Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Gettin' the Job Done

Sex. Yes, that is what my title is referring to. Funny how it automatically draws the attention of almost any reader. We are human - although this post is not about humans but is rather about the orb-web spider. This arachnid has a special talent that allows for reproduction to be more likely to succeed. See, when your partner is trying to cannibalistically eat you alive and will kill you once you've mated, it is important that you can pass on your genes (especially when you only have two chances at max to reproduce). Many organisms' lives are structured around having reproductive success to keep their populations alive. The trick that this fella has is a detachable penis. The correct technical term of the sex organ is the "palps" but they do the same job. When the male and female disengage from mating (which is either when the female pushes him away to consume him or when the male flees the scene), not only do the palps detach, but they continue pumping sperm into the female!

How is this known? Just to get all of the facts straight, 50 virgin spiders (25 male and 25 female) were collected and matched in pairs. They were watched to see how long they would mate for and to measure how much of the palp broke off. Here are some of the findings:

--88% of the time the entire palp was left in the female
--Sperm transfer continued after the palp was detached from its owner
--Before palp breakoff, 30% of sperm was transferred
--After palp breakoff, 85% of sperm was transferred

Once all is said and done, it is not said and done. It took the females up to seven hours to force the palps out of their bodies. This has dual roles: 1) it ensures maximum sperm transfer and 2) the palp acts as a blockage to any other males who may try and mate with their female. So in this case, the tap and go method is advised --or risk being eaten.


I thought that this article was fairly interesting so I then thought that others might find it interesting as well. The topic hooks the reader (well, me at least). I tried to write this post in a very non-serious manner. I also wanted to make it appropriate and informational but honestly it would've been more interesting if I would've added all of the inuendos that I would have liked to. It was also more of a casual post which made it easier to write and hopefully easier to read.

Monday, January 30, 2012

New Origin of Language

Original location of Wernicke's area. Image from Wikipedia

Having the ability to speak is one concept that many people do not think about on a daily basis, but for Scientists the origin of speech holds more importance than it seems.  The original understanding of how and where human speech is processed is known as the Wernicke's area, which is located towards the back of the brain, behind the auditory portion, where sounds are received.  A German neurologist, Carl Wernicke, was the first to discover this area through analysis of brain injuries and strokes.  Since there was evidence of where human speech originated no one went against the idea and many people today believe that this concept holds truth.  Guess what?! Someone should have went against the idea because research proves that the location of Wernkicke's area is actually somewhere else in the brain!

Now that I have just dropped a bomb on you about the new location of the origin of human speech, your probably wondering where exactly the new location is.  New research has been completed through imaging studies of the brain and has proved that Wernicke's area is actually 3 centimeters closer to the front of the brain on the other side of the auditory portion.  Many Scientists today are conducting research on this new finding, but one in particular is Josef Rauchecker, who is the author of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).  He searched for studies that dealt with the idea of auditory speech perception in humans and analyzed the data presented.  The results further proved the new location of the Wernicke's area being in the left temporal lobe, specifically the superior temporal gyrus, in front of the auditory portion.  Rauschecker also says that the origins of language between monkeys and humans is more closely related than people think based on the new location of Wernicke's area in humans compared to that same area in non-human primates.  This new idea makes me think about Caesar, the head ape from Planet of the Apes (2011 version), who spoke in human speech at the end of the movie and said proudly "Caesar is home"!!
New location of Wernicke's area. Image from Wikipedia

Based on the new research regarding where the Wernicke's area is located texts books today may have to be rewritten and when people Google "language origin of the brain" the images will be wrong!  This is proof of how science is always changing and old ideas that have been believed to be true for ages can turn out to be something that no one expected.  

For more information on this new concept of human speech visit the Neuroscience website.
"Caesar is home" Image from Wikipedia
The ideas I incorporated into this blog post were those that I felt are most important.  I tried to picture my audience as students, specifically High School/College aged.  With that in mind I tried to add some humor to the post as well as use words that are easily understood.  I also allowed my roommates to read the blog and give feedback on my ideas.  I used my own style of presenting the information and focused on one key concept.  I also tried to be concise and entertaining, but also have fun with the blog!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Possible Cure for Alzheimer’s found in Our Daily Diets


A recent article in NaturalNews states there is new research linking nutrients within an individual’s diet with Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is a continuous problem with the aging population in America. This disease diminishes memory and takes many years off individual’s lives. Until now the overall consensus has been there are no cures, no prevention, and no drugs to stop the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s. But there may be a new hope in the near future!

An online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, explains that people who eat foods rich in certain vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids are less likely to have brain shrinkage associated with Alzheimer’s disease than people lacking these important nutrients. Some of these vitamins are vitamins C, D, E, and B.

Nutrients and Foods Associated with Alzheimer’s
Vitamin C
Oranges, Clementines, Kiwi Fruits, Broccoli, Cauliflower, Strawberries
Vitamin D
Fish (Fish Oils), Dairy Products (Milk,etc.), Eggs, Salami, Ham, Sausages
Vitamin E
Sunflower seeds, Almonds, Peanuts, Dried Apricots, Cooked Spinach
Vitamin B
Liver, Beef, Tuna, Oats, Turkey, Bananas, Potatoes, Avocados
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Flax seeds, Walnuts, Sardines, Salmon, Soybeans, Scallops, Shrimp, Tofu, Tuna

Another important fact about these nutrients is they have also been linked to providing sharper cognitive abilities. Seniors that consumed plenty of these vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids scored better on mental thinking tests than people with low levels of these nutrients. People that eat, the typical American diet, consisting of junk food and fast foods may actually be killing their brains. The research study showed that people with diets high in trans fats, found in packaged, fast, fried, and frozen foods and margarine spread, were more likely to experience shrinking of brain tissue. People with high trans-fat diets also scored lower on thinking skills and memory tests than people with low trans-fat diets.

This research project observed 104 people with an average age of 87 who had few risk factors for memory and thinking problems. Lab tests performed in this research measured the levels of different nutrients present in each participant’s blood. The participant’s also took cognitive tests to measure memory and thinking skills and 42 of the participants had MRI scans in order to observe their brain volume.

Future research is currently being performed at the German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). This research study is based on herbal preparations made from the leaves of the Ginkgo biloba tree. In preliminary reports these scientists, using the natural treatments from these leaves, have shown improved symptoms of Alzheimer’s by allowing patients to regain the ability to perform daily tasks.

This research article provides hope to the large aging population in America. Hopefully by modifying our diets by adding select nutrients we will be able to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.


To learn more about Alzheimer's disease or how to help with fighting this cause, please see the link below and join the Alzheimer's Association.

In order to communicate this scientific article and make my blog understandable for a general audience, I wrote about a serious health condition, made it relatable, and made it easy to read. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the U.S., therefore by writing about something as serious as this disease I feel many readers will want to read this blog post. This research article focuses on nutrition and diet, which is huge part of every person’s life. Therefore by focusing on how diet can improve Alzheimer’s it makes the article relatable with a general audience because anyone can improve their diet. Lastly I added a table to my blog post to make the diet information easier for the reader to understand and easy for the reader to see what foods contain the important nutrients discussed within the research. 

Heart of silk?

Sea star self-regeneration.
If humans were like sea stars we’d have much less to worry about.  For one thing, we’d be able to self-regenerate!  Yep that’s right… remember that toe you lost in the unfortunate “riding a bike in sandals” incident?  Well, if you were like a starfish you could regrow that toe in a few weeks.  But life isn’t that simple… or is it?  Well, scientists have challenged that question in an attempt to regrow heart tissue, but you’ll never guess how or what they’re using to do it.            
No one likes the idea of having a worm inside them, frankly, it creeps me out just thinking about it.  But what if your life could be saved by one of these creepy-crawlers who often gross us out?  Well, Max Planck scientists have successfully used silk from a species of silkworm to repair cardiac tissue.  Since damaged heart muscle tissue cannot regrow, the silk acts as a median between the artificial tissues replacing the damaged tissue.  The damaged heart tissue often results from heart attacks, and damaged tissue compromises the heart’s pumping power which has devastating effects on the individual. 

Silk from Tasar Silkworm used in cardiac
muscle repair.
Silkworms weren’t the first choice of scientists, though.  Many natural and artificial fibers were tested, but many were found to be too brittle, would be attacked by the individuals immune system, or simple weren’t able to successfully adhere to the muscle fibers.  However, it was a collaboration of scientists from India who gave the silkworm a chance.  Coin-sized disks of silk are produced by the worms; these are collected by scientists and engineered into the form needed.  Where the other fibers failed, the silkworm has succeeded.  The silk’s surface has a protein structure that allows for it to adhere to the muscle tissues successfully.  The specific silkworm used is the tasar silkworm whose silk is much coarser than others providing additional support. 

Tasar silkworm.
While this process has been successfully implemented on rats, clinical trials on humans don’t appear to be in works anytime soon.  The reason for the holdup is obtaining the appropriate starting material for human patients.  In the study, they used rat cells in conjunction with the silk to repair the heart tissue.  For humans, however, the starting material is still being debated.  Several scientists state that it will be the patient’s own stem cells that will be the best option for starting material.  Using host cells helps to avoid any reaction by the host’s immune system.  More research needs to be done with stem cells to discover how they convert into cardiac muscle cells before this process can advance further.  However, it does show promise for being able to repair human hearts in the future.  So don't go off being wreckless just for the heck of it because we can't grow back human arms... yet!     

In my introductory paragraph I tried to hook with reader’s attention with something as outrageous as the regeneration of lost limbs.  I also used that example as an analogy to help the readers better understand how scientists are using the silk to aid in the repair of cardiac tissue (a form of regeneration).  I tried to keep the scientific jargon at an all-time minimum to appeal to a broader audience.  I also attempted to follow through and satisfy my readers with an overview of the process and why it is important.    

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Mother's diet during pregnancy alters baby's DNA

The study showed that eating low levels of carbohydrate changed bits of DNA and children with these changes were fatter. It is thought that a developing baby tries to predict the environment it will be born into, taking cues from its mother and adjusting its DNA.  Read the full article here.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Health Alerts Blog

Health Alerts is a blog that provides many health tips and information that is especially helpful for college students. Some of the latest article entries on this blog deal with stress, sleep, active minds, and anxiety. All of these topics are important in a college student’s life. These blog articles are typically short and have links to other articles or websites that give more information on articles topic, therefore this blog can be quickly and easily read.

One interesting article I read on this blog was Smartphones Can Increase Stress Levels, Study Says. The article explains that a recent study by HealthDay news reported that smartphones can actually increase people’s stress levels. HealthDay states the reason behind this is due to a relentless need for individuals to immediately review and respond to every incoming message, alert, or notification. The research also states that this stress was so bad in some individuals that they actually began feeling phantom vibrations, thinking their phone was buzzing when it wasn’t.

I feel this is an article that we can all relate to in some way with all the cell phone usage in our generation. If you are interested in reading more articles from this blog please see the link below.

Clinical Correlations

Clinical Correlations is a great blog, especially for the individuals interested in the medical field, health news, and human science. This blog is run by the New York University Department of Medicine with a main focus on internal medicine. Although Clinical Correlations is focused on inspiring new and seasoned physicians, I feel this blog will also appeal to a general audience.

One article I read on this blog was Male Hormonal Contraception. This article explained that there is some research being done to develop a male contraception. The new male contraception is an orally administered pill, which is similar to the female birth control pill. This contraception would be a combination of oral medroxyprogesterone acetate and percutaneous testosterone (OMP/PT).

The combination of these two hormones results in low sperm counts within males. A clinical trial in France indicated that after testing OMP/PT on 35 males, 80% of the males experienced sperm counts less than 1 million per milliliter. Normal male sperm levels are around 15 million per milliliter. Some of the side effects of OMP/PT are a decrease in testicular volume, hair loss, acne, and breast enlargement, but the frequency of these side effects have not been established. The development of a male contraception will provide couples with an alternative option in preventing pregnancy.

Other interesting articles on this blog deal with Tylenol, Benadryl, inhalers, smoking, mercury toxicity, etc. If you are interested in reading this blog, please see the link below.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Super Science

Sometimes it is the academic blogs that one gets the most enjoyment out of reading. The blog entitled, "Science and Reason" is just that. The posts are lengthier and more geared towards a scientific audience. Although this blog is not exactly what I would prefer to read, I think that it is very good in that it is very informational. It is easy to see that the blogger is knowledegable in the scientific area. For those who have a scienitific background or experience, this blog is easier to follow... but even with that, it had some unclear/advanced areas. Someone who lacks a scientific understanding honestly will not even bother trying to read this blog.

One interesting post is called "What does marathon running do to an athlete's cells?"

This focuses on the cellular responses of the body on running a marathon. On the basic scale, although running is said to somewhat increase a person's metabolism, it was found that increased metabolism also increases the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and free radicals. These two things can cause DNA and cellular damage which can lead to cancer! The post ends up saying that the health benefits from increased metabolism are not worth the harmful problems that it may cause. The blog of course goes into a much more scientific explanation that you are more than welcome to try to decipher! :)

The Art of Science

Sometimes it's the beauty of the world around us that makes it all worth it. Environmental Grafitti posts about a variety of topics that are quite interesting to read and are a bit out of the norm. Ranging from nature, to current news, to random science facts, this site will keep the reader entertained. Some posts focus on showing the artistic side of science. An example of this is a post that shows how crop fields can start to look like a patched quilt from an overhead view. Another example shows scale patterns that resemble beautiful artsy mosaics. Although the site focuses a lot on the combined elements of art and science and finding the beauty in nature, it also has some posts that are more science-informative but still interesting. Yes, to all of the doubters and disbelievers, science can be interesting. These posts include a fungus that turns ants into "zombies," plastic bags that dissolve in water, and urine-powered fuel cells. This site will definitely entertain and keep the attention of its viewers while being informative and developing an appreciation for the place that we all call home.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Female Bloggers!!

(Image from ladyscience)
For the females present in our Senior Seminar class if you want to read a female approach to science blogs and science in general, which there are not many of, then the blog titled Skepchick is the blogging website for you!  According to this website, this blog belongs to a group of women and one lucky man where their focus is on approaching science from aspects of feminism and atheism combined with numerous diverse topics in science today.  Unlike many other science blogs, Skepchick uses elements of humor through jokes they call Skepchick-isms and focus on topics that are easily comprehended from both the science community and non-science community. 

The subject of "Aliens" is one that can cause great debates in the science and non-science world in terms of their existence and the believability of this idea.  One blogger from the Skepchick blog cite by the name of Nicole takes on the idea of Aliens but adds her own level of humor and personal thoughts to explain this implausible idea of "little green Aliens" and the question of "Why aren't they here?".  She presents three scenarios to explain her thoughts that are pretty humorous! The first scenario deals with the idea that Aliens are here, but they are being discrete about it!  The second scenario states that they haven't/never made it here! The third scenario states that we are really the first Sentient species in the Galaxy. Through plenty of humor, the author develops different ways to think about this debatable theory, but explains that there is still no proper way to answer this century old question!
(Image from hdwallpapers)

To read more on this debatable topic and to pick your theory visit Skepchick.  Also visit this blog cite to read more from these female bloggers and that one lucky man!

The New Age Science Blog

The blog titled Starts With a Bang is a blog created by Ethan Siegal, a college graduate with a B.A. in Physics, Classics, and Integrated Science who  now uses his knowledge to have exciting careers in teaching at the high school level, being a college instructor, and also a research scientist.  Ethan's blog includes valuable knowledge about the world around us in a way that grabs the attention of not only those who have a passion for science, but also those who are not up to speed in terms of understanding science as a whole.  He avoids the typical "jargon" used by many other science blogs that allows his readers to connect to the information he presents in a more personal way.  Ethan goes beyond the typical approach to explaining science by using aspects of humor and personal experience into his blog posts which is a skill that in my opinion many scientists should learn!
                                                                     Ethan Siegal
                                                      (Image from Ethan's blogger profile)

One of Ethan's latest blog post dealt with the common theme of physical health.  Many people in the world today try to keep themselves in great physical shape, but accomplishing that task is not always easy!  Due to personal experience, an injury he suffered, he had to limit his normal physical activity to the bare minimum so that his body could heal.  Ethan began to notice a change in his weight that was not a positive one, which is typical of many people today who have concerns about there weight.  Instead of taking the normal approach to weight lose, such as fad diets, he approaches his dilemma through science.  An author by the name of Jonathon Bailor sent him an email regarding his new book called, "The Smarter Science of Slim" which takes a non-traditional approach to diet and weight loss that Ethan was intrigued by.  Jonathon's book explains the body's metabolism and how it works through science and biology.  The book gives tips on healthier ways to eat, explains certain myths about foods, and how your body deals with food to provided information about ways to get best results physically.
(image from healthmango)
For ways to improve your diet through Jonathon Bailor's approach and to learn more about Ethan's personal life experiences with science visit Starts With A Bang!!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Beta Blog is an interesting blog offering short, concise summaries of lengthy primary literature articles. The blogger has been able to break through all the scientific jargon used in the primary literature papers and represent the information in a form which can be understood by the average blog browser.  This is a very crucial skill to have when attempting to communicate hard science with anyone who is not an expert in the field being discussed.

One particular article the author discusses is the article Scorpion fluorescence and reaction to light.  The paper discusses how scientists have discovered that scorpions have a ‘third eye’ in the form of their body.  When blindfolded and illuminated with UV light, the scorpions move around as if they can see their surroundings.  The phenomena is being linked to the pineal gland with helps maintain a circadian rhythm.  The lengthy paper is broken down and explained in 4 sections, each not exceeding a paragraph.  Yes, the hard science and fancy jargon is left out, but presenting the information in this form allows it to be understood by the general population. 

For more information, visit The Beta Blog.

Very cool blog from The Nature Conservancy... Cool Green Science!  The blog offers up-to-date news on conservation issues from around the world and is staffed with 30 bloggers representing scientists, communication experts and administrating head honchos!  Having such a versitile pannel of bloggers insures a variety of perspectives on issues as well as several different styles of writing.  The blog covers many interesting and controversial topics includeing air pollution, climate change, green technology, environmental legislation, etc.  

A particularly interesting post I stumbled across dealt with a Gian Technicolor Clam! Found in the Pacific Ocean nation of Palau, this species of giant clam is one of seven that inhabit the area.  Their bright colors are from zooxanthellae, the same tiny plants that give coral their color. 

For more information on the Gian Technicolor Clam click here.. for even MORE science information, visit the Nature's Cool Green Science blog here.

This strange formation of a "brinicle" is a result of a spiraling cone of ice built around freezing particles of salt water.  A BBC crew filming Frozen Planet has captured the first ever footage of a brinicle forming.  Brinicles can sprout when calm salt water becomes colder than the surrounding sea and begins to drift toward the ocean floor.  They form because of the temperature difference between the cold, arctic air (-20 degrees celcius) and the relatively warm ocean water (-1.9 degrees celcius).  When water flows up towards the surface it freezes and precipitates salt which increases the salinity of the water just below the newly formed ice.  When the salt becomes concentrated it sinks due to its density creating brine channels.  As this cold brine sinks, it freezes the relatively freshwater surrounding the plume forming very fragile tubes of ice which grow to form what we know as a brinicle. The brinicle instantly freezes the water around it, creating a tornado-looking structure that can spread across the sand below to engulf nearby marine animals, killing them or at least locking them in an annoying state of suspended animation.

The brinicle filmed below islocated under Little Razorback Island. The whole process took five to six hours.


Welcome to the Marine Machine! Dedicated to bringing you interesting science articles from our Senior Capstone class to your computer screen.  Stay tuned for more to come!