Evolution in New York City Wildlife

Posted on July 31, 2011  Comments (0)

Evolution Right Under Our Noses by Carl Zimmer

White-footed mice, stranded on isolated urban islands, are evolving to adapt to urban stress. Fish in the Hudson have evolved to cope with poisons in the water. Native ants find refuge in the median strips on Broadway. And more familiar urban organisms, like bedbugs, rats and bacteria, also mutate and change in response to the pressures of the metropolis. In short, the process of evolution is responding to New York and other cities the way it has responded to countless environmental changes over the past few billion years. Life adapts.

Dr. Wirgin and his colleagues were intrigued to discover that the Hudson’s population of tomcod, a bottom-dwelling fish, turned out to be resistant to PCBs. “There was no effect on them at all,” Dr. Wirgin said, “and we wanted to know why.”

In March, he and his colleagues reported that almost all the tomcod in the Hudson share the same mutation in a gene called AHR2. PCBs must first bind to the protein encoded by AHR2 to cause damage. The Hudson River mutation makes it difficult for PCBs to grab onto the receptor, shielding the fish from the chemical’s harm.

The AHR2 mutation is entirely missing from tomcod that live in northern New England and Canada. A small percentage of tomcod in Long Island and Connecticut carry the mutation. Dr. Wirgin and his colleagues concluded that once PCBs entered the Hudson, the mutant gene spread quickly.

Carl Zimmer again does a good job of explaining science in an engaging way. It is interesting to learn about science and evolution in urban environments. Lots of life manages to survive the challenges of urban life and it is interesting to learn what scientists are finding about that life.

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How Algorithms Shape our World

Posted on July 29, 2011  Comments (2)

Our modern world is influenced greatly by algorithms. As computing power allowed incredibly complex calculation we have taken advantage of that and used algorithms to find solutions to our desires. Great things are done but we also find ourselves getting into trouble occasionally as we develop these algorithm.

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EZ-Builder Robot Control Software

Posted on July 25, 2011  Comments (4)

You can get EZ-Builder Robot Control Software and try this out yourself.

Not a programmer? No problem! The EZ-Builder application allows non-programmers to easily build robots using advanced functions of the EZ-B Robot Controller. It is a Microsoft Windows application that gives you remote and scripting control of your custom robot design. Within the application, you add Controls that mimic your robot’s configuration. There are many controls for speakers, iRobot Roomba, HBridge, Servos, Cameras, Voice Recognition, Joysticks and more! There is even an easy scripting language so you may create short animations, interactions or initialization routines for your robot.

Using a Dremel, hot glue gun, screw drivers and various other tools, you can begin modifying the toy shell to fit your servos. For wheels or mobility, use continuous rotation modified servos. For arms and neck, use a standard servo. To allow your robot to see for object detection, use a Sharp IR Distance Sensor or a HC-SR04 Ultrasonic Ping Sensor.

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Great Projects From First Google Science Fair Finalists

Posted on July 20, 2011  Comments (4)

15 finalists (from 3 different age groups – 13-14 years old, 15-16 and 17-18) were selected. 11 finalists were from the USA and 1 each from Singapore, Canada, India and South Africa. These examples of what can be done with imagination, effort and a scientific mindset is great.

The grand prize winner, Shree Boseer’s project:

Each year, over 21,000 women are diagnosed with ovariancancer – the 5th leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the United States. One of the most common drugs usedin ovarian cancer chemotherapy is cisplatin, a platinum-based chemotherapy treatment. While the drug affects ordinary cells, the significantly higher replication frequency of cancer cells causes cisplatin to have a greater impact in malignant cells. However, cancer cells often develop resistance to cisplatin, rendering the treatment ineffective. To improve the efficiency of cisplatin treatment, this research sought to determine whether AMP kinase, an energy protein of cell, plays a role in the development of cisplatin resistance. Studies with various techniques showed a significant difference on cell death caused by cisplatin insensitive and resistant ovarian cancer cells when AMPK was inhibited,suggesting that AMPK plays a role in the development of resistance. This work,in addition to offering a new treatment regime, also furthers our understanding of ovarian cancer and cancers in general.

This is a great project and the experience for the students is wonderful. Still I do think the prizes should be much larger given all the large corporations involved. Get involved with the next Google Science fair.

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Cambrian Explosion Song

Posted on July 18, 2011  Comments (0)

via Smithsonian’s Surprising Science:

What does a music teacher do when he ends up teaching science? He teaches about evolution and the geologic timeline with music, of course, and that’s what Canadian elementary school teacher John Palmer did. He originally played “Cambrian Explosion” as a rock/hip hop creation in class but has since recorded an acoustic version. (The trio is called Brighter Lights, Thicker Glasses and consists of Palmer on the guitar/vocals, Michael Dunn on the dobro and Brian Samuels [from UBC civil engineering department] on the cello.)

The video was filmed in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum (Canada) atrium with the blue whale exhibit in the background.

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Biologists Identified a New Way in Which Bacteria Hijack Healthy Cells

Posted on July 14, 2011  Comments (1)

photo of Zhao-Qing Luo and Yunhao Tan

Associate professor of biological sciences Zhao-Qing Luo, foreground, and graduate student Yunhao Tan identified a new way in which bacteria modify healthy cells during infection. Shown on the computer screen are cells infected with a mutant strain of the bacteria Legionella pneumophila used in their research.

Purdue University biologists identified a new way in which bacteria hijack healthy cells during infection, which could provide a target for new antibiotics. Zhao-Qing Luo, the associate professor of biological sciences who led the study, said the team discovered a new enzyme used by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila – which causes Legionnaires’ disease – to control its host cell in order to take up residence.

“Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia, and this finding could lead to the design of a new therapy that saves lives,” Luo said. “At the same time it also provides great insight into a general mechanism of both bacterial infection and cell signaling events in higher organisms including humans.”

Successful infection by Legionella pneumophila requires the delivery of hundreds of proteins into the host cells that alter various functions to turn the naturally hostile environment into one tailor-made for bacterial replication. These proteins tap into existing communication processes within the cells in which an external signal, such as a hormone, triggers a cascade of slight modifications to proteins that eventually turns on a gene that changes the cell’s behavior, he said.

“Pathogens are successful because they know how information in our cells is relayed and they amplify some signals and block others in order to evade the immune system and keep the cell from defending itself,” Luo said. “Despite our understanding of this, we do not know much about how the proteins delivered by the bacteria accomplish this – how they work. This time we were able to pinpoint an enzyme and see how it disrupted and manipulated a specific signaling pathway in order to create a better environment for itself.”

The signaling pathway involved was only recently identified, and the discovery by Luo and graduate student Yunhao Tan also provides a key insight into its process. The signaling pathway involves a new form of protein modification called AMPylation in order to relay instructions to change cell behavior and has been found to be used by almost all organisms, Luo said.

The bacterium affects the host cell’s functions differently during different phases of the infection process, tapping into signaling pathways to turn on and off certain natural cellular activities. SidD stops the AMPylation process four hours after the start of infection in order to reverse an earlier modification that would be detrimental to the cell if left in place, he said.

Read the full press release.

Related: Using Bacteria to Carry Nanoparticles Into CellsDisrupting Bacterial Communication to Thwart ThemScientists Target Bacteria Where They LiveAre you ready for a world without antibiotics?

Photo of Fish Using a Rock to Open a Clam

Posted on July 11, 2011  Comments (6)

photo of a blackspot tuskfish using a rock to crack open a clam

Blackspot tuskfish using a rock to crack open a clam. Photo by Scott Gardner

Diver Snaps First Photo of Fish Using Tools

While exploring Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, professional diver Scott Gardner heard an odd cracking sound and swam over to investigate. What he found was a footlong blackspot tuskfish (Choerodon schoenleinii) holding a clam in its mouth and whacking it against a rock. Soon the shell gave way, and the fish gobbled up the bivalve, spat out the shell fragments, and swam off. Fortunately, Gardner had a camera handy and snapped what seem to be the first photographs of a wild fish using a tool.

Tool use, once thought to be the distinctive hallmark of human intelligence, has been identified in a wide variety of animals in recent decades…

There have also been a handful of reports of fish cracking open hard-shelled prey, such as bivalves and sea urchins, by banging them on rocks or coral, but there’s no photo or video evidence to back it up, according to Culum Brown, a behavioral ecologist at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, and a co-author of the present paper, to be published in a forthcoming issue of Coral Reefs.

The more we learn about animals the more tool use we find. It is continually interesting to see the wide variety of behavior documented.

Related: Bird Using Bait to FishDolphins Using Tools to HuntOrangutan Attempts to Fish with SpearAncient Chimps Used Stone “Hammers”

PBS Newshour on Maker Faire

Posted on July 1, 2011  Comments (5)

The maker movement is excellent. As the program suggests it also serves to show many people enjoy engineering and making things work. Kids love to learn to accomplish things. Memorizing boring science details is not as interesting or a very useful way to create the kinds of innovative scientists and engineers that can aid our economy.

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