Thursday, June 11, 2015

Some Pinnipeds on the UCSB Beach

 A picture of a Harbor Seal I saw resting on a rock in the intertidal zone.

 An Elephant Seal weaner.

Here the Elephant Seal is yawning. It seemed very sleepy and was oblivious to joggers and dogs.

I wanted to show some happier pictures of pinnipeds on the beach rather than sea lion pups that were starving. When I went out to see if I could find some more stranded sea lion pups, I ended up finding a Harbor Seal and an Elephant Seal on the UCSB beach. The Harbor Seal was in the intertidal area where we went walking in class. It was resting on one of the rocks offshore. The next day, I came back to check to see if the Harbor Seal was still there, and it was.  On another occasion, I came across an Elephant Seal weaner on the UCSB beach bordering the Goleta beach. At first I was not even sure it was alive because it was sleeping so soundly. It was even able to sleep through a Golden Retriever barking at it from a few feet away! All the Elephant Seal wanted to do was sleep. When the tide started to come in, the Elephant Seal was forced to move and I was able to get a picture of it yawning. In its new spot, it started to throw sand on itself and every once in a while it made snorting sounds. It was a really neat experience to watch the Elephant Seal and Harbor Seal and I am glad that they were both healthy and doing okay. I just hope that they were not too affected by the oil spill.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Journal of Visualized Experiments

Here's the link! (You just have to go through the library webpage to log in--there's Biology and Neuroscience)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

CHIMPANZEE CHEFS! (This isn’t a joke, it’s actually quite scientific)

            I was just skimming over the headlines for Top Science News, and read, “Chimps: Smart Enough to Cook their Own Food?” I immediately knew this would be the subject of my third blog post.
            We share an astonishing amount of our genome with chimpanzees, and research is still uncovering genetic overlap. A recent study proposed that our cognitive capacity for cooking is shared by chimps. This includes an inclination towards cooked food, the ability to distinguish between cooked and raw food, and the discipline to save and transport food for cooking purposes. These therefore appeared early in evolution. Earlier studies on this focused more on the role of fire in cooking and the evolution of the human ability to cook, but these researchers took a different angle.
            The authors focused on aspects of cooking we don’t think about, because they are so inherently human. The first series of experiments replicated previous experiments, showing that chimpanzees were willing to wait extra time to receive cooked food instead of raw food. In the second experiment, chimps were given two devices, a cooking device and a device that left a sweet potato unchanged. The use of both devices was demonstrated, and the chimps quickly understood the transformation at work and chose food from the cooked device. The last procedure tested the chimps’ discipline. They were given pieces of raw sweet potato and a cooking device, and consistently cooked the sweet potato, instead of eating it right away. This contradicted a lot of well-respected research regarding animal difficulty with self-control regarding food consumption. Chimps did the same with other foods, and distinguished edible from non-edible. They consistently were willing to transport food for cooking opportunities. Food was given at one side of the enclosure, while the cooking device was at the opposite side. The chimps consistently transported the food and cooked it, instead of eating it immediately.
            This raises fascinating questions. Why do chimpanzees not cook in the wild? Although the control of fire is a critical cooking element they don’t have, other factors are involved. How does their diet play a role? How does social context affect the expression of these cognitive abilities in chimpanzees? Was it the first adoption of fire that sparked the development of cooking in ancestral humans? Clearly, much more research is necessary to flush out the details of this chimpanzee chef story.

The link to the study the ScienceDaily article corresponds to:

Friday, June 5, 2015

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

I briefly spoke about my grant proposal in my presentation for Dr. Clegg's stem cell course. I thought it'd be cool to share this video, which is a TED talk by Dr. Clegg about Age-related macular degeneration and his lab's solution to the problem. In the video, he mentions that their therapy, which is basically inserting a new layer of retinal pigmented epithelium (RPE) into the eye, is expected to start clinical trials by 2015 (note: the video is from 2012). This is pretty exciting because, if I remember correctly, they are actually awaiting the results from their clinical trials which are expected to come in any time now.

The Brain and the Immune System

I presented on a recent paper that described new findings of lymphatic vessels going into the meninges, and unfortunately I feel that I didn't fully convey the significance / excitement of the finding. There were also a lot of smaller details that I was unable to cover, such as the various analytical techniques used to find the immune cells.

This is the press reiease? from the University of Virginia; it's even titled "Researchers Find Textbook-Altering Link Between Brain, Immune System." Additionally, these are the papers that are behind the post (I described the second paper mostly in my talk):

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mites infiltrating bee colonies

I read a really interesting page on Discovery about how mites are infiltrating bee colonies. With the rapid decline of bee populations that is occurring, I like to be updated on the possible causes and consequences. The mites infiltrate the colonies by imitating the scent of bees. It then proceeds to suck out the bees' blood and spread viruses throughout the bees. This is one of the plethora of causes that accounts for the 42% decimation of bee populations. Here is the page.

Incipient Speciation of the Island Scrub-Jay

A picture of the acorn eating island scrub-jay.

A picture of the pine nut eating island scrub-jay.

I found an interesting article about the divergence of beak characteristics in the island scrub-jay found on Santa Cruz island. Katie Langin earned her Ph.D. studying the island scrub-jay and found that there were two types of populations of scrub-jay based on their beaks. One group has long, shallow beaks that allow them to remove food from pine cones while the other group has shorter, stouter beaks that are good at hammering open acorns. The first group lives mostly in the pine forests on the island and the second group lives in the neighboring oak forests. There is no physical barrier which separates the two groups but they tend to breed with the birds found in the area they live in so birds with long, shallow beaks will tend to mate with other birds that have long, shallow beaks, etc. The evolution of the island scrub-jay has been going on for a million years on Santa Cruz island. There are less than 3,000 scrub-jays that live on Santa Cruz island which doesn’t seem like a large population to me. It is impressive how these birds can evolve such distinct subgroups while confined to an island.

Katie Langin “Evolution Works in Fast, Localized, Mysterious Ways” WildThings Slate’s Animal Blog, Feb. 6 2015.

Vitamin Names

The other day I saw a really interesting video regarding vitamins and naming. There were a lot of interesting history tidbits in there that explains why the naming system of vitamins can get confusing at times.

Sheldon and Somatotypes

The other day in class the point was brought up about body types, under the umbrella theory of morphology. Currently, I am in Psych 1 and we briefly discussed this in lecture. Basically the idea was brought up in response to phrenology, the theory by Gall that you can determine a person's personality types by feeling the bumps on their heads (if you're interested, you can read more about phrenology here).
The idea is there are three different body types - ectomorph, endomorph and mesomorph. Each of these body types have specific physical traits that greatly affects the personality of the individual. In essence, you can determine what a person's traits are simply by looking at them.
Endomorphs are short and stout and tend to be very carefree, fun loving people. Ectomorphs are tall and skinny and usually are very closed off and reserved. Mesomorphs have an athletic, muscular build and are competitive and adventurous. More details about these traits are here.
Obviously, we have moved on a great deal from these initial theories about the brain and body. I personally feel that there is no way we can judge a person simply on how they physically appear, everyone should be proud of their bodies. Regardless, I still think it's interesting to read up on these earlier theories of psychology and biology. It might give us some insight on ideas we have today.