Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Host sanctions

How do you keep your mutualists 'honest' and prevent them from cheating? If you are a plant and provide Rhizobium bacteria with a nice home and everything it needs what will you do if the Rhizobium turns out to be a deadbeat and doesn't fix enough Nitrogen?  The plant starts turning off the amenities starting with the oxygen...

Explaining mutualistic cooperation between species remains one of the greatest problems for evolutionary biology. Why do symbionts provide costly services to a host, indirectly benefiting
competitors sharing the same individual host? Host monitoring of symbiont performance and the imposition of sanctions on ‘cheats’ could stabilize mutualism. Here we show that soybeans
penalize rhizobia that fail to fix N2 inside their root nodules. We prevented a normally mutualistic rhizobium strain from cooperating (fixing N2) by replacing air with an N2-free atmosphere. A series of experiments at three spatial scales (whole plants, half root systems and individual nodules) demonstrated that forcing non-cooperation (analogous to cheating) decreased the reproductive success of rhizobia by about 50%. Non-invasive monitoring implicated decreased O2 supply as a possible mechanism
for sanctions against cheating rhizobia. More generally, such sanctions by one or both partners may be important in stabilizing a wide range of mutualistic symbioses.

From Host sanctions and the legume–rhizobium mutualism

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dimly recognizable

"If all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable, and if, as disembodied spirits, we could then investigate it, we should find its mountains, hills, vales, rivers, lakes and oceans represented by a thin film of nematodes. The location of towns would be decipherable, since for every massing of human beings there would be a corresponding massing of certain nematodes. Trees would still stand in ghostly rows representing our streets and highways. The location of the various plants and animals would still be decipherable, and, had we sufficient knowledge, in many cases even their species could be determined by an examination of their erstwhile nematode parasites."

I love the internets. I only had to type in 'Nematode quote' to find it. It's from from "Nematodes and Their Relationships", published in 1915 by Nathan Augustus Cobb who was apparently known as the father of US nematology.

His genial and humorous nature will ever be remembered, especially by those who were present at a certain meeting of the Helminthological Society of Washington. He appeared with numerous boxes and cartons which contained "A Collection of Holes," which he had assembled during his travels, and on them he proceeded to deliver a solemn and profound dissertation which rocked the audience with laughter. This was probably a satire on certain members of the society who always had entirely too much to say about things of which they knew little or nothing. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Mailing lists

We interrupt the normally scheduled blog posts to remind you that there are two Biology mailing lists that you can sign up for that may contain useful information to you

Biology-u-l -- Biology Undergraduate List is mainly for announcements made to L&S biology students. I recommend that all CCS biology students and any CCS student interested in biology classes and biology research sign up for this list (click the link to sign up). There aren't a lot of postings but there are some items of use. You can also check out the archives. Most posts are made by the two biology undergraduate advisors in MCDB and EEMB.

BIOnews is a more general list for the biology community at UCSB. There are some seminar announcements, course announcements, and a lot of people looking for pieces of equipment and chemicals. If you are part of the biology community at UCSB then you should sign up for this list.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

For all the lefties out there...

I was doing some research on frequency dependent selection and I found a really amusing and interesting article relating frequency dependent selection to the persistence of left handedness in humans! After many articles about butterflies this was a find!
Reminded me of you all and thought you might want to read it to:

TL;DR: Basically the left handedness trait has been consistent at 10& since neolithic times. Scientists now think that this is an example of negative frequency dependent selection. The rare lefties have a slight fitness advantage in combat but only while they're percentage remains low. Neat!

Bacterial paradise

Glow of zooplankton (A. salina) after contacting and ingesting small particles broken off colonies of the bioluminescent bacterium P. leiognathi. The photograph on the left was taken in room light, and the photograph on the right was taken in darkness using long exposure (30 s) 

Bacterial bioluminescence as a lure for marine zooplankton and fish

Some marine microbes glow in the dark. But why? A recent paper in PNAS suggests that far from deterring predators (one prior hypothesis), the behavior may serve to attract predators.

(F)indings show that the light emitted by the bacteria attracts predators, generally zooplankton, which ingest the bacteria but are unable to digest them. The bacteria, which continue to glow inside the zooplankton's guts, reveal the presence of the now-glowing zooplankton, which in turn, are attacked by their own predators -- fish -- who can spot them readily in the dark.

Further investigation of nocturnal fish that had fed on zooplankton showed that the luminous bacteria also survived the passage through the fish guts. "As far as the bacteria are concerned, their access to the fish digestive systems is like reaching 'paradise' -- a safe place, full of nutrients, and also a means of transport into the wide ocean," explained Prof. Genin

But why do the zooplankton simply not learn to avoid the potentially deadly glowing bacteria?

"In the dark, deep ocean the quantity of food is very limited, therefore it is worthwhile for the zooplankton to take the risk of becoming glowing themselves when contacting and consuming the particle with glowing bacteria, since the profit of finding rare food there is greater than the danger of exposing themselves to the relatively rare presence of predatory fish," explained Prof. Genin.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Genes for intelligence

I'm never quite sure why headlines on science websites feel the need to include 'experts say'. Does this imply that some of their reports are from random non-experts?

Anyway, on ScienceDaily today:

In the Genes, but Which Ones? Studies That Linked Specific Genes to Intelligence Were Largely Wrong, Experts Say.

 For decades, scientists have understood that there is a genetic component to intelligence, but a new Harvard study has found both that most of the genes thought to be linked to the trait are probably not in fact related to it, and identifying intelligence's specific genetic roots may still be a long way off.
"As is the case with other traits, like height, there are probably thousands of genes and their variants that are associated with intelligence, and there may be other genetic effects beyond the single gene effects -- there could be interactions between genes, there could be interactions between genes and the environment. What our results show is that the way researchers have been looking for genes that may be related to intelligence -- the candidate gene method -- is fairly likely to result in false positives, so other methods should be used."

Friday, February 24, 2012

How the zebra got his stripes

The zebra is completely black as an early embryo, and white stripes only appear in a later embryonic stage, when the production of dark pigmentation is blocked.  A popular theory is that zebras evolved striped coats as camouflage in tall grass but evidence for this is patchy.

In a paper in the Journal of Experimental Biology last year it was proposed that zebras are striped because this pattern attracts the fewest

The best part of this experiment is that they built 'four life-size "sticky horse models " painted in different colors and patterns to test their theory. As predicted the zebra-striped horse model attracted the fewest flies.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Hear My Nectar

I thought I'd post a video of bat pollinators but I found this cool video from last year where they showed that in one bat pollinated vine the dish shaped leaves are adapted to produce a strong return signal to echolocating pollinators. The paper is in Science: Floral Acoustics: Conspicuous Echoes of a Dish-Shaped Leaf Attract Bat Pollinators

The visual splendor of many diurnal flowers serves to attract visually guided pollinators such as bees and birds, but it remains to be seen whether bat-pollinated flowers have evolved analogous echo-acoustic signals to lure their echolocating pollinators. Here, we demonstrate how an unusual dish-shaped leaf displayed above the inflorescences of the vine Marcgravia evenia attracts bat pollinators. Specifically, this leaf’s echoes fulfilled requirements for an effective beacon, that is, they were strong, multidirectional, and had a recognizable invariant echo signature. In behavioral experiments, presence of the leaves halved foraging time for flower-visiting bats.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What is life?

An article in this week's The Scientist takes a look at the old problem of just what exactly is life? Drawing on some recent papers they suggest that it is self reproduction with variation that is key.

The hypothetical primitive RNA replication process has a degree of sophistication that separates it from mere chemistry: it copies itself and allows copying mistakes, which themselves are copied in future generations. In other words, this is the process of self-reproduction with variations (as in Spiegelman’s system), not just organic synthesis. This is the very definition of life suggested by the developing theory of early molecular evolution. The same formula is derived by “word count” analysis, which yields the most frequently used words, of more than 100 known definitions of life. The recent discovery that both genes and genomes appear to have emerged originally as simple tandem repeats, with subsequent mutations increasing their complexity makes such definition even more attractive. One can view a genome as molecular habitat for emergence of “new life” in the form of expanding and mutating simple repeats. In that sense, and under the above minimalistic definition, life never stopped emerging, starting some 4 billion years ago with replicating RNA, and continuing to this day within the genomes of every living organism.


I'm going to go way back and tell you all a little bit about botulinum toxins, which are produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum.  Botulinum neurotoxins are the most poisonous substances on Earth.  They cause paralysis by targeting a specific protein in the synaptic vesicle and plasma membrane 
of neurons.  These toxins prevent acetylcholine from being released and cause botulism.

There are seven known serotypes of botulinum neurotoxins, all of which are classified as category A bioterrorism agents!

In small doses, these toxins can be used to block the release of neurotransmitters that cause pain, muscle spasms and other symptoms associated with diseases like arthritis, asthma, and psoriasis.  Interestingly, the protein that botulinum toxin targets exists in non-nerve cells also, but these cells lack the receptors needed for the toxin to enter and work in the cell.  In recent experiments, botulinum toxin was attached to a molecule that non-nerve cells do have receptors for.  These engineered botulinum toxins block the release of a protein from immune cells linked to inflammation, which is a major problem in many diseases.  This very dangerous toxin could potentially be beneficial to people with chronic inflammatory diseases!  Go figure.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Seed mega-dormancy

In the news today was the story of Russian scientists who have grown a plant from seeds regenerated from 30,000-year-old frozen fruits, buried by ancient squirrels. This extends the record for seed longevity from a mere 2,000 years to over 30,000 years.

Of course if bad novels have taught me anything about reviving things frozen in ice they've probably also unleashed some ancient evil or at least called down the wrath of ancient squirrels. We all knew the world was going to end in 2012 we just didn't expect ancient squirrels to be involved.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Evolution of sporophytes

The evolution of the sporophyte in terrestrial plants is a controversial topic in evolutionary biology, due to two opposing theories that are equally supported. The “homologous theory” proposes that sporophytes descended directly from gametophytes in an aquatic algal ancestor that was retained in terrestrial descendants. This theory would then define a sporophyte as a “transformed gametophyte with the specific function of spore production”.

The “antithetic theory” proposes that the sporophyte is essentially an exaggerated zygote, originating when a zygote in an archegonium delayed meiosis and instead divided mitotically to form a blob of diploid cells. This theory indicates that the sporophyte evolved simultaneously in algae and bryophyte ancestors more or less at the same time they were transitioning onto land. This theory is also called the interpolation theory because it involves another step being “inserted” into the life cycle of plants.

There is evidence for both theories, and no real solution in sight yet, but it is still an interesting question worth pondering.

The Light at the Bottom of the Ocean

Sorry for the delay in posting: here is my quick summary on the research that I discovered on hydrothermal vents:

Hydrothermal vents are astounding communities that are a relatively recent discovery - only found in 1977 mostly by accident. Scientists were exploring a spreading ridge near the Galapagos and when they found a roughly 400C underwater volcanoes the last thing they expected was life- but lo and behold, life is what the found. And so much of it! Here are some pictures of some of the bizarre and adapted creatures that have survived the extreme conditions.

(Shown are deep sea shrimp, the "pompeii worm," a deep sea octopus, and the "ghost yeti crab."

Further research in hydrothermal vents reveals that there are actually two distinct types of vents - a black smoker vent

and a lost city vent:

The basic difference in these two vent systems is a key point in the theory of life's origin. The black smoker, which are directly above magma chambers, are low in pH and rich in methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen gas. However, the lost city vents have an alkaline environment, with a pH around seven or eight, and are located adjacent to spreading zones. This type of vent more closely resembles the early conditions of earth that gave rise to life. Further research has shown that the Lost City vents get their carbon from an inorganic source in the mantle and not the carbon dioxide in the water. It has also been hinted that alkaline protein gradients arose before other versions.

So much fascinating evidence around these communities and while they may or may not be the origins of life they are certainly worth investigating!

Oldest living clone

I mentioned that some clonal organisms may be older than the Bristlecone pines, or at least have occupied the same location continuously for longer. Everyone loves a record breaker so a paper in PLoSONE suggesting that patches of seagrass in the Mediterranean may be up to 200,000 years old got a fair bit of press coverage. The future may not be so bright for these clones though:

This further supports the hypothesis of phenotypic plasticity associated with large clonal size and old age. Nevertheless, even though such phenotypic plasticity possibly evolved across millennia, it may well be challenged by the unprecedented rate of environmental change imposed by current global climate change, including temperature increase and ocean acidification, and recent anthropogenic pressure on coastal areas resulting in changes in water quality, eutrophication, and nutrient load, particularly in seagrass meadows.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Inbreeding Effects on Fertility in Humans

This is a bit late, my apologies, but the most interesting topic I've had so far is on inbeeding and fertility in humans. The main research paper source I used is here. There have been studies on problems with inbred children, but this is one of the few on inbred adults that I've seen.

The researchers focused on Hutterites, specifically the S-leut (Schmiedeleut) Hutterites of South Dakota.  These Hutterites are a reproductively isolated population and have high birth rates, making them ideal for this kind of study, but more importantly, socioeconomic standing is fairly equal throughout the population because they practice a communal lifestyle.

All present married adults (396) who participated were required to fill out a detailed reproductive history questionnaire, detailing family births, deaths, and marriages. Married women participants who were of reproductive age were provided with journals so they can note their menstrual cycles and with pregnancy tests that they were instructed to use if their menses was late.

In order to determine fertility, three tests were used. First, interbirth intervals in the married women were examined under the assumption that longer intervals meant a harder time conceiving or a problem with fetal loss. Second, they examined the time between a woman's first menses after a pregnancy and the menses before the next pregnancy. Women using birth control were excluded from this part of the study. Last, they examined family size and in all the S-leut women born after 1900, including families throughout the United States and Canada.

The main conclusion drawn was that the more inbred a woman is, the more reduced her fecundity. The scientists hypothesize that this reduction could result from "recessive alleles that could influence pathways involved in gametogenesis, hormonal cycling, sperm transport, ovulation,
fertilization, or implantation". Duh.

Contemplating the first Plantae

In the journal Science this week is a paper that provides the best glimpse yet at what the common ancestor of the Plants and the Algae may have looked like.

Cyanophora paradoxa Genome Elucidates Origin of Photosynthesis in Algae and Plants
There's also a brief editorial commentary:
Contemplating the first Plantae

"The common ancestor of Plantae was an organism with very complex cells and a complex life cycle," Spiegel said. While some members of the super group Plantae may have less complex cells and life cycles, this does not mean they pre-date the common ancestor. "They're simpler because they lost parts, not because they originated that way."

Saturday, February 18, 2012

San Diego Zoo Fellowships

The San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research is pleased to offer Summer College Student Fellowships in various areas of research. Since 1975, the Institute has made opportunities available to interested and qualified students in order to gain research experience in the field of conservation research. It is made up of a diverse and dynamic research team, including the divisions of Applied Plant Ecology, Applied Animal Ecology, Behavioral Biology, Conservation Education, Genetics, Reproductive Physiology, and Wildlife Disease Laboratories.

Fellowships are for 12 weeks, with start dates of 21 May or 18 June to late August/early September. Undergraduate and Masters students interested in pursuing scientific careers relating to the scientific disciplines represented are welcome to apply. This year, fellowships will be available in each of the seven divisions. Applications for fellowships are accepted between January 1 and February 28 of each year for the following summer. All applications must be received no later than February 28. Applications and more information are available online.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tiny terror

I don't think this story would have been picked up by the press quite as much as it has been if they hadn't included some adorable photos of grumpy looking tiny chameleons. The actual paper is in PLoS ONE this week. The photos are all over the interwebs

Rivaling the World's Smallest Reptiles: Discovery of Miniaturized and Microendemic New Species of Leaf Chameleons (Brookesia) from Northern Madagascar

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Darwin's Bark Spider

I found this really interesting article about Darwin’s bark spider. These spiders live in Madagascar and can create one of the largest known orb webs. These webs can be close to 3m in diameter with anchor lines spanning up to 25m and are built over a river or small lake. This paper studied the spiders and wanted to see if the webs were specifically designed to capture large prey, even vertebrates. The spiders’ silk is the toughest known spider silk, which implies that it could be possible for the Darwin’s bark spider to catch extremely large prey. However, this study of Darwin’s bark spider found that the largest prey captured was a dragonfly and that most of the animals caught in the webs were small insects.

Image from

Gregoric M., Agnarsson I., Blackledge T., and Matjaz K. 2011. Darwin’s bark spider: giant prey in giant orb webs? Journal of Arachnology, v. 39(2) p. 287-295.

Conifer reproduction videos

Anything that happens in 3-d is just crying out for a video. I showed the second one in class. The first one is very short and a little obvious but I liked the second and third ones a lot. I thought they really helped in visualizing what is going on.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Distribution of Blood Type Frequencies

Let's say you have a blood type A+ living in Iceland needing a blood transfusion. Well, you may need to go to Norway to get your blood transfusion. A study has shown that there is a difference in frequency of the blood types in different races and countries. European descendents have a high A frequency and a very low B frequency. However, Asians have both high A and B frequency. This happened because different ethnic groups married within villages and ethnic groups; they did not mix frequently way-back-when. With globalization, it's going to be interesting to see how the frequency changes within the next 100 years. Below is a table that shows the distribution of blood type frequencies within different countries.

Fun with spores

Lycopodium is actually a type of club moss - which, as you may remember, is not a moss at all but a group of the seedless tracheophytes. Their very fine spores have been used for many purposes including early flash photography and as a fuel source in the first internal; combustion engine! When mixed with air, the spores are highly flammable because of their high fat content and their large surface area per unit of volume — a single spore's diameter is about 33 micrometers requiring about 30 laid side by side to span a millimeter and so 30x30x30=27,000 could be packed into a single cubic millimeter!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Shark swallows another shark whole

Haha yahoo news... but wow!

Dessication tolerance

I really like the way that Google helps you to find anything even if you are spectacularly uninspired in finding the right search terms. It took only a single search on 'dry moss' to find I should have been searching on 'dessication tolerance in bryophytes'. Click over to Google Scholar and within 10 seconds of starting the search I've found an interesting, and relatively recent, paper: Desiccation Tolerance in Bryophytes: A Reflection of the Primitive Strategy for Plant Survival in Dehydrating Habitats?
We postulate that desiccation tolerance is a primitive trait, thus mechanisms by which the first land plants achieved tolerance may be reflected in how extant desiccation-tolerant bryophytes survive drying. Evidence is consistent with extant bryophytes employing a tolerance strategy of constitutive cellular protection coupled with induction of a recovery/repair mechanism upon rehydration. 
A new phylogenetic analysis suggests that: (i) the basic mechanisms of tolerance seen in modern day bryophytes have changed little from the earliest manifestations of desiccation tolerance in land plants, and (ii) vegetative desiccation tolerance in the early land plants may have evolved from a mechanism present first in spores.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Quorum Sensing

Here's an article I found really interesting about quorum sensing inhibitors.  Quorum sensing in bacteria is a topic I've been interested in for a while now and some people believe it may be the future to antibiotics.  The idea is that bacteria communicate and don't release virulence until they sense that there are enough bacteria present that it will be effective.  The hope is that some day anti quorum sensing molecules can be found or developed in order to work as antibiotics.   Finding inhibitors like the ones mentioned in this article are the key to these types of antibiotics working.

If you guys want to know more about quorum sensing here is an old article from when it was first discovered.

Here's a great TED video of Bonnie Bassler, one of the leading researchers in quorum sensing, talking about her discoveries.

 Population Epigenetics?

Potential Mechanism for Population Epigenetics! I thought this paper was interesting because it relates Epigenetics to colon cancer, and how methylation can actually silence one of your DNA repair genes. The paper also shows that a mother with the methylated gene may have passed it along to her son. The son's children, however did not carry the methylated gene, possibly hinting at a "reset" of methylation during spermatogenesis. ....Or it could just be a coincidence that both mother and son acquired this methylation over their life spans, but that would be boring.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Bacterial mutation rates: not as constant as you might think

It has been known for a while that bacteria can change their mutation rates in response to harsh circumstances - something impressive enough in itself - but recent data suggests that at least some bacteria actually change their mutation rate when they run out of food.
According to a recent study by Patricia Foster and Jill Layton, a protein - sigma 38, a protein that is expressed in response to stress - regulates in turn the expression of DNA Polymerase IV. DNA Polymerase IV has a significantly higher rate of error than DNA Polymerase I, II, or III. This means that mutations are much more likely to occur when DNA Polymerase IV is increasingly expressed. It is currently assumed that although an increased rate of mutations would lead to increased death due to deleterious mutations, it must be beneficial in some circumstances in its ability to produce better-adapted bacteria. An increased mutation rate might even be expected in extreme conditions. Incredibly, however, when E. coli bacteria were simply starved - a somewhat regular occurrence for bacteria - the expression of DNA Polymerase IV quadrupled. Clearly, adaptive mutation is not only a reality for some bacteria - it is also much more common that we originally thought.

Foster, Patricia and Layton, Jill. "Error-prone DNA polymerase IV is controlled by the stress-response sigma factor, RpoS, in Escherichia coli," Molecular Microbiology, vol. 50, no. 2; pp. 549-561.

Hybrid Organisms Can Better Resist Parasites

Organisms can sometimes hybridize.  Studies have shown that these hybrids often have an increased resistance to parasites that plague each of its parents.  This is most commonly seen in plants, especially those that are commercially important, but has been seen in arthropods, fish, amphibians, reptiles, and even mammals!  Parasites sometimes “co-evolve” with their hosts, which is something that, until recently, most scientists ignored.  This leads parasites to often have what is called a high “host-specificity” which means they can only infect  few, if not one species of host.  When this species hybridizes, the hybrid is like a new species, making it harder for the parasite to survive.

This combines things I've learned from both CCS 20 and Parasitology!

Parasitism of Plant and Animal Hybrids: Are Facts and Fates the Same?

Toxicity by Acquisition

Here's a pretty cool article I found in the New York Times about the African crested rat, which is the first known placental mammal to utilize toxicity by acquisition. The rat chews on a poisonous tree bark and spreads the poisonous spit onto its coat.  The fur then soaks in the poison and kills any predators that they lure into taking a bite.  Researchers are unsure of the series of evolutionary events which lead to the rats' dependance on the tree bark, as their morphological structure and other defense tactics alone would not be sufficient to allow the species to survive.

Warm and Furry, but They Pack a Toxic Punch

A poisonous surprise under the coat of the African crested rat

Guinea Worm: 10 Feet of Fun!

The Guinea Worm is a parasitic nematode which inhabits areas from West Africa to India.  Infectious larvae develop inside of aquatic copepods in untreated water.  When consumed, the little critters develop and mate inside of the host's intestinal tract.  After mating, the male dies and the female (which can grow up to 3 meters in length) burrows out of the gut and under the host's skin to one of the lower limbs (between the knee and ankle generally), forms a blister, pokes her head out of the blister, and releases up to 3 million eggs next time the host enters the water.  The female dies after laying eggs and the body's immune response to the dead worm body under the skin can cripple the host.  It turns out that the first recorded medical prescription in history was for dealing with an emerged female Guinea worm.  The ancient treatment (which is remarkably similar to the modern solution) involves slowly winding the worm's body around a stick (picture wrapping thread around a spool, except the thread, which is inside your leg, is a 10 foot long parasitic worm full of hundreds of thousands of baby parasitic worms who's body can cause major chronic pathology if you can't get it all the way out.  No pressure.).   Here's a paper I found which discusses the measures people are taking to eradicate this disease world-wide.

Bog butter

How can you resist an article with the title: Bogosphere: The Strangest Things Pulled Out of Peat Bogs. Don't miss the reference to bog butter.

Sphagnum moss doesn't just live in acidic, nutrient-poor and anoxic  environments it creates acidic, nutrient-poor and anoxic environments thereby shutting out its competitors. From How Sphagnum bogs down other plants, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 10 270-275:

Recent research on the organo-chemical composition of Sphagnum and on the fate of its litter has further clarified how this plant builds acidic, nutrient-poor, cold and anoxic peat bogs. The bog environment helps Sphagnum to outcompete other plants for light. Its morphology, anatomy, physiology and composition make it an effective ecosystem engineer and at the same time benefit the plant in the short term. This may have facilitated the evolution of the genus.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Endospores along the Ocean floor

 Here's a really cool article on the prominence of endospores along the ocean floor.
(A Constant Flux of Diverse
Thermophilic Bacteria into the
Cold Arctic Seabed)

Many thermophilic bacteria have been found in and around seemingly inhospitable areas for these heat loving creatures (the arctic). These bacteria have been surviving as endospores rolling along the ocean floor until they reach warmer climate more suitable for thermophiles. Most likely these bacteria have been popping up out of Petroleum-bearing sediments and fractured ocean crust. It is interesting how these methods of protection have shaped the marine biome.
Here's some cool research on the effect of heavy metals on chlorophyll levels in bean plants.

In, summary, the findings were:

The present results showed that lead, copper, cadmium and mercury toxicity decreased the total chlorophyll content of the leaves of bean seedlings. In response to heavy metal stress, the plants increased their proline, retinol, α-tocopherol and ascorbic acid content. The highest increases in proline, retinol, α-to- copherol and ascorbic acid content and greatest reduc- tion in total chlorophyll were found in plants exposed to mercury, followed by the sequence cadmium > copper > lead.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Just to put a little snippet in for myself along with Ella, we both have science blogs. Dr. Latto already mentioned hers, which is a really great blog, and I'm throwing my hat in too.

Underwater world

In the first minute or so, David Gallo shows clips of creatures living about two hours deep in the ocean. He then  goes onto clips of shallow water creatures for the rest of the video.

He is super engaging and really gets you interested in the cool clips showing bioluminescence, squids mating, fighting, and camouflaging. The clip at ~4:20 is especially amazing.

A closer look at lizards and lyme disease

There isn't much research on this that I could find that were in depth enough, other than the initial research at Berkeley, which still doesn't have as much info as I would like.

Apparently, the lizards have a certain protein, most likely a heat sensitive one, that binds to the gut of the tick while it's feeding on the lizard. These proteins seem to destroy the spirochetes within the gut that cause Lyme disease, purifying the tick.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Life in Antarctic lake Vostok? It's everywhere else

Thanks to Fox News for that headline! If you've been reading the news then you may have seen that a Russian drilling team has succeeded in drilling down through over two miles of ice to reach lake Vostok - a large lake under the Antarctic Ice.

Scientists can now begin a search for new life forms. If life is found in the lake's icy darkness, it may provide the best answer yet to whether life can exist in the extreme conditions on Mars or Jupiter's moon Europa.

Although this is very exciting scientifically there has been concern about possible contamination of samples and pollution of the lake from the anti-freeze and other chemicals used to keep the bore hole open and the drilling machinery working.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Blue Footed Booby Mating Dance! Enjoy

Hidden Beauty of Pollination (TED Video)

This video reminded me of how awesome biology is-so I thought I'd share*

*Disclaimer: don't watch if insects make you squeamish

How Important Is Geographical Isolation in Speciation?

Genetic Tests for Ecological and Allopatric Speciation in Anoles on an Island Archipelago Thorpe RS, Surget-Groba Y, Johansson H (2010) . PLoS Genet 6(4)

Over the last 150 years, since Darwin's study of islands and his “Origin of Species,” island archipelagos have played a central role in the understanding of evolution and how species multiply (speciation). Islands epitomise the conventional view of geographic (allopatric) speciation, where genomes diverge in isolation until accumulated differences result in reproductive isolation and the capacity to coexist without interbreeding. Current-day Martinique in the Lesser Antilles is composed of several ancient islands that have only recently coalesced into a single entity. The molecular phylogeny and geology show that these ancient islands have had their own tree lizard (anole) species for a very long time, about six to eight million years. Now they have met, we can genetically test for reproductive isolation. However, when we use selectively neutral markers from the nuclear genome, on this naturally replicated system, we can see that these anoles are freely exchanging genes and not behaving as species. Indeed, there is more genetic isolation between adjacent populations of the same species from different habitats than between separate putative allospecies from the ancient islands. This rejects allopatric speciation in a case study from a system thought to exemplify it, and suggests the potential importance of ecological speciation.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Orchid moth video

This video always makes me think of that great Skinner quote from the Simpsons:
There's nothing more exciting than science. You get all the fun of sitting still, being quiet, writing down numbers, paying attention. Science has it all.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Albino hummingbird

There will always be a place here for crazy critter pictures. Here's an albino hummingbird courtesy of the Huffington Post.

(E)xperts say the fair-feathered variety are more easily visible to predators and susceptible to disease thanks to the genetic mutation. These weaknesses help make the albino bird all the more rare.

 So enjoy the pictures before he, or she, gets eaten.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Founder effect in Lizards

Mmmm, topical. In Science this week:

Founder Effects Persist Despite Adaptive Differentiation: A Field Experiment with Lizards 

 (U)sing a replicated experiment in nature, we showed that both founder effects and natural selection jointly determine trait values in these populations. 

A comment from one of the author's at ScienceDaily:

"We rarely observe founder effects as they happen in nature, but we know that it happens because islands are colonized by new species over time," said Kolbe. "What we didn't know was how these evolutionary mechanisms interact with each other. What we learned is that the differences caused by the founder effects persist even as populations adapt to their new environments."

Friday, February 3, 2012

Tidepool App

This looks very cool, and its free!

Make exploring the beach a fun and educational experience and learn about the creatures that inhabit this dynamic and important ecosystem.

It's one thing to find an urchin or a fish.

It's more fun to learn that a red urchin can live for 100 years, or that the fish you've just dicovered is a baby Opaleye that can breathe air when young!

Search a database containing: photos, common and scientific names, taxonomy, description, habitat, eats and eaten by, fun facts, frequently asked questions, and more.

This iPhone app works on an iPad too! And, is a great tool for teachers, naturalists, students, and anyone who is curious about tidepool life on the California coast.

Created by the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, UCSB Marine Science Institute, LiMPETS (Long-term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students), and volunteers from Citrix Systems, Inc. 

The App was also designed to raise awareness about the future Outreach Center for Teaching Ocean Science (OCTOS) which will increase ocean literacy by engaging visitors in scientific discovery (more at

Search for Tidepools in the Apple Store and download using a wireless network as it is a fairly large file (186mb).
Screen shots and more info here: