Friday, June 13, 2014

Purrrrr? Do you feel better?

I was surfing through Pinterest, and came upon the following photo. Now, I'm a crazy cat lady, but I was skeptical if this was true. So I decided to try and find a paper.

"Recent research has shown that the soothing sounds of a kitty can aid your body in a number of ways, greatly counteracting any heartache that comes from your cat ignoring you." Source.
Never has an article spoken such true words. That being said, many articles continue claiming cats heal you, but every one of them cited other articles that cited other articles, and never of the actual research paper they spoke of. This article then cited the following article from Death and Taxes Magazine. Watta title. 

I know from my experience that cats help lower my stress, especially when you have 3. I'd like to add that even just looking at adorable cat pictures helps reduce stress, especially chunky ones. Like the ones in the delightfullychubby subreddit (which I highly recommend you check out). 

I found this site, Yes, it is real. They have a few papers and several videos and MP3 recordings of domestic cats and cheetahs purring. But I didn't find anything supporting our big question. Nonetheless, I thought it was cool to see this man's work dedicated to felid (cat) purring. 

I couldn't find a paper supporting their claims. But I did find this related paper in which a 1Hz frequency on the tibias of rabbits provided measured improvement in bone strength. But still not what I'm looking for.

Then I found this site, a fellow crazy cat lady who provides an excerpt of a magazine article related to the cat's purr, titled  "Secret Sounds That Heal", written by Paula Peterson, who then goes out to interview Elizabeth Von Muggenthaler, a research scientist and bio-acoustic specialist. Apparently Muggenthaler published a paper titled The felid purr: A healing mechanism? but I can't for the life of me find the full paper, only the abstract. Oddly, even Web of Science found no records of the paper, nor records of the author.

So overall, I couldn't find direct evidence for all the claims in the photos. Therefore we should always take infographics with a grain of salt, and always check the sources. As much as I wanted all these claims to be true. But, I will say that cats can help lower stress. Granted, you're not allergic to them or have had any bad experiences with them, then on that hand I believe it will increase you stress. But I'm no doctor, so don't take my word for it. 

And now I end this with a photo of my cat sleeping inside a Chipotle bag. Enjoy.

A few weeks ago in my Earth 130 class (Global Warming) Professor Lea asked that we each share the following link to at least one person. 
The bright red number in the billions is the estimated tonnes of carbon emitted since the Industrial Revolution. Once we reach 1 trillion tonnes of carbon, there is expected to be a global warming of 2 degrees Celsuis. This site even has the date and time we expect to hit that point, as well as the estimated rate we must reduce our carbon emissions to avoid emitting 1 trillion tonnes of carbon. It's extremely interesting to see these numbers changing at such a fast rate, and the expected time move closer and closer. Definitely check it out. (I also highly recommend Earth 130, Professor Lea is awesome to have discussions with and knows it all, considering climate change is his line of work.)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Forensic Entemology

I've been going back on some old notes from quarter and came across a topic that Professor Latto mentioned briefly but didn't divulge on too much: forensic entomology. That is, the use of insects to analyze a corpse and other investigations. The following paper is a little old for the field (1992) but gave some great insight that was well laid out and easy to understand for a variety of aspects involved in the field, from using metabolic rate of organisms and many other techniques to find out not only post-mortem interval but many other key features.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


Yesterday I had the opportunity to get a peek inside of the Allosphere on our campus, which for those of you who don't know is a surrounding visual/audio simulator 3-stories tall inside of Elings Hall. It costs $3,000/ hour to run, but has vast opportunity when it comes to research. A lot of it is being used for media and arts technology, but it's also being taken on a path of biological simulations as well. They showed me the Allobrain, which created an architectural space of the brain but also used spatial sound cues corresponding to data of brain-blood density in different locations, entirely from numerical sets of data. MRI scans are being transposed into the sphere and used to virtually display the dynamics inside the body.

In case any of you are interested in viewing it, they have it open to public once a year towards the end of fall quarter and if you look online you can find out when to go early the day of and grab tickets. It's quite astounding. It's always encouraging to see art and science merge in such a magnificent way, and have both thrive off of each other.

For a brief TED talk on it, there's a link here.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Memory and Sleep Connection

Recent studies have been done with mice to study the effects sleep has in learning. According to these studies, mice who were able to sleep after learning had established more connections between the nerves in their brains than those mice who were deprived of their precious sleep. Mice who were able to sleep showed considerable growth in the lengths of their dendritic cells, over those that did not. According to the papers, the actual mechanism by which this occurs remains unknown, but results were observed.

With finals week coming up soon, this seemed like a relevant topic to post, as a reminder to sleep before your tests, and that sacrificing some of your sleep to cram into the wee-hours of the night right before, might not actually be the best idea. Good luck with your finals everyone!

Here is a link to the article I found about the study.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Training Cancer Sniffing Dogs

I know this has already been posted about and presented on, but I personally find this extremely interesting and thought watching this video would be worth-while. It shows footage of how the dogs are trained to recognize cancer and gives a little more information on it. It will be exciting to see where this takes the medical field in recognizing and diagnosing cancer! :)

(If the video doesn't work, here is the link!)

Flamboyant Cuttlefish

Found on muddy substrate in waters off Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and Australia, the aptly named flamboyant cuttlefish (Metasepia pfefferi) is an irresistible subject for underwater photographers. Reaching a mere 8 centimeters in length, this colorful little cephalopod hunts tiny fish and crustaceans using two modified feeding tentacles. The "cuttlebone," the chalky inner structure that cuttlefish use for buoyancy, is very small in this species. Therefore, the flamboyant does not hover in midwater, but rather "walks" on the seafloor using 3 pairs of fleshy flaps on its underside.
Being a very poor swimmer, the flamboyant cuttlefish relies primarily on it's vibrant colors for defense. When threatened, it flashes bright hues of red, yellow, and magenta, while pulsing pale patches of color down its sides in a cloud-like fashion. Despite the obvious message of this aposematic coloration, it remained uncertain whether or not the flamboyant cuttlefish was actually poisonous. This question was answered when cephalopod specialist Mark Norman sampled the flamboyant's muscle tissues. He found that they contain a toxin as deadly as that of the infamous blue ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena maculosa) This is the first recorded example of a poisonous cuttlefish. The toxin belongs to an entirely new class of poisons, which may prove groundbreaking in human medical research. Note: To see these amazing mollusks in action, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium's new exhibit: "Tentacles."

The Many Guises of the Mimic Octopus

Say hello to the ocean's master of disguise: Thaumoctopus mimicus. First sighted off Sulawesi, Indonesia in 1998, the mimic octopus's range has since been established in waters throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, and parts of Australia's Great Barrier reef. This harmless creature prefers silty, mud bottoms, where it forages for prey such as small fish and crabs. The mimic octopus is covered in bands of dark pigment, which it can intesify or fade at will by flexing millions of tiny muscles in its skin. Like most other octopi, it can dull its color to blend in with the seafloor.
But if spotted or cornered by a predator, the mimic octopus flashes its stripes and imitates one of several poisonous creatures: Top to bottom: sole/flatfish, lionfish, banded sea snake
Below: jellyfish
Below: stingray

Flatworm-Nudibranch Look-alikes

In tropical coral reef communities, flatworms of the order Polycladida have developed a unique defensive strategy. Although many secrete noxious chemicals, which they advertise with bright aposematic coloration, many have adopted colors and patterns that match those of local, toxic sea slugs. This Mullerian and/or Batesian mimicry is enough to confuse and repel would-be predators. Below are photos of these flatworms and their nudibranch counterparts, illustrating the striking similarities between them.
Pseudoceros imitatus (flatworm)
Phyllidiella pustulosa (nudibranch)
Pseudobiceros spp. (flatworm)
Chromodoris magnifica (nudibranch)
Eurylepta spp. (flatworm)
Phyllidia polkadotsa (nudibranch)
Pseudobiceros spp. (flatworm)
Glossodoris symmetricus (nudibranch)
Pseudoceros sapphirinus (flatworm)
Philinopsis gardineri (Aglajid slug)
Pseudoceros laingensis (flatworm)
Chromodoris aureopurpurea (nudibranch)
Eurylepta spp. (flatworm)
Chromodoris lochi (nudibranch)
Pseudoceros goslineri (flatworm)
Platydoris formosa (nudibranch)
Pseudoceros zebra (flatworm)
Chromodoris fidelis (nudibranch)
Thysanozoon/Acanthozoon spp. (flatworm)
Phyllidia ocellata (nudibranch)
Pseudoceros spp. (flatworm)
Chromodoris kuniei (nudibranch)
Pseudobiceros gloriosus (flatworm)
Dendrodoris arborensis (nudibranch)

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dogs Detecting Cancer

After we talked about these dogs that can detect cancer in class, I was really curious to see how these dogs were trained and if this was actually being used in any sort of medical field. When you google dogs detecting cancer, theres a whole website that comes up that is a non-profit org trying to get dog cancer detection to be approved. And theres some amazing (and adorable) videos of puppies actually detecting cancer in some tests. Also, I looked up how to train a dog to sniff out different things, this eHow article uses illegal drugs, but we're ccs so I think we could figure out how to train them to sniff out diseases instead!

non-profit website about canine cancer detection:
how to train your dog:

Dogs can also smell low blood sugar. There are trained dogs that live with individuals who have type I diabetes that can detect from a particular scent in human breath that indicates low blood sugar. Puppies are so cool.

diabetes assist dogs:

Cancer Fighting T-Cells

 Your T-Cells are responsible for recognizing, identifying (and some) killing pathogens in your body. A lot of research is currently being done on T-cell immunotherapy, that is taking your own cancerous cells and training your T-cells to attack only those cancerous cells. They are using this type of therapy for tumor cells specifically and it has shown to be semi-effective in many patients, but there are a lot of variables within the body that make it difficult to target only one specific type of cell. In some patients this method has completely reduced their tumor mass, or at least decreased it significantly. I personally find this information very exciting because what it means for the future of cancer patients. In the US alone in 2014 almost 2 million people have been diagnosed with cancer.

Malaria Vaccine!

A new GAP (genetically attenuated parasite) has been created that looks promising as an effective vaccine against Malaria. The impact of this vaccine would prevent over 200 million people from obtaining the malaria parasite. Malaria is most commonly transmitted through mosquito bites into humans. However researchers at Seattle Biomedical Research Institute have finally created a vaccine that is 100% effective, 100% of the time in protecting mice from the malaria parasite. It shows some promise in human candidates but they want the GAP to be "perfect" before releasing it into the human immune system, so it can be recognized and protected against. Think about what this would mean for countries suffering from Malaria epidemics! Exciting stuff.

Here's more on the article!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Other "Love Drug"

Dopamine and serotonin are commonly known as hormones that make you happy and are sometimes called "love drugs" but this "love drug", oxytocin, is something else. It plays a roles in maternal behaviors, anxiety, social recognition, pair bonding and orgasms and has also been rumored to be linked to autism: this article describes how a deficit in oxytocin could cause those with autism to have a lack of social recognition. Oxytocin also increases the levels of trust between people (see here), which could be why it is called a "love drug", and what is love without trust? 

"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind"
-Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act I, Scene I, Line 234

Bird of prey vision

I know this is a wiki article so take the information with a grain of salt but you can verify aspects with a more in depth search if you need to.

High density of receptors and four types of receptors.  The article also discusses the differences in sight (ex retinal structure) between diurnal, nocturnal, and water birds.

I found mixed results on whether hawks were farsighted.  Some sights (not supported by research papers though) said they can refocus much faster than we can.

There was another statement about refocusing when entering water too that was supported by research.

Strod, Arad, Izhaki and Katzir, “Cormorants keep their power: visual resolution in a pursuit-diving bird under amphibious and turbid conditions,” Current Biology, Vol 14, R376-R377, 25 May 2004.

Lyme Disease might be 15 million years old

Recently studies of ticks fossilized in amber have revealed spirochetes, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, were being carried by the ticks between 15-20 million years ago. This suggests that Lyme disease might be older than the human race. In studying four ticks preserved in amber, large populations of a spirochete-like species that closely resemble that of the spirochete species that causes Lyme disease today were found. In a similar study, bacteria that resembled the present day bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever was also observed.

Prenatal Egg Selection

So, when talking about epigenetics in lecture a few times, the point was brought up that women have all of their eggs for their life from birth. I then stumbled across this article regarding the selection of more healthy eggs and removal of unhealthy ones, even before birth. They estimated that at the time of birth, the body has already discarded 80% of all the eggs that were initially there, making me picture fetuses as more so just living egg sacks (at least for a little while). One of the more interesting parts of the article was a theory that healthier eggs are selected by the body earlier on, which would leave potentially damaged eggs for later years, which could explain the higher risk of developmental problems in children born from older women.

Monday, June 2, 2014

The Military is Building Brain Chips to Treat PTSD....?!

The news is out, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, has received $26 million dollars to fund a project using "deep brain stimulation" or electric shocks, with the hopes to "record, predict and possibly treat anxiety, depression and other maladies of mood and mind."  

Their plan is to use a deep brain implant to try to monitor activity in the amygdala,  from which they would create models and maps to allow for a more precise understanding of the electrical patterns in the brain that signal anxiety, memory loss and depression.  By understand the patterns, they believe they will be able to predict mood changes, and potentially remedy negative ones, such as PTSD remotely via a device that causes the brain to establish new circuits and areas outside of the traumatized regions.

Read more about the project here!

Fun in the Local Channel!

This weekend, Jessica and I went Scuba diving at Anacapa Island and had the privilege of spotting what we think was a swell shark in the kelp. In an effort to confirm that what we saw was indeed a swell shark, I took to the Internet and somehow stumbled upon this video. Despite the fact that it was an accident, I'm very glad I found it (warning: video has some graphic content):
Yes, that's three great white sharks and several blue sharks feeding on a dead minke whale! All this excitement happened right off our coast, in the Santa Barbara Channel! I find it extremely exciting to hear about cool things happening in my backyard, so I figured I'd share this as a little encouragement for dead week! Devour those finals like those sharks devoured that whale! You can do it!

Read the original article here.

And, if you're interested in learning more about great white and/or blue sharks here are some great articles to start your discoveries!
Great white

Hominin Evolution and Culture

One of my professors recently pointed out that the Smithsonian has a really nice website with a lot of information on hominin evolution and culture. I've checked it out a bit and it's definitely worth exploring. There's a lot of interesting information on there about things like evolution, tool use, burial, language, etc.



So, dimethyltryptamine is a thing. I remember watching part of a documentary on Netflix about it and since we've been talking about the nervous system recently, I thought it could be kind of relevant. It's a hallucinogenic found in plants and in trace amounts in humans(!) and other mammals where it is derived from tryptophan (an essential amino acid). It is analogous to serotonin, melatonin, and other psychedelic tryptamines. Depending on how much is administered, it can apparently have some pretty intense effects where people under the influence of it experience encounters with spiritual beings and realms. It is, however, super illegal.

All of the info I found (and more!) is here! (Which just links back to the Wikipedia page anyway)

Measles in the US

The number of measles cases in the US is at a 20-year high. According to the CDC, there has been 288 reported cases of measles between January 1st and May 23rd. This is the highest it has been in the first five months of the year since 1994. 97% of these cases have been associated with international travel of unvaccinated individuals. The press release is here! And the tracking of these outbreaks is here!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Here is an in depth video on neuron action potential. I found it particularly interesting because most videos start talking about action potential in the axon, but this one begins with the impulse in the dendrite.