale's research is aimed at understanding how human alteration of the environment impacts the biological diversity of communities and, in turn, how diversity loss can affect ecological processes that are important to humanity. He has published nearly 60 scientific papers that help guide our efforts to conserve and restore natural ecosystems.

The Harold J. Plous Memorial Award was established in 1957 to honor Harold J. Plous, Assistant Professor of Economics. The award is given annually to a faculty member of the rank of Assistant Professor or Instructor who has demonstrated outstanding performance by creative action or contribution to the intellectual life of the college community.

Short-term research assistant needed in June

Christian Balzer, a Graduate Student in Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology is looking for a motivated undergraduate to assist him for 80 hours in June. Pay is $10/hour and work schedule is flexible. The only constraint is that the 80 work hours should be completed within approx. 3 weeks. The earlier in June, the better.

Tasks will include processing soil samples in the lab and possibly helping out with some field work at Sedgwick reserve, depending on interest. His project is investigating how temporal fluctuations in water and nitrogen availability affect species coexistence (and hence, plant diversity) in grasslands.

Interested students should contact Christian Balzer directly.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

female gingko


So last quarter when discussing gymnosperms we talked about how there's biodiversity within the gymnosperms, specifically the variation between conifers (pinophyta), cycads (cycadophyta), gnetophytas, and gingkophytas. Interestingly, the gingkophyta is responsible for the gingko biloba, and it is the only species in its class etc. Essentially, it is its only living ancestor. Gingkos are really interesting because they can withstand a lot of trauma and live a really long time. However, another really interesting thing is that you have probably only seen male gingko trees. This is because the female gingko tree stinks hardcore. The fruit it produces smells like rancid butter, and because of this stench, a lot of people don't plant it. However, I was able to go on a trip to check out some female gingkos on a college campus in Portland Oregon, and for your interest here's a picture of what they look like. Unfortunately, they actually don't look any different than the male. The only way you can tell is by looking at the flowers, which are either clusters of little anthers on the male stem, or in the female's case, a small cluster of 2-3 tiny ovaries on the stem. A funny fact about these gingkos (there were two in front of the college's library) is that in the fall the fruit would smell so terrible, that they had to change the library's entrance to the other side of the building so that students and professors could avoid them.

Your inner fish

I just finished reading Neil Shubin's book 'Your Inner Fish.' It is a very easy and highly recommended read. We tend to focus on those areas where we have 'improved' on our fish-like ancestors (walking upright, doing pushups, inventing calculus etc) but what I found fascinating, and relevant to class today, was a discussion of olfaction (smelling) and how it's all been downhill since our aquatic past.

The human genome only contains about 23,000 protein-coding genes - which itself is an amazing fact. The other 98.5% of our genome consists of non-coding genes, regulatory sequences, introns and endogenous retrovirus sequences.

About 1,000 of those 23,000 protein-coding genes code for different odor receptors but less than half of them are functional in modern humans. Which says a lot about the importance of different senses in the evolution of humans from an aquatic ancestor (smell) to a terrestrial life (vision). Our evolutionary history is revealed in our genes.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Chytrid fungi

Available online today through PNAS early edition:

Dynamics of an emerging disease drive large-scale amphibian population extinctions
and
Enzootic and Epizootic Dynamics of the Chytrid Fungal Pathogen of Amphibians

UCSB has the Cliff notes press release: Studies Offer New Insights Into How Deadly Amphibian Disease Spreads and Kills

Scientists have unraveled the dynamics of a deadly disease that is wiping out amphibian populations across the globe. Chytridiomycosis is caused by a microscopic aquatic fungus called Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) that attacks the skin of amphibians. The new findings, from two separate studies published in today's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), suggest that infection intensity –– the severity of the disease among individuals –– determines whether frog populations will survive or succumb to chytridiomycosis. The research identifies a critical tipping point in infection intensity, beyond which chytridiomycosis causes mass mortalities and extinctions. UC Santa Barbara's Cheryl J. Briggs, professor of Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology and the Duncan and Suzanne Mellichamp Chair in Systems Biology, is lead author of the second study and a co-author of the first study. Other collaborators from UCSB were Roland A. Knapp, a research biologist with the Marine Science Institute, and graduate student Tate S. Tunstall.

Cherie currently has ten undergraduates including at least 4 and possibly 5 CCS students working in her lab on a variety of projects from modeling and database work to PCR and genetic analysis to foodweb and mesocosm studies. So if any aspect of this work sounds interesting then you should contact either Cherie or Mary Toothman, her lab manager, directly.

Not forgetting of course how many ways this work ties into our lectures this quarter - Chytrid fungus (check); vertebrates (check); community interactions (check).

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Octopusnuff

Huh? It's hard to make up a word that nobody has used on a webpage, ever. But apparently I did. I assume if you try that link in a few days/weeks/months? this page will then show up. [I checked a little over an hour later and this page was already there! I didn't realize google searched the web so continuously]. Anywho. I apologize to all cephalopod lovers for putting up the first video. But I believe it helps make three points:
1) You'll appreciate the selection pressure that led to video 2.
2) The evolution of shells and external skeletons led to so called 'adaptive radiations' in certain groups as they, temporarily, escaped their predators. This video shows the problems of the unarmored.
3) Remember one of the advantages of group living was being able to prey on larger or more difficult prey? I rest my case.



This next one is for the cephalopod lovers. You may have seen it before but it amazes me how the octopus mimics not just the colors but also the texture of the algae.

Friday, May 7, 2010

City of gonads

And whilst we are on the subject of oversized gonads (if you missed the museum visit that will be intriguing) here is the newly discovered 'city of gonads' jellyfish. Only a few millimetres wide with a cluster of gonads on top the jellyfish was found in the River Derwent in Hobart, Tasmania.

The new species has been named Csiromedusa medeopolis, meaning "jellyfish from CSIRO" and "city of gonads" and is so different from other jellyfish that it has been placed into a new family.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ecology 'Midterm'

For those of you that missed it being handed out in class: The Ecology 'Midterm'

More Museum

Claudia pointed me in the direction of some very topical links from the museum.

First, Paul Collins has a paper in the early edition of PNAS (available May 3 so this is hot off the press). This is a great example of how museums can be used for research and how the original collectors could have had no idea about the uses their collections would be put to.

The paper concerns a story Claudia told you during the ecology section - the changes in the food web on the California Channel Islands: Pleistocene to historic shifts in bald eagle diets on the Channel Islands, California

There have also been a couple of articles in the local Independent newspaper about the museum:

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How to draw a gorilla

How to draw a gorilla in 3 easy steps.

1) Be born with a certain amount of artistic talent.
2) Practice, practice, practice.

Okay, I lied about the steps being easy. But even having the talent and the practice will not get you a good gorilla drawing. For that you will need an actual gorilla to pose for you. Herein lies the problem. Gorillas don't like you making eye contact with them. If you do it to a wild gorilla you might be in danger. If you do it to a captive gorilla he'll just wander off (or escape and attack you). Either way, no posing gorilla.

The solution? Don't make eye contact with the gorilla. Hence step:
3) Get yourself some Gaze-averting glasses

The sketch is by James Gurney whose technique of avoiding eye contact allowed him some up close contact with both gorillas and chimpanzees.

He watched me draw with a professional interest. Every ten minutes or so he wanted me to show him how I was coming along on the sketch.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Asphalt volcanoes

And on the topic of geology, check out some of the press on the newest members of the CCS Bio team, Professor Dave Valentine of Earth Sciences , has been getting.

Listen to a report on KCLU: A team of researchers has found a group of what are known as "asphalt volcanoes"...some up to 65 feet high...on the ocean floor off the Santa Barbara County coastline.

Or read about it on the National Geographic website or the NSF website.

This is relevant to biology for several reasons. First, in terms of methane production and the creation of 'dead zones':

Eruptions of the California mounds might have once spewed enough methane to dramatically boost populations of methane-eating marine bacteria.

These bacteria depleted the water's oxygen, creating a giant "dead zone" in the Santa Barbara basin that was lethal to most marine life.

and secondly in terms of creating hard substrates for colonization by living organisms:

Asphalt mounds in general help create environments for marine life that might not otherwise exist.

"Processes that produce hard substrates in the deep ocean are rare. ... Generally speaking, the deep ocean is a muddy place," MacDonald said.

"I think it's really cool that there's this other process that we didn't really know about before that, at least in some places, is making pretty extensive hard bottoms for animals to colonize."

Geology talks

Bruce informs me that Geology will be having two good talks in the next two weeks:

Wednesday, May 5th, 3:30 1100 Webb Hall - Revisiting the Cretaceous-Tertiary Boundary Event in North America. Kirk Johnson, Sr. Scientist & Vice President, Denver Museum of Natural History

Wednesday May 12th, 3:30, 1100 Webb Hall. The Devonian Fish of Gogo, Australia (Home of the evidence for the oldest evidence for live birth in a vertebrate). John Long, Vice President of Research and Collections at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Saturdaze

This is a GREAT opportunity for CCS Biology students. Check out last year's winners - Caitlin is a CCS Bio student.

The 15 June deadline for applying for the Saturdaze NatureJournal scholarship for research in natural history is fast approaching . This scholarship has been established with the cooperation of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. I would appreciate it if you would notify your contacts and your students of this award. This scholarship is not widely advertised, so generates a small applicant pool. Please encourage undergraduates currently involved in natural history research to apply.

The application form is online and is extremely simple to complete. Thanks.

Larry Friesen, PhD
Director, Saturdaze / NatureJournal
http://www.sbnature.net

----------------------------------------------------------

Scholarship amount: $2,000 and $500 annual awards

Application deadline: 15 June

Award date: 15 July

Application website: http://www.sbnature.net/scholarship/index.htm

Use of scholarship award : unrestricted

Scope of Saturdaze NatureJournal Scholarships: Awarded to undergraduates involved in research in natural history and majoring in a biological sciences major. Research area must be within one or more of the following geographic areas: San Luis Obispo County, Santa Barbara County, and/or northern Channel Islands or conducted by a student from one of the institutions listed below.

Applicant field: Applicant must have been an undergraduate student during the last year at one of the colleges or universities within San Luis Obispo or Santa Barbara Counties:
Santa Barbara City College, Cuesta College, Allan Hancock, University of California Santa Barbara, Westmont College, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

>From the Saturdaze NatureJournal website . . .

Natural History is the broadest study of science and attempts to tie together observations of the natural world into a single interwoven fabric. As such, the knowledge base of natural history has grown beyond a single category of study and has been divided into smaller and smaller and more and more isolated disciplines. It is not uncommon that professional biologists study a single organism in a laboratory, far removed from its natural habitat. The Saturdaze Scholarship for Natural History Research supports the broader view.

Natural History is accessible to all who love and enjoy observing nature. In his essay on the Origin of Species, Charles Darwin, as a naturalist, wrote that . . .

"It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us."

Who among us has not contemplated nature and been inspired to learn about the connectedness within diversity? In this sense, natural history has attracted not only the scientist, but the artist and poet; natural history has become the romantic science. The romance of natural history stems from our desire to relate to the natural world, to regain a connectedness to it, and to preserve its diversity.

Saturdaze has partnered with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and has funded a scholarship to encourage research that helps to explain one or another "entangled bank". The Saturdaze NatureJournal Scholarship for Natural History Research rewards exceptional students attempting to discover interactions in nature. Saturdaze and the Museum share the goal of "inspiring a passion for the natural world".

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Sea bugs heavier than elephants

Hitting the media this week has been a press release from the 'Census of Marine Life'. For example you can see the BBC report here: Census offers glimpse of oceans' smallest lifeforms or at Nature here: It's a microbial world- Worldwide census ups diversity estimates for marine microbes one-hundred-fold.

An unprecedented number of tiny, ocean dwelling organisms have been catalogued by researchers involved in a global survey of the world's oceans.

Although this infromation is fascinating I can help but comment on the appalling abuse of the SI system that is common to many of the reports and so, regrettably, must have been part of the press release.

One of the highlights was the discovery of a vast "microbial mat", covering an area equivalent to the size of Greece.

What? What's wrong with the hectare? It's 100m by 100m. Everyone can picture it. Who even knows how big Greece is? It's a series of freaking islands. Even most Greek people probably couldn't come up with a very good guess for the area of Greece. But wait there's more...

They have also calculated that the estimated total mass of marine microbes is equivalent to 240 billion African elephants.

The African elephant is not part of the SI system! Can we at least get it in tons (and elephants if you must). I know they are only trying to be reader friendly but see what it leads to -
The Belfast Telegraph - Sea bugs 'heavier than elephants' (complete with picture of elephant).