Urban ecology…right here on campus! May 28, 2010Posted by Dr. O in Behavior, Biology, Ecology, Environment/Conservation.
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So this is our resident, young, red-tailed hawk…
(Please click on pictures for better resolution)
This young red-tailed hawk enjoys a very urban lifestyle on Marian University’s campus. I have watched this bird pick off fat, almost tame, squirrels as they exit a garbage can with the crust of a Subway sandwich. The hawk will narrowly, but deftly, miss flying into people’s heads as it goes in for the kill.
Today I arrived on campus, pulled into my parking spot, opened the door, and heard a ruckus of robins.
When I looked, I saw said hawk and thought, “hmm…guess the robins don’t like it roosting there”, but then when I looked closer, I realized that the hawk was IN THEIR NEST! As my jaw dropped the hawk took off with two fistfuls of nestling robins. The hawk flew to the nearest tree (where it perches above previously mentioned garbage can/squirrel haunt) and picked apart its breakfast. Amazing!
Red-tailed hawks don’t eat birds (usually), not small birds.
The hawk must’ve been watching and knew where this nest was. It’s not like it went after a fledgling not able to fly…it went INTO the nest to grab them! And the nest was fairly hidden! I think this is incredible urban behavior in a predator; not afraid of people, and exploring novel food items.
Here are two videos of the hawk eating the nestlings and of the adult robins guarding their, now empty, nest:
Here is a collection of play-by-play photos of the event:
More art & science May 13, 2010Posted by Dr. O in Uncategorized.
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Spill baby, spill! What the heck happened? May 13, 2010Posted by Dr. O in Uncategorized.
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Amidst the coverage of the ecological disaster, we are still left with questions:
Check out a discussion of this topic, the future of offshore drilling, on the Diane Rehm show. Guests include:
- Neil King, Jr.: National reporter, “the Wall Street Journal”
- Joseph Romm: Senior fellow at the Center for American progress; he runs the blog ClimateProgress.org and is the author of “Straight Up: America’s Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy Solutions.”
- Scott Segal: Head of the Government Relations practice at Bracewell & Giuliani. He represents utilities, refiners and manufacturers.
- Mark Schleifstein: Environment reporter for the Times-Picayune and co-author of “Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms.”
Check out the videos below which show the underwater spill and some of the current options for dealing with the leaks.
Medical use of marijuana doesn’t actually work? May 5, 2010Posted by Jill in Health, Medicine, Policy, Science & Culture.
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According to the Washington Post, the Washington D.C. Council has proposed a bill allowing doctors to legally recommend marijuana as a potential medicine for treating cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s disease, or coping with diseases such as cancer or HIV/AIDS. According to this law, doctors are not allowed to prescribe the use of marijuana because the substance is illegal, requiring their patients to acquire their marijuana from illegal sources or though one of the five to eight government-regulated dispensaries. Although doctors cannot prescribe marijuana, the dosage allowed for their patients, according to this law, states that patients can use the marijuana “until they decide they are, well, high enough. The exact dosage and means of delivery — as well as the sometimes perplexing process of obtaining a drug that remains illegal under federal law — will be left largely up to the patient. And that, Chopra said, upends the way doctors are used to dispensing medication, giving the strait-laced medical establishment a whiff of the freewheeling world of weed.”
A new study questions these findings
The use of medicinal marijuana is prescribed for Alzheimer’s patients because previous studies have shown that HU210, which is a synthetic form of the cannabinoids found in marijuana, reduces the toxicity of plaques in the brain as well as promotes the growth of new neurons. A new study conducted by Dr. Weihong Song, Canada Research Chair in Alzheimer’s Disease and a professor of psychiatry in the UBC Faculty of Medicine, was the first to test those findings using mice carrying human genetic mutations that cause Alzheimer’s disease – widely considered to be a more accurate model for the disease in humans, rather than the previous study which exposed the HU210 compound to rats carrying amyloid protein, the toxin that forms plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s victims. The new study found that the mice treated with the HU210 compound still had formation of amyloid plaques as well as the mice that were not treated with the synthetic compound, which brings up questions as to the validity of the use marijuana having medicinal value.
Questions of policy addressed
Clearly, the medical benefits of using marijuana are still highly debated. So is it right that laws are being passed to use marijuana medicinally even though it is unclear what the effects of using marijuana are? Not to mention, if this law is passed, there will not be a restriction on how much marijuana that can be smoked, eaten, or vaporized for it is left up to the discretion of the patient. This idea goes against all logic and modern practices and policies regarding modern medicine. Doctors do not prescribe Vicodin for patients and let the patients determine how much they should take nor do they supply it at the patients demand. Doctors prescribe recommended amounts and only in small quantities for controlled, addictive substances because they are simply that, addictive, and the ability to obtain these prescriptions is still highly abused. If the use of medical marijuana is legalized in Washington D.C. according to the stipulations of the law currently, what will prevent the abuse of another addictive and misused drug ?
The full article covered by the Washington Post can be found here.
The HU210 studies can be found in the journal Current Alzheimer Research
The spill from space May 4, 2010Posted by Dr. O in Ecology, Environment/Conservation, Policy, Science & Culture.
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You can see the oil slick from space
And that’s not a good thing. Pictures from NASA’s Earth Observatory website show the every increasing size of the oil spill that has spread across the gulf coast.
Some recent news statements have said that the slick is smaller today, but scientists warn that it means that the oil has only begun to sink to the bottom of the ocean. While it may not coat bird feathers at that point, it will kill oyster beds, kelp forests, and destroy lots of fish and invertebrates. A major cause of concern for environmentalists and local fishermen.
A failed experiment
What I think warrants concern here is that this offshore rig was experimental and it was working under guidelines that many in the business thought were unsafe. Additionally, while there are many supposed fail-safes on all rigs…every single piece of safety redundancy failed on the Deep Horizon rig and BP doesn’t seem to be able to deal with the catastrophic aftermath. Lastly, you may have heard about special dispersants being sprayed to “break up” the oil, however questions about their role as toxins to the environment remain. Are we really left with choosing the lesser of two evils here?
What does it all mean?
Regardless of your stance on fossil fuel dependency, big oil’s big business role, and government regulation…this should give us pause to reflect on our current choices and regulations of fossil fuel use.
There was a devoted discussion to the aftermath of this environmental crisis on the Diane Rehm show yesterday. Click here to listen.
Click here for an earlier post discussing the long-term environmental toll oil spills can have.
Follow the slick on your phone
Here is a list of apps that will allow you to follow the gloomy progression of the slick.
A brief history of laughing gas May 3, 2010Posted by Colleen in Biology, Chemistry, Health, History of Science, Medicine.
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As a science major, signing lab safety forms is just a normal part of the beginning of every semester for me. We always cover the proper protocol for experiments we’ll be conducting in the lab and the things we probably shouldn’t do in order to remain alive. We take all of this for granted, but hundreds of years ago, the methods for scientific experiment were far different.
The story “The Not-So-Funny Tale Of Laughing Gas” on NPR’s Morning Edition talks about this. In 1799, a young scientists, about 21 years old, named Humphry Davy was doing testing on different gases as potential cures for Tuberculosis, a major problem of the time. To test these different gases (carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, etc.), he inhaled the gases himself and wrote about his reactions to them. Let’s just say, it wasn’t always a pleasant experience. While none of these gases could actually be used to cure tuberculosis, he did notice one of these gases had a particular effect on him. While testing the gas nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, Davy noticed that the toothache that he had been experiencing was gone after the nitrous oxide was inhaled and then later came back. He proposed that this gas could potentially be used in surgery to keep the patients from feeling the pain. Unfortunately, there was no knowledge of any kind of anesthesia at the time and the idea of a pain-free surgery was such a novel idea. Pain was thought to be a sign of a healthy body that would heal quite well, so people shied away from the idea. It would take about 40 years before people would begin to consider Davy’s discovery.
Sleep and stress May 3, 2010Posted by Colleen in Health, Neuroscience.
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Finals week has arrived which includes late nights in the library, lots of caffeine and not enough sleep. We all know it’s bad for us, yet we continue to deprive ourselves of sleep just to get that extra hour of work in. We feel so stressed out that we think depriving ourselves of this vital function will help in some way, shape or form.
Science Daily posted an article about stress and its connection to sleep. Studies have shown that “people with chronic stress report shorter sleep duration, worse sleep quality, and more daytime functioning impairments.” The problem is that lack of sleep can also cause more stress upon the person which could lead to an unfortunate and potentially never-ending cycle. How should someone with this problem begin to address it? Make some lifestyle changes: don’t drink too much caffeine, don’t try to stay up all night studying for a final (I should take my own advice!), make sure you have a wind-down period before bed, etc. This way sleep deprivation won’t be the cause of the stress in your life!
Penguins, endangered? May 3, 2010Posted by Kyle in Behavior, Biology, Climate Change, Ecology, Environment/Conservation, Evolution, Fun.
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Cape penguins (Spheniscus demersusare) are an endangered species of penguins off the coast of South Africa. Between 2001 and 2009 there was a 60% decline in population numbers of Cape penguins. Researchers believe that the decline in Cape penguins is partly due to the lack of food as a result of overfishing. Without food, the penguins obviously can’t survive. A study done by researchers in South Africa has shown that by managing commercial fishing, they may be able to restore population numbers in penguins.
After doing a little more research, I discovered an easier solution to the problem. The penguins could just fly away (similar to polar bears rapidly evolving), and using a strategy similar to what was done in the movie Fly Away Home, the penguins could be saved. While it may seem slightly unrealistic, just watch the video below and all doubt will be removed. It seems that penguins learning to fly isn’t that crazy of an idea. (The video is obviously not real, and I am not serious.)
Epigenetics May 3, 2010Posted by zach in Biology, Genetics, Health, Medicine.
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Is it possible to find a way to fight a broad spectrum of human disease with a single break through in the in the biomedical world? The emerging field of epigenetics is trying to lead the way in fighting a variety of human diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and even neurological disorders. The field of epigenetics was discovered at the conclusion of the human genome project. When it was found that humans and chimpanzees genomes only differed by two percent, researchers knew something more than simply sequence differences had to be taking place. Epigenetics was born, currently researchers are looking into all the mechanisms by which gene expression can be altered due to modifications of the DNA by using methyl groups and acetylation.
Epigenetic has had two major break throughs by showing how modification of the histones and methylation patterns can affect the organisms. The first study was done on pregnant agouti mice. When there is a cross between two agouti mice the offspring usually comes out as an agouti, but scientist wondered if they changed the mother’s diet by adding meth donors, which could change the offspring phenotype by an epigenetic alteration. When the female agouti mouse was fed a high methyl donor diet the offspring showed a normal phenotype. This means that there was some alteration at the agouti gene that changed the offspring to silence the agouti phenotype.
The other example of epigenetics in action is studies on monozygous twins (MZ). Monozygous twins share the same DNA because they come from a single zygote, that divided early in development. At a young age MZ are very epigenetically similar, but as they age their epigenetic patterns begin to diverge. This divergence is highly dependant on their lifestyle. Epigenetic patterns seem to change more when the two MZ twins experience very different environments in their lifestyles. This shows that your environment can greatly influence epigenetics which can change your disposition towards disease.
“A Ghost in your genes” is a four-part documentary that explores many aspects of epigenetics and all the possibilities that can come from it. I really recommend taking the time to watch it. Give it a chance…you will not be let down.
From this clip you can visually see how HDAC’s function and what is being done to prevent disease by blocking HDAC.
Epigenetics and HDAC are thought to play a key role in the development of cancer. The National Cancer Institute agrees and pledged $8.5 million to Oregon State University to explore how diet, epigenetics, and cancer prevention can all be related. The grant is going towards placebo-controlled human interventions trials on colon and prostate cancer. In the future, researchers are hoping that there research on HDAC can be generalized to fight a wide range of degenerative disorders.
The “CSI-effect” May 3, 2010Posted by Kyle in Genetics, Science & Culture.
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I recently found an interesting news article addressing an issue stemming from some popular television shows. As you have probably noticed, it is almost impossible to flip through the channels and not find at least one cop drama. While these shows may be interesting, some people are apparently having trouble separating reality from television. According to the Marion County Crime Lab, there has been a dramatic increase in the demand for DNA evidence in criminal cases. This has been referred to as the “CSI-effect.” While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it has created an increased work load for the crime lab technicians, by roughly fifty percent.
Unlike the shows on T.V., there isn’t always DNA found at a crime scene. Also, it just simply isn’t possible to test every square inch of every crime scene. This has created issues in criminal cases when jurors want DNA evidence, but there isn’t any. When jurors confuse reality and television, they can begin to have unrealistic expectations of investigators. However, the positive side is the increased work load for the crime lab has led to the identification of many suspects, who may have never been identified otherwise.
A more recent article reported that prisons will begin to use DNA testing to determine the owners of items such as weapons and cell phones confiscated. Officials hope that this new tool will help cut down on the amount of contraband in Indiana prisons. An Indianapolis based company, Forensic ID, has been contracted to run the program. With the advancement of science and technology many things are now possible that sound like they are from a science fiction movie. It is hard to imagine what will be possible in a few hundred years from now.