Friday, June 30, 2017


This is more of a psychology post rather than bio but I thought it was a cool study exploring empathy in rats.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Why does spicy "burn"?

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Search for Alien Megastructures

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

Article info is from:

Chimeric Pancreases Used to Cure Diabetes in Mice

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


Behavioral Switch Genes

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

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

Monday, June 12, 2017


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

Sympathetic Touch?!

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

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Are these bees going to a rave?

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

Increased risk of sepsis due to vitamin D deficiency

     I mean, obviously we need the sun to live. But what happens when we don't get enough of it? Often, this leads to vitamin D deficiency. This can lead to a whole range of issues. One of these is actually incredibly scary(so get some sun!). A lack of vitamin D can lead to an increased risk of sepsis, according to one paper from 2017 by Zeljic which outlines the way this happens. Sepsis is a phenomenon that often occurs in hospitalized patients when the body begins to become inflamed due to a foreign virus or organism which can be fatal. Vitamin D receptors are a major key in many biological functions, including inflammatory responses, which is how sepsis occurs, as well as maintaining homeostasis during sepsis.
     Zeljic 2017 details that genetic predispositions to sepsis have been found but this experiment looks into vitamin D receptor(VDR) deformations may affect the likelihood of sepsis. It was found that homozygous CC genotypes had an increased risk of sepsis in comparison to a TT genotype of  VDR. This is incredibly important because, while we try our best to get into the sun and get vitamin D in as many ways as possible, some people may just be destined to have a deficiency(a little morbid, I know). However, this can lead to more research questions about how we can use dna sequencing and gene splicing to possibly eradicate this issue in the future.

Link to paper:

Thursday, June 8, 2017

This isn't directly related to biology but it is a thing that just happened and its an incredibly cool feat and testament to the crazy complexity and ability of the human body. So Kristen and I rock climb (generally bouldering without harnesses on a 12 foot wall) and so related to that, this rock climber, Alex Honnold, just basically did what we do, but on a way more insane scale. 

Steps for fully fathoming what this amazing man's body is doing:
1) Take that 12 foot wall that Kristen and I are climbing and then multiply that by 250 (!!!).
2) Take a breath down here at 35cm (give or take) above sea level. Then picture what it's like to breathe at 7000ft above sea level (the top of El Capitan is at 7569 feet above sea level). For reference,  Acute Mountain Sickness symptoms may set in at any altitude above an average of 6,000 feet, information that can be found through any basic google search.
3) Now picture what its like to breathe for the last 1500ft of a 3000ft climb above an altitude of 6000ft while wedged into a crack in natural rock with all of your muscles engaged at one point or another keeping you from falling.

Hopefully you have envisioned all of these things and are now not having a panic attack but most importantly recognizing the amazing, crazy way our muscular, skeletal, nervous, respiratory, circulatory and all the rest are working synergistically to get this man up the wall.

Also everyone should try rock climbing because it is a fun way to make friends and stay healthy and accomplish really cool things!!

Watch Alex on part of his journey up this crazy wall

Food and colors!

So this is not about animal behavior I promise. This is about the topic I talked about today in class where our brain loves to see warm colored foods because we associate it with being safe, fresh and nutritional. This study plays with our perception of foods and colors changing the backgrounds to see what attracts these participants, which 93% go to Brigham Young University.

Image result for color affect food perception

Titi Monkey from Ecuador

I am honestly obsessed with animal behavior so this is yet another post about animal behavior.
There was a study conducted in Ecuador on Titi Monkeys and the male-female relationship before and after they have had an infant together. It shows that the father is actually a bigger part of the infants life than the mother and that the mother actually finds ways to avoid being with their infant! For more information on this topic here is the paper I read on it:

Image result for titi monkey

The few benefits of being a parent (as a seahorse)

So when we talked about Behavioral Ecology week 3 the topic of seahorses came up because of the parental care that the males put in. Well this paper talks about how this parental care improves their immune system! While mating competition does reduce the male's immunity, parenting is there to help improve it. If you want to know more check out this paper! 

Image result for seahorse

Kylie back at it again with a walking fish!!!!!

As the provider of all things marine (whether you like it or not), I am back at it this quarter with yet another fish that appears to walk across the substrate (as a reference, last quarter I bestowed upon you all facts about the lobe-finned frogfish).

This quarter I bring to you *myyyysteryyyyy* in the form of what experts are potentially labeling as some species of stingfish, although without direct examination of the organism, it is unclear what exactly this bi-pedal creature is. As shown in the video (linked below), this little guy uses modified, crab-leg-esque pectoral fin appendages (that was a mouthful) to scuttle along the substrate. If this is in fact a species of stingfish, this organism possesses nasty spines that can stab and inject a venom into whomever is the unfortunate fool to touch them.

Watch the video for cool footage of this little guy as well as some cool facts:

Mysterious stingfish(?)

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Farmed Fish Stomach Anomaly

When we briefly talked about the digestive system during our nutrition section, I became interested in the morphological and physiological changes within an organism that have an artificially modified diet. An easy example would be humans in the developed world given genetically modified food and other modifications made to our diets since the evolution of the modern human. However, a paper I discovered talked about an abnormality scene in farmed rainbow trout. Fish within the farm were developing extremely large stomachs. Scientists became interested in the possible osmoregulatory and nutritional changes within the stomachs of these fish. If you are interested in the subject, I have provided a link.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Sliding Filament Theory as a Middle School Dance

Approximately 2 hours ago I got really excited in class about the prospect of posting this video... HERE IT IS!
This is one of the old school Crash Course videos, created in 2012. In it, they talk about the sliding filament theory as though the actin and myosin filaments were middle schoolers trying to get jiggy with it at a dance. At around 5:00 the first mention of the middle school dance analogy takes place, but then there is an aside that discusses the discovery of the sliding filament model. This little "biolo-graphy" is really interesting, but if you want to skip it, the true simile begins around 8:25.
Check it out! It's informational and funny (aka memorable!).

Attention all Coffee and/or Tea Lovers!!

Do you love starting the day with a nice hot cup of coffee? Or, perhaps, ending a long day at work with a sweet cup of tea? Do you happen to dislike chronic liver disease, the 12th leading cause of death in the world?

Then this article is for you!!!

A recent study in New Amsterdam of 2000+ adults (over the age of 45) tested the effects of coffee and tea on healthiness of the liver. The study predicted that drinking coffee or tea daily may prevent stiffness and scarring in the liver, helping to protect against liver fibrosis. People were split into groups of heavy vs moderate coffee drinkers, heavy vs moderate tea drinkers, and neither coffee or tea drinkers, and the scar tissue and health states of their livers were analyzed. The data collected showed that frequent coffee and tea drinkers had "significantly lower odds of high liver stiffness values independent of lifestyle, metabolic and environmental traits."

Although there are more than 100 components in coffee, making it difficult to tell what causes these effects on the liver, I think it's safe to say that coffee just got even more fantastic. I'll drink (coffee and/or tea) to that!!!

Built in "Deet"

These Amazonian frogs have chemicals in their skin that serve as ant repellant! The way they do it is actually really cool, because they imitate the ants' own chemical signals, "blending in" with the ants. This way, the ants will pass by Lithodytes Lineatus but attack any other frog or insect in their way. The two species coexist and have a symbiotic relationship, specifically commensalism, because the frog benefits from the higher humidity of the anthills for their eggs. In order to read more about the scientific study that suggests this use of chemicals in the skin to blend in with ants, read this paper:

Racism in Medicine

The Tuskegee syphilis study is infamous, but the intersection of racism and medical treatment extends far beyond that. Science and history are always tied together, and scientific racism has helped shape both history and the world we experience today, so here are two papers describing just a bit of this phenomenon.

Tuskegee Study:

Racism in medical treatment:

Also to look up:

  • Dr. Sim's and development of modern gynecology through forced experimentation on enslaved women
  • Resistance to malaria and the advent of slavery in the Americas

Monday, June 5, 2017

"Pain!" (said in Spock voice) or lack thereof...

Hello, bio people! I was looking back at my scrawlings in the margins of my bio notes and one of them says "How common is that thing where people can't feel pain?" And as eloquent as that was.. this paper is much better. Have a good time learning about congenital insensitivity to pain!

Image result for spock pain gif

What if you couldn't recognize your own mother?

There have been many studies dedicated to determining which part of the brain is in charge of face recognition, as it is an important evolutionary skill to be able to quickly recognize faces. In fact, if an infant is put in front of a paddle with scribbles and a paddle resembling an extremely basic face, they will automatically gravitate towards the face. At an early age, babies develop the ability to recognize their mothers scent and facial features, as their mother is typically the most important figure in their early lives.
Prosopagnosia, or face blindness, is an inability to recognize people's faces, no matter how often you interact with them. Instead, people with prosopagnosia rely on things like scent, hairstyle, or voice to distinguish people from each other. The experience of living with face blindness has been compared to looking at a picture like the one below, where faces are flipped upside down. Even though we should be able to immediately recognize these faces, it is extremely hard to do without turning your head in some way.
Through various studies, psychologists have determined that there is a section of the brain dedicated to face recognition, coined the fusiform face area, in the occipital lobe. Oftentimes, genetic prosopagnosia is reported alongside other afflictions such as the inability to recognize objects, or colorblindness.

Axolotl Limb Regeneration

During our discussion about animal physiology, I pondered what interesting traits some other animals possessed. I eventually came across a paper about ambystoma mexicanum, otherwise known as the axolotl salamander. This amphibian never loses its gills and remains aquatic its entire life cycle, has never been documented with cancer, and these animals can regenerate entire limbs. The ability to regenerate limbs is a trait that seen in other amphibians and it is a trait that is very interesting to scientists. The paper discusses the nature if limb regeneration within these animals. Different amputation, reattachment, and regeneration methods were used in the research of the pluripotent stem cells within the damaged and amputated tissue sites. If you are interested in reading this paper, I have provided a link.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Not Only Obesity, But also Brian Aging

Even though I didn't rise my hands up in class when Claudia asked about who loved diet coke, since I used it to replace consumption of regular Pepsi for a while, I started to worried about my eating habit. Unfortunately, I researched it on the internet, and found that diet soda not only will ruin my weight control, but also increase risk of developing stroke and dementia. A research conducted by Boston University found that people who drink diet soda daily will be three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia when compared to those who did not. In this research, they mainly analyzed data that has been collected, and although they didn't find correlation between diet soda consumption and stroke or dementia, they found people who drank at least one diet soda per day were three times as likely to develop stroke and dementia.

Probably, I am going to drink water only.

More information, click here.  

A New(2011) Discovery of Immune Cell Type

Immunology system is vital to human beings and it is so complicated that needs scientists to keep researching on it. In 2011, biologists at University of Melbourne discovered a new type of cell in the immune system, which can contribute to further development of drugs that specifically focus on certain types of infectious organisms. We know that the immune system focus on proteins from viruses and bacteria to recognize their types. Among those cells, some T-cells(NKT) can recognize lipid-based molecules, and the a new type of NKT cell was identified which specifically target lipids that exist in cell walls of bacteria, including Mycobacteria. 

Further information, click here.  

Friday, June 2, 2017

Fossilized anatomical systems... cuz fossils...

Hey, here's this (always have to relate our lectures to paleontology somehow, right?).

A nearly complete respiratory, circulatory, and excretory system preserved in small Late Cretaceous octopods (Cephalopoda) from Lebanon

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Preventing Premature Labor

Although we have not quite covered the musculoskeletal system in class, I thought I would make a post on the topic since I will be leaving early this quarter. Thus, I will be writing about pregnancy.

The myometrium - the smooth muscle of the uterus - is a key player in the maintenance of pregnancy. Throughout pregnancy, the myometrium is kept in a relaxed state by the steroidal hormone progesterone. However, unbeknownst to most of the world, there is battle going on during pregnancy, a viscous brawl between progesterone (which would like to maintain pregnancy) and estriol (which would like to violently end it by stimulating the myometrium to contract). Once estriol overtakes progesterone, labor begins and pregnancy soon terminates. Once this begins, there really is no stopping the process.

This presents an issue when mothers go into labor prematurely - if the mother goes into labor too early, the fetus will be underdeveloped when born. Being born prematurely presents a host of potential medical issues to the newborn baby. Thus, we would like to prevent this from occurring. Much research has therefore been done on the matter.

Smooth muscle contracts when an action potential is generated by the muscle cell after signaling from a neuron - calcium enters the smooth muscle cell which facilitates the binding of phosphate groups to the myosin filaments in the cell. This causes a shape change in the myosin which pulls on the actin filaments of the muscle cell- causing the cell to contract.

Therefore, if we want to stop the contraction of the myometrium, we must stop this process from occurring in some way - and, as you can see, there are multiple places at which we could do this. Nitric oxide (NO) and androgens (such as testosterone)  have recently been shown to stimulate relax of the myometrium by blockage of these processes. Both molecules have been shown to somehow alter the ion channels which facilitate the entry of Ca2+ and other ions into the cell. Androgens may also regulate at the level of the phosphorylation of the myosin, preventing it from occurring.

Hopefully, not too long from now, these chemicals will find applicable use in preventing premature labor in humans, but more research needs to be done before human trials can begin.

If you want to read more on the matter, here are a couple papers: