2009 - best picture (according to me)

It's almost the eve of 2010, and I suppose this future year will bring plenty of sci-related news for us to indulge in. The highlights of 2009 are already being reviewed on several popular science, as well as science webpages, such as the New Scientist, Nature, and so on ans so forth.

A picture that's been stuck in my mind since I first saw it is from a funeral. No, not Michael Jackson's, but another primate. Her name was Dorothy, she was a 40 year old chimpanzee, and a much prominent member of her group. When carried away for her burial, the other chimps gathered in silence, holding arms, acting just as any group of grieving human would. The keepers at the chimp sanctuary were of course deeply moved, even the locals who have grown up in a culture where chimps were regarded as saturday dinner.

It's not new that chimps and humans are highly alike, but this picture is just a perfect example of the innate emotional life we share with them.

Image from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/visions-of-earth/visions-earth-2009



It's a hard duck life

Image taken from http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/pets/duck.htm

I've written about the rough love-life of ducks before, and the Muscovy ducks are no exception. These birdies have gone through an evolutionary race leading to not just this sadistic mating behaviour but also in their penis ability. First of all, the females do prefer to pick out their sexual partner themselfs. They especially like male ducks with an appropriate courtship and attracting plumage. But the males are not innate gentlemen, no no no. If a female is unwilling to accept his invitation, he has no objections on forcing himself on her. And what's his weapon of choice? His penis. It's long (up to 40 cm) and screw-like and useful for raping a female Muscovy duck.

But the beauty of evolution has led to a response in female genitalia, because they have a reason for being choosy - they want to pick out proper males that might carry good traits for their offspring. Now, the female vagina twists in such a way that copulation becomes more difficult for males. The hypothesis for the reason behind this construction is that the females can somehow choose who's sperm she wants to be fertilized by, and if she herself has choosen to mate with a male, her relaxation of the muscles makes the reproduction process easier.



Smelly letters

Image taken from http://promega.wordpress.com/

Working with molecular techniques and thus, with the gut bacteria Escherichia coli have led my thoughts towards making images with bacteria on agar plates several times. But since I'm trained for GLP (good laboratory practice) these thoughts have remained thoughts.

Artist don't have these restrains on them, however (
controversy rather fuels them). And of course there's a bunch doing what I and probably many other molecular biologists have been thinking of. For instance, there's the creation of a "living font" made from E. coli, cultured on agar media, changing color while growing. The result is rather neat (pic above!) but it's not really suitable for writing long lasting texts, and I bet it's smelly. And it's not really safe, since E. coli can cause some harm when entering your body the wrong way. It's quite cool though.

More science-related art:


Blend in and wait

Image taken from http://de.academic.ru/pictures/dewiki/109/misumena.vatia.beute.wespe.1771.jpg

We all know that evolution can bring forth the most amazing types of camouflage. Here's a new story: The female crab spider
Misumena vatia likes to eat wasps. And these wasps likes to indulge in bright yellow flowers, but naturally they do not really like to be eaten while being there. So what does the crab spider? It becomes as yellow as the wasp's beloved flower, so that the spider just have to sit and wait for the unsuspected wasp to land. Then it's a helluva meal! Take a look at the pictures. I assume that we all would have a difficult time to spot this eight-legged creature....

Well, in order to really comfirm that it was good to be a yellow spider in a yellow plant, the researchers displaced these colored creatures into flowers with other colors. And the result was that wasps avoided these new combinations of predator and flower, suggesting that they could now spot the spider. Thus, these spiders benefit from being the same color as their flower... Changing color takes a while. White to yellow can take from 10-25 days, and the reverse about six days. I have no idea if the transition state is less effective in camouflaging the spiders, but juding from the result from these researchers I guess that is the case.

Image taken from http://www.jorgenlissner.dk/images%5CPictures%5CMisumena_vatia_hun_859.jpg

Source: Science - ScienceShots.

Since this genus is quite widespread, and since spiders are awsome, I thought I'd post some more pictures of other Misumena:

This one is awsome! The photographer has really managed to capture all the details (
click on it for full-screen). Just look at the eyes! Image taken from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7f/Misumena_vatia_female_Luc_Viatour_1.jpg




Bugging in the bed

A colluege of mine (we're in the same research group) had her latest result on bed bug chemical ecology posted on Science News today. Go read it! It has everything: gender conflicts, homosexual relationships, wild sex and violence. She doesn't know it but during my year here, she has actually becomed something of a role model for me even though we're not working with the same organism, or with the same methods. As I said, go and read it!


Glowing in the forest

Image taken from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/10/photogalleries/glowing-fungi/images/primary/RB_24-03-06_36-big.jpg

I was in Amsterdam a few days this summer, enjoying a stay in one of Europe's most non-pretentious old cities where politically correct culture (Rembrandt, art museums, antique shops, Anne Frank's house, all old canals and houses, tulips...) goes hand in hand with tourist traps, naked women behind glass doors and "soft drug" propaganda. I had somewhat prepared myself for the latter, but I would never expect it to be e v e r y w h e r e . On almost every street, there was a coffee shop and/or a souvenir store where you could get "natural" things to mess up your CNS, i.e. cannabis and mushrooms. I've always been fascinated by subcultures, and in Amsterdam it became more obvious than ever how these hallucinogen-loving people all have a few characteristics in their appearance in common. Such as strange little fungi that's glowing. Maybe it comes with the territory. But to my surprise (which may be obvious to others), today I read this in Scientific American - that glowing fungi really do exist and you can see them without first displacing your perceptive equilibrium.

Image taken from http://www.wired.com/images_blogs/wiredscience/2009/10/mushroomsglow1.jpg

In the genus Mycena, the ability to bioluminescence exist in at least 65 species (perhaps more....you just have to find them). Some glow only in the caps, or the gills, others in the stem and others only in the mycelium. No one really knows why they glow; it may be to attract flies and insects for pollination, or it may be to attract predators on the fungi's predators, or it may be something completely different. And when a human gets fascinated, there's always room for business: here you can buy a batch of a glowing fungi culture to add a psychedelic touch to your home. Awsome.

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/10/photogalleries/glowing-fungi/photo2.html http://www.livescience.com/strangenews/080808-bts-bioluminescent-fungi.html

Cool pics:


Morning glory!

You're enjoying a good nights sleep when suddenly you hear a weird scratching sound on your wall. When you turn on the light you see this:

Yup, it's a snake with a leg. This awakening would certainly be something to tell your grandkids about...

The story can be found here.


Haast's eagle...again

I've never understood why so many biology-people fancy ornithology. I actully think it's one of the most gasp-altering parts of biology (not a popular thing to admit in our building). But if the Maori man-eating bird legend would be true, which now seems to be comfirmed (at least somewhat) I could reconsider my statement.


The bigger the better?

Did you know that there were such a thing as Giant salamanders? I certainley did not. I mean, I haven't really thought about salamanders that much during my 26 years here, apart from a summer when I was 9 and a friend collected small little slimey ones in a wetland close to my hometown. So I've assumed that salamanders are small, perhaps with some variation up to Gecko-lizard sizes but not huuuge.

So therefore I was extremely facinated, and somewhat horrified in a way that H.P. Lovecraft would explain as "unexplainable", when I surfed upon this image:

It's enormous! Not just big but enormous! And there's actually a few variants; one species in China one in Japan, and one in the US. The Chinese salamander can reach 1.8 metres. That's just 8 cm longer than I am. Creepy (yeah, I know - Protagoras "Homo mensura" definitley holds when we tag animals as "huge", "ugly" and so on but I believe that no non-humans will ever read this blog and therefore I take the liberty to call other beings whatever adjective that I want!). They all have poor vision and mainly hunts during the night, when they go for fish, molluscs, worms and other yummy things. I thought that I would find some statement that they are friendly creatures with no known conflicts with humans but they can actually bite and inflict quite a bit of pain. If this is a rare event or if it's something that can happen whenever you swim in their territories it doesn't say. However, I will definitely not dip my toes in their waters...

Of course, all things large enough to threaten the community of Homo sapiens are in a risk of being pushed away. Sadly, this is also the case for the Giant salamanders. I bet that in 100 years or less, we will be the only creature (except for domesticated animals) that are allowed to be more than 1.4 meters long. Just wait and see.



For molecular biologists, this could be our best tip ever...

I don't know how many of my followers (ha ha) of this blog (ha ha) that is actually practicing molecular biology. But since I know of at least one, I'll post this eye-opener: Bitezize Bio.org!!! It's the best darn discovery of done since I first entered the university area. I'm serious. Just surf in, read the articles, tips, links, everything and you'll get more enlightened in a single day than you've been the latest year.


Off with her head!

Image: Péter Estók

Birds eat a lot of things, and can be quite mean to other animals that comes in their way. Now, a German research team has recorded for the first time ever that when food is scarce, great tits can actually prey on bats. And it's quite grusome: the bird starts to munch before the bat is dead, which doesn't happen until the bird has pecked open the head of the bat. Not really a Walt Disney movie.

There's a video for you at New Scientist! I can't help it, but this story makes me smile because people tend to view these "cute, little birds" as nice and vunerable creatures, while other birds such as the Rook (Corvus frugilegus) is regarded as a mean scavenger not worthy of your bread crumbs. I will definitely keep this story in mind whenever this topic comes up....


Forest fortunes!

Image taken (and edited) from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1211554/New-frog-rat-species-discovered-Papua-New-Guinea.html

If you like microbes, you can find new species every day or so. If you like mammals, the possibility of increasing your heartbeat frequency due to discovering something new it's a bit more restricted. However, a documentary film team who were rumbling in the jungle of Papua New Guinea all had a lucky day when they ran into a giant rat, a woolly marsupial cuscuse, a new camouflaged gecko and a fanged frog (although these last two are not mammals...I'm not that tired this morning!). And loads of other goodies. You can see pictures at the adress just under the image above and you'll find a video clip from the close encounter with the rat here. Now, let's just hope that no "entrepreneur" aka idiot has gets the "brilliant" idea of logging the hell out of this area. Or any other unique place. But my bitter mind tells me otherwise...



All in the family!

In case you ever have had a sleepless night pondering about whether or not the first farmers in Central Europe were homies with the hunter-gatherers that's been roaming these parts of the world before them, then a there's a report in Science to give you some answers. By comparing mitochondrial DNA sequences from skeletal remains, as well as to modern Europeans they compared so called haplotypes - a pice of a DNA sequence that can be present in two or more versions. For instance, one individual might carry a sequence as TTGCCA while the other has a TTCCCA. The nice thing is that thanks to reproduction and time (and a lot of other factors that I won't write about now), individuals within a population may have more of one of the haplotypes than the other, while in another population the situation can be the opposite.

And this is the case for these mitochondrial haplotypes that the researches looked at. One, that's simply called
U, was dominating the pre-farming populations, while modern Europeans carry another version called N1a. The latter was found to be present mainly in the early farmers and therefore, the researchers conclude that no, the early farmers seemed not to interbreed with the hunter-gatherers, because then the Europeans today ought to have a blend of both the U and N1a haplotypes. And no genetic exchange of women occurred, they state (why now that should be a suprise). They also say that we who live in Europe today (and humanoid earthlings with european background, I assume) have very little left of these first inhabitants.

If you want to read a longer and better overview of the story, there's another blog that's doing an excellent job about it. You will find it here (at the cool blog dienekes.blogspot.com). Either way, what I find most facinating with this story is that all us million people calling us Europeans today seems to walk around with similar haplotypes, which in turn means that we are decendants from a small group of ancestors that lived came here not that long ago. That's like having a great-great-great-ans-so-on grandmother that was an awsome geographical entrepreneur!


Read all about it!

There's so much out on our large primate family during the latest days that I just don't know where to begin. For example, a gorilla-study concludes that human semi-monogamy might come of an ape-behaviour where pregnant females get in the way of other females (that's in their ovulating state) by making the male believe that she's also ovulating. Then there's a story about cello-affected tamarins who get's their emotions going when the cello is played according to their style, and there's some hot news about novel genes in humans that ought to have arised from inactive copies present in other primate genomes, and then a theory that differences in our female acestor's promiscuity could help to explain why our human chromosomes are affected by different mutation rates.

As for non-primates, there's a parrot-highlight too; parrots that are either right/left eyed or clawed are smarter than their buddies that have no left/right preference. Read all about it here.


I'm like a Heinz ketchup bottle; first nothing then too much

...and since I feel reasonably energetic today, I'll just recommend some good reading from the Science blog Origins. It's about plant and nervous systems - read all about it here.

The power of the spore compells you

Zombie ant!!! Lost in fungi-land...
Image taken from

If you are a keen follower of science-blogs this may be old news. If not, then this may be the curiosity of the day! Here we go: Have you ever felt compelled to perform an act without actually wanting to do it? You're like a slave to a drive you don't percive as your own. In that case, you're not alone. At least not if you're an ant living in the Thailand forest. These are living at risk of being turned into a fungus-driven zombie forcing them to find a leaf close to the ground, bite in and die with the jaw locked in place, so that the fungus can get deluxe conditions for reproduction. The horror-movie theme doesn't end there, because now the fungus starts growing a spore out of the ants neck making it look like a true freak of nature. In these forests, the scientist found what they call graveyards of ants attached to the leaves with fungi coming out of them. That is what I call an excursion!

The Life of a Dead Ant: The Expression of an adaptive Extended Phenotype.
Sandra B. Andersen, Sylvia Gerritsma, Kalsum M. Yusah, David Mayntz, Nigel L. Hywel‐Jones, Johan Billen, Jacobus J. Boomsma, and David P. Hughes
The American Naturalist. Volume 174, Issue 3, Page 424–433, Sep 2009


Peer pastor

I'll write something more substantial sooooon but until then, have a look at this:

Image taken from The Far Left side

Absolutley brilliant!



Image taken from http://www.davincium.com/

If you're like me and have a soft spot for Neanderthals and their dim-lit fate, Scientific American has a nice online-article for you to read. At least I liked it, although there's always a big spoon of assumptions and fantasy-thoughts fed to you regarding what once was.


Bye bye birdie

Continuing with a sort of "endangered species"-theme, I thought I'd write a few lines about a truly magnificent species that another species (*harr harr* Homo sapiens) hunted away from existing to extinction - the Giant Moa (Dinornis). I may be late but I'd never heard about it until today when I red that some researchers had managed to recover DNA from the 2500 year old feathers of this bird. They were able to connect four known Moa species to the DNA samples and thus, were able to draw some conclusions over how these four species looked like. And even better, by comparing the Moa feathers to the still-alive-and-well red crowned parakeet's feathers (but feathers of the same age as the Moa feathers) they could conclude that the colours had not faded or changed.

Reconstructed Giant Moa on some New Zeeland museum.
Image taken from http://www.fotothing.com/photos/9e8/9e818de8b2c96bbd935711688b484789_31c.jpg

Anyway, I wanted to read more about the Giant Moa so with a single google step I learned that this could have been the largest bird that ever lived, reaching up to 2.5 m and weighing 230-240 kg! That's one big chicken McNugget. They seemed to live a grazing lifestyle on New Zeeland until the arrival of the Maori and later, colonists who wanted to eat it, and also due to the ever growing agricultural landscapes destroing the Moa's natural habitat. By 1500, it was gone forever. Shame on us!

Even more shame on us; here's some more long gone gigant birdies that we'll never be able to see again:

Elephant bird, Aepyornis maximus. Up to 3 m tall!

Haast's eagle, chasing some giant Moas (now you do the size math)

The "terror bird" Brontornis, up to 2.8 m!

Nicolas J. Rawlence, Jamie R. Wood, Kyle N. Armstrongand Alan Cooper. DNA content and distribution in ancient feathers and potential to reconstruct the plumage of extinct avian taxa. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B., June 30, 2009 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0755


Beating around the bush

It's tempting to believe that you have to be an intelligent being to have a highly sophisticated way of catching your prey. I don't much about the average IQ level in snakes but I'm pretty sure that they don't have any members in MENSA just yet. Still, this is a group of animals having exquisite methods of killing. You all know about venom and such, but have you ever heard about fooling your prey to swim into your mouth? Because that's exactly what this tentacled snake (Erpeton tentaculatum) does. When a nice little fishy passes by, E. tentaculatum positions itself in a motionless J-form behind it and sends of sound waves from the middle of its body. "Hey, what's that noise?" the fish wonders, and turns instinctively towards the other direction and suprise! There's the snakes mouth, wide open and filled with gluttonous desires strong enough to wipe out the fish from this world. Seems like a sirty trick to me, but nature shows no mercy when it comes to food.

Check out the movie found at this link for a glimpse of the snake in work.

Tentacled snakes turn C-starts to their advantage and predict future prey behavior Kenneth C. Catania PNAS published online before print June 19, 2009, doi:10.1073/pnas. 0905183106


Humpin around

People that have more money than you'll ever had, but subconsiously wants, are often in the hotspot of being identified as greedy and/or egoistic (unless you think you have a chance for a pice of the cake...then you'll probably like him more than life itself). Take this together with that the guy is way past the vital part of his life, yet get's more young and fertile (and bleached) females than you'll ever had. Now, that's not really someone you'd think of as a nice, everyday guy whom you'd see as your equal. Rather, this guy would most likely be the target of journalists who's only goal is to sell you nonsense, and knows that subconciously you don't like people who stick up from the great grey mass, trespassing on your morals, and has things that your inner human primate desires but your enlighted soul knows is out of hand.

So if I say "Hugh Hefner", you probably have loads of negatively or patronizing thoughts in the back of your head. He's not really been associated to saving the world, or working free in soup kitchens for the homeless. Well, just like any other being, he probably has things that are good about him in a social/environmental context and things that are bad. I just read a good thing though, because he's just donated money (and given his name) to a bunny species,
Sylvilagus palustris hefneri, that's on the verge of extintion.

I may be naive, but I bet that's better for our worlds flora and fauna than looking in magazines and get upset over "the rich and the famous" and get satisfied by how good moral you have compared to these characters. No species saved there! But then again, I also bet that the (in)famous house of Mr Hefner is quite an environmental fiend in terms of energy waste and such. Either way, we may be able to keep another species thanks to his donation, which is neat in many ways.



Family values

Image taken from http://rachelannmason.com/Images/thumbnailimages/bigger%20images/habsburg%20jaw/hemisphere/ambassadors/chiefs/carlos/carlos.jpg

I've been terribly out of office in terms of this blog. I don't know if I should apologize or not (frankly, I don't really know if anyone is reading this but never mind that)...but lately it's just been too much in the schedule and I'm afraid that will be the norm from now on.

But I've got something exciting to write about now (at least exciting if you're me). It's a combination of history and biology, namely royal inbreeding leading to the extinction of the spanish Habsburg dynasty. These guys saw it as the ultimate marriage to get to say "I do" at the altar next to an uncle, a niece or a first-cousin. Of course, this genetic conservatism came with some setbacks. Instead of
keeping it in the family (whatever it may be...royal strengh, blue blood, strange eating habits, and so on and so forth) this just brought up all those recessive traits that the founders of the dynasty might have carried around in their royal genome. So the Habsburgers included a few characters that got noteworthy names such as Joanna the mad, as well as yielding physical features such as a enlarged lower jaw.

The inbreeding came to its peak with Charles II of Spain. He was the son of the Habsburgers Mariana of Austria and Philip IV of Spain. These parents were not only related, they were uncle and niece, which meant that his grandmother was also his aunt. This might have been ok if not all other relatives (his parents, grandparents and backwards) were somewhat the result of interbreeding. A study was recently published showing that 24.5% of Charles II genome could have been made up by identical genes, which is basically what you can expect from a brother-sister interbreeding. Because of this genetic uniformity, Charles was mentally disabled as well as disfigured. He had ha hard time chewing (most likely due to the same condition that the earlier mentioned enlarged jaw) and some notes states that his tounge was so large that it was hard to understand what he was saying, and he frequently droowled. He didn't learn to speak until the age of four and he couldn't walk until he was about eight years old. Not what you'd expect of a godgiven royal dynasty. In addition, one of the many duties of being a king is to produce an heir, something that Charles never was able to due even though he tried with two wives, most likely due to impotence.

In short - if you ever had a delirious idea about your family's excellence in terms of heritability, then you should go wash your face with something cold and go for an unrelated spouse. Or else you may bring out genetic traits in your grandkids that will not look so good for the record.



Back in the days...

Image taken from http://www.nhm.uio.no/pliosaurus/images_highres/45-ton-pliosaur-attacking-a-plesiosaur-AtlanticZoo.jpg

Still enjoying the silence? Here's something for your imagination to digest: a group of paleontologists have unraveled a partial skull of a MONSTROUS (in relation to a human...or an elephant...or an great white shark) marine reptile predating the waters of the Jurassic age (about
147 million years ago!).

The beast is believed to have been something like 50ft long (15-16 meters) and weighed approximately 45 tons (
hello, weight watchers!). When munching on those less fortunate beings in the ocean, it could grab a single piece of 33,000lb (14968 kg!?) per bite. That's quite supersized!

Sleep tight...


Carrot creativity

mating carrots totally looks like chromosome

Not very scientific, but fun!


Exploiding yourself for the good of your kin

Image taken from http://www.myrmecos.net/insects/ManzAphid3.html

It's been quiet for a while. Not because any lack of cool things to write about; just because a general gloomy period with lots of work and a home computer not willing to cooperate.

But now I'm back. At least for a post. Better one post in the blog than ten in the head, we might say. Well, you perhaps have noticed that I like insects. And you perhaps know that I like a touch of the weird and morbid. So of couse I just had to write something about this: apids exploding themselves for safety of the community in a manner that would make 2nd-WW-kamikaze-soldiers and al quaida green with envy.

These aphids life in so called galls, a ball-like plant tissue that has been induced by the aphids. Then they prefer to live a cosy, non-disturbed life in there, which of course is not always the case. A lot of things could threat their existance, so therefore it's been necessary to evolve an efficient defence system using community members with an explicit role - the soldiers.

So when the gall is damaged, the soldiers aggregate around the area
and explode (!), which results in the formation of a sealing goo that protects the gall.

Beats building a ugly wall and shooting at every moving object passing it.



I suppose you haven't missed out on the news about a gigantic snake snirling around this globe for a couple of million years ago?

This fella (baptized as Titanoboa cerrejonensis) was around 13 m long (larger than the snake trying to eat Jennifer Lopez in the lame movie Anaconda, according to the researcher), and it's assumed that there's been even larger ones crawling on the surface of the earth we now walk...now that is something I'd gladly live a life without ever coming across.


Worm up your life!

This is more horrific than any scary movie ever.



What's been seen as a combination of dreams and science fiction has been accomplished: an extinct (sub)species, The Pyrenean ibex (Capra pyrenaica pyrenaica), has been brought back into the world of the living. I can't wait for the ressurection of the Dodo...or the mammut!



Separated by germs

There's a group of parasitiod Hymenopteras called The Jewel Wasps, Nansonia. They like to lay there eggs in or on other insects, where the larvae will exploit their host's nutrients, which in the end leads to the host's death. I've written about similar systems before.

What I haven't written about (because I didn't know it until now) is the very facinating background of how three species, N, vitripennis, N. giraulti and N. longicornis, are reproductively isolated in nature (they can't produce any offspring, basically). Usually, reproductive isolation is a result of the genetic conflicts of the gametes (egg and spermcells), making embryonic development impossible or severely harder. Or, as in moths, reproductive isolation is the result of the species using different chemicals (pheromones!) to find eachother for mating. There are many more quite easy-to-comprehend examples of the beckground to reproductive isolation. But now I've found this information about the three Nansonia species.

Some more background is needed though, before I get to the basis of what I'd like to say: in some insects, a certain type of bacteria has somewhere along the evolutionary line managed to infect and stay put in the insects cells. The bacterium, known as Wolbachia, has then gradually evolved in sync with the insect so that it becomes kind of symbiont (endosymbiosis - a phenomenon that has led to the mitochondria found in plant, fungi and animal cells, as well as the chloroplasts in plant cells). The different insect species therefore have different variations of Wolbachia. Well, it turns out that in the three Nansonia species, it's their species specific Wolbachia that causes reproductive isolation. Because if the Wolbachia is removed (using antibiotics) the species are suddenly able to breed and produce fertile offspring. I don't know about you but for me this is SO cool. Yes, I'm odd.

Genome Mapping and Genomics in Animals, Volume 1
Wayne Hunter, Chittaranjan Kole (Editors)
Genome Mapping and Genomics in Arthropods
C H A P T E R 3
The Jewel Wasp – Nasonia
Jürgen Gadau, Oliver Niehuis, Aitana Peire, John H. Werren, Emmanuelle Baudry, and Leo W. Beukeboom


Itsy bitsy spider

Image taken from http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/03/spider_kama_sutra.php

Living in a more or less religion-influenced society, it's easy to judge our culture as becoming more and more obsessed in things regarding mating. Girls show off bums and hill-look-a-like body parts, boys try to excell by showing off how good of a catch that they are, commersials try to sell just about everything by giving it a touch of mating-indications. This may be percieved as vulgar and cheap to many of us, but in the spotlight of evolution it's really a good concept because this will pass on genes for ever and ever (although they will be changed over time).

As I've mentioned before, there's plenty of variation among mating systems, and everything seems to be allowed as long as it yields offspring of reproductive value. The spider Homalonychus theologus for example, has a thing for bondage, which might be a word of perverse indications to some of us. This does not become H. theologus, who's life is dictated by other matters than morals and family values. When the male approaches a female, he wraps her legs in silk before proceeding with mating. This behaviour can be found in other spiders as well (Xysticus, Tibellus, Latrodectus, Dictyna, Oxyopes and Nephila maculata).

Basically, it's quite "easy" to come up with theories to why "weird" mating systems arise:
1. We have a group of interbreeding individuals.
2. In one of the individuals, a mutation (or mutations) is induced in it's gametes (sperm and egg cells).
3. The resulting offspring bearing this mutations has a deviation from the original mating system due to this.
4. The mating deviation causes this individual to be able to mate more, mate more succesfully, or mate in any other way that will increase it's ability to produce offspring.
5. The offspring (or atleast some of them, depending on the nature of the mutation) will inherit it's parent mating system deviation and thus have a reproductive advantage to the individuals without the mutation.
6. Over time (without taking other evolutionary factors in regard, such as genetic drift) this mutation will increase in frequency and become normal.

Since humans are cultural beings, it's not very easy or wise to try to explain all our "deviation" with genetics. But the fact that sex sells is very easy, because liking to reproduce (sex) generally means (in a world without contraceptives....as in 50 years ago and backwards in time) a lot of kids, which means a lot of kids growing up to liking to reproduce and so forth. So don't blame our world todaty, if you don't like what you see; blame our ancestors. But then, if they'd listened to your possible arguments, you may not have been born. Ever.

(Of course it's good to question everything, especially the media and fields out to exploit your wallet, but questioning everything ad absurdum will not lead us anywhere than to supression of innate behavioural factors).

Source: http://www.bioone.org/perlserv/?request=get-abstract&doi=10.1636%2FM03-4&ct=1


Hear yourself

Have you ever thought about why your voice is sounding different when you hear it in a recorded version, than when you hear it "live" on everyday basis? I have, but I haven't really bothered to seek information about this. I get kind of scared when I hear recordings of my voice. I sound so naive, so young (well...I suppose I'm still young, scince I'm only 25) and very dorky. Others (boys in particular) think I sound cute. Not what I'm going for.

Well, well. The reason I believe that my voice is darker than it is is that when I'm talking, the sound waves travels through two media - air (from my mouth and around into the ear) and bone (from the inside of my mouth and inwards to the ear). And since bone enhance deeper, lower- frequency vibrations than air does, I precieve my voice as darker. This part of sound transfer goes away when I am listening to my voice though a recorder (or someone else's voice), therefore I hear it as being lighter.
But still, this is a win information for me. Because now I've been enlightened that the voice I hear in my head is really my true voice, and it's all you others who can't hear it this way (unless I talk through your bones, which I don't know how to do). So I'm really not that cute at all.

An additional remark to this is that now it makes sense; why all lousy, tone-deaf people turn up at the American Idol-try outs.

Source: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=why-does-my-voice-sound-different


The nose was ugly, long, and big, Broad and snouty like a pig

Image taken from: http://www.tolweb.org/tree/

This could be the cutest insect I've ever stumbled over. It's known to us westernized humans as Curculionidae curculio spp‏, a weevil with hair, from what I can see from the picture. I can't find any information about this particular species, but weevils are the largest group of beetles with over 60,000 species. I am kind of facinated by its antennae that is placed on its snout, rather than on the head (as I'm used to, when seeing an insect).

Life on Mars

It seems like there's been some indication of life on Mars. This due to recordings of methane plumes from particular areas, which should be a hint that there's microbes living there. Similar areas on earth are places where microbes are bubbeling up gas, so if you put two and two together then you might can call up David Bowie and say "yes, there is life on Mars".



Buy what very big eyes you have...

Have a look at the eyes of this spook(y)fish, Dolichopteryx longipes. Isn't it awsome? This is the first vertebrate found that uses this type of eyes, which has mirrors instead of lenses to focus the incoming light.
Although you can count to four eyes when looking at the fish, it's actually just two eyes that are divided into two parts each, making it possible looking both up and down at the same time. Brilliant!

http://blogs.nature.com/news/thegreatbeyond/2009/01/spooky_spookfish_has_freaky_ey.html http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VRT-4V719NP-5&_user=906544&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000047747&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=906544&md5=1fdce4ed93dd9abe54988c16448b1d9b

Bring back the basic

There's a irritating bug in the world of science administration and politics, growing stronger every day in every country formerly known as being capable producing various types of good science.

As you may or may not know, there's basically two ways of doing science. Most people working for companies and some working for universities and institutions produce applied science. This means that their experiments have a pre-defined goal, which is to yield information that can be used for something concrete (such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides, psychological information of how we behave in stores so that we can be tricked into shop even more, and so forth). This is relatively "easy" for the public to understand, and to get an opinion of.

Then there's fundamental science. Science that the public might have difficulties with, when trying to understand the purpose of it. It might produce some examples note-worthy to some popular science magazine or tv-show, but otherwise, if you're not in the academic world you probably won't get the deal about it. It is not necessary to understand why some fundamental research is important, BUT it is extremely important to understand why fundamental research is!

Think about the word "fundamental" for a minute, why it has been given this name. Wouldn't that give you a clue to why this is something that all science, including applied science is dependant of? Apparently, this has not gone through the minds of the politicians deciding how our countries tax money should be supplied to science. The companies manufacturing the drugs used to cure and help have not thought out all the background to their projects by themselves. It's fundamental. Without devoted ecologists (fundamental science) we would not have discovered the effects that various types of pollution have on flora and fauna, which also has led to restrictions protecting people from exposure to the nasty chemicals. Otherwise, this may not have been discovered until we saw a severe effect on the bodies and life of Homo sapiens. Without devoted molecular biologists (fundamental science), we would not have known all things we know today about DNA, proteins and various cellular actions. Then, a pharmacy would most likely not contain as efficiant pharmaceupticals that they do today. Are you starting to get the picture? All science is correlated, indepentant of national borders and other nonsense. And we need every single nieche, even though we may not see the importance of a particular result today. Cause we might see it in 20 years. And then it could be beautiful.



Before the dawn of life there was RNA

I suppose you've all heard about RNA; that it's related to the allmight DNA in one way or the other. What you might not know (if you're not into molecular evolution or just anything regarding evolution), is that once upon a time way back, before DNA started to function into something we define as life, there was another system of replicators highly dependent on RNA. Not much is known about this, but there's been some attempts to know more.

First, let's start with some basic RNA info (lots of chemical things here...skip if you're not interested or if it's just way too confusing). RNA stands for Ribo Nucleic Acid, and the only thing that differs it from a DNA (Deoxyribo Nucleic Acid) molecule is the presence of a hydroxyl group at one of the carbons. This, however, leads to differences in their chemical properties which is very, very important if we want life (as we know it) to exist. First of all, this changes the geometry (A-form instead of the general DNA B-form). Second of all, this -hydroxyl group can (if there's room) chemically attack a phosphodiester bond, so that the backbone of the RNA molecule is cleaved, as well as making RNA more prone to hydrolysis. RNA is usually present as shorter, single stranded chains of molecules, while DNA is usually in double stranded chains and is much longer. When you're not a molecular biology person, the most common thing to know about RNA (I suppose) is that it is the "in between state" when a gene is working. This is a basic rule of biology: DNA is transcribed into RNA that is translated into proteins. In addition, RNA can function as catalyst, acting in various ways. They do so by forming pairs, which are tightly and structurally packed with other pairs. Together, they can do powerful enzymatic activities. These properties have led scientists and general thinkers to hyothesize that RNA alone can function as both provider of information as well as the processor and
replicator of the information.

Image source: http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/VL/GG/images/rna2.gif

Gerald Joyce at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California have just published some amazing results on this stuff. She, along with collegues (you're never alone in this buisness) made catalyst of
paired RNA. When all the necessary ingredients were supplied in a reaction mix, these were able to assembly eachother. These were mixed with building blocks of RNA, and due to the RNA catalyst not being the perfect version for their purpose, they mutated over time into new versions that were better than the originals, thus out-competing them. The outcome was highly dependent on the conditions in the reaction mixture.

In addition, these RNA catalysts were immortal, since they could replicate themselves indefinitely! This is one of the basic properties a life-information-containing molecule must have...

In my biased little brain, this leads me towards the conclusion (not scientific, just highly personal) that once again, evolution can be induced, it's molecular action can be proven, as well as that Darwinian theory is supported again (and again and again and again ad absurdum....eat that, beloved creationists!). Also, all tabula rasa inspired folks should be somewhat joyful, since this also proves that the environment is just as important as the genetic material, when looking at the outcome of it all. It's just great!

Links: http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090108/full/news.2009.5.html