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Rajini Rao

Rajini Rao Verified in Google 

Life is an experiment. Experiments are my life.

Occupation: Rajini teaches, mentors, writes and experiments both in the laboratory and at home. (Johns Hopkins University)

Location: Baltimore, MD

Followers: 298,054

Following: 2,959

Views: 80,275,470

Cream of the Crop: 01/10/2012

Added to CircleCount.com: 12/25/2011That's the date, where Rajini Rao has been indexed by CircleCount.com.
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Rajini Rao has been at 14 events

HostFollowersTitleDateGuestsLinks
Larry Fournillier1,587,597She's back!  Yes folks, my favorite Trini @111497953683520662054 will be joining me on Sunday, 24 at 3:00PM(EDT) 12:00PM(PDT).  On this HOA, Sonja will be making a delightful vegetarian dish, *Beetroot Hummus*.  So join us, won't you? :)   *Don't forget to bring your favorite beverage*!! #hoa   #foodstories   #hangoutsonair   #beetroothummus  Food Stories | Beet Hummus - S02E092015-05-24 21:00:0032  
foodies+0*DRUM ROLL PLEASE!!!* Join us as we roll out the red carpet for *Foodies+ Live &  Cookin’* Yep, the top foodies community on G+ now brings you its very own show! Join us, every fortnight for 30 minutes of food, fun & frivolity!  Here at Foodies+ we are serious about our food but we _never_ take ourselves too seriously! Every show will feature a different chef in the kitchen. We kick off with the *Italian-Kiwi*, @103650126795079272505, who lives in France. You can find all of Lisa’s recipes on her blog: http://www.italiankiwi.com What's Lisa cooking? *ARANCINI* of course! Recipe can be found here: http://www.italiankiwi.com/arancini/ *YOUTUBE LINK:* http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWTPrOoFySIFoodies+ Live & Cookin'2014-04-06 21:00:00124  
Larry Fournillier1,587,597Make this Valentine's Day a special one on Google Plus, by joining me in welcoming foodie extraordinaire,@104466367393245909954 to a special edition of *Food Stories*.  Azlin, will treat us to her sinfully decadent, *Bailey’s Mocha Cheesecake*, a perfect dessert for you and yours this Valentine’s Day.   Azlin and I will be *_spreading the love_* on *Friday,14th, February (Valentine’s Day) at 1:00PM(EST), 2:00PM(AST) and 6PM(GMT)*.  Do you want to make her temptingly delicious featured cake?  Go here for the recipe: http://goo.gl/swEOC6  You can also visit her website to see more of her other mouthwatering dishes : www.linsfood.com I would also like to thank my sponsor @114035095761571532708. To get *15%* off  your next purchase OF their healthy and delicious food bars visit www.twodegreesfood.com and use the *_promo code_* *FOODSTORIES15* #hoa   #foodstories   #cheesecake  Food Stories | Valentine's Day Special featuring - Azlin Bloor2014-02-14 19:00:0081  
Larry Fournillier1,587,597Everyone has a story, they want to tell it and I want to share it. This is the second installment in my new series of food/cooking HOAs where I will introduce you to some great folks who, like me, have a passion for fun, food and cooking. Allow me to introduce you to G+er +Sheedia Jansen   a Curacaoan who loves her country so much, she is considered the unofficial Cultural Ambassador of Curacao.  Sheedia has a great blog, *Curacao Vacation Blog*( http://curacaovacationblog.com) and an awesome G+ Page +Curacao 411   Sheedia is no stranger to the kitchen, she began cooking at age 18 and on Sunday's show she will be telling us her story, while preparing a local dish of *Arepa di Pampuna*, or *Pumpkin Pancakes*. So, join us on *Sunday 24th, at 4:00PM(AST) 3:00PM(EST), 12:00PM(PST) and 2:00PM(CST)* to hear Sheedia's fascinating story and watch her make one of her favorite snacks. *Here is the recipe* : http://curacaovacationblog.com/post/pumpkin-pancakes/ #foodstories   #pumpkinpancakes   #hoa   #hangoutsonair  Food Stories Episode 2 - featuring Sheedia Jansen2013-11-24 21:00:0085  
Stacy Frazer79,526Wednesday I'll be back, serving you up a *Red Curry Hummus, Squash Roll ups with a Thai Pesto and Crunchy Thai Peas.* Washing it all down with a *Mango Martini!*  Lovely summer offerings. +Larry Fournillier will be joining us as Moderator, along with other interesting and humorous plussers. You're encouraged to post questions for me to answer live during the show. Use the hashtag #AskStayFray   on Google+, Twitter, and YouTube. If you're interested in being a part of the peanut gallery, comment here on this Event page and let me know! Watch me live at 6pm PST on this Event page! #ThaiOneOn   #ThaiFood   #Thai   #HangoutsOnAir   #HOA  *Thai One On with Stacy Episode #14*2013-07-11 03:00:0042  
STEM on Google+ Community25,926*Share your story - Week 01-02* *_"How I became interested in STEM"_*  (any one of the fields) Make a video or other visual format of yourself answering the question, and *post it either to your public stream, or in the Share Your Story section in the STEM on Google+ Community* (or both).  http://goo.gl/EoDWd   Then it will be added here. Videos should be in the 1 to 2 minute range, and can be easily made directly on G+ or on Youtube, or you could upload one that you create offline. Make sure to +tag +STEM on Google+ Community, and use the #shareyourstory hash-tag in your post. Every other week will have a different question posed.  This is to help promote STEM awareness, encourage students, and generally advance the complete realm of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. *Guests can invite other people, so please do!*  Any shares of this Event would be greatly appreciated too!Share Your Story - How I became interested in STEM2013-06-19 13:30:0036  
Scott Lewis384,322Have you ever wondered what it's like to give a TEDx talk? How about working at M.I.T.? What sort of excitement comes with working on a project that allows people from across the globe to map neurons through a video game? Come find out when +Buddhini Samarasinghe and +Scott Lewis interview +Amy Robinson! Buddhini and Scott will be together in San Diego hosting this special Google+ Hangout On Air interview with Amy from +Sebastian Seung's computational neuroscience lab at MIT.  This Hangout On Air will be broadcast live and recorded to YouTube. If you have any questions or comments for Amy or the hosts, please feel free to leave them here on the event page, through the live Google+ shares, via YouTube or on Twitter using the hashtag #ktcHangout .  Buddhini's Twitter:@DrHalfPintBuddy Scott's Twitter:@BaldAstronomer Amy's Twitter:@AmyLeeRobinson #HangoutsOnAir   #ScienceSunday   #ScienceEveryday   #CitizenScience   #TEDx   #OpenScience   #WomenInSTEM   #ktc20130616   #Science   #STEM   #Neuroscience   #MIT  Interview with Amy Robinson | ktc2013-06-16 23:00:0056  
ScienceSunday87,278Join hosts +Buddhini Samarasinghe and +Scott Lewis  for another “SciSunHOA”, a live Google+ Hangout On Air broadcast, brought to you by +ScienceSunday. This episode, Professor +Vincent Racaniello joins Buddhini and Scott to discuss his work in virology. Vincent is a professor of microbiology and immunology at Columbia University. His research includes the study of poliovirus (Polio), rhinovirus (Common Cold), and other RNA viruses. His work focuses on how our immune systems interact with these viruses, how they cause disease, while also discovering new viruses in wild animals. Outside of the lab, Vincent is involved in many science outreach efforts, including hosting the excellent podcast series This Week in Virology (TWiV). You can read more on his website here (http://www.virology.ws/) We’re all very excited for this episode of “SciSunHOA” as Vincent is not only a brilliant scientist, but also an outstanding science communicator! Questions for Vincent, Buddhini and Scott can be left here in the event page, as well as during the live show through the shares of the HOA, including on Twitter using the hash tag: #SciSunHOA  Going Viral: #SciSun Hangout on Air featuring Vincent Racaniello2013-04-29 00:00:0058  
Chef Dennis Littley959,253Join us and our guest speaker Ronnie Bincer (aka The Hangout Helper)  as he guides you through the world of Hangouts , Hangouts on Air and Events.  Learn how to use Events to promote your Hangout on Air. Leave any questions you may have in the comment section below and we will do our best to answer them in our Hangout. If you can't watch it live, it will be recorded and can be viewed at your convenience. #CommunityEducation2   #googleplusfoodbloggercommunity  Community Education Hangout - Hangouts on Air, Hangouts and Events2013-01-23 03:00:00226  
Shinae Choi Robinson890,168Join me in making five quick, easy, and delicious dressings to encourage you to eat more rabbit food before the holiday gluttony is upon us again! :) New to Cookalongs? Read this: https://plus.google.com/u/0/105466596306740968847/posts/HRH4cuMrgwW *Q&A Session will be from 11AM to 12PM Pacific* *MENU* 1) Miso Ginger Dressing *Recipe:* https://plus.google.com/u/0/105466596306740968847/posts/jSEtH61sUDT 2) Honey Mustard *Recipe:* https://plus.google.com/u/0/105466596306740968847/posts/3aNowFdUcKw 3) Maddi's Favorite Ranch Dip *Recipe:* https://plus.google.com/u/0/105466596306740968847/posts/VAxMt1K5FCz 4) Yogurt Feta Dressing *Recipe:* https://plus.google.com/u/0/+ShinaeChoiRobinson/posts/Zkemw79B7wV 5) Lime Shallot Dressing *Recipe:* https://plus.google.com/u/0/105466596306740968847/posts/DiCDw22quLX *EQUIPMENT & INGREDIENT LIST (PRINT)* https://plus.google.com/u/0/105466596306740968847/posts/eugMLL8PHvMSalad Dressing Cookalong2012-12-02 20:00:0031  
Shinae Choi Robinson890,168Watch along or cook along as we create a delicious Indian meal with recipes and guidance provided by G+'s First Lady of Science and Indian home cook extraordinaire, @114601143134471609087. :) *How Cookalongs Work:* http://goo.gl/Psz8r *Intro:*  https://plus.google.com/u/0/105466596306740968847/posts/E74XQ22VL3L *The Menu:*  https://plus.google.com/u/0/105466596306740968847/posts/E2efQoeWsFk *Equipment & Ingredients List (PRINT)* https://plus.google.com/u/0/105466596306740968847/posts/fh6BhdCDpLd *Rajini's Practically Perfect Pulao Recipe (PRINT)* https://plus.google.com/u/0/114601143134471609087/posts/AiQAPB2xSHu *Rajini's _Channa Masala_ Recipe (PRINT)* https://plus.google.com/u/0/114601143134471609087/posts/XNy7GgjH8WD *Trying New Spices Without Going Broke* https://plus.google.com/u/0/105466596306740968847/posts/ggFrknEKqHc *Game Plan For Efficient Cooking (PRINT)* https://plus.google.com/u/0/105466596306740968847/posts/5pE2YBbZ8Ve *To see how our last Cookalong went:* https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/c66aprm3qvjttf7nb6g438e07h4 Stay tuned as we add more details and info. I'll notify you in this event stream when we do! :)Indian Food Cookalong With Special Guest Cook Rajini Rao2012-11-11 19:00:0086  
Larry Fournillier1,587,597With keeping inline with my *Healthy Eating Program*, I've invited Team member and good friend, @108413597447248376486 to make his famous *_Vegan Burger and Guacamole side_*.  Here is a link to Daniel's recipe: http://bit.ly/T1XqZg So, join us today LIVE from his Massachusetts kitchen where he will be showing us how it's done. It will be a blast!! You can watch us LIVE on this Event page, from my Profile page @100948891249021511115 or on www.hangoutnetworks.com #healthyeatingprogram   #healthyeating   #healthyrecipes  Learning How To Cook Caribbean with Larry Fournillier featuring Daniel Fontaine2012-10-14 15:30:0040  
Chef Dennis Littley959,253Stop by for my class on pesto, and we're not just talking about Basil!  From the classic Genovese, to Sun Dried Tomato, join me as I show you how easy it is to make pesto at home and my favorite way to serve it!ChefHangout- Let's Make Pesto2012-10-12 01:00:00112  
Billy Wilson1,548,894Come watch another episode of my fun weekly on air G+ variety show @108595299975404341987, that brings together the best of everything on G+ in a hangout! This week I'll have joining me Photographer @107073852799630124249; Guinness World Record Holder @105350396156550184511; @104723167398398004122 who's looking at making a documentary of his travels back across Canada; Community Builder & Psychology Lecturer @102370347732140106252; and Special Musical Guest @114974169019892621930 ! You can talk with us and other people watching the show by commenting on this event once the show is live! The episode will be live on this event and the recording will be available immediately afterwards. You can watch previous episodes here: http://goo.gl/ceHtHTSBW #26: Photography, World Record Holder, Live Music and More (On Air Hangout)2012-09-29 04:00:0088  

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Top posts in the last 50 posts

Most comments: 165

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2015-05-31 12:09:07 (165 comments; 395 reshares; 1,260 +1s; )Open 

The Peacock Problem

‘The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!’ So wrote Charles Darwin in a letter to his friend, expressing his frustration at not being able to explain how natural selection could drive the evolution of this extravagantly ornamental display. Not only was there an obvious lack of survival advantage to an awkwardly heavy appendage, it came with an energy cost and added vulnerability to predators. How then, did the peacock's tail evolve?

Once again, it was Darwin who came up with the idea of sexual selection, that depends, "not on a struggle for existence, but on a struggle between the males for possession of the females; the result is not death to the unsuccessful competitor, but few or no offspring". 
  
By flaunting his "handicap", the peacock signals to hispotentia... more »

Most reshares: 395

posted image

2015-05-31 12:09:07 (165 comments; 395 reshares; 1,260 +1s; )Open 

The Peacock Problem

‘The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!’ So wrote Charles Darwin in a letter to his friend, expressing his frustration at not being able to explain how natural selection could drive the evolution of this extravagantly ornamental display. Not only was there an obvious lack of survival advantage to an awkwardly heavy appendage, it came with an energy cost and added vulnerability to predators. How then, did the peacock's tail evolve?

Once again, it was Darwin who came up with the idea of sexual selection, that depends, "not on a struggle for existence, but on a struggle between the males for possession of the females; the result is not death to the unsuccessful competitor, but few or no offspring". 
  
By flaunting his "handicap", the peacock signals to hispotentia... more »

Most plusones: 1593

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2016-08-11 00:44:26 (68 comments; 180 reshares; 1,593 +1s; )Open 

Olympic Gold..or....Green?

♒ We know that green is Brazil's favorite color, and the Olympics are trying to Go Green for the environment, but even so, the overnight change in color of the Olympic swimming pool from an azure blue to murky green took scientists and sportsmen by surprise. While officials hastened to assure athletes that the green waters posed no health threat, the mystery caused much speculation. Caipirinha-flavored Soylent? Stiffed by Trump’s pool cleaning service? Who peed in the water?

♒ “Midafternoon, there was a sudden decrease in the alkalinity in the diving pool, and that’s the main reason the color changed,” said Mario Andrada, a Rio 2016 spokesman. So, the pool became more acidic. But acidic water is not green. There are two likely explanations: first, excess copper in the water can turn it green, but not murky. The latter is caused by asudden and ... more »

Latest 50 posts

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2016-08-11 00:44:26 (68 comments; 180 reshares; 1,593 +1s; )Open 

Olympic Gold..or....Green?

♒ We know that green is Brazil's favorite color, and the Olympics are trying to Go Green for the environment, but even so, the overnight change in color of the Olympic swimming pool from an azure blue to murky green took scientists and sportsmen by surprise. While officials hastened to assure athletes that the green waters posed no health threat, the mystery caused much speculation. Caipirinha-flavored Soylent? Stiffed by Trump’s pool cleaning service? Who peed in the water?

♒ “Midafternoon, there was a sudden decrease in the alkalinity in the diving pool, and that’s the main reason the color changed,” said Mario Andrada, a Rio 2016 spokesman. So, the pool became more acidic. But acidic water is not green. There are two likely explanations: first, excess copper in the water can turn it green, but not murky. The latter is caused by asudden and ... more »

Olympic Gold..or....Green?

♒ We know that green is Brazil's favorite color, and the Olympics are trying to Go Green for the environment, but even so, the overnight change in color of the Olympic swimming pool from an azure blue to murky green took scientists and sportsmen by surprise. While officials hastened to assure athletes that the green waters posed no health threat, the mystery caused much speculation. Caipirinha-flavored Soylent? Stiffed by Trump’s pool cleaning service? Who peed in the water?

♒ “Midafternoon, there was a sudden decrease in the alkalinity in the diving pool, and that’s the main reason the color changed,” said Mario Andrada, a Rio 2016 spokesman. So, the pool became more acidic. But acidic water is not green. There are two likely explanations: first, excess copper in the water can turn it green, but not murky. The latter is caused by a sudden and rapid growth of algae, triggered by the warm weather, lack of wind, insufficient chlorine and ineffective filters.

♒ Algal spores can enter the water inadvertently, carried by wind, rain and contaminated swimsuits. When the conditions are right, they can "bloom" overnight. Because these algae are visible only under the microscope, there must be millions of them in the water to change the pool color from blue to green. One way to deal with them, after normalizing the pH, is *superchlorination*—aka shocking them with high levels of chlorine. Not all the Olympians are complaining: Canadian divers said that the contrast with the sky helped them win the bronze.

♒ Pix: The Olympic diving pool on August 8 (left) and the Olympic diving pool on August 9 (right) Image: AP

#rioolympics2016   #swimming  ___

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2016-04-02 13:43:03 (74 comments; 169 reshares; 529 +1s; )Open 

Eye See You: Moving Retina in Jumping Spiders

⦿ Jumping spiders (Salticidae) don't use a web to catch prey. Instead they locate, stalk and mount a jumping ambush when they are 1-2 cm away. To do this, they need to detect and then evaluate objects so they don't confuse a potential mate as prey! Fortunately, jumping spiders have among the sharpest vision among invertebrates.

⦿ Unlike insects, spiders don't have compound eyes. Instead their 8 "simple" eyes point forward (for high focus) and sideways (to detect motion). Strategically, this is similar to the division of labor in our eyes: we detect peripheral vision at the edges of our retina with low resolution but wide field of view, and sharp images at the fovea in the center of the retina, which is packed with a high density of vision receptors, but has a limited field of view. Since thespi... more »

Eye See You: Moving Retina in Jumping Spiders

⦿ Jumping spiders (Salticidae) don't use a web to catch prey. Instead they locate, stalk and mount a jumping ambush when they are 1-2 cm away. To do this, they need to detect and then evaluate objects so they don't confuse a potential mate as prey! Fortunately, jumping spiders have among the sharpest vision among invertebrates.

⦿ Unlike insects, spiders don't have compound eyes. Instead their 8 "simple" eyes point forward (for high focus) and sideways (to detect motion). Strategically, this is similar to the division of labor in our eyes: we detect peripheral vision at the edges of our retina with low resolution but wide field of view, and sharp images at the fovea in the center of the retina, which is packed with a high density of vision receptors, but has a limited field of view. Since the spider's large central eyes are set close together and have a limited field of view, they must be moved to point the fovea towards the object. How do they do this?

⦿ Involuntary leg movements are triggered by stimuli from the lateral eyes to reposition the body. However, the spider cannot swivel its whole eyeball as we do, because the lens is built into the carapace, or outer skeleton. Instead, a set of six muscles moves the retina: up and down, sideways and rotationally, while the lens stays fixed. In a transparent spider, you can see the unusual movements of the retina in the tube-like principle eyes. Just one more addition to the cuteness quotient of these tiny spiders! 

REF: M.F. Land (1969) Movements of the retinae of jumping spiders (Salticidae: Dendryphantinae) in response to visual stimuli. http://jeb.biologists.org/content/jexbio/51/2/471.full.pdf

Video Source: Yellow amycine jumping spider from Ecuador, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvN_ex95IcE

GIF Source: http://gph.is/1n7n4aR___

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2016-02-20 20:03:49 (50 comments; 18 reshares; 217 +1s; )Open 

Red, White and Grape: From Jumping Genes to Wrapping Leaves

Red or White? Even King Tutankhamun (1332-1322 B.C.) prudently stashed away amphorae of both red and white wines to enjoy in the afterlife. Biochemically, a single class of pigments found in grape skin, the anthocyanins, separates the red from white. White grapes arose from their wild, dark berried ancestors by not one, but two rare and independent genetic events: either one alone would not have given us the white grape. In fact, all ~3000 white cultivars today carry these same gene disruptions, pointing back to a common ancestor that arose millennia ago. The disrupted genes code for transcription factors, aka master regulators of biochemical pathways that can turn other genes on or off.

Science sleuths have peeked back into the gene history of Vitis vinifera to figure this out.

First,... more »

Red, White and Grape: From Jumping Genes to Wrapping Leaves

Red or White? Even King Tutankhamun (1332-1322 B.C.) prudently stashed away amphorae of both red and white wines to enjoy in the afterlife. Biochemically, a single class of pigments found in grape skin, the anthocyanins, separates the red from white. White grapes arose from their wild, dark berried ancestors by not one, but two rare and independent genetic events: either one alone would not have given us the white grape. In fact, all ~3000 white cultivars today carry these same gene disruptions, pointing back to a common ancestor that arose millennia ago. The disrupted genes code for transcription factors, aka master regulators of biochemical pathways that can turn other genes on or off.

Science sleuths have peeked back into the gene history of Vitis vinifera to figure this out.

First, the MybA gene duplicated, giving two side-by-side copies, both active in making anthocyanins and red berries. Somewhere along the way, one of them, the MybA2 gene accumulated two mutations (depicted as stars) that rendered the resulting protein non-functional.

Independently, a “jumping gene” or retrotransposon, (green triangle) landed within the adjacent backup gene MybA1, knocking it out as well. The resulting plant, termed heterozygous, still bore red berries, because the unmutated genes on the other chromosome were active. Eventually, two heterozygous plants bred together and some offspring received both chromosomes with two nonfunctional MybA genes.

Voila, white grapes!

If you’ve ever snacked on delicious dolmas, then you know that the goodness of the grape vine goes beyond berries. Legend has it that the gods of Mount Olympus feasted on the tender leaves of the grape wrapped around morsels of rice or meat, alongside ambrosia and nectar! Although stuffed grape leaves are common around the Mediterranean, Greeks claim that dolmades were co-opted by the army of Alexander the Great to parcel out limited rations of meat during the seige of Thebes.  Luckily, you only need to lay seige on your local Middle Eastern grocery store to find jarred leaves, preserved in brine. Unfurl them gently and give them a good wash to get started. It doesn’t hurt to have a glass of your favorite vintage, red or white, on hand before embarking on this project!

For the recipe on stuffed rice dolmas, visit my blog at: https://madamescientist.wordpress.com/2016/02/20/red-white-and-grape-from-jumping-genes-to-wrapping-leaves-for-dolma/

REF:White grapes arose through the mutation of two similar and adjacent regulatory genes. Walker et al., 2007 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17316172___

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2016-02-08 00:02:56 (34 comments; 171 reshares; 572 +1s; )Open 

Owl Be Seeing You

It's time for the #SuperbOwl and #ScienceSunday ! 

Did you know that the eyes of an owl are 5% of its body weight? Imagine Peyton Manning with eyes the size of a baseball.. errr...football. Their large pupils dilate at night, harvesting more light to be captured by an abundance of rods, specialized for night vision. Their eyes don't have as many cone cells as we do, so their color vision is not that great. But they can see up to 100 times better than the Broncos at night! 

How does the owl rotate its head without wringing its neck? An owl has twice as many vertebrae compared to the 7 in humans, giving it a 270 degree flexibility, without tearing the delicate blood vessels in their necks and heads, and cutting off blood supply to their brains.. That's because unlike human vertebrae, the vertebrae of the owl havelarge... more »

Owl Be Seeing You

It's time for the #SuperbOwl and #ScienceSunday ! 

Did you know that the eyes of an owl are 5% of its body weight? Imagine Peyton Manning with eyes the size of a baseball.. errr...football. Their large pupils dilate at night, harvesting more light to be captured by an abundance of rods, specialized for night vision. Their eyes don't have as many cone cells as we do, so their color vision is not that great. But they can see up to 100 times better than the Broncos at night! 

How does the owl rotate its head without wringing its neck? An owl has twice as many vertebrae compared to the 7 in humans, giving it a 270 degree flexibility, without tearing the delicate blood vessels in their necks and heads, and cutting off blood supply to their brains.. That's because unlike human vertebrae, the vertebrae of the owl have large cavities, about ten times the diameter of the vertebral artery that goes through, allowing for plenty of slack. The artery also enters the cervical vertebrae at a higher point, for more freedom of movement. It is heavily networked so that blood supply to the brain and eyes is not interrupted by twisting of the neck even if one route is blocked. Astonishingly, the blood vessels at the neck became wider as they branched, in contrast to that of mere humans, where they get smaller and narrower. 

Read More: http://goo.gl/hFUq2 Research by +Michael Habib  and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University on the mystery of the Owl's neck. This award winning study was featured in Science magazine and may be the first use of angiography, CT scans and medical illustrations to unravel the mystery of the magnificent owl. 

For +rare avis  who wanted to know about the #SuperbOwl :)
Image Source: Northern Hawk Owls  https://vimeo.com/17355313___

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2016-01-31 16:38:58 (73 comments; 107 reshares; 812 +1s; )Open 

Why are there "dew drops" at the tips of leaf veins?

❦ Have you ever seen clear orbs of water glisten along a leaf edge? You may have mistaken them for dew drops, which are caused by moisture from the air condensing on cool surfaces. But these drops are only found at the edges of leaves and if you look around- they won't be found on dead leaves. So what are they?

❦ Plants use a plumbing system of xylem tubes to move water and nutrients. During the day, transpiration (water evaporation) from leaves creates a vacuum that pulls the column of water up from the roots to the leaves. At night, the stomata (leaf pores) close, transpiration stops and salts accumulate in the xylem of roots, drawing in water from the surrounding soil by osmosis. The excess water rises up the xylem tubes and is forced out at the leaf tips through openings called hydathodes.Thi... more »

Why are there "dew drops" at the tips of leaf veins?

❦ Have you ever seen clear orbs of water glisten along a leaf edge? You may have mistaken them for dew drops, which are caused by moisture from the air condensing on cool surfaces. But these drops are only found at the edges of leaves and if you look around- they won't be found on dead leaves. So what are they?

❦ Plants use a plumbing system of xylem tubes to move water and nutrients. During the day, transpiration (water evaporation) from leaves creates a vacuum that pulls the column of water up from the roots to the leaves. At night, the stomata (leaf pores) close, transpiration stops and salts accumulate in the xylem of roots, drawing in water from the surrounding soil by osmosis. The excess water rises up the xylem tubes and is forced out at the leaf tips through openings called hydathodes. This exudation of plant sap is known rather inelegantly as guttation, and only happens at night. The water pressure is not strong enough to rise beyond 3 feet, so guttation is not seen on tree leaves. The thermal image (inset) taken by infrared photography shows the cooler temperature (blue) in the guttation droplets.

❦ When the drops dry, they sometimes leave behind a residue of salts and minerals. This is not a problem, unless the soil is over-fertilized resulting in fertilizer burn of leaf tips. In the same way, guttation droplets in corn seedlings were shown to have high levels of neonicotinoid compounds, used as pesticidal coatings on the seed. These concentrations could be a lethal dose for honey bees that sip on guttation drops as a water source. While shedding toxins through guttation drops protects the plant, it may have repercussions - both beneficial and harmful, on insects and other animals. 


Inset of thermal image: http://thermal-imaging-blog.com/index.php/page/13/#.Vq1LIvkrLcs

REF on neonicotinoids in guttation droplets #openaccess: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4284396/___

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2015-12-20 14:49:57 (40 comments; 97 reshares; 503 +1s; )Open 

The Flight of the Hummingbird

A route of evanescence
With a revolving wheel
A resonance of emerald,
A rush of cochineal

With these words, the poet Emily Dickinson summed up the fleeting magic of the hummingbird.  

Hummingbirds are the only vertebrates capable of hovering in place. In addition to flying forwards, they can also fly backward and upside down! They are tiny: the smallest bee hummingbird of Cuba weighs less than 2 grams, less than a penny! Add to this their speed- they can clock up to 45 mph, and stamina- they can fly 18 straight hours, and you may appreciate their unusual metabolism. In fact, they have the highest metabolic rate of any warm blooded animal. 

With a heart beat of 1,200/min and wing beat of 200/sec during flight, hummingbirds generate a tremendous amount of heat. Because their muscles are only ~10%e... more »

The Flight of the Hummingbird

A route of evanescence
With a revolving wheel
A resonance of emerald,
A rush of cochineal

With these words, the poet Emily Dickinson summed up the fleeting magic of the hummingbird.  

Hummingbirds are the only vertebrates capable of hovering in place. In addition to flying forwards, they can also fly backward and upside down! They are tiny: the smallest bee hummingbird of Cuba weighs less than 2 grams, less than a penny! Add to this their speed- they can clock up to 45 mph, and stamina- they can fly 18 straight hours, and you may appreciate their unusual metabolism. In fact, they have the highest metabolic rate of any warm blooded animal. 

With a heart beat of 1,200/min and wing beat of 200/sec during flight, hummingbirds generate a tremendous amount of heat. Because their muscles are only ~10% efficient, much of the energy they consume is released as heat. But their thick plumage of feathers keeps in the heat: useful when the bird wants to conserve body heat, but a problem during flight. 

Using infrared thermal photography, scientists have found that hummingbirds (and probably most birds) lose body heat from three areas seen as bright white spots in the gif below: the region around the eyes, at the shoulder where the wings meet the body, and the feet, which they can dangle downward to dissipate even more heat. 

Ref: http://rsos.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/2/12/150598
Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btuu_hDU7B4___

2015-11-27 19:34:54 (74 comments; 41 reshares; 450 +1s; )Open 

Gene Drives: Green Signal or Back Seat? 

What is the deadliest animal on earth? If you're thinking of the great white shark or a venomous snake, you could be wrong. Counting human deaths, it is the innocently named (Spanish for "little fly") mosquito. Millions, mostly children in third world countries, are killed or sickened each year by malaria, dengue, yellow fever and encephalitis caused by parasites and viruses that are transmitted by mosquito bites. This happens despite billions of dollars spent, years of research and potential cures ranging from vaccines and drugs to public health management. 

Stop or Go, that is the Question: Imagine if the mosquito could kill the parasite before it has the chance to spread to its human victims. For example, the mosquito could be engineered to make antibodies against Plasmodium, killing the parasites... more »

Gene Drives: Green Signal or Back Seat? 

What is the deadliest animal on earth? If you're thinking of the great white shark or a venomous snake, you could be wrong. Counting human deaths, it is the innocently named (Spanish for "little fly") mosquito. Millions, mostly children in third world countries, are killed or sickened each year by malaria, dengue, yellow fever and encephalitis caused by parasites and viruses that are transmitted by mosquito bites. This happens despite billions of dollars spent, years of research and potential cures ranging from vaccines and drugs to public health management. 

Stop or Go, that is the Question: Imagine if the mosquito could kill the parasite before it has the chance to spread to its human victims. For example, the mosquito could be engineered to make antibodies against Plasmodium, killing the parasite soon after it enters the mosquito after a blood meal. Just like a vaccination, nearly all mosquitoes would need to carry this new trait to be effective. There is a way to do this and it is not a new idea. What used to be theory, however, has just become a reality. A new paper published in the journal PNAS has now changed the question from Can we do this? to Should we do this?

What are Gene Drives?: Normally, the chance that any gene trait is passed from parent to offspring is 50%, since only one of a chromosome pair is inherited from that parent. But some selfish genes can copy themselves so that both chromosomes carry the trait, which now affects 100% offspring. A gene drive consists of DNA sequences that provides the technical ability to do this. With the new CRISPR/Cas9 tool that precisely cuts and inserts any gene of interest, the gene drive has become a reality. 

Can Gene Drives work on Humans? Gene drives work best in fast reproducing species, like mosquitoes, that can be released in large numbers. For this reason, they are not going to be effective in spreading inadvertently through humans, or even commercial crops and animals which are bred by controlled processes like artificial pollination and insemination.  

Gene Drives are Natural: For example, a gene called P element swept through all fruit flies in the wild, but is not found in lab strains that were isolated before it spread. 

Gene Drives can be Reversed: For each gene drive that spreads a trait, a reverse gene drive can undo the genetic changes in the original strain. Such reversal drives should be tested in advance, and could be released to stop the spread of any unintended consequences.

What else can Gene Drives do? Besides targeting mosquitoes, gene drives could be used to eradicate invasive species, or reverse resistance to herbicides and pesticides. 

Take the Poll: A public conversation based on sound scientific information, weighing pros and cons, must be the starting point for developing policy. Engineered mosquitoes that could rapidly spread in the wild and eradicate the malarial parasite have been made. Here is the question: Should we use Gene Drive engineered mosquitoes to fight Malaria? 

FAQ on Gene Drives: http://goo.gl/V3Jmz1
Image: Matt Panuska
Pop Science Read: http://goo.gl/oROVBG
Advanced Read: http://goo.gl/uTN47v___

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2015-11-22 14:11:18 (93 comments; 60 reshares; 331 +1s; )Open 

I am really worried about priorities..

❖ On a recent science post about the evolution of land plants, a community member worried: "what about poverty?? people are dying in hunger, lack of medical support, clean water and other simple things which can be fixed... but without fixing something for them we are trying to find water in Mars. I'm really worried about the priorities.."

❖ A similar comment lamented the cost of curiosity in the search for earth-like planets (http://goo.gl/9OUM0D). Physics professor Robert McNees had an awesome response:

❝ You posted your comment using technology that exists only because of a chain of discoveries and insights that began with fascination-driven research in the late 19th century.❞

❝ If Balmer hadn't studied spectral lines, Planck may not have proposed the quantum. Then Bohr may nothave conc... more »

I am really worried about priorities..

❖ On a recent science post about the evolution of land plants, a community member worried: "what about poverty?? people are dying in hunger, lack of medical support, clean water and other simple things which can be fixed... but without fixing something for them we are trying to find water in Mars. I'm really worried about the priorities.."

❖ A similar comment lamented the cost of curiosity in the search for earth-like planets (http://goo.gl/9OUM0D). Physics professor Robert McNees had an awesome response:

❝ You posted your comment using technology that exists only because of a chain of discoveries and insights that began with fascination-driven research in the late 19th century.❞

❝ If Balmer hadn't studied spectral lines, Planck may not have proposed the quantum. Then Bohr may not have conceived his model of the atom, which means Heisenberg and Schrödinger wouldn't have developed their formulations of quantum mechanics. That would have left Bloch without the tools he needed to understand the nature of conduction in metals, and then how would Schottky have figured out semiconductors? It's hard to imagine, then, how Bardeen, Brattain, and Schockley would have developed transistors. And without transistors, Noyce and Kilbey couldn't have produced integrated circuits.❞

❝ Almost every major technological advance of the 20th and 21st centuries originated with basic research that presented no obvious or immediate economic benefit. That means no profit motive, and hence no reason for the private sector to adequately fund it. Basic research isn't a waste of tax dollars; it's a more reliable long-term investment than anything else in the Federal government's portfolio.❞

GIF: Johns Hopkins professor Andy Feinberg spent several days on NASA's zero gravity aircraft (known as "vomit comet") trying out different pipetting techniques for future experiments in space. It wasn't that easy with flying pipet tips and tubes! Andy did eventually figure out the best technique (using positive displacement pipets, seen in the second video in this link http://goo.gl/AFpnJq). Feinberg is leading one of ten experiments in NASA's Twin Study to examine epigenetics and other biological changes that affect astronauts in space. Samples from Scott Kelly, who is spending a year onboard the ISS, will be compared with those from his twin on earth, Mark. Feinberg credits NASA for funding this study. He says, “They're very curious people. They really want to know.”

Who knows, one day we may even grow potatoes on Mars! :)

Share your favorite example of the unexpected benefits of basic research! 

Shout out to +Gnotic Pasta  who made the GIF. Thanks, Dan! ___

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2015-11-15 18:20:26 (56 comments; 49 reshares; 548 +1s; )Open 

Science Mystery Pix

Stomatal pores under a leaf? Sand dunes on Mars? Clams clamoring to be fed? Hint: the image illustrates an evolutionary adaptation. Take a guess, then read on!

Secret of Serotiny: In 1961, a fire destroyed 28,000 acres of forest in Montana. Since then, the lodgepole pine has established dominance over this vast acreage, with a density of tens of thousands of trees per acre. Yet, this pine normally does not spread its seed beyond a range of some 200 meters. How did the lodgepole pine achieve this remarkable biotic potential?

Its secret was serotiny: millions of seeds per acre were stored inside cones, high up at the canopy top of mature stands, for just this scenario. The heat of the fire melted the resin that kept the cones closed, releasing seeds to be carried by wind or gravity over several days, to land on burned but cooling ground. With... more »

Science Mystery Pix

Stomatal pores under a leaf? Sand dunes on Mars? Clams clamoring to be fed? Hint: the image illustrates an evolutionary adaptation. Take a guess, then read on!

Secret of Serotiny: In 1961, a fire destroyed 28,000 acres of forest in Montana. Since then, the lodgepole pine has established dominance over this vast acreage, with a density of tens of thousands of trees per acre. Yet, this pine normally does not spread its seed beyond a range of some 200 meters. How did the lodgepole pine achieve this remarkable biotic potential?

Its secret was serotiny: millions of seeds per acre were stored inside cones, high up at the canopy top of mature stands, for just this scenario. The heat of the fire melted the resin that kept the cones closed, releasing seeds to be carried by wind or gravity over several days, to land on burned but cooling ground. With little competition, more light, warmth and nutrients from ash, the seedlings flourished, making this pine an aggressive pioneer species.  

Serotiny is the adaptation by some plants that hold on to their seeds for decades after they are mature, releasing them only in response to a specific environmental trigger. The trigger could be dryness, water, or fire. Some desert plants have adapted to release seeds after rainfall, when the chances of successful germination are high. Other plants release seeds only after they die, a feature known as necriscence. Oddly, fire-survival strategies may be paired with fire-embracing adaptations, such as retaining dead (and flammable) branches instead of the more common practice of self pruning . Known as niche construction, this double strategy ensures removal of poorly adapted plants in regions susceptible to natural fires. 

The Fiery Cretaceous: Fire has been an effective agent of natural selection for at least 125 million years and possibly longer! The high oxygen levels (23-29% compared to today's 21%) in Earth's paleoatmosphere of the early Cretaceous fueled frequent fires, captured as charcoal in the fossil records. Since then, fire adapting traits in plants arose independently, many times.  Our Mystery Pix can now be revealed as the cone of a Banksia tree, endemic to Australia, with open seed pods after a bushfire. Photo via PinkRockAus's Fotothing http://goo.gl/ZEfDHm___

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2015-10-05 22:45:17 (47 comments; 110 reshares; 466 +1s; )Open 

Project 523: From Chinese Secrets to Nobel Gold 

☯ On May 23, 1967 a secret military project was launched by the Chinese government. It was the height of the Vietnam war, and the communist north was losing more soldiers to the scourge of malaria than to the battlefield. An emergency plea was made to a powerful sympathizer, Chairman Mao Zedong, to find a cure. Code named Project 523 (after the date), more than 500 scientists were recruited from 60 military and civilian organizations, remarkably at the height of China's Cultural Revolution which closed universities and banished scientists and intellectuals. One group of scientists was tasked with searching through ancient Chinese records of herbal remedies.

☯ 39 year old phytochemist, Youyou Tu, was sent to the sweltering rain forests of Hainan, an island in southern China, where she witnessed thedeva... more »

Project 523: From Chinese Secrets to Nobel Gold 

☯ On May 23, 1967 a secret military project was launched by the Chinese government. It was the height of the Vietnam war, and the communist north was losing more soldiers to the scourge of malaria than to the battlefield. An emergency plea was made to a powerful sympathizer, Chairman Mao Zedong, to find a cure. Code named Project 523 (after the date), more than 500 scientists were recruited from 60 military and civilian organizations, remarkably at the height of China's Cultural Revolution which closed universities and banished scientists and intellectuals. One group of scientists was tasked with searching through ancient Chinese records of herbal remedies.

☯ 39 year old phytochemist, Youyou Tu, was sent to the sweltering rain forests of Hainan, an island in southern China, where she witnessed the devastation of malaria first hand. By then, many ancient herbal compounds had been tested. The extract of quinghao (green-blue wormwood) appeared to be effective, but success was sporadic. Tu carefully read the recipe of 4th century writing of Ge Hong: qinghao, one bunch, take two sheng [2 × 0.2 l] of water for soaking it, wring it out, take the juice, ingest it in its entirety. Tu reasoned that extraction by boiling might destroy the active ingredient. So she tested a cold ether extract of the plant and it worked. She even voluntarily consumed the extract to make sure it was safe, then tested it on human patients. Her results were published anonymously in 1977. Today, 84 year old Youyou Tu received the Nobel Prize for Medicine, which she shared with two other scientists, an Irishman and Japanese, who worked on treatment of other parasitic diseases. 

☯ The success of artemisinin as a modern day miracle cure for Plasmodium falciparum malaria (spread by mosquitoes, and blamed annually for 1 million deaths world wide), rests on the breakthroughs of hundreds of scientists. Those who discovered a richer source of the drug in Artemisia annua grown in Sichuan province, those who purified the drug away from toxic contaminants, who solved the new and unusual chemical structure, synthesized better and safer derivatives for the treatment of malaria. While celebrating her success as the first Chinese woman to receive a Nobel in Medicine, let us not forget that Youyou Tu's Nobel represents an entire field of research. Tu herself is a modest individual who has drifted into obscurity despite receiving a Lasker Award, the so-called American Nobel, in 2011. At the time, she said, "I think the honor not only belongs to me but also to all Chinese scientists."

Project 523: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_523
Nobel Press Release: 
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2015/press.pdf___

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2015-09-16 22:42:16 (115 comments; 39 reshares; 471 +1s; )Open 

Falafel Faves and Favism

★ I flagged the Palestinian taxi driver with some relief: the streets were deserted, the restaurants in the old city of Jerusalem were shuttered for Shabbat and I was growing increasingly peckish. After I convinced him, with some effort and considerable diplomacy, that I did not want a tour of Bethlehem, he admitted defeat with good humor and took me to a little Palestinian restaurant where I had the most delicious falafels- golden nuggets of chickpea goodness drizzled with tangy tahini atop mounds of fluffy pita bread, still warm from the oven.

★ Did you know that falafels were originally made from fava beans by the Egyptian Copts, who become vegans during Lent? But fava beans can trigger life-threatening anemia in a fraction of people of Mediterranean descent, including Jews, so chickpeas have been used as a safer replacement. Knownas ... more »

Falafel Faves and Favism

★ I flagged the Palestinian taxi driver with some relief: the streets were deserted, the restaurants in the old city of Jerusalem were shuttered for Shabbat and I was growing increasingly peckish. After I convinced him, with some effort and considerable diplomacy, that I did not want a tour of Bethlehem, he admitted defeat with good humor and took me to a little Palestinian restaurant where I had the most delicious falafels- golden nuggets of chickpea goodness drizzled with tangy tahini atop mounds of fluffy pita bread, still warm from the oven.

★ Did you know that falafels were originally made from fava beans by the Egyptian Copts, who become vegans during Lent? But fava beans can trigger life-threatening anemia in a fraction of people of Mediterranean descent, including Jews, so chickpeas have been used as a safer replacement. Known as favism, the disorder is due to inherited variants in the enzyme G6PD, which stands for glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase, a somewhat less tasty mouthful than falafel.

★ In red blood cells, G6PD replenishes an important anti-oxidant, glutathione that guards against damaging free radicals generated from certain compounds (like vicine and divicine) found in broad beans. People with G6PD deficiency, nearly all males since the gene is located on the X-chromosome, lack this protective mechanism and their damaged red cells gives them anemia, jaundice and occasional hemolysis. For extra credit: why did these harmful mutations persist in some populations instead of being weeded out by natural selection?  It turns out that G6PD mutations protect against malaria, likely by hastening clearance of red blood cells infected with the malarial parasite Plasmodium.

★ To make falafel, start with dry chickpeas. Fresh bought works best (save those fossilized pellets from the back of your pantry for ammunition in case of squirrel invasion). Soak the chickpeas overnight in generous excess of water and they will reward you by becoming pleasingly plump and doubling in quantity. One cup dry chickpeas should be plenty, two will feed a crowd. As any responsible scientist would do, I repeated my falafel experiment for n = 3 before publishing. Many thanks to my enthusiastic students for confirming the protocol and consuming the product! For the recipe see:  https://madamescientist.wordpress.com/2015/09/15/falafel-faves-and-favism/___

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2015-08-07 21:02:18 (138 comments; 130 reshares; 536 +1s; )Open 

Herbal Cancer Cure: Weeding out the Hype

A recent G+ post (https://goo.gl/pGDJUZ) claimed that artemisinin, derived from an ancient Chinese herb Artemisia annua, kills 98% of lung cancer cells in less than 16 hours. What's wrong with this claim?

◈ The comments fell into two categories: some outright disbelief If this is factual, it'd be amazing and More pseudoscience, Geesh! More common were conspiracy theories from the predictable, The W.H.O., F.D.A., C.D.C., etc. Can't patent it, so they can't make money off of it. to the bizarre, Funny thing is that the government gets their money off of cancer so I wonder if they'll make this illegal and claim it's got a side-effect that makes people experience what they would if they used Marijuana. Idk, but the government's gonna F it up somehow. Let's examine the claims andc... more »

Herbal Cancer Cure: Weeding out the Hype

A recent G+ post (https://goo.gl/pGDJUZ) claimed that artemisinin, derived from an ancient Chinese herb Artemisia annua, kills 98% of lung cancer cells in less than 16 hours. What's wrong with this claim?

◈ The comments fell into two categories: some outright disbelief If this is factual, it'd be amazing and More pseudoscience, Geesh! More common were conspiracy theories from the predictable, The W.H.O., F.D.A., C.D.C., etc. Can't patent it, so they can't make money off of it. to the bizarre, Funny thing is that the government gets their money off of cancer so I wonder if they'll make this illegal and claim it's got a side-effect that makes people experience what they would if they used Marijuana. Idk, but the government's gonna F it up somehow. Let's examine the claims and counterclaims. 

98% of cancer cells are killed by artemisinin.....in a culture dish! It's easy to kill cells in a dish -just ask my students :) These are in vitro findings. How about in vivo? Experiments done in rodents are indeed promising and have been reviewed and reported. Unfortunately, we scientists are excellent mouse doctors, and many drugs that cure cancer in mice under controlled, ideal lab conditions fail in the clinic. Does it work on humans? There are a few case reports of using artemisinin in humans. But, these are anecdotal and of limited use, since the patients were under chemotherapy anyway. What is needed are large scale randomized clinical trials with placebo controls to check if this herb is effective against cancers. Such trials cost a billion dollars and have not yet been done. 

Artemisinin has been safely tested in over 4000 patients...this claim from a doctor in a popular video (https://youtu.be/_Or8xLOGBu8) probably refers to a Phase I trial where only safety is monitored. Notice the doctor does not say if the herb was effective against cancer in these 4000 patients. 

The FDA will never approve it....wrong, because it is already an FDA-approved antimalarial drug. In fact, artemisinin in combination with other drugs is the gold standard for treatment of Plasmodium falciparum malaria worldwide. The WHO has negotiated with Novartis and Sanofi-Aventis to obtain the drug at cost, with no profit. 

Bottom line: Both sets of comments are off the mark! The potential of artemisinin as a cancer chemotherapeutic should not be dismissed as pseudoscience until proven otherwise. As for the conspiracy theorists, they're just wrong.

Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artemisinin #OpenAccess REF: Anticancer Effect of AntiMalarial Artemisinin Compounds. (2015) Das, AK http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25861527

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2015-08-02 17:59:11 (57 comments; 55 reshares; 437 +1s; )Open 

The Greening of Greenhouse Gas

It's a Gas: Driving through the Western Ghat mountains along the continental edge of the Deccan Plateau, I was charmed by this vista of sculpted terraces with verdant blades of rice emerging from submerged paddy fields. Little did I know then that paddy fields generate 50-100 million tonnes of methane each year, a potent greenhouse gas with 25 times the heat trapping potential of carbon dioxide. Although the flooded fields keep weeds at bay, microbes harbored under the warm, waterlogged soil feed on organic matter exuded by roots, releasing methane and accounting for about 20% of human-related production. In China, farmers have begun draining fields mid-season to interrupt methanogenic bacteria. But India is still responsible for nearly a third of the methane emissions. 

It's Barley There: Now,than... more »

The Greening of Greenhouse Gas

It's a Gas: Driving through the Western Ghat mountains along the continental edge of the Deccan Plateau, I was charmed by this vista of sculpted terraces with verdant blades of rice emerging from submerged paddy fields. Little did I know then that paddy fields generate 50-100 million tonnes of methane each year, a potent greenhouse gas with 25 times the heat trapping potential of carbon dioxide. Although the flooded fields keep weeds at bay, microbes harbored under the warm, waterlogged soil feed on organic matter exuded by roots, releasing methane and accounting for about 20% of human-related production. In China, farmers have begun draining fields mid-season to interrupt methanogenic bacteria. But India is still responsible for nearly a third of the methane emissions. 

It's Barley There: Now, thanks to genetic engineering, a new strain of rice yields more grain and produces less methane. Researchers spliced a gene from barley, encoding a master regulator (transcription factor) into rice. The gene, dubbed SUSIBA2 (acronym for "sugar signaling in barley 2") increases the output of sugar and starch in the seeds, leaves and shoots of the rice plant, leaving less biomass in the root. This strongly decreased the methanogenic bacteria in the rhizosphere, or region around the root. In a 3-year field trial, methane emissions fell by 90%.

Rice, Rice, Baby: The making of starch is under the direction of a set of genes which carry in front of them stretches of DNA sequences (promoters) known as sugar responsive elements or SURE. Aren't you loving the acronyms? When a little bit of sugar is made, SUSIBA2 is activated and it turns on genes that make even more sugar, to create a snowballing effect. The sugar is converted to starch, diverting carbon to the grains and away from the root, starving the methane producing bacteria of food. Now that's a sweet way to cool down our planet!

This work was a collaboration between scientists at Universities and non-profit research Institutes in Sweden, China and the US. The authors have no competing financial interests. 

Paper (paywalled): http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v523/n7562/full/nature14673.html 

#ScienceSunday  

 ___

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2015-07-25 16:21:46 (81 comments; 114 reshares; 549 +1s; )Open 

Inferring from Infrared

Imagine if there was a way to know which watermelon is sweeter? When is that avocado going to ripen? How many calories, carbs or protein is in that shake? How your plants are doing? What's in those pills your taking? A new low-cost handheld sensor on the market promises all those answers and more, in real time (https://www.consumerphysics.com/myscio/scio). The technology is based on near infrared spectroscopy. How does it work?

Calorific Rays: We all know that a prism can separate ordinary light into the vibrant colors of the rainbow. Back in 1800, musician and astronomer William Herschel wanted to know the temperature of each color. By placing a thermometer with a blackened bulb along the spectrum, he discovered that the red end was warmer than the blue. To his surprise, a thermometer placed just beyond the visible red part of... more »

Inferring from Infrared

Imagine if there was a way to know which watermelon is sweeter? When is that avocado going to ripen? How many calories, carbs or protein is in that shake? How your plants are doing? What's in those pills your taking? A new low-cost handheld sensor on the market promises all those answers and more, in real time (https://www.consumerphysics.com/myscio/scio). The technology is based on near infrared spectroscopy. How does it work?

Calorific Rays: We all know that a prism can separate ordinary light into the vibrant colors of the rainbow. Back in 1800, musician and astronomer William Herschel wanted to know the temperature of each color. By placing a thermometer with a blackened bulb along the spectrum, he discovered that the red end was warmer than the blue. To his surprise, a thermometer placed just beyond the visible red part of the spectrum was even warmer. He had discovered infrared rays, although he didn't realize it at the time. This is the same heat that you feel when you hold your hand near a fire.

Bond. Covalent Bond. Shaken and Stirred: Chemicals are arrangements of atoms, held together by bonds. You can think of these bonds as tiny springs in motion. They stretch, wiggle, rotate and twist. When they absorb energy, the natural vibrations of bonds increase. Because of quantum mechanical constraints, these increases occur only to discrete energy levels. Different bond types (C-O, or C-H) and different vibration modes result in a series of absorptions at different wavelengths. By looking at which wavelengths of light were absorbed by a compound, we can deduce what types of chemical bonds are in the sample. Absorbances in the near infrared region of the spectrum can be so complex that they give rise to unique fingerprints of different chemicals.

Citizen Science: Spectrometers built with near infrared technology used to be large, expensive and restricted to universities. That's changing! The handheld spectrometer transmits chemical signatures to a smartphone which checks the pattern against a huge library of compounds in the "cloud" and returns the analysis to you within seconds. When you use it, not only will you be learning more about the chemical world around you but you'll also be helping to build a database of knowledge of the stuff around us. Now that's citizen science! 

REF: An introduction to near infrared (NIR) spectroscopy. A.M.C. Davies. https://www.impublications.com/content/introduction-near-infrared-nir-spectroscopy

GIFS: All gifs are from Wikipedia and are in the public domain.___

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2015-05-31 12:09:07 (165 comments; 395 reshares; 1,260 +1s; )Open 

The Peacock Problem

‘The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!’ So wrote Charles Darwin in a letter to his friend, expressing his frustration at not being able to explain how natural selection could drive the evolution of this extravagantly ornamental display. Not only was there an obvious lack of survival advantage to an awkwardly heavy appendage, it came with an energy cost and added vulnerability to predators. How then, did the peacock's tail evolve?

Once again, it was Darwin who came up with the idea of sexual selection, that depends, "not on a struggle for existence, but on a struggle between the males for possession of the females; the result is not death to the unsuccessful competitor, but few or no offspring". 
  
By flaunting his "handicap", the peacock signals to hispotentia... more »

The Peacock Problem

‘The sight of a feather in a peacock’s tail, whenever I gaze at it, makes me sick!’ So wrote Charles Darwin in a letter to his friend, expressing his frustration at not being able to explain how natural selection could drive the evolution of this extravagantly ornamental display. Not only was there an obvious lack of survival advantage to an awkwardly heavy appendage, it came with an energy cost and added vulnerability to predators. How then, did the peacock's tail evolve?

Once again, it was Darwin who came up with the idea of sexual selection, that depends, "not on a struggle for existence, but on a struggle between the males for possession of the females; the result is not death to the unsuccessful competitor, but few or no offspring". 
  
By flaunting his "handicap", the peacock signals to his potential mate that he has survived despite the negative consequences! The good gene hypothesis suggests that the ornament is a proxy for a healthy immune system and metabolic fitness. The peahen's preference for gaudy displays drives the evolution of the tail by positive feedback: when she mates with the most fashionable male, she passes his traits on to her sons who in turn, are assured of reproductive success! Choosy mothers produce sexy sons and over many generations, runaway evolution results in strange and beautiful ornamentations like the lion's mane, the antlers of a stag and the blue-footed booby. In the 20th century, Ronald Fisher, who is considered the greatest evolutionary biologist after Darwin, argued that the female's preference and the male's development of the ornament must advance together until practical or physical limits halt any further exaggeration (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisherian_runaway). 

We've seen how sexual selection gives rise to the difference in appearance between male and female (sexual dimorphism). Animals that are monogamous show less sexual dimorphism. Interestingly, our pre-Homo ancestors may have been more dimorphic compared to modern humans suggesting that we have become more monogamous over time! 

REF:The sight of the peacock's tail makes me sick: the early arguments on sexual selection. (2000) Hiraiwa-Hasegawa M. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10824193

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2015-05-24 16:44:40 (39 comments; 72 reshares; 490 +1s; )Open 

Affairs of the Heart: Dr. Helen Taussig 

❤  On a late November day in 1944, bright sunlight streamed upon the blue-tinged body of 18 month old Eileen Saxon, who was hovering near death. Born with a congenital heart defect that prevented her blood from being oxygenated by her lungs, she now weighed little more than 9 pounds. Across the ocean, World War II raged on, but at the +Johns Hopkins University hospital in Baltimore, another type of history was being made. Under the gaze of 706 doctors gathered around, Dr. Alfred Blalock meticulously rerouted an artery heading to the child's arm, back to the lungs giving the oxygen-starved blood a second chance of rejuvenation. The anesthesiologist cried out in astonishment as Eileen's lips turned from blue to a healthy red. That was the start of a successful procedure that would cure thousands of "blue babies" inthe ... more »

Affairs of the Heart: Dr. Helen Taussig 

❤  On a late November day in 1944, bright sunlight streamed upon the blue-tinged body of 18 month old Eileen Saxon, who was hovering near death. Born with a congenital heart defect that prevented her blood from being oxygenated by her lungs, she now weighed little more than 9 pounds. Across the ocean, World War II raged on, but at the +Johns Hopkins University hospital in Baltimore, another type of history was being made. Under the gaze of 706 doctors gathered around, Dr. Alfred Blalock meticulously rerouted an artery heading to the child's arm, back to the lungs giving the oxygen-starved blood a second chance of rejuvenation. The anesthesiologist cried out in astonishment as Eileen's lips turned from blue to a healthy red. That was the start of a successful procedure that would cure thousands of "blue babies" in the brand new era of heart surgery that followed. Today, we remember Dr. Helen Taussig, whose brilliant idea it was that set the stage.

❤ Born on this day, May 24, in 1898, Helen took medical classes at both Harvard and Boston Universities although neither would award her a degree because of her gender. Worse, she was forbidden to speak to her male colleagues in histology class because of fears that she would "contaminate" them. She completed her MD degree at Johns Hopkins and there, as a pediatric cardiologist did extensive work with anoxemia, or blue baby syndrome. She noticed that blue babies with an additional heart defect (called PDA) fared better, and that a shunt that mimicked PDA could be the solution. She pitched the idea of getting more blood to the lungs much "as a plumber changes pipes around" to surgeon Alfred Blalock and his technician Vivien Thomas. Thomas, a black man whose education did not go beyond high school, practiced the surgery in the animal lab and after modifying instruments for use in humans, coached Dr. Blalock through the first hundred surgeries in infants. In 1976, Hopkins awarded him an honorary doctorate. Sadly, little Eileen became cyanotic again in a few months and did not survive past 2 years even though other babies would go on to live healthy lives. Today, a modified version of the shunt is performed using a synthetic Gore-Tex graft (lower right image). 

¸¸.•*¨*•♫ Happy Birthday, Dr. Taussig!  

Image Note: Helen Taussig became deaf in later years, and actually used her fingers rather than a stethoscope to feel the rhythm of heartbeats.

More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_B._Taussig_
#ScienceSunday   #STEMWomen  ___

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2015-05-23 13:00:12 (54 comments; 69 reshares; 538 +1s; )Open 

Coral Cohabiters: Time for a Status Update?

● Symbiosis derives from the terms sym for together, and biosis for life. The coral reef appears to be a poster child for a lifetime of togetherness. The soft tissues of coral polyps are embedded with hundreds of single-celled, free-swimming dinoflagellates, captured from nutrient poor, crystal clear tropical waters. Photosynthesis by dinoflagellates provides 95% of the organic food used by the polyps. In return, the dinoflagellates are housed in a safe environment where their hosts supply them with carbon dioxide and minerals needed for photosynthesis. 

Friends with Benefits: Like a Facebook status, the relationship of coral symbionts is complicated. Clearly, the coral benefits: oxygen and sugars produced by trapped dinoflagellates enable these corals to grow as much as three times faster as those withoutsymb... more »

Coral Cohabiters: Time for a Status Update?

● Symbiosis derives from the terms sym for together, and biosis for life. The coral reef appears to be a poster child for a lifetime of togetherness. The soft tissues of coral polyps are embedded with hundreds of single-celled, free-swimming dinoflagellates, captured from nutrient poor, crystal clear tropical waters. Photosynthesis by dinoflagellates provides 95% of the organic food used by the polyps. In return, the dinoflagellates are housed in a safe environment where their hosts supply them with carbon dioxide and minerals needed for photosynthesis. 

Friends with Benefits: Like a Facebook status, the relationship of coral symbionts is complicated. Clearly, the coral benefits: oxygen and sugars produced by trapped dinoflagellates enable these corals to grow as much as three times faster as those without symbionts. But the converse is not true: in the symbiotic relationship, it takes ~70 days for the dinoflagellates to double, in contrast to a mere 3 days outside the coral. So symbiosis has a fitness cost for the algae. In reality, the coral host is more like an active farmer, who lures and engulfs the free-living dinoflagellates into captive domestication. When the coral is stressed, it loses control of the delicate energy balance in this relationship and expels its colorful guests en masse. Coral bleaching devastates the entire reef ecology and is a symptom of climate change which brings warmer, more acidic, nitrogen rich waters.

● All relationships lie along a continuum: from truly mutualistic, where both partners benefit and the success of one is tied to the success of the other, to commensalism, where one partner benefits but the other is neither harmed nor helped, and the extreme cases of parasitism, in which one organism exploits and harms the other. Isn't there a parallel with human relationships as well? 

● The more we learn about the diversity of life and the structure of genomes, the more it appears that much of the evolution of biodiversity is about the manipulation of other species—to gain resources and, in turn, to avoid being manipulated (John Thompson, 1999). True mutualism may be rare in nature. Evolutionary selection tends to maximize individual fitness and conflict of interests are inevitable!

REF: Is the coral-algae symbiosis really ‘mutually beneficial’ for the partners? S.A. Wooldridge (2010) Bioessays 32: 615-625

IMAGES: Check out more stunning coral photographs by +Daniel Stoupin at http://www.microworldsphotography.com/

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2015-05-16 15:26:28 (96 comments; 107 reshares; 530 +1s; )Open 

Screws with a Twist

Secrets of the Silkworm: Did you know that the silkworm was domesticated in China over 5,000 years ago? Legend has it that the Empress Lei Zhu was drinking tea under a tree when a cocoon fell into the hot beverage, unraveling silken threads to reveal the Bombyx caterpillar within. Silk making was a deeply guarded secret until 550 AD, until Christian monks successfully smuggled silkworms out of China in a hollow stick and introduced them to the rest of the world. Today, there are thousands of genetically inbred and engineered strains, all completely dependent on humans for survival! 

From Steel to Silk: Fractured bones are often held in place by metal screws and plates until they heal. Removing the metal carries unnecessary risks, which can be averted using biocompatible materials that are naturally absorbed into the body over time. Silkis s... more »

Screws with a Twist

Secrets of the Silkworm: Did you know that the silkworm was domesticated in China over 5,000 years ago? Legend has it that the Empress Lei Zhu was drinking tea under a tree when a cocoon fell into the hot beverage, unraveling silken threads to reveal the Bombyx caterpillar within. Silk making was a deeply guarded secret until 550 AD, until Christian monks successfully smuggled silkworms out of China in a hollow stick and introduced them to the rest of the world. Today, there are thousands of genetically inbred and engineered strains, all completely dependent on humans for survival! 

From Steel to Silk: Fractured bones are often held in place by metal screws and plates until they heal. Removing the metal carries unnecessary risks, which can be averted using biocompatible materials that are naturally absorbed into the body over time. Silk is strong, stable to high heat of sterilization and can be fashioned into “self-tapping” surgical screws that have been successfully tested in rats. The silk screws are "radiolucent” or invisible to x-rays, allowing the fracture to be monitored post-operation, without the impedance of metal. Best of all, silk protein is digested by natural enzymes and resorbed into the body within 4-8 weeks. Researchers hope to use silk screws in facial fractures, which number in several hundred thousand each year. 

Bench to Body: (1) Fill test tube with silk solution then freeze dry. (2) Use scissors or a blender to cut into small pieces. (3) Dissolve pieces in 1,1,1,3,3,3 hexafluoro-2-propanol (HFIP) in a syringe. (4) Inject dissolved silk into bone plate or screw blank moulds. (5) Place molds in methanol for 3–4 days (to convert silk protein into β-sheets). (6) Remove and allow to dry (fume hood for 1 week then 60 °C oven for 5 days), then autoclave for stability. (8) Machine using a mill, lathe or die to obtain desired geometry. Almost DIY, right? :)

REF: Perrone et al., 2014 Nature Communications http://goo.gl/uYKM3N

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_silk

● +Gary Ray R describes a different kind of biodegradable screw made of an iron alloy-ceramic composite. This material could be used for shoulder surgeries and degrades at a slower rate over 1-2 years. http://goo.gl/eWmcDV

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2015-05-03 13:56:16 (56 comments; 210 reshares; 808 +1s; )Open 

Cancer or Canvas?

★ Do you see cancer cells run amok or a beautiful rendition of Van Gogh's "Starry Night"?  In this addition to my Art or Science? collection, it's hard to pick out the microscope image from the artwork it inspired. The tiny biological details revealed by researchers at the University of Michigan Center for Organogenesis are captured in larger than life quilts by Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends who raise public awareness about the importance of the arts in healthcare settings.

★ On the Left is a cross-section of mouse skin with basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of human skin cancer. The top layer of skin is stained red, collagen fibers are stained blue and the deadly tumor cells appear in the red at the bottom. On the Right, artist Carole Nicholas renders the image with fabric and stitching to simulate the VanGogh... more »

Cancer or Canvas?

★ Do you see cancer cells run amok or a beautiful rendition of Van Gogh's "Starry Night"?  In this addition to my Art or Science? collection, it's hard to pick out the microscope image from the artwork it inspired. The tiny biological details revealed by researchers at the University of Michigan Center for Organogenesis are captured in larger than life quilts by Fiber Artists @ Loose Ends who raise public awareness about the importance of the arts in healthcare settings.

★ On the Left is a cross-section of mouse skin with basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of human skin cancer. The top layer of skin is stained red, collagen fibers are stained blue and the deadly tumor cells appear in the red at the bottom. On the Right, artist Carole Nicholas renders the image with fabric and stitching to simulate the Van Gogh's brushwork in a quilt.

★ This type of common skin cancer arises exclusively from the base of the hair follicle, where a niche of stem cells reside. When the hair follicle is in its growth phase, these cells are temporarily activated by the hedgehog signaling pathway. In cancer, this pathway is permanently on overdrive, due to mutations in genes known as Patched (PTCH) or Smoothened (SMO). If you're curious about the origin of these amusing gene names, especially Sonic Hedgehog, Indian Hedgehog and Tiggywinkle Hedgehog, check out +Buddhini Samarasinghe's entertaining and informative post (http://goo.gl/bhlKie)! 

REF: Hutchin et al. Sustained Hedgehog signaling is required for basal cell carcinoma proliferation and survival: conditional skin tumorigenesis recapitulates the hair growth cycle.
http://genesdev.cshlp.org/content/19/2/214.long

Image Credits: Mark Hutchin, University of Michigan
Art Quilt by Carole Nicholas, Fiber Artists@Loose Ends

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2015-04-26 13:42:18 (121 comments; 116 reshares; 838 +1s; )Open 

Daffodils and Dementia

✿ It's spring time in Maryland, and in the words of the poet Wordsworth, my heart dances with the daffodils. Through the long winter, I conjured up memories of these cheerful blooms in my mind:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

✿ But an estimated 44 million people world wide who suffer from Alzheimer's disease are robbed of their memories by a progressive dementia. As the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., Alzheimer's cannot be cured or prevented. One of the handful of drugs available to improve memory loss in patients is galantamine, which is extracted from the leaves and bulbs of daffodils (Narcissus) and snowdrops(Ga... more »

Daffodils and Dementia

✿ It's spring time in Maryland, and in the words of the poet Wordsworth, my heart dances with the daffodils. Through the long winter, I conjured up memories of these cheerful blooms in my mind:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

✿ But an estimated 44 million people world wide who suffer from Alzheimer's disease are robbed of their memories by a progressive dementia. As the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., Alzheimer's cannot be cured or prevented. One of the handful of drugs available to improve memory loss in patients is galantamine, which is extracted from the leaves and bulbs of daffodils (Narcissus) and snowdrops (Galanthus). These extracts have been in use since ancient times. In Homer's Greek epic, Odysseus is said to have used snowdrops to clear his mind bewitched by Circe. In the 1950s, a pharmacologist observed inhabitants of a remote Bulgarian village rubbing the extracts on their forehead and shortly after, the drug was approved for medical use. Galantamine increases the action of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in some parts of the brain, both by making the receptor more sensitive to its action and by slowing down its removal. The drug has other interesting properties: it is said to promote lucid dreaming, improve sleep quality, memory loss in brain damage, and some autistic symptoms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galantamine).  

✿ No drug has yet stopped the inexorable progress of Alzheimer's. Early intervention is key to effective treatment: in my lab, for example, we are studying endosomal pathology which is the earliest sign of problems at the cellular level (http://goo.gl/DtVUFT). Yet lack of funding stifles productive research. As Newt Gingrich points out in his recent Op-Ed for New York Times, we spend only 0.8% of the estimated 154 billion dollars of annual medical costs related to Alzheimer's disease on research to cure or prevent it

News Story: Newt Gingrich: Double the NIH Budget. April 22, 2015 http://goo.gl/Fq4PAS 

Daffodil GIF: http://headlikeanorange.tumblr.com/

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2015-04-19 16:30:14 (99 comments; 129 reshares; 872 +1s; )Open 

Dotting the I 

Colorful bindis are being handed out to tribal women in India by a philanthropic organization. When worn on the forehead, each dot delivers a daily dose of 100-150 micrograms of iodine (chemical symbol: I) which is absorbed by the skin. At least 70 million Indians suffer from iodine deficiency disorders. Sure, oral supplements or iodized salts are more efficient, but the tribal women won't take them. The bindis are a socially more acceptable, and creative, approach to dietary compliance! 

Bad Air: Iodine deficiencies were described by ancient Roman writers and medieval travelers, who would encounter entire villages in the Alps or southern Europe struck by cretinism.  Thought to be due to "bad air" or "stagnant water" in the mountains, we now know that dwarfism, deformed bones and intellectual disability are due to lack ofio... more »

Dotting the I 

Colorful bindis are being handed out to tribal women in India by a philanthropic organization. When worn on the forehead, each dot delivers a daily dose of 100-150 micrograms of iodine (chemical symbol: I) which is absorbed by the skin. At least 70 million Indians suffer from iodine deficiency disorders. Sure, oral supplements or iodized salts are more efficient, but the tribal women won't take them. The bindis are a socially more acceptable, and creative, approach to dietary compliance! 

Bad Air: Iodine deficiencies were described by ancient Roman writers and medieval travelers, who would encounter entire villages in the Alps or southern Europe struck by cretinism.  Thought to be due to "bad air" or "stagnant water" in the mountains, we now know that dwarfism, deformed bones and intellectual disability are due to lack of iodine-rich thyroid hormone. Goiter belts characterized the more mildly afflicted inland regions of Europe and N. America, where populations were marked by enlarged thyroids and grossly swollen throats. Along the coast, however, wave action disperses natural iodine salts from sea water into the air, from where it enters our ecosystem. No wonder, sea air was recommended for recuperating invalids. 

The Rise and Fall of I: After the discovery of iodine in 1811, Lugol's solution (mostly potassium iodide, or KI) became the universal panacea of western medicine. Medical students were advised:

If ye don’t know where, what, and why 
Prescribe ye then K and I

But too much of a good thing led to the discovery that excess iodine actually blocked thyroid hormone production (known as Wolff-Chaikoff effect). Today, the Reference Daily Intake or RDI has decreased from 1 gram, to 150 micrograms, which many practitioners believe is too little. Proponents of iodine therapy point out the benefits in preventing breast cancer, skin disorders and more. For a fascinating history of the controversies and facts see the article in the reference. 

REF: http://www.westonaprice.org/modern-diseases/the-great-iodine-debate/

Video: Jeevan Bindi- The Life Saving Dot (1 min long)
https://youtu.be/Sclg_AfGzcE

Photo: Subir Basak 
https://www.flickr.com/photos/subirbasak/

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2015-04-12 13:33:51 (69 comments; 78 reshares; 712 +1s; )Open 

Art or Science?

Are these pastel fractals the creation of an avant garde artist from some postmodern cubism movement?  You may be surprised to learn that these are high resolution images of bacterial populations growing on a petri dish!

Bacterial Art: First, the familiar E. coli bacteria were genetically marked with differently colored fluorescent proteins before mixing together on an agar plate. Each rod-shaped bacterium grows by division to give a single file of cells that is sensitive to small mechanical forces from neighboring cells pushing and jostling against each other. The line of cells buckles in a way that is predicted by fractal mathematics.  As the bacteria grow to form a confluent film, jagged boundaries emerge between differently colored clonal lines. Zooming in, the patterns are self-similar, repeating at scales from millimeters to micrometers!Mut... more »

Art or Science?

Are these pastel fractals the creation of an avant garde artist from some postmodern cubism movement?  You may be surprised to learn that these are high resolution images of bacterial populations growing on a petri dish!

Bacterial Art: First, the familiar E. coli bacteria were genetically marked with differently colored fluorescent proteins before mixing together on an agar plate. Each rod-shaped bacterium grows by division to give a single file of cells that is sensitive to small mechanical forces from neighboring cells pushing and jostling against each other. The line of cells buckles in a way that is predicted by fractal mathematics.  As the bacteria grow to form a confluent film, jagged boundaries emerge between differently colored clonal lines. Zooming in, the patterns are self-similar, repeating at scales from millimeters to micrometers! Mutant bacteria that form spherical cells don't produce these fractal patterns. 

Form and Function: What do these beautiful images teach us? They help us understand how patterning happens on a nanoscale. In synthetic biology the goal is to engineer populations of cells to produce spatial patterns, synchronized signals and predictable behavior that can be simulated using simple, mathematically coded rules.  

Life Imitates Art? Oscar Wilde reversed the conventional when he claimed that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. What do you think he meant by this? It seems to me that this bacterial fractal "art" perfectly illustrates John Berger's definition of Cubism: "The metaphorical model of Cubism is the diagram: The diagram being a visible symbolic representation of invisible processes, forces, structures."

Reference (and more beautiful images): http://data.plantsci.cam.ac.uk/Haseloff/resources/LabPapers/Rudge2013.pdf

  #ScienceSunday  ___

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2015-04-05 14:50:56 (41 comments; 57 reshares; 505 +1s; )Open 

Fixing a Hole: Better (Spider) Web Design

⎈ From tiny webs like the one "repairing" a hole in a leaf seen in the image, to giant orbs spanning 25 meters across rivers and lakes, the architecture of spider webs can teach us a thing or two about engineering. After all, spiders have been spinning silk for 400 milion years and now number at least 41,000 species spread out over every continent, including Antarctica. Each spider produces many different types of silk covering a range of mechanical properties: from the steely dragline silk in the radial strands to sticky capture silk that forms concentric circles in the web. Yet, only few spider silks have been studied, mostly at random, sometimes simply from the researcher's own backyard! 

Bioprospecting: By combining fields as diverse as natural history, ecology, taxonomy,beha... more »

Fixing a Hole: Better (Spider) Web Design

⎈ From tiny webs like the one "repairing" a hole in a leaf seen in the image, to giant orbs spanning 25 meters across rivers and lakes, the architecture of spider webs can teach us a thing or two about engineering. After all, spiders have been spinning silk for 400 milion years and now number at least 41,000 species spread out over every continent, including Antarctica. Each spider produces many different types of silk covering a range of mechanical properties: from the steely dragline silk in the radial strands to sticky capture silk that forms concentric circles in the web. Yet, only few spider silks have been studied, mostly at random, sometimes simply from the researcher's own backyard! 

Bioprospecting: By combining fields as diverse as natural history, ecology, taxonomy, behavior and biomaterial science, researchers found that the Darwin's Bark Spider (Caerostris darwini), a giant Malagasy riverine orb-weaving spider, produces the toughest silk discovered to date. Outperforming steel and Kevlar, the radial web threads of this spider have unusual elasticity, absorbing more kinetic energy upon prey impact so that they stretch, instead of fracturing. This allows the spiders to occupy a new ecological niche- the flyways above rivers where they can catch unsuspecting insects and even small birds and bats. Don't you agree that scientists should get out of their labs and explore new habitats as well?!

Biomimicry: In nature, tiny amounts of metals penetrate protein structures to change their properties. These "impurities" are found in jaws, claws and cuticles where they impart additional toughness to biological material. Inspired by nature, scientists purposefully introduced zinc, titanium or aluminum into spider dragline silks by using a multiple pulsed vapor-phase infiltration method. The resulting material was tougher and more stable to environmental damage. Now this is the stuff of Spider Man!    

Free Reads: New Opportunities for an Ancient Material (2010) Ometto and Kaplan. Science. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3136811/

Bioprospecting Finds the Toughest Biological Material: Extraordinary Silk from a Giant Riverine Orb Spider (2010). Agnarsson et al. PLOS ONE http://goo.gl/CcSMTd

The Beatles-Fixing a Hole: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0I2ZrBuFdQ

Photo Credit: Bertrand Kulik 

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2015-03-29 13:16:48 (101 comments; 107 reshares; 404 +1s; )Open 

How to Boil Water

❉ In breaking news, scientists have figured out how to boil water - at least 3 times more efficiently and producing twice as much steam. Before you shake your fist at "wasteful research spending", this isn't really about your whistling tea kettle! 

❉ Phase change heat transfer processes (boiling, condensation) are a big part of everyday technology from water purification and HVAC units, power plants and cooling electronics.   When water boils, a thin layer of steam can coat the heated surface, insulating it and drastically cutting down on the efficient transfer of heat to liquid. This can lead to surface burnout and a destructive condition known as critical heat flux. What is needed is a surface that discourages the vapor from sticking and wicks in water to quickly re-wet the heated surface. To create a superhydrophilicwicki... more »

How to Boil Water

❉ In breaking news, scientists have figured out how to boil water - at least 3 times more efficiently and producing twice as much steam. Before you shake your fist at "wasteful research spending", this isn't really about your whistling tea kettle! 

❉ Phase change heat transfer processes (boiling, condensation) are a big part of everyday technology from water purification and HVAC units, power plants and cooling electronics.   When water boils, a thin layer of steam can coat the heated surface, insulating it and drastically cutting down on the efficient transfer of heat to liquid. This can lead to surface burnout and a destructive condition known as critical heat flux. What is needed is a surface that discourages the vapor from sticking and wicks in water to quickly re-wet the heated surface. To create a superhydrophilic wicking surface, Drexel University scientist Matthew McCarthy turned to biotemplating with....viruses! 

❉ The tobacco mosaic virus causes mottling of tobacco leaves, as its name implies, but is harmless to humans. It was the first virus ever to be discovered (in the late 1880's) and is constructed simply of repeating units of a coat protein, wrapped around a single, helical strand of genetic material (RNA). A few tobacco plants can produce billions of virus particles, so it's cheap to make. Dr. McCarthy tweaked the coat protein so it sticks to any engineered surface- from silicon to steel. After dunking the surface in a viral broth, nickel and palladium are added to grow a metallic grass

❉ The viral tendrils work like a wicking surface, drawing down water to replace what's boiled away.  It's the same idea behind thermal fabrics designed for athletes which draws moisture away from the body. They say a watched pot never boils. I'd volunteer to test a virally coated tea kettle, how about you? 

Waterproofin' with Hydrophobin: This old post shows how a fungal spore protein can do the opposite, creating a superhydrophobic surface that repels water but allows gases to exchange. 
https://plus.google.com/u/0/+RajiniRao/posts/bf9gVFkaTxQ

News Story and Short Video: http://drexel.edu/now/archive/2015/March/TMV-heat-transfer/

Ref: M.M. Rahman, E. Ölçeroğlu, and M. McCarthy, "The Role of Wickability on the Critical Heat Flux of Structured Superhydrophilic Surfaces", Langmuir 2014, 30 (37), pp 11225–11234.

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2015-03-27 22:06:47 (73 comments; 44 reshares; 385 +1s; )Open 

Cleo Gets a Coat!

⎈ Cleopatra is a teenager who seems pretty happy with her bright, new red coat. What's unusual is that Cleo is a leopard tortoise! Also, her coat was 3D printed from a corn-based polylactate polymer by student designers at Colorado Technical University. No, this isn't a new challenge on Project Runway, although the coat does stylishly drape over Cleo's shell. It's actually a 600 hour labor of love that will hopefully let Cleo enjoy a long (80+ years), tortoise life. 

⎈ Tortoises in the wild have smooth and convex shells. Unfortunately, when bred in captivity, tortoise shells grow in raised bumps known as pyramiding. When Cleo horsed around with her tortoise friends, the deformed shell wore through in spots, making her susceptible to bacteria and other infections. Fortunately, her red coat is temporary and her shell isexpe... more »

Cleo Gets a Coat!

⎈ Cleopatra is a teenager who seems pretty happy with her bright, new red coat. What's unusual is that Cleo is a leopard tortoise! Also, her coat was 3D printed from a corn-based polylactate polymer by student designers at Colorado Technical University. No, this isn't a new challenge on Project Runway, although the coat does stylishly drape over Cleo's shell. It's actually a 600 hour labor of love that will hopefully let Cleo enjoy a long (80+ years), tortoise life. 

⎈ Tortoises in the wild have smooth and convex shells. Unfortunately, when bred in captivity, tortoise shells grow in raised bumps known as pyramiding. When Cleo horsed around with her tortoise friends, the deformed shell wore through in spots, making her susceptible to bacteria and other infections. Fortunately, her red coat is temporary and her shell is expected to heal in a few years. 

⎈ Scientists are not sure what causes pyramiding. Too much dietary protein (Cleo is a herbivore) is one culprit. Not enough bone calcium is another. One study showed that raising the humidity helped. Until we solve the problem or stop breeding tortoises in captivity, we have prosthetics -not just for humans, but for our four legged friends too. 

News Story: http://goo.gl/qtZw7V

Ref: Influence of environmental humidity and dietary protein on pyramidal growth of carapaces in African spurred tortoises (Geochelone sulcata) (2003). C. S. Wiesner andC. Iben. Journal of Animal Physiology and Animal Nutrition. Volume 87, pages 66–74___

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2015-03-22 14:15:30 (36 comments; 90 reshares; 327 +1s; )Open 

What Autism can Teach us about Brain Cancer

Glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM, is a deadly cancer with median survival of only 12-15 months. Recently, we found a gene that had been previously implicated in autism to also contribute to GBM. The gene NHE9 makes a protein that exchanges sodium ions for hydrogen ions (also called protons) across the boundaries of endosomes, hence it's moniker "sodium-hydrogen exchanger". But what are endosomes and why is the function of NHE9 important?

Highway Traffic: All cells contain many “cargo packages” surrounded by membranes, depicted in the expanded view as a blue compartment in the figure below. These so-called endosomes carry newly minted proteins to specific destinations throughout the cell and haul away old proteins for destruction. Key to their “shipping speed” is the level of acidity inside theendosom... more »

What Autism can Teach us about Brain Cancer

Glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM, is a deadly cancer with median survival of only 12-15 months. Recently, we found a gene that had been previously implicated in autism to also contribute to GBM. The gene NHE9 makes a protein that exchanges sodium ions for hydrogen ions (also called protons) across the boundaries of endosomes, hence it's moniker "sodium-hydrogen exchanger". But what are endosomes and why is the function of NHE9 important?

Highway Traffic: All cells contain many “cargo packages” surrounded by membranes, depicted in the expanded view as a blue compartment in the figure below. These so-called endosomes carry newly minted proteins to specific destinations throughout the cell and haul away old proteins for destruction. Key to their “shipping speed” is the level of acidity inside the endosomes. Acidity relates to the number of protons, which are controlled by balancing the activity of “pumps” that push protons into endosomes to increase their acidity with that of “leaks,” like the protein NHE9, that remove protons. 

There's a Hole in the Bucket: You can think of endosomes as leaky buckets of water. Altering either the faucet or the leak rate can dramatically change the water level in the bucket. In autism, NHE9 is mutated and non-functional. In the absence of proton leak, the endosomes become too acidic and prematurely clear away important proteins on nerve ends, leading to neurological dysfunction. Helper cells called astrocytes cannot clear away neurotransmitter signals fast enough, and this leads to hyperexcitability or seizures associated with autism.

Too Much of a Good Thing: in contrast to autism, NHE9 is overactive in brain cancer, causing endosomes to leak too many protons and become too alkaline. This slows down the “shipping rate” of cancer-promoting cargo and leaves them on the cell surface for too long where they inappropriately prolong signals of growth and migration, the two main characteristics of invasive cancer cells. Fortunately, when the leak is plugged by inhibiting NHE9 with drugs, tumor growth is blocked. Currently, the drugs are not good enough to use on patients, so an important step going forward will be to discover better drugs that target NHE9. These could be used in combination with other drugs for treatment of this deadly disease. 

Paper: A leak pathway for luminal protons in endosomes drives oncogenic signalling in glioblastoma. Kondapalli et al. (2015) Nature Communications http://goo.gl/dAa5NG

Johns Hopkins News Story: http://goo.gl/XAsGDb

A Part of the Puzzle: NHE9 and Autism https://plus.google.com/u/0/+RajiniRao/posts/fsNzo1yKsQG

  #ScienceSunday  ___

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2015-03-21 19:19:27 (97 comments; 20 reshares; 221 +1s; )Open 

Ooh, Lab Bench Cake!

Who can guess what all the items are? Bonus points if you tell us what they are used for. #showoffyournerdyside  

Via http://www.cakecentral.com/gallery/i/1929656/lab-bench-cake

#ScienceEveryday  

Ooh, Lab Bench Cake!

Who can guess what all the items are? Bonus points if you tell us what they are used for. #showoffyournerdyside  

Via http://www.cakecentral.com/gallery/i/1929656/lab-bench-cake

#ScienceEveryday  ___

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2015-01-11 16:54:12 (116 comments; 147 reshares; 555 +1s; )Open 

Souring on Sweeteners: Why Diet Sugars Don't Work

Sweet Serendipity: It was 1878, when a beaker of coal tar compounds boiled over in the chemistry laboratory of Ira Remsen at the newly founded Johns Hopkins University. Researcher Constantine Fahlberg cleaned up the mess, but later at dinner, his hands tasted surprisingly sweet as he put a piece of bread in his mouth. And this is how the first artificial sweetener was discovered! Named saccharin, it was 300 times sweeter than sugar. Soon, it was being prescribed to President Theodore Roosevelt, to counter his corpulence. More low-calorie sweeteners followed: sucralose, stevia and neotame, the last one being 10,000 times sweeter than table sugar. Today, 30% of adults and 15% of children in the U.S. consume low calorie sweeteners. A sweet deal, right?

Caloric Contradictions: Unfortunately, counterintuitive... more »

Souring on Sweeteners: Why Diet Sugars Don't Work

Sweet Serendipity: It was 1878, when a beaker of coal tar compounds boiled over in the chemistry laboratory of Ira Remsen at the newly founded Johns Hopkins University. Researcher Constantine Fahlberg cleaned up the mess, but later at dinner, his hands tasted surprisingly sweet as he put a piece of bread in his mouth. And this is how the first artificial sweetener was discovered! Named saccharin, it was 300 times sweeter than sugar. Soon, it was being prescribed to President Theodore Roosevelt, to counter his corpulence. More low-calorie sweeteners followed: sucralose, stevia and neotame, the last one being 10,000 times sweeter than table sugar. Today, 30% of adults and 15% of children in the U.S. consume low calorie sweeteners. A sweet deal, right?

Caloric Contradictions: Unfortunately, counterintuitive to expectations, studies show that people who consume large amounts of artificially sweetened drinks gain more weight and body fat compared to those who don’t. Could this be a case of reverse causation? Perhaps, increased body weight encourages people to turn to non-caloric sweeteners. However, this has been ruled out by (i) controlling for baseline body weight at the start of the study and by (ii) looking at weight changes in people who are not overweight to begin with. Another possibility is cognitive distortion: because non-caloric sweeteners are perceived to be healthy, we take that as permission to consume more high-calorie foods. Imaging studies of the human brain reveal a metabolic cause: unlike ordinary sugar, non-caloric sweeteners do not trigger the reward circuits that initiate satiety and fail to activate normal pathways of insulin release needed to deal with caloric loads. 

Diet to Diabetes: New research in both mice and humans showed that artificial sweeteners also change our gut microbiome, leading to glucose intolerance, the first step to diabetes. Surprisingly, if the feces from saccharin-fed mice was transplanted into mice whose guts were first cleared of bacteria by antibiotics, the sugar handling defect could be induced in the healthy mice. Oh, expletive!

The Archies sang, ♫ Oh honey, sugar, sugar..you are my candy girl and you've got me wanting you ♫
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MiQzAo6Cp8

REF: Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Susanne Swithers (2013) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3772345/

News Story & Link to Nature paper: http://www.nature.com/news/sugar-substitutes-linked-to-obesity-1.15938

  #ScienceSunday  ___

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2015-01-04 13:50:39 (102 comments; 111 reshares; 290 +1s; )Open 

Cancer: What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

Grandfather smoked like a chimney, ate bacon everyday and lived to be 90. Yet, your best friend, a lifetime vegan who exercised regularly, succumbed to breast cancer in her thirties. We’ve all used these anecdotes to try to make sense of the deadly scourge that is cancer. So do this week’s headlines in the popular press, Biological bad luck blamed in two thirds of cancer cases give us license to bring on the bacon and booze? Not so fast, as the study just published in Science by Johns Hopkins researchers Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein was much more nuanced than the headlines suggest.

♦ The premise of the study was the puzzling observation that some tissues give rise to cancers a million times more frequently than others: for example, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cancer is 6.9% for lung, 1.08% for thyroid,0.6% fo... more »

Cancer: What’s Luck Got To Do With It?

Grandfather smoked like a chimney, ate bacon everyday and lived to be 90. Yet, your best friend, a lifetime vegan who exercised regularly, succumbed to breast cancer in her thirties. We’ve all used these anecdotes to try to make sense of the deadly scourge that is cancer. So do this week’s headlines in the popular press, Biological bad luck blamed in two thirds of cancer cases give us license to bring on the bacon and booze? Not so fast, as the study just published in Science by Johns Hopkins researchers Cristian Tomasetti and Bert Vogelstein was much more nuanced than the headlines suggest.

♦ The premise of the study was the puzzling observation that some tissues give rise to cancers a million times more frequently than others: for example, the lifetime risk of being diagnosed with cancer is 6.9% for lung, 1.08% for thyroid, 0.6% for brain, 0.003% for pelvic bone and 0.00072% for laryngeal cartilage. Even within the digestive tract, cancers of the colon (4.8%) are much more common than stomach (0.86%) despite both tissues being exposed to the same carcinogens and dietary insults. To make sense of this, the researchers turned to cancer stem cell theory: that malignancy is caused by mutations in a small number of stem cells that retain a lifetime ability to divide. They then searched the literature to estimate the number of stem cells in each tissue. What they found was that tissues with higher populations of stem cells were more prone to cancer. This linear correlation (R=0.8; R^2=0.65) was pretty good, extended over 5 orders of magnitude (see graph), and makes sense since we already know that every time DNA replicates there is a finite chance of making errors and that the more mutations in DNA the greater the chance of some of them triggering cancer. In simple terms, a large part (estimated two-thirds; see R^2) of the variation in cancer risk between tissues is due to the difference in their stem cell population. This does not translate into “two-thirds of an individual’s risk of cancer is due to dumb luck”!   

Environmental, lifestyle and genetic risk factors pile on top of the basic risk of random mutations from stem cell divisions. To identify cancer types (red circles) in which the contribution of environmental and inherited factors was especially high relative to the random DNA replication-driven component, researchers used an unbiased clustering algorithm that used the product of the log values of the x- and y-axes in the graph below. What they found was consistent with what we already know about some cancers. Smoking greatly increases risk of lung cancer by ~18-fold for both sexes (23-times in men, 13-times in women), as seen by the higher risk incidence of lung cancer for smokers compared to non-smokers in the chart. People with familial mutation in the APC gene have a 100% rate of colorectal cancer unless the colon is removed. Infection with Hepatitis C increases risk of liver cancer by 10-fold. 

♦ This new analysis explains some puzzling facts: the same APC mutation has a much higher chance of giving rise to colon cancer instead of duodenal cancer because there are 150 times more stem cell divisions in the former compared to the latter. Another example is that basal epidermal cells and pigment cells of the skin (melanocytes) are exposed to the same carcinogen (UV radiation) at the identical dose. Yet, basal cell carcinomas are much more common than melanomas. The authors argue that this is explained by the underlying difference in rates of stem cell division. 

Why should we care about this analysis? Understanding the underlying risks contributing to each cancer type should determine the best public health strategy to tackle it. Early detection should be the main focus for prevention of cancer types largely driven by random errors in DNA replication, whereas vaccines against infectious agents or altered lifestyle will be key to reducing incidence in cancers with high environmental risk.  

REF: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/347/6217/78.abstract

Inset image: http://www.sciencephoto.com/media/254142/view

#ScienceSunday   #cancer  ___

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2014-12-31 14:43:06 (120 comments; 100 reshares; 496 +1s; )Open 

Champagne Science

If an estimated 360 million glasses of champagne will be toasted this New Year's Eve, how many bubbles would they release? To figure this fun fact, we've got to get back to basics. 

It's a Gas: In 1810, French chemist Joseph-Louis Gay Lussac determined that in fermentation, glucose is converted to equal parts of ethanol and carbon dioxide gas according to the equation: 

                   C6H12O6 --> 2C2H5OH + 2CO2

To make champagne, this basic wine is dosed again with glucose (typically 24 g/L) for a second round of fermentation, yielding 11.8 g/L of CO2. All that CO2 is dissolved, under pressure (as much as 90 psi), inside the champagne bottle. 

Don't Shoot Your Eye Out!: The American Assoc. of Ophthalmologists warn that a champagne cork can launch at 50 mph! Why is this?Henry'... more »

Champagne Science

If an estimated 360 million glasses of champagne will be toasted this New Year's Eve, how many bubbles would they release? To figure this fun fact, we've got to get back to basics. 

It's a Gas: In 1810, French chemist Joseph-Louis Gay Lussac determined that in fermentation, glucose is converted to equal parts of ethanol and carbon dioxide gas according to the equation: 

                   C6H12O6 --> 2C2H5OH + 2CO2

To make champagne, this basic wine is dosed again with glucose (typically 24 g/L) for a second round of fermentation, yielding 11.8 g/L of CO2. All that CO2 is dissolved, under pressure (as much as 90 psi), inside the champagne bottle. 

Don't Shoot Your Eye Out!: The American Assoc. of Ophthalmologists warn that a champagne cork can launch at 50 mph! Why is this? Henry's Law (1803), paraphrased, says that the amount of gas dissolved in a liquid is proportional to the pressure of that gas above the liquid. When a champagne bottle is uncorked, the CO2 in the space above the liquid escapes, forcing the dissolved gas to come to a new equilibrium. This results in release of about 5L CO2 per bottle. 

Fizzy Physics: Dr. Gérard Liger-Belair didn't care for the over-blown bubble estimates being bandied around the popular press. So, armed with plenty of free samples from Champagne Houses Pommery, and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, he buckled down for some serious science (it's a hard life for a noble cause, hic!). After considering such factors as the van't Hoff equation for temperature dependence,  the critical radius for bubble nucleation and ascending bubble dynamics, he published his findings in a recent issue of the Journal of Physical Chemistry. The answer to our question? If 100 ml of champagne is poured straight down the center of a vertically oriented crystal flute, about one million bubbles will form, "if you resist drinking from your flute".  But, who's resisting? :)

With that, I raise my glass to yours along with approximately 360 trillion other bubbles world wide, to wish you a Happy New Year! 

REF: How many bubbles in your glass of bubbly? (2014) Gérard Liger-Belair http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jp500295e

Pop Sci: Back story on champagne research via +Chad Haney http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2012/05/raising-glass-champagne

      #ScienceEveryday   #HappyNewYear   ___

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2014-12-25 15:04:51 (59 comments; 33 reshares; 237 +1s; )Open 

A Very Marine Xmas!

At the very bottom of the marine web of life, are tiny plankton that drift seemingly aimlessly with the ocean's currents. Phytoplankton are responsible for 50% of the earth's photosynthesis, and fix a 100 million tons of CO2 each day. Remarkably, every 2-6 days, the entire biomass of plankton is consumed by filter feeders, from barnacles to baleen whales. Did you know that the distinctive smell of "sea air" is from chemicals given off by decomposing phytoplankton? 

Micro Marvels: In homage to these remarkable creatures, scientist Dr. Richard Kirby made this composite Christmas card entirely from plankton: paddle worms, sea angels, protozoa and jellyfish (read more here: http://goo.gl/GAv5lG). 

Delightful Doggerel: My Christmas jingle is just for fun, inspired by Chemistry Carols from theW... more »

A Very Marine Xmas!

At the very bottom of the marine web of life, are tiny plankton that drift seemingly aimlessly with the ocean's currents. Phytoplankton are responsible for 50% of the earth's photosynthesis, and fix a 100 million tons of CO2 each day. Remarkably, every 2-6 days, the entire biomass of plankton is consumed by filter feeders, from barnacles to baleen whales. Did you know that the distinctive smell of "sea air" is from chemicals given off by decomposing phytoplankton? 

Micro Marvels: In homage to these remarkable creatures, scientist Dr. Richard Kirby made this composite Christmas card entirely from plankton: paddle worms, sea angels, protozoa and jellyfish (read more here: http://goo.gl/GAv5lG). 

Delightful Doggerel: My Christmas jingle is just for fun, inspired by Chemistry Carols from the Wesleyan University page (http://goo.gl/QKTjfX). More fun Lab Carols from the staff of +ASBMB can be found here: http://goo.gl/rkxW7s .

Over to You: Go ahead, be a sport. Share your science-y holiday verse here :)

#ScienceEveryday   #merrychristmas  

  ___

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2014-12-24 16:35:22 (55 comments; 64 reshares; 295 +1s; )Open 

Heterophylly in Holly: Science and Season's Greetings!

⁕  From ancient tree-worshipping Druids to Romans celebrating Saturnalia, from the pagan rituals of Solstice to Hallmark cards of Christmas cheer, the prickly leaves of the Holly (Ilex aquifolium) are a familiar tradition of the season.

⁕  But not all holly leaves are picturesquely prickly. A botanist or gardener knows that the leaves can be smooth or variably serrated, even within a single bush. This is called heterophylly. Scientists took a trip to a forest in southeastern Spain where they noticed a correlation between the grazing pattern of herbivores and the location of prickly leaves- there were more prickly leaves at heights under 2.5 m, the average reach of an adult deer. They then compared the DNA in smooth and prickly leaves from the same plants. Genetically, they were identical, so what explainedthe d... more »

Heterophylly in Holly: Science and Season's Greetings!

⁕  From ancient tree-worshipping Druids to Romans celebrating Saturnalia, from the pagan rituals of Solstice to Hallmark cards of Christmas cheer, the prickly leaves of the Holly (Ilex aquifolium) are a familiar tradition of the season.

⁕  But not all holly leaves are picturesquely prickly. A botanist or gardener knows that the leaves can be smooth or variably serrated, even within a single bush. This is called heterophylly. Scientists took a trip to a forest in southeastern Spain where they noticed a correlation between the grazing pattern of herbivores and the location of prickly leaves- there were more prickly leaves at heights under 2.5 m, the average reach of an adult deer. They then compared the DNA in smooth and prickly leaves from the same plants. Genetically, they were identical, so what explained the difference in appearance? 

Epigenetics is the science that describes how DNA is chemically modified to turn on or off genes. Within the same branch, smooth leaves showed more DNA methylation compared to prickly leaves. These differences were not randomly distributed, but were confined to specific regions of the genome. This suggested that the Holly responded to hungry herbivores by changing which genes were turned on (a process known as transcription) to make more painfully prickly leaves. What's nice about this swift molecular tit-for-tat is that it does not depend on the slow process of natural selection to respond to immediate pressures in the environment. 

Here's wishing you Season's Greetings with this science-y sprig of Holiday Holly!

#ScienceEveryday  when it's not #ScienceSunday . 

⁕  REF: Epigenetic correlates of plant phenotypic plasticity: DNA methylation differs between prickly and nonprickly leaves in heterophyllous Ilex aquifolium (Aquifoliaceae) trees
Carlos M. Herrera and Pilar Bazaga 
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/boj.12007/abstract___

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2014-11-09 15:15:09 (84 comments; 44 reshares; 259 +1s; )Open 

The Magical Maths of Magicicadas

Autumn leaves drift down, silently ushering the chilly advent of fall. Gone are the noisy days of summer, synonymous with the incessant, and insistent, chirp of the cicadas made by rapid vibration of abdominal tymbals and orchestrated by a frenzied mass of mating males. Did you know that the chirp of a cicada clocks in at 120 decibels, enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans?!

A Plague of Primes: Periodical cicadas, of the North American genus Magicada, have a bizarre life cycle, spending 13 or 17 years underground as immature nymphs, emerging briefly to live, love and die as adults.
 
Seventeen years of peaceful dreaming,
Followed by a week of screaming*.

Their coordinated emergence, triggered when the soil warms to precisely 64 degrees F, guarantees a plague of biblical proportions: the densest... more »

The Magical Maths of Magicicadas

Autumn leaves drift down, silently ushering the chilly advent of fall. Gone are the noisy days of summer, synonymous with the incessant, and insistent, chirp of the cicadas made by rapid vibration of abdominal tymbals and orchestrated by a frenzied mass of mating males. Did you know that the chirp of a cicada clocks in at 120 decibels, enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans?!

A Plague of Primes: Periodical cicadas, of the North American genus Magicada, have a bizarre life cycle, spending 13 or 17 years underground as immature nymphs, emerging briefly to live, love and die as adults.
 
Seventeen years of peaceful dreaming,
Followed by a week of screaming*.

Their coordinated emergence, triggered when the soil warms to precisely 64 degrees F, guarantees a plague of biblical proportions: the densest broods can number 1,000 cicadas per square meter! Is there a mathematical basis for 13 or 17 year life cycles? You may have noticed that both are prime numbers: divisible only by themselves and the number 1.

Mathemagics: In the computer simulation graphed below, notice that 13 and 17 year periods produce the most survivors. The cicadas only defense against predators is their sheer number, and their survival strategy is simple- predator satiation. The prime numbers work better because they decrease the chance that the life cycle of the cicada matches that of its predators. A 12 year life cycle, in contrast, is a particularly bad choice: predators that reproduce every 2, 4, or 6 years (all divisors of 12) would feast on the hapless cicadas. Hiding underground for long periods helps survival, but reproduction cycles that are too long may result in being out competed by other species. Shorter prime numbered cycles may be weeded out if co-emergence of different broods results in hybridization and altered life cycles in the offspring.

Allee Effect: Biologists refer to the penalty of small population size on individual fitness as Allee Effect, named after W.C. Allee who showed, in 1932, that goldfish survived better in larger populations. The Allee effect means that there is a critical population size, below which the population becomes extinct. If the Allee effect is applied to simulations of cicada populations, successful cycles are in the order 17> 13 >> 19 year cycles, all others become extinct. Without the Allee effect, all brood cycles survive (see Fig. 1 of Tanaka et al., cited below). 

So the next time you hear the chirp of the cicada, take a moment to appreciate the simple maths hidden within their lives! 

*“A Cicada’s Life” by Alan Rubin 

Graph and blog: http://arachnoid.com/is_math_a_science/

#OpenAccess Ref: Allee effect in the selection for prime-numbered cycles in periodical cicadas. Tanaka et al., 2009 PNAS.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2690011/

  #ScienceSunday  ___

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2014-10-23 22:50:40 (67 comments; 22 reshares; 310 +1s; )Open 

Courgettes with Challah

Zucchinis stewed in a lemony, herb infused oil. Delicious hot or cold, especially mopped up with challah bread made by my daughter! I've tried this recipe twice, so I'm confident about sharing it with my fellow foodies. If you have too many courgettes/zucchinis lying around, this is a great way to use them up.

First, sprinkle cubed zukes (about 3-4 cups) generously with coarse salt and let drain an hour or overnight in a colander. I used some yellow squash as well. 

Bring to boil: 1.25 cups water, 0.5 cup olive oil, juice of one lemon, crushed garlic cloves, some dry thyme and a bay leaf. Coarsely crush some black pepper corns, whole coriander seeds and fennel. (The fennel seeds were harvested from my garden. I'm still puzzling over why I didn't get any fennel bulbs, though?). Add to the oil-water-lemony broth.

Add... more »

Courgettes with Challah

Zucchinis stewed in a lemony, herb infused oil. Delicious hot or cold, especially mopped up with challah bread made by my daughter! I've tried this recipe twice, so I'm confident about sharing it with my fellow foodies. If you have too many courgettes/zucchinis lying around, this is a great way to use them up.

First, sprinkle cubed zukes (about 3-4 cups) generously with coarse salt and let drain an hour or overnight in a colander. I used some yellow squash as well. 

Bring to boil: 1.25 cups water, 0.5 cup olive oil, juice of one lemon, crushed garlic cloves, some dry thyme and a bay leaf. Coarsely crush some black pepper corns, whole coriander seeds and fennel. (The fennel seeds were harvested from my garden. I'm still puzzling over why I didn't get any fennel bulbs, though?). Add to the oil-water-lemony broth.

Add the cubed zucchini and 2-3 chopped tomatoes. I added a small handful of black raisins for a touch of sweetness and contrasting color. Let boil briskly for 15-20 minutes. The liquid thickens into a lovely, fragrant broth with a glossy finish. Top it off with some olives..I used the green pimento-filled ones which were rather bland, so I think the black Kalamata olives would be a better match. 

You'll have to ask Anjana for the challah recipe :)

Bon Appetit! 

Credit: http://vegeyum.wordpress.com/2014/02/06/zucchini-in-oil/___

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2014-10-12 12:09:42 (46 comments; 38 reshares; 221 +1s; )Open 

Hudhud Makes Landfall

Cyclone Hudhud is pounding the eastern seaboard of India today, with winds of up to 120 mph, heavy rains and flooding, especially in the city of Vizhakapatnam ("Vizag"), a major port and naval base. 400,000 people have been evacuated from coastal villages that are home to 14 million people. The Indian Ocean is a cyclone hot spot. Of the 35 deadliest storms in recorded history, 27 have come through the Bay of Bengal — and have landed in either India or Bangladesh. Meanwhile, in Japan, Typhoon Vongfong is sweeping through Okinawa and is on its way to the island of Kyushu, with winds of 110 mph. 

What's in a Name?: Confused about the difference between a hurricane, cyclone and typhoon? They are the same weather phenomenon, differing only in location! We use the term hurricane in the Atlantic and N.E. Pacific,wh... more »

Hudhud Makes Landfall

Cyclone Hudhud is pounding the eastern seaboard of India today, with winds of up to 120 mph, heavy rains and flooding, especially in the city of Vizhakapatnam ("Vizag"), a major port and naval base. 400,000 people have been evacuated from coastal villages that are home to 14 million people. The Indian Ocean is a cyclone hot spot. Of the 35 deadliest storms in recorded history, 27 have come through the Bay of Bengal — and have landed in either India or Bangladesh. Meanwhile, in Japan, Typhoon Vongfong is sweeping through Okinawa and is on its way to the island of Kyushu, with winds of 110 mph. 

What's in a Name?: Confused about the difference between a hurricane, cyclone and typhoon? They are the same weather phenomenon, differing only in location! We use the term hurricane in the Atlantic and N.E. Pacific, whereas in the N.W. Pacific the same disturbance is called a typhoon. Cyclones occur in S. Pacific and Indian Ocean (http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/cyclone.html).

Hudhud is for the Birds: Curious about this cyclone's name? Named by the country Oman, hudhud is the colorful-crowned hoopoe bird (Upupa epops), found through Afro-Eurasia. While Americans have been naming hurricanes since 1953, cyclones have long been anonymous affairs. It was not until 2004 that eight countries (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Maldives along with Myanmar, Oman, Sri Lanka and Thailand) came together with a list of 64 names for cyclones. Each country gets its turn, and the names are not in alphabetical order. Watch out Nilofar (Pakistan), Priya (Sri Lanka) and Komen (Thailand) in the coming months!

Staying Safe: India's disaster response is improving. Last year, a million people were evacuated out of the path of Phailin, the strongest cyclone in a decade, minimizing deaths to 25. Growing up in the coastal city of Calcutta, at the head of the Bay of Bengal, I recall being carried home from school through terrifying, swirling, waist-high waters. Here's wishing that the people of Andhra and Odisha stay safe! 

For news and photos of today's cyclone, check  on G+ or Twitter for #hudhudcyclone. 

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2014-09-27 23:51:13 (116 comments; 24 reshares; 395 +1s; )Open 

What's for Dinner?

Homemade chappatis, puffed on an open flame. Make a pliant, soft dough with whole wheat (chappati) flour and water. Roll into circles and griddle-cook both sides before flipping directly on to the flame (I cheat, and use a metal grid. My mom uses her fingers, ouch). The chappatis should puff right up. Dab a small amount of clarified butter (ghee) on each, and store covered until ready to eat.

Coconut Curry with Potatoes and Peas: Grind together fresh coconut, roasted coriander seeds, roasted fenugreek seeds (just a few, or it will be too bitter), tamarind, dry red chilies. Bring to a boil with enough water to make a gravy; then, add precooked, diced potatoes and peas. Add salt and garam masala to taste and a small lump of jaggery to sweeten and balance the tartness of the tamarind. The final touch is tempering: in a tsp of oil,spl... more »

What's for Dinner?

Homemade chappatis, puffed on an open flame. Make a pliant, soft dough with whole wheat (chappati) flour and water. Roll into circles and griddle-cook both sides before flipping directly on to the flame (I cheat, and use a metal grid. My mom uses her fingers, ouch). The chappatis should puff right up. Dab a small amount of clarified butter (ghee) on each, and store covered until ready to eat.

Coconut Curry with Potatoes and Peas: Grind together fresh coconut, roasted coriander seeds, roasted fenugreek seeds (just a few, or it will be too bitter), tamarind, dry red chilies. Bring to a boil with enough water to make a gravy; then, add precooked, diced potatoes and peas. Add salt and garam masala to taste and a small lump of jaggery to sweeten and balance the tartness of the tamarind. The final touch is tempering: in a tsp of oil, splutter some mustard seeds and split white lentils (urad dal). When the oil turns aromatic and the mustard seeds turn gray, attempting to escape and redecorate your clean stove top, add the curry leaves and stand back..then pour it on the coconut curry for a satisfying sizzle. 

Homemade Yogurt: 2% fat milk, boiled and cooled, then inoculated with non-commercial (i.e., smuggled from India) culture. Use a yogurt thermometer if you want to be scientific. Or not. Incubate overnight in warm spot (I once saw a friend lovingly wrap it in a child's parka!). It is mild to taste, and moderately solid. 

Bon Appetit! What's your dinner? ___

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2014-09-19 20:44:45 (75 comments; 45 reshares; 297 +1s; )Open 

Serendipity in Science: Golden Goose Awards

♦ Scientists are sometimes accused of doing 'wasteful' research-studying the obscure or possibly irrelevant. The late senator William Proxmire was famous for his monthly Golden Fleece award, where he called out seemingly silly research projects. One such study on the sex life of the screw worm, however, would go on to effectively cure cattle of a major parasite and save the industry over 20 billion dollars. The beauty of basic research is that one can never predict where and when the next breakthrough happens. The Golden Goose award counters this short sighted vision, and recognizes odd-sounding federally funded research which led to big dividends down the road. 

Federal tax dollars fund rat massage: In 1979, a team of researchers at Duke University were frustrated in their attempts to measure key growth markersin r... more »

Serendipity in Science: Golden Goose Awards

♦ Scientists are sometimes accused of doing 'wasteful' research-studying the obscure or possibly irrelevant. The late senator William Proxmire was famous for his monthly Golden Fleece award, where he called out seemingly silly research projects. One such study on the sex life of the screw worm, however, would go on to effectively cure cattle of a major parasite and save the industry over 20 billion dollars. The beauty of basic research is that one can never predict where and when the next breakthrough happens. The Golden Goose award counters this short sighted vision, and recognizes odd-sounding federally funded research which led to big dividends down the road. 

Federal tax dollars fund rat massage: In 1979, a team of researchers at Duke University were frustrated in their attempts to measure key growth markers in rat pups. When they separated the pups from their protective mothers, the markers mysteriously declined. Patiently, they ruled out nutrition, body temperature and pheromones until they noticed how vigorously the mothers groomed and licked the pups. Could tactile stimulation be important? "I couldn't get the lab technicians to actually lick the pups", Dr. Schanberg joked. But a stiff brush worked wonders and the pups thrived away from their mothers. A chance encounter with a psychologist led to testing the effect of infant massage on preterm babies. In controlled studies, massaged infants showed increased growth rates of up to ~50%, greater alertness and quicker hospital discharges, averaging differences of 6 days. A recent analysis estimates that these savings amount to about $10,000 per infant, resulting in a nationwide annual health care savings of $4.7 billion. Infant massage therapy is now used by nearly 40 percent of NICU’s in the US, and is on the rise. Do you have examples to share of seemingly wasteful research with unexpected benefits? 

News Story: http://www.goldengooseaward.org/portfolio-view/2014-rat-and-infant-massage/

Review on Preterm Infant Massage Therapy Research: http://goo.gl/yQgMs

From Lizard to Laboratory: my post on the 2013 Golden Goose Award http://goo.gl/Kx3bWI

#ScienceEveryday when it's not #ScienceSunday .___

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2014-09-07 19:29:22 (52 comments; 83 reshares; 254 +1s; )Open 

The Art of Seurat: Science and Pointillism

After winding through the bucolic Dutch countryside, two bus loads of scientists were disgorged at the Kröller-Müller Art Museum in Otterlo, hoping for a dose of culture to leaven our week-long immersion in research (on ATP-driven pumps; http://p-atpases.org/). To our delight, the museum was hosting the work of Georges Seurat, the master of pointillism. Fittingly, Seurat once said, Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science. 

What's the Point?: In contrast to traditional methods that mix pigments, pointillism is a technique where dots of pure color are applied, allowing the eye and the mind to blend the colors to give a richer and brighter effect. Although the term was first used to ridicule the technique, pointillism (also called divisionalism) gained credibility by the end of the 19thce... more »

The Art of Seurat: Science and Pointillism

After winding through the bucolic Dutch countryside, two bus loads of scientists were disgorged at the Kröller-Müller Art Museum in Otterlo, hoping for a dose of culture to leaven our week-long immersion in research (on ATP-driven pumps; http://p-atpases.org/). To our delight, the museum was hosting the work of Georges Seurat, the master of pointillism. Fittingly, Seurat once said, Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science. 

What's the Point?: In contrast to traditional methods that mix pigments, pointillism is a technique where dots of pure color are applied, allowing the eye and the mind to blend the colors to give a richer and brighter effect. Although the term was first used to ridicule the technique, pointillism (also called divisionalism) gained credibility by the end of the 19th century, giving rise to neo-impressionism, cubism and modern art, and influencing other artists like van Gogh and Matisse.  Seurat's most famous work showcasing pointillism is A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – 1884 (http://goo.gl/WXcS48). Estimated to be made up of ~3.5 million dots, it took nearly 2 years to complete!

 A closer look reveals individual dots of blue, green, yellow and even red in the water, which give the impression of changing, shimmering color as the viewer moves towards the canvas. Our brains blend the dots into a color that is not actually there.  When pigments are mixed, they absorb light. By avoiding mixing, there is no subtractive effect and colors appear brighter. The white canvas between dots enhances this effect. 

The inner rings in the animated circles a and b appear to be different colors: pink or orange. But it's just an illusion - revealed when the surrounding circles are stripped away. Notice also that the color surrounding the inner circles in a and c, or b and d, is the same, but the frequency of concentric rings is different, altering our color perception.

Points to Pixels: Never could Seurat have guessed that the principles behind pointillism would be so widely used in modern technology- computer and television screens light up individual pixels colored in RGB (red, green, blue) and printers deposit CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, and Key or black) dyes. We are all pointillists now!

Slide show pdf on Seurat: http://goo.gl/jSTsBA
  
Watch: Seurat. Master of pointillism, Kröller-Müller Museum. A must see!

For a related post, see, Was Matisse a Neuroscientist? http://goo.gl/0QHeeI . 

#ScienceSunday    ___

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2014-09-04 19:44:59 (87 comments; 30 reshares; 157 +1s; )Open 

Nature vs. Nurture: Girls and STEM

Why is there a gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)? You may have heard the arguments that girls find science “boring,” that their brains are "wired differently", and that attempts to bridge the gender divide “deny human biology and nature”. Attributing the gender gap to biology misses the obvious contribution of societal and institutional biases. Co-authored by +Buddhini Samarasinghe, +Zuleyka Zevallos and me, our article in +nature.com blogs explains how stereotype threats, lack of role models, social conditioning, unconscious bias and institutional practices create an environment where girls feel unwelcome and insecure in STEM fields. We advocate active intervention and go on to discuss effective strategies and practical ways, both simple and sophisticated, to solve theproblem. <... more »

Nature vs. Nurture: Girls and STEM

Why is there a gender gap in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)? You may have heard the arguments that girls find science “boring,” that their brains are "wired differently", and that attempts to bridge the gender divide “deny human biology and nature”. Attributing the gender gap to biology misses the obvious contribution of societal and institutional biases. Co-authored by +Buddhini Samarasinghe, +Zuleyka Zevallos and me, our article in +nature.com blogs explains how stereotype threats, lack of role models, social conditioning, unconscious bias and institutional practices create an environment where girls feel unwelcome and insecure in STEM fields. We advocate active intervention and go on to discuss effective strategies and practical ways, both simple and sophisticated, to solve the problem. 

Why should we care if girls remain underrepresented in STEM? Apart from basic fairness, if we want our best and brightest working on innovative ideas and creative solutions, it makes little sense to potentially abandon half the population. We already face many hurdles; lack of funding, lack of jobs, and pushback from science denialists backed by populist politics. We need all hands on deck to forge ahead.

We must look to nurture, not nature, for change.

Read more: 
http://blogs.nature.com/soapboxscience/2014/09/04/nature-vs-nurture-girls-and-stem

#ScienceEveryday   #stemwomen  ___

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2014-08-24 12:44:21 (33 comments; 64 reshares; 346 +1s; )Open 

Fungus Amongus: budding scientist helps solve medical mystery 

Hidden Spheres: A 7th grade science fair project has helped uncover the source of fungal infections that target patients with HIV/AIDS. One third of AIDS related deaths have been linked to infections by Cryptococcus. This fungus causes life-threatening infections in immune-compromised patients, and less commonly in healthy people, pets and animals, accounting for >1 million infections and >620,000 deaths worldwide. Named "hidden sphere" because of its tiny spores, Cryptococcus is a single-celled yeast that can propagate by budding, or it can mate in pairs to form spores that are released into the air. Fortunately, it only multiplies by budding in human hosts, and therefore cannot spread from person to person. So how do we acquire it, and what is its natural reservoir? 
◉... more »

Fungus Amongus: budding scientist helps solve medical mystery 

Hidden Spheres: A 7th grade science fair project has helped uncover the source of fungal infections that target patients with HIV/AIDS. One third of AIDS related deaths have been linked to infections by Cryptococcus. This fungus causes life-threatening infections in immune-compromised patients, and less commonly in healthy people, pets and animals, accounting for >1 million infections and >620,000 deaths worldwide. Named "hidden sphere" because of its tiny spores, Cryptococcus is a single-celled yeast that can propagate by budding, or it can mate in pairs to form spores that are released into the air. Fortunately, it only multiplies by budding in human hosts, and therefore cannot spread from person to person. So how do we acquire it, and what is its natural reservoir? 

Love is in the Air? : Cryptococcus gattii grows on the bark and leaves of the Australian Eucalyptus tree. Scientists speculate that the tropical fungus was inadvertently imported into the northwestern US along with the trees, and has spread to ten other tree species in the Vancouver/Oregon area including Coastal Douglas Fir and Coastal Western Hemlock. The fungus depends on chemical stimulants (myo-inositol and indole acetic acid) from plants for sexual reproduction, forming spores that are dispersed in the wind to be inhaled by unsuspecting people. Only mating allows fungal DNA to recombine, forming new, virulent strains that can survive in unfriendly environments such as the warm bodies of humans. After fatal outbreaks were reported in the Pacific Northwest area, patients with  AIDS and other immune illnesses have been advised to stay away from forests. Historically, C. gattii has been infecting people in California for years, although the fungus has not been found on eucalyptus trees and other usual suspects there. Tracking down the environmental hideout would help warn susceptible people of the danger in the hidden spheres. 

Nailing the Niche : Schoolgirl Elan Filler's father, a scientist, helped connect her with microbiologist Joseph Heitman of Duke University. For her science fair project, Elan collected fungal samples from local trees, cultured them on petri plates, and sent them to postdoc Deborah Springer who analyzed the DNA and compared it to samples found in patients in the area. They found a perfect genetic match with samples harvested from three species- Canary Island pine, New Zealand pohutukawa and American sweet gum, to patient samples collected in the past decade. With her science sleuthing recently reported in a publication in PLOS Pathogens, here's hoping that young Elan is inspired to find her niche in research and science!  

Science Trivia Challenge! What does V8 vegetable juice (Campbell Soups) have to do with Cryptococcus? 

#OpenAccess  paper with Elan Filler as co-author: http://www.plospathogens.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.ppat.1004285

NPR News Story: http://goo.gl/EQa9Pp

C. gatti infections: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptococcus_gattii

H/T +KQED SCIENCE for the news find! 
#ScienceSunday     #STEMWomen  ___

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2014-08-09 16:31:53 (46 comments; 74 reshares; 307 +1s; )Open 

Algal Blooms and Microcystins: The Fouling of Lake Erie

A Colorful History : Often called blue-green algae, cyanobacteria are neither restricted to blue and green hues nor are they true algae. They bring a carmine tinge to the Red Sea and make the Spirulina-eating African flamingos blush pink. When these simple bacteria appeared some 3.5 billion years ago*, they produced oxygen by photosynthesis, changing the fate of the earth forever. Then in the Precambrian era, according to the theory of endosymbiosis, they were co-opted as chloroplasts into the cells of green plants. They also form nitrogen-fixing nodules in the roots of plants and partner with fungi to colonize barren new lands as lichen. Little wonder that scientists consider them the most successful group of microbes ever. But as Shakespeare mused: Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?
more »

Algal Blooms and Microcystins: The Fouling of Lake Erie

A Colorful History : Often called blue-green algae, cyanobacteria are neither restricted to blue and green hues nor are they true algae. They bring a carmine tinge to the Red Sea and make the Spirulina-eating African flamingos blush pink. When these simple bacteria appeared some 3.5 billion years ago*, they produced oxygen by photosynthesis, changing the fate of the earth forever. Then in the Precambrian era, according to the theory of endosymbiosis, they were co-opted as chloroplasts into the cells of green plants. They also form nitrogen-fixing nodules in the roots of plants and partner with fungi to colonize barren new lands as lichen. Little wonder that scientists consider them the most successful group of microbes ever. But as Shakespeare mused: Why then, can one desire too much of a good thing?

Toxic Blooms: Ever opportunistic, cyanobacteria can rapidly increase in biomass to form thick green scum euphemistically known as blooms on the surface of shallow lakes. Over-fed with nutrient run-off from fertilized farmlands, sewage disposal or industrial waste, the blooms in turn feed bacteria, which then consume dissolved oxygen, killing off fish and creating dead zones. That’s not all: the blooms produce potent toxins that target the liver, brain and skin. The worst offenders are microcystins: cyclic compounds that fit snugly into the pocket of a class of enzymes known as protein phosphatases (image) and block their tumor-suppressing activity. In 1996, 76 dialysis patients at a clinic in Caruaru, Brazil, died from acute liver failure after water contaminated with microcystins was used in renal dialysis treatment. Their cyclic structure makes microcystins resistant to most water treatment processes, and boiling only concentrates the toxin. The building blocks that make up the toxin are unusual (non-protein amino acids) , and cannot be broken down by enzymes found in our cells. Recently, algal blooms in Lake Erie forced the shut-down of the entire water system in the city of Toledo, leaving half a million residents with no water. Given that this is becoming "the new normal" (http://goo.gl/dPyrtG) in many freshwater supplies around the world, what is the solution?

Bioremediation: There are no short term solutions to the blooming problem! We can cut back on fertilizer use, although faster acting, more efficiently utilized phosphate formulations actually encourage algal growth. Fortunately, we can exploit the chemical warfare in the battleground of the blooms themselves. It's thought that cyanoblooms produce these toxins to protect themselves from heat and oxidation stress. But competing bacteria like Sphingomonas secrete enzymes that can degrade microcystins. Research on natural bioremediation by culturing beneficial bacteria and studying their genetic and biochemical pathways could help nip future blooms in the bud.   

Ref (image inset): http://biolinks.co.jp/pdf/MOCT.pdf
Ref ( #openaccess ): Cyanobacterial Toxin Degrading Bacteria: Who Are They? http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23841072

#ScienceEveryday  when it's not #ScienceSunday  

*Edit: Corrected from 3.5 mya , thanks +Martin Vogel ! It turns out that cyanobacteria are the oldest known fossils, from Archaean rocks of Western Australia. This is very cool, since the oldest rocks are only a little older: 3.8 billion years old!
 ___

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2014-07-20 17:50:12 (71 comments; 47 reshares; 409 +1s; )Open 

Pottering Around Vermont

I spent the past week amidst the bucolic charms of Vermont debating the merits of mountains, molecules and membrane transport proteins (scientific program here: http://goo.gl/S6zHpC). The keynote talk was given by Ed Boyden (MIT; http://goo.gl/Lrgz9m) on the topic of optogenetics: light activated ion channels are cloned from corals, bacteria and fungi, delivered into neurons in a living animal, to precisely control and study behavior. We watched how activation of dopamine neurons by a blue light led pleasure seeking mice to return to the light spot again and again! 

Each summer, for the past 80 years, scientists having been making the pilgrimage to the Gordon Research Conferences that cover hundreds of topics in physics, chemistry and biology. Discussions are intense, "off the record" and feature unpublished work. Isolated from... more »

Pottering Around Vermont

I spent the past week amidst the bucolic charms of Vermont debating the merits of mountains, molecules and membrane transport proteins (scientific program here: http://goo.gl/S6zHpC). The keynote talk was given by Ed Boyden (MIT; http://goo.gl/Lrgz9m) on the topic of optogenetics: light activated ion channels are cloned from corals, bacteria and fungi, delivered into neurons in a living animal, to precisely control and study behavior. We watched how activation of dopamine neurons by a blue light led pleasure seeking mice to return to the light spot again and again! 

Each summer, for the past 80 years, scientists having been making the pilgrimage to the Gordon Research Conferences that cover hundreds of topics in physics, chemistry and biology. Discussions are intense, "off the record" and feature unpublished work. Isolated from the metropolitan hubbub, sites are typically in rural New England, Tuscany or the Swiss Alps (see my pix from Les Diablerets here: http://goo.gl/8qKpil). Afternoons are free, and we ventured into a charming old town where we explored a long-forgotten graveyard and discovered hand thrown pottery with colorful, crystalline glazes. They inspired me to make a pesto pasta with summer vegetables as soon as I returned home! I hope you enjoy these pictures in place of my usual #ScienceSunday  post.   

York Hill Pottery: http://yorkhillpottery.com/index.php?page=home
Flambeaux Art Pottery: http://www.campbellpottery.com/___

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2014-07-05 12:51:37 (72 comments; 91 reshares; 284 +1s; )Open 

All Your Base Are Belong to Us*

Cutie with Long Q-T: A baby girl is born with an irregular heartbeat. Out of synchrony, her heart stops beating several times. By Day 2 doctors perform emergency surgery to implant a cardiac defibrillator. They cut off the sympathetic nerves to prevent further stimulation of this condition.  She is put on a slew of medications but it's too soon to know if they are the right ones for her condition. Her diagnosis? Long Q-T syndrome.

Choreographing a Ballet: Every heart beat is powered by a wave of electrical activity caused by carefully choreographed opening and closing of ion channels that move sodium, potassium and calcium ions into and out of cardiac cells on a millisecond time scale. This electrical activity is picked up in an ECG which parses out the events as a repeating waveform labeled P, Q, R, S, and T (image). Each... more »

All Your Base Are Belong to Us*

Cutie with Long Q-T: A baby girl is born with an irregular heartbeat. Out of synchrony, her heart stops beating several times. By Day 2 doctors perform emergency surgery to implant a cardiac defibrillator. They cut off the sympathetic nerves to prevent further stimulation of this condition.  She is put on a slew of medications but it's too soon to know if they are the right ones for her condition. Her diagnosis? Long Q-T syndrome.

Choreographing a Ballet: Every heart beat is powered by a wave of electrical activity caused by carefully choreographed opening and closing of ion channels that move sodium, potassium and calcium ions into and out of cardiac cells on a millisecond time scale. This electrical activity is picked up in an ECG which parses out the events as a repeating waveform labeled P, Q, R, S, and T (image). Each waveform triggers the cardiac muscles to contract rhythmically, pushing blood out of the chambers of the heart. In long Q-T syndrome, the lengthening of the Q-T interval reflects a delay in resetting the lower heart chambers ("repolarizing") so that the arrival of a new heart beat occurs before the conclusion of the last one. This can set off a confusion of waveforms which appear to twist around a point, resembling the ballet movement torsades des pointes (see http://goo.gl/ctSg2d) to trigger fainting, seizures or sudden cardiac death. 

Choosing a Channelopathy: Long Q-T syndrome occurs in 1 of every 2,000 persons. About 2/3 of the cases are due to mutations in two potassium channel genes which cause them to fail to open. Another 10% of mutations are found in sodium channels which make them fail to close. Either way, the Q-T interval is prolonged. But potassium and sodium channels have very different responses to drugs. Before treatment, it's important to know where the defect lies. With our baby girl, her condition was too serious to play around with different drugs. So the scientists at Stanford University took the unprecedented step of sending her DNA for whole genome sequencing. It took 13 years for the first human genome to be fully sequenced. This baby girl's DNA was sequenced before she was 10 days old. A mutation was found in the KCNH2 gene encoding a potassium channel known to be defective in long Q-T. She was taken off sodium channel blockers, put on more appropriate medication, and sent home. As one of the scientist's remarked, "This is the future of genetic testing and we hope, the future of medicine."

What's normal anyway?: It is somewhat stunning to note that sequencing revealed 3,711,590 single nucleotide variants and 754,196 insertions and deletions that would cause more than 900 protein variants in our baby girl! Some of these could potentially cause other disorders, possibly in the future. We may all have our genomes fully sequenced in the not too distant future and we must ponder what we would do with this information?

REF: Molecular Diagnosis of Long-QT syndrome at 10 Days of Life by Rapid Whole Genome Sequencing (2014) Priest et al.  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24973560

News story: http://goo.gl/PZDPc6

*Know your meme: AYBABTU

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2014-06-29 13:46:16 (41 comments; 56 reshares; 268 +1s; )Open 

Mining Social Networks ... Of Bacteria!

The Unseen War: In the intense, unseen competition for space and food, warring factions of bacteria produce antibiotics in a microscopic, internecine war. Actinomycetes, a filamentous type of bacteria found in soil, are arguably the deepest and richest natural source of drugs that we exploit as antibiotics, antifungals, chemotherapeutics and immunosuppressants. It was from an actinobacterium, Streptomyces that the first compound to be dubbed an antibiotic was isolated, in the lab of Ukrainian born microbiologist Selman Waksman. Streptomycin cured tuberculosis, winning Waksman a Nobel prize in 1952.  

Antibiotic Apocalypse: Since then, however, rampant antibiotic resistance has led the director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to issue a dire warning that we may be heading into apo... more »

Mining Social Networks ... Of Bacteria!

The Unseen War: In the intense, unseen competition for space and food, warring factions of bacteria produce antibiotics in a microscopic, internecine war. Actinomycetes, a filamentous type of bacteria found in soil, are arguably the deepest and richest natural source of drugs that we exploit as antibiotics, antifungals, chemotherapeutics and immunosuppressants. It was from an actinobacterium, Streptomyces that the first compound to be dubbed an antibiotic was isolated, in the lab of Ukrainian born microbiologist Selman Waksman. Streptomycin cured tuberculosis, winning Waksman a Nobel prize in 1952.  

Antibiotic Apocalypse: Since then, however, rampant antibiotic resistance has led the director of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to issue a dire warning that we may be heading into a post-antibiotic era (for a scary read: http://goo.gl/LvFymj). A potential way to fight back is with phage therapy, a ploy that uses viruses to prey on their natural bacterial targets (see The Enemy of My Enemy: http://goo.gl/ks0qdv). 

Hold the Doom and Gloom:  Scientists may yet have other tricks up their lab coat sleeves. Recently, they have discovered that the vast majority of compounds manufactured by bacteria are coded by sleeping gene clusters that can be woken up only in response to specific environmental challenges or bacterial interactions. Grown under typical laboratory conditions, bacteria produce only a handful of their complex repertoire of chemicals. But when placed in intimate contact with competing species, co-cultures of Streptomyces coelicolor produce many new and specialized compounds. Specific communities of microbes yield distinctive "chemical signatures", revealing an untapped potential for the discovery of new antibiotics. This promising approach could be used not just with actinomycetes, but with all kinds of antibiotic-producing microbes. Forget Facebook, let's mine those social networks..of bacteria! 

REF: Imaging Mass Spectrometry Reveals Highly Specific Interactions between Actinomycetes To Activate Specialized Metabolic Gene Clusters (2013) David A. Hopwood http://mbio.asm.org/content/4/5/e00612-13.full

IMAGE: Streptomyces coelicolor via Microbe Wiki http://goo.gl/wfZnrI

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2014-06-07 19:20:17 (146 comments; 69 reshares; 549 +1s; )Open 

Alien Cityscape?

Can you guess the identity of the tiny blue skyscrapers in today's Science Mystery Pix

Hint: We have ~20,000 of these. The shorter "skyscrapers" are arranged in front and longer ones in back of a certain body part. Proteins with funny names like Noggin, Bmp and Bambi cause these gradients to develop. 

If you google guess the answer, try not to give it away, but add some confusing helpful information in your comment!

Awesome Poetry Hint by +Rashmi Pahuja :
Like trees in a tunnel
Feeling the air funnel
Combed in waxy gel
Well dressed infantry
In Attention
Keeping all intruders out,
Record and decode
All the tremors, shakes and thunder.

#ScienceEveryday  when it's not #ScienceSunday  .

Alien Cityscape?

Can you guess the identity of the tiny blue skyscrapers in today's Science Mystery Pix

Hint: We have ~20,000 of these. The shorter "skyscrapers" are arranged in front and longer ones in back of a certain body part. Proteins with funny names like Noggin, Bmp and Bambi cause these gradients to develop. 

If you google guess the answer, try not to give it away, but add some confusing helpful information in your comment!

Awesome Poetry Hint by +Rashmi Pahuja :
Like trees in a tunnel
Feeling the air funnel
Combed in waxy gel
Well dressed infantry
In Attention
Keeping all intruders out,
Record and decode
All the tremors, shakes and thunder.

#ScienceEveryday  when it's not #ScienceSunday  .___

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2014-06-01 15:59:26 (117 comments; 264 reshares; 555 +1s; )Open 

The Enemy of My Enemy

✇ Nearly 125 years ago, a British bacteriologist observed that the holy waters of the Ganges and Yamuna had curious bactericidal properties, limiting the spread of cholera. It took another 20 years before two microbiologists independently proposed the existence of viruses. Observing small clearings on a lawn of dysentery-causing bacillus on an agar plate, d'Herelle coined the term bacteriophage for the virus that devours bacteria; now affectionately abbreviated to "phage".  

A Voracious Appetite: Found everywhere bacteria exist- in the soil, deep inside the earth's crust, within the bodies of animals and plants, and densely packed in the oceans, there are an estimated 1×10^8 different types of phages, each infecting only a specific type of bacteria.  Almost comical in appearance, a phagehas it... more »

The Enemy of My Enemy

✇ Nearly 125 years ago, a British bacteriologist observed that the holy waters of the Ganges and Yamuna had curious bactericidal properties, limiting the spread of cholera. It took another 20 years before two microbiologists independently proposed the existence of viruses. Observing small clearings on a lawn of dysentery-causing bacillus on an agar plate, d'Herelle coined the term bacteriophage for the virus that devours bacteria; now affectionately abbreviated to "phage".  

A Voracious Appetite: Found everywhere bacteria exist- in the soil, deep inside the earth's crust, within the bodies of animals and plants, and densely packed in the oceans, there are an estimated 1×10^8 different types of phages, each infecting only a specific type of bacteria.  Almost comical in appearance, a phage has its genetic material tightly packed into the capsid head, that can be injected through the stalk-like tail into the bacterial cell. Once inside, it can stage a peaceful coup (lysogenic) or burst open the bacterium (lytic) when it multiplies. It is estimated that there are up to 10^32 phages in our biosphere, destroying half the bacterial population every 48 hours! 

Microbe Hunters: d'Herelle and his fellow scientists were quick to grasp the potential of phages as antibacterials. After consuming a preparation to confirm its safety, he administered the phage to a 12-year old boy with acute dysentery. The boy fully recovered. This set off a golden era in the commercial production and use of phages, centered largely in eastern Europe and Russia. In the 1940's, companies like L'Oreal and Eli Lilly marketed products with catchy names like Bacté-coli-phage and Staphylo-gel! There were set backs (d'Herelle's science partner in Tbilisi was executed by Stalin) and with the discovery of antibiotics in the 1940's, Western scientists lost interest in this line of medical research. Unfortunately, most published studies (written in Russian or Georgian) are not accessible to the western world and clinical trials did not follow current protocols of controls, making them difficult to assess retrospectively. 

Evolutionary Arms Race: With growing resistance to antibiotics, a resurgence in phage therapy may be warranted. One advantage to phage therapy is that when bacteria develop resistance to a phage, we should be able to rapidly select (in a few days or weeks) for mutant phage versions in a tit-for-tat evolutionary arms race! Phage therapy is already around us in some form:the USDA has approved a phage spray (ListShield) that can be used on cheese, chicken, and processed meat to prevent infection with Listeria. Is this the start of a new phage in the way we treat bacterial infections? :)

REF: (1) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC90351/#B21
(2) http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/48/8/1096.full

Image: T-phage infecting E. coli , false-colored EM via http://goo.gl/fmDVCi

#ScienceSunday  ___

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2014-05-17 17:19:41 (67 comments; 26 reshares; 301 +1s; )Open 

Cabbage Spiced Rice

A lazy weekend dish that will wait until the boys come back from their wanderings (they'd better hurry, I'm hungry!). 

Cook separately, 1.5 cups of basmati rice. Inhale the floral flagrance, ahhh!

Finely chop a head of cabbage and half an onion.

Add to hot oil: black mustard seeds, white split urad dal, yellow split channa dal, roasted peanuts, dash of asafoetida powder, curry leaves, a few grains of fenugreek. When the mustard seeds turn grey and pop, and the dals release a nutty aroma, add the chopped onions and cabbage in succession. I leave green chillies whole so the wimps boys can fish them out. Stir on high heat, season with salt, a pinch of turmeric and your favorite garam masala spice mix. I used one made my mom that I have stashed away in my refrigerator. 

Cover briefly until the cabbage just about cooks.A... more »

Cabbage Spiced Rice

A lazy weekend dish that will wait until the boys come back from their wanderings (they'd better hurry, I'm hungry!). 

Cook separately, 1.5 cups of basmati rice. Inhale the floral flagrance, ahhh!

Finely chop a head of cabbage and half an onion.

Add to hot oil: black mustard seeds, white split urad dal, yellow split channa dal, roasted peanuts, dash of asafoetida powder, curry leaves, a few grains of fenugreek. When the mustard seeds turn grey and pop, and the dals release a nutty aroma, add the chopped onions and cabbage in succession. I leave green chillies whole so the wimps boys can fish them out. Stir on high heat, season with salt, a pinch of turmeric and your favorite garam masala spice mix. I used one made my mom that I have stashed away in my refrigerator. 

Cover briefly until the cabbage just about cooks. Add fresh, grated coconut and a tablespoon of coconut oil for flavor. Toss in the cooked rice very gently, garnish with chopped cilantro and mint (mine are from the garden..the only herbs that are out and about this early in our spring). The mint is a variegated variety, isn't it pretty? :)

The boys are not home yet. So post pix on social media and hold off consuming until they return. Bon appetit foodies! ___

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2014-05-11 12:41:21 (31 comments; 45 reshares; 148 +1s; )Open 

A Scientist's Mother's Day

To make one me you just add
Half of mom and half of dad
That is what I once believed
But I know now that I was wrong
I got so much more from you mom

♥ Stanford graduate student Adam Cole was taking a class in behavioral human biology when he was inspired to pen these whimsical, biologically explicit verses. To his surprise, the song became a hit! He explains that mitochondrial DNA is inherited exclusively from mom, also X has over a thousand genes, Y has less than 92 so that:

Just like two strands of DNA are spirally entwined
Your nature and your nurture are inspiringly combined
Scientists remind me and I find that it is true
Slightly more than half of everything I am is thanks to you

Making a cameo appearance in the video, the bushy-bearded man is Stanford biology professor RobertS... more »

A Scientist's Mother's Day

To make one me you just add
Half of mom and half of dad
That is what I once believed
But I know now that I was wrong
I got so much more from you mom

♥ Stanford graduate student Adam Cole was taking a class in behavioral human biology when he was inspired to pen these whimsical, biologically explicit verses. To his surprise, the song became a hit! He explains that mitochondrial DNA is inherited exclusively from mom, also X has over a thousand genes, Y has less than 92 so that:

Just like two strands of DNA are spirally entwined
Your nature and your nurture are inspiringly combined
Scientists remind me and I find that it is true
Slightly more than half of everything I am is thanks to you

Making a cameo appearance in the video, the bushy-bearded man is Stanford biology professor Robert Sapolsky, PhD. 

Cole is quick to reassure dad: "“He knows that my love for him is not proportional to the biological effect he had on my genetics and development.”

Roses are Red, Blood Cells Blue: For last year's Mother's Day post, see http://goo.gl/ptEPLD

#ScienceSunday   #happymothersday  ___

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2014-04-30 21:20:48 (87 comments; 43 reshares; 211 +1s; )Open 

Men Trigger Stress in Mice

Of course I tweeted Hiring opportunities for #StemWomen when I saw the headlines. Jokes ensued. Could the gender of the researcher really have a noticeable effect on experimental outcomes with animals? This was a #journalclub worthy post, so here goes. 

Don’t Stress Me Bro: Experimenters from a Montreal-based lab noticed anecdotally, that pain response in mice was less in human presence. Blunting of pain happens not when one has warm and fuzzy feelings, it turns out, but under stress. So an experiment was set up to measure pain response using a highly sensitive measure known as “mouse grimace scale”. Mice were anesthetized and injected in the leg with some yeast cell wall extract (zymosan) known to cause inflammatory pain. Their expressions were recorded by video and scored by a “blinded” observer, either in an empty room, or in thepresence o... more »

Men Trigger Stress in Mice

Of course I tweeted Hiring opportunities for #StemWomen when I saw the headlines. Jokes ensued. Could the gender of the researcher really have a noticeable effect on experimental outcomes with animals? This was a #journalclub worthy post, so here goes. 

Don’t Stress Me Bro: Experimenters from a Montreal-based lab noticed anecdotally, that pain response in mice was less in human presence. Blunting of pain happens not when one has warm and fuzzy feelings, it turns out, but under stress. So an experiment was set up to measure pain response using a highly sensitive measure known as “mouse grimace scale”. Mice were anesthetized and injected in the leg with some yeast cell wall extract (zymosan) known to cause inflammatory pain. Their expressions were recorded by video and scored by a “blinded” observer, either in an empty room, or in the presence of a male or female lab person sitting quietly half a meter away. The grimace response was lower when a male was in the room. It didn’t matter if a female was present or not. Both male and female mice showed statistically significant response to guys, but the effect was larger in female mice! 

Bros and BO: Rodents have a keen sense of smell, so the researchers tested if a T-shirt worn overnight by a male and place 0.5 m away would have the same effect. Yep, male BO was stressful, but female smells were ignored (oddly, the female shirt also cancelled out the effect of the male shirt. Why?). Males produce androgens and these are conserved in other animals. Pure samples of these chemicals had the same effect. Male cats and dogs had the same effect. So the researchers were on to something real.

Stress induced analgesia is an evolutionary adaptation thought to protect us in times of fight or flight. In the figure shown, panel a shows a rise in rodent stress hormone (corticosterone) levels by the mere presence of males, or their T-shirts. The stress response was similar to other unpleasant experiences such as being confined in a closed space or forced to swim! Actually, the animals were sh** scared (to be more scientific, they deposited more fecal boli; panel b). They became hot and bothered, as seen by the rise in body temperature (panel c). 

What convinced me were the data in panel d. When triggered, pain-sensing neurons are known to produce a protein known as Fos. As you can see, Fos production after zymosan injection was significantly lowered by male presence. The rest of the paper showed that the effect could be blocked using drugs that reversed known opioid and non-opioid pain pathways. The study also examined other behavioral indicators of pain and stress and confirmed these findings.

Cause for Paws Pause: I can see that this gender-specific effect would add noise to data, but is it large enough to skew the overall conclusion? It is impressive that the effect could be mimicked by androgens, but they were used at very high, non-natural concentrations. Also, chemical effects ought to show a “dose response” and these were found to be weak. Still, I found the results in the attached figure to be convincing; how about you?  Also, it gave me an excuse to post the cute mouse image. 

REF: R.E. Sorge et al., “Olfactory exposure to males, including men, causes stress and related analgesia in rodents,” Nature Methods, doi:10.1038/nmeth.2935, 2014. http://goo.gl/9qpNh9

#ScienceEveryday   #AskMeQuestions  ___

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2014-04-26 14:23:12 (87 comments; 100 reshares; 484 +1s; )Open 

Accidental Art: Wood Painting with Fungi

❖ Fungus-infested wood, or spalt was once dismissed as inferior, structurally unsound and consigned to the scrap heap. But since the 1950's,  the Lindquists, a father and son wood turning team from the New York Adirondacks, changed the way we look at spalted wood. Today, the intricate swirls of bold lines, unexpected splotches of color and random patterns are a sculptor's dream. Spalting has developed a niche market by adding economic value to a previously wasted resource.  

Science of Spalting: Oregon State University's Sara Robinson ("Dr. Spalting") has taken this accidental art and transformed it into science. By systematically testing different combinations of fungi, moisture, temperature and pH, Dr. Robinson creates beautiful wood specimen in the laboratory.

❖ The thick blacklines t... more »

Accidental Art: Wood Painting with Fungi

❖ Fungus-infested wood, or spalt was once dismissed as inferior, structurally unsound and consigned to the scrap heap. But since the 1950's,  the Lindquists, a father and son wood turning team from the New York Adirondacks, changed the way we look at spalted wood. Today, the intricate swirls of bold lines, unexpected splotches of color and random patterns are a sculptor's dream. Spalting has developed a niche market by adding economic value to a previously wasted resource.  

Science of Spalting: Oregon State University's Sara Robinson ("Dr. Spalting") has taken this accidental art and transformed it into science. By systematically testing different combinations of fungi, moisture, temperature and pH, Dr. Robinson creates beautiful wood specimen in the laboratory.

❖ The thick black lines that appear to artistically meander through the wood actually mark out fungal war zones! Formed by heavy deposits of black melanin pigment and hardened combinations of fungal filaments and wood, zone lines are used by antagonistic fungi of different species or even genetically distinct fungi of the same species to protect their own territory and resources. Bleached patches of wood that form a canvas for other colors are formed by white rot fungi that eat away at dark colored lignin leaving behind the lighter colored cellulose. Then there are the splotches of pigment: blues, greens and pinks, deposited by fungi that colonize wood in successive waves, each species leaving an environment that paves the way for another.

Ref: Developing fungal pigments for “painting” vascular plants. Sara C. Robinson Appl Microbiol Biotechnol (2012) 93:1389–1394 

Article about Dr. Spalting at OSU ▶ http://goo.gl/hDeZmx

This   #ScienceEveryday post was inspired by +Brent Neal pointing to a blog post by +American Scientist  ▶ http://goo.gl/ot6wt5___

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