Thursday, November 29, 2007

Octopuses: Smartest Invertebrate?

For many years, scientists believed that vertebrates were the only creatures capable of intelligence and thought. Now of course we know that many invertebrates, including squids and octopuses, have large brains and a high level of intelligence. Even slime molds, which have no nervous sytem, are seemingly capable of thought. How are octopuses, who belong in the same mollusc category as snails and clams, capable of such intelligence? One reason is that a octupus brain and a human brain are strikingly similar.

"Although an octopus brain differs from a typical vertebrate's brain—it wraps around the esophagus instead of resting in a cranium—it also shares key features such as folded lobes, a hallmark of complexity, and distinct visual and tactile memory centers. It even generates similar electrical patterns."

In addition to having a well-developed brain, octopuses have specialized features and complicated eyes.

"Octopuses, which rely on monocular vision, favor one eye over the other. Such lateralization, corresponding to our right- and left-handedness, suggests specialization in the brain's hemispheres, which is believed to improve its efficiency and which was first considered an exclusively human, then an exclusively vertebrate, attribute."

Scientists are still studying octopuses and are constantly finding out new and interesting things about these cephalopods. For instance, octopuses are known to exhibit clever and curious behaviour. Many octopuses will 'play' with a diver and tug at their masks and air regulators. There are even accounts of octupuses blocking drains, causing floods, and sneaking out of their tanks to eat fishies in neighbouring tanks. Interesting fact: An octopus has no bones and can fit through a hole the size of a quarter! They are also able to solve simple mazes and have short term memory. Unfortunately, many octopuses live extremely short lives, some even less then a year!

How does this relate to evolution?

"Octopuses challenge the deep-seated notion that intelligence advanced from fish and amphibians to reptiles, birds, mammals, early primates, and finally humans...Genetic studies show that mollusk ancestors split from the vertebrates around 1.2 billion years ago, making humans at least as closely related to shrimps, starfish, and earthworms as to octopuses. And so questions loom: How could asocial invertebrates with short life spans develop signs of intelligence? And why?"

To watch an octopus attack a shark and complete a maze:

PS: There are tonnes of internet debates over whether the plural is Octupi or Octopuses. Many dictionaries say the 'proper english' plural is octopuses.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tool Use: Where We Fit In

A recent article by Michael Krutzen et al. documents the first case of tool use by wild bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, western Australia (  This finding adds more debate to the questions of human evolution and our separation from the animal kingdom, as the discovery and definition of tool use has surfaced from studies of primates, marine mammals, and birds has done before it.  Therefore, it stands to question: What makes us special when it comes to tools, and why is this such a big deal? 

For many years it was thought that the development of our frontal lobe gave us special capabilities in problem solving and motor function, among others, which allowed us to manufacture and use tools; a trait, which until recently, was believe to be strictly human.  With relatively undisputable evidence to the contrary, as advanced primates, we have decided to evolve ourselves to an even higher level, and alter our definition of “tool use” to ensure our separation from the “others”.

Although it hurts to say it (and even more to use it), Wikipedia offers a straightforward history of tool usage and the human need to be different:

Philosophers once thought that only humans used tools, and often defined humans as tool-using animals.  But observation has confirmed that multiple species can use tools, including monkeys, apes, several corvids, sea otters, and others. Later, philosophers thought that only humans had the ability to make tools, until zoologists observed birds and monkeys making tools. Now humans' unique relationship to tools is considered to be that we are the only species that uses tools to make other tools.  (

Thus, what makes us special is that we are the only animal which can classify everything else, and defend the definition of ourselves.  Our use of tools is different and more important because we can say so.  But is this not a little shortsighted?  Is a chimpanzee’s stick any different than our fishing rod and net? (  Is a Sea Otter not using a primitive hammer to crack open shells?  And now there is evidence of Dolphins using sea sponges to protect their snouts while digging for food. And birds using sticks like the chimpanzees ( How are these tools different from ancient humans? 

Well, if we use BB Beck’s definition of a tool as a template, it becomes evident that it is not what the tool is, but how it works.  Beck includes a specific definition of six different types of tools: object thrown at predators, objects used to hit predators, hunting weapons, objects for social displays, objects to clean body parts, and objects made and used to acquire food (from Animal Tool Behavior, Garland Press, 1980).  Therefore, what has been evidenced as tool use by dolphins and birds, only falls into a single category.  Primates other than humans can get away with two:  the great apes has been observed using modified implements to acquire food, and for hunting prey and attacking each other.  Of course, the perfect definition of tool use includes all things that humans do with tools.  All six types of tools are easily within the human toolbox, and if we re-examine the Wikipedia definition, we are the only animal which has been observed using tools to make tools: using an object to more easily create another object to complete a task.

We make tools to separate us from the rest of the animals, we make better definitions to separate us from the primates, and we believe these definitions in order to reassure ourselves that we’re doing something right.

Photo Source:

Who Lives In a Pinapple Under The Sea?

When someone talks about a sea sponge my first thought is of the slimmy sponge sitting at the edge of my sink. Then if I think harder, the SpongeBob Square Pants toys I use in my preschool swim classes may cross my mind. However from now on I will be giving sea sponges more respect, because I found that they have abilities beyond my wildest dreams.

The real sea sponges may not be comical like our cartoon friend SpongeBob but they are fascinating animals. In fact the sponge from the genus Euplectella has one up on SpongeBob because it lives in a glass house. These sponges also known as Venus flower baskets, are master minds of mechanical engineering and are baffling scientists. The sponge is able to take glass particles from its environment and glue them together. They build their glass houses with a perfect geometrical pattern and what is more amazing... no heat is required. The sponge structure is also so strong that it is incredibly hard to break. Listen to this podcast and you will get a better understanding of how amazing these creatures are. This just comes to show that complexity does not mean everything. A sea sponge is the simplest animal on earth and yet it has engineering ability beyond human comprehension.

Not only do some sponges have the ability to build themselves glass mansions but other sea sponges could also be the source of many new antibiotics. Scientists have discovered that sea sponges house actinomycete bacteria. This type of bacteria produces over 70 percent of naturally occurring antibiotics. What is exciting scientists is that 25 percent of the bacteria gene pieces found in actinomycete bacteria, from sea sponges, were never seen before. Our sea sponge friends could be housing antibiotics that would have never been possible to create synthetically in a lab.

I really think that within the next few years sea sponges with be making headlines and their simplicity will no longer be over looked.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nature's Secrets

I find it very interesting how we continuously find such unique and useful remedies in nature that we have not already discovered in the laboratory.
The hagfish, which is a marine craniate, lives in deep water on the ocean floor. When captured in the jaws of a gill-breathing predator it releases a fibrous slime which when combined with water, turns into a thick and sticky gel.
It has recently been discovered that this amazing slime is very special because it contains thread-like fibers which are similar to the silk which spiders make. It is remarkably strong and has a tensile strength similar to that of high-grade steel. It is thought to have future uses in medical field, treating burn victims, and possibly even people with skin cancer.
Another one of the uses found for the slime produced by the hagfish is as a substitute for eggs. The slime is a sugar and protein solution that coagulates when it's secreted into water, forming a slime that is similar in texture and chemical composition to egg whites. This was done by research students in Bamfield, and they discovered that because of the slime’s colligative nature, it can be used as a substitute for eggs in baking. (See the recipe for Hagfish scones below!)
I find it fascinating how hard we work to synthesize artificial products, when we are often surrounded by much superior products. It demonstrates the diversity and awesomeness of natures. I am curious and excited to see the secrets nature is still hiding from us.


Stem Cell Research Controversy

What are stem cells?
Stem cells are found in all multi-cellular organisms. They are cells which have not differentiated into specialized cell types. They have not yet decided what type of cell they are going to become (ie. brain cells or liver cells). There are two types of stem cells: i) adult stem cells, which can be found adult tissues; ii) and embryonic stem cells, which are found in a blastocyte.

Stem Cell Uses
There already exist a number of uses for adult stem cells, including adult stem cell therapies (eg. bone marrow transplants to treat leukemia). However, the controversy lies around embryonic stem cell research. After 20 years of research there are no approved treatments involving embryonic stem cells. However, they have many foreseen potential uses in regenerative medicine and tissue replacement.

The Controversy
Human embryonic stem cell research is particularly controversial because it requires the destruction of a human embryo, in order to retrieve the stem cells. These embryos are 3-5 days past conception, and most people argue that they have no consciousness, no self-awareness and no ability to feel pain.
Stem cells are obtained from in-vitro fertilization, which involves the creation of many embryos. It is hoped that one embryo will make it through to birth, but the majority are destined to be destroyed. Stem cell research uses the surplus embryos from this in-vitro fertilization.
Some stem cell researchers believe that even absolute anti-abortionists should be able to support stem cell research, because it uses surplus embryos that are going to be destroyed anyhow. However I disagree, if these embryos are "nothing less than individual beings in the earliest stages of life," then this logic would be parallel with defending Nazi experiments on Jews who were destined for destruction in the concentration camps. I believe that "if the microscopic dot (the embryo) is a human being with full human rights, the answer is easy: no stem cell research," as said by Michael Kinsley, Time magazine reporter.
However, if you don't believe that the microscopic embryo has feelings and deserves human rights, then there shouldn't be much argument against embryonic stem cell research. Many scientists and disease sufferers see embryonic stem cells as a life saver.

Therefore, I believe that your opinion on stem cell research should be based on whether you view the 5 day old embryo as something with human rights or without them.


Are We Prepared For Global Warming?

As we all know global warming is inevitable. We can slow the process and reduce the damage done by lowering greenhouse gasses and emissions, but planning for our future climate is a necessity. Have you ever wondered how our essential crops, that we depend on as a source of food, will be effected by global warming? An article I recently read explained that scientist have been studying how plants can naturally evolve and adapt to new environments and conditions. Typically plants use a natural process called vernalization to determine approximate lengths of the cold of winter to predict the most appropriate time to flower. This process can vary greatly depending on the plants geographic location. Some plants need much longer lengths of cold than others before they initiate flowering. Researchers believe that these adaptations evolved very quickly and hopefully they can reproduce adaptations that could survive through extreme conditions. These adaptations would allow our crops to thrive even if significant temperature changes occured. Although I am opposed to genetic modifications I believe that this is one that will eventually be essential to the survival of the human race. I am glad that someone is actually recognizing the fact that global warming is happening and doing something about it instead of just playing it down and ignoring it. We need to remember that our planets equilibrium needs to be balanced in order to maintain life, one kink in the chain of an organisms food source could be devastating overall.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Risks for Misusing Antibiotics

The misuse and over usage of antibiotics is causing a major downfall in our society. Despite the instructions on the bottle there are many people who stop the drug when they feel better. This creates a huge issue for scientists who are forced to create stronger and stronger prescriptions. The bacteria, which are causing the illness, will mutate to accommodate the antibiotic if the prescription is not used to its full extent. When you misuse antibiotics you are putting the world at greater risk for infection. The bacteria get stronger and more resistant to the antibiotic. The select few bacteria which survive will reproduce and create more of their resistant kind. This is why it is always important not to cheap out on your antibiotics.
Scientists say we are bringing this on ourselves which I agree with. We all go travelling and easily bring foreign bacteria back with us. We are also extremely sanitary therefore our immune systems are incredibly weak. By destroying the purpose of antibiotics we are setting ourselves up for a major disaster. In some places in the United States people are demanding antibiotics for viral infections, which we all know cannot be treated by antibiotics. These people helping create resistant bacteria which could potentially create huge health risks throughout North America.
Doctors are now becoming aware of the problems of antibiotic resistant bacteria and are starting to only hand out necessary prescriptions. This new method will hopefully help us to eliminate the problem of creating more antibiotic resistant bacteria.

South Park Takes on Evolution

I know, I know, South Park is really immature and rude. However, there is one episode in Season 10 that is just hilarious and it actually brings up a lot of good science questions. For those of you who follow South Park, this is the episode where Cartman freezes himself so he can go into the future and get a Wii. For those of you who don't, I'll give you a quick summary. One of the characters travels to the future and ends up in the year 3000. He discovers that in the future there is no religion. However, instead of fighting religious wars the citizens are fighting science wars. There are several different science groups, such as the Atheist Alliance, and they are all at war over who is more logical and who has better scientific answer to life.

I think that this is a pretty accurate prediction for the future. Once people have stopped fighting over religion, we will still fight about something! It seems to be human nature to start wars and argue. People seem to think that a life without religion would be perfect (I'm not religious myself) but would that really be any better? I think that scientific beliefs would just replace our religious beliefs. In the episode, instead of saying "Oh my God!", the future people say "Oh my Science!"

Richard Dawkins, an uber famous evolutionary scientist, actually plays a part in the episode too. When the school teacher is forced to teach evolution, he claims that humans were descendants of 'retarded fish frogs that became monkeys'. The teacher gets fired and Richard Dawkins takes over to teach the class. Of course, people aren't really the descendants of fish-frog-monkey least not in those words.

When the concept of evolution came out, I'm sure that the general public thought it was scandalous and unbelievable. Now it seems to be the opposite. The general public (In Canada, at least) seems to believe in evolution, and although we tolerate the idea of divine creationism we do not (for the most part) believe in it. It is interesting to note that many religious private schools are now required to teach both theories of evolution.

I guess that I enjoyed the episode so much because it made me think of how evolution will effect us in the future. I am not so much interested in where we came from but rather where we are going to be in 1000 years. Will religion exist? Will we have destroyed this planet and relocated to another one? For those of you who want to check out the episode, be warned that it is graphic and offensive. However, the storyline brings up a ton of good points.

PS) Q: What did the male stamen say to the female pistil?
A: I like your "style". Haha...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Some musings on flu shots...

It’s that time of year again, when we are collectively bombarded with relentless propaganda about the benefits of the flu shot. I don’t really want to debate whether or not you should get a flu shot, but there are some fringe stories that I find interesting…here I’ve found some interesting factoids that will make you sound smart at the pub!

Do it again. And again. And again.

Here’s an interesting statement: if you get a flu shot this year, then you will be worse off next year if you don’t get one. The theory goes like this… the immune system retains antibodies for diseases it has already fought in higher concentrations then background levels of random antibodies. By injecting you with a dead flu virus, flu-shot pushers are encouraging your immune system to create antibodies against that virus so that you are ready should you ever encounter the live version of the virus.

Let’s say your immune system develops four antibodies that are effective on one type of virus. Over the course of the winter, the virus mutates slightly, and you end up getting infected with a strain with only two binding sites in common with the one from the flu shot. The theory goes that your immune system will recognize the two sites on the virus that it has antibodies for, and produce more of these antibodies to fight the infection. In doing so it will ignore the newly evolved sites on the virus and stick with binding sites it recognizes.

Now let’s say next year, the virus has mutated some more, the two “new” sites on last year’s virus are still there, and maybe one of the old ones is still there as well. Because the antibodies for the old sites were effective when you were infected last year, the immune system didn’t make any antibodies for the new sites, and now the one antibody it still has for the old site is no longer enough to kill the virus, and you get sick!

Consider the alternative: last year you didn’t get a flu shot, and naturally fought it off by developing antibodies for all the sites. This year, you have antibodies for all the sites on the virus you contracted, and two of them still match up, allowing you to fight the infection. On the other hand, if you got a fresh flu shot next year, then it might have more antibodies that match the new ones. Is it believable? Maybe…. It depends on how fast it mutates.


This is an interesting story that you might not find elsewhere. Its especially interesting with all the media hype about bird flu slaughtering hundreds of millions. Well it turns out that there is an odd sort of correlation between sunspot cycles and flu pandemics. (What’s a sunspot?... click here). Check out the graph of flu pandemics and the sunspot cycle.

If this trend continues, with the next sunspot maximum expected to be in 2012, the next flu pandemic should be about one year prior. So my prophesy we’re all doomed in 2011. The more interesting question is why the correlation? Any ideas? Are higher levels of radiation during the sunspot peak causing more rapid mutation? Or is there some other explanation? I have heard a theory, but it’s complicated. If you care to hear it, I'll tell you sometime... it's not simple.

The Next Pandemic

So the next pandemic is expected to be bird flu H5N1. Will there be a vaccine against H5N1 by 2011? As of April this year, there already is! However, because of the rapid mutation of the influenza virus, even the current year's flu shot is not 100% effective for this year's flu. The lag time between outbreak and mass development of the flu shot can be up to 6 months. On a good year, the flu shot is only 80% effective, and for the current year it is only 40-50% effective. (See story here).

This makes it pretty much impossible to make a vaccine until an outbreak occurs. The vaccine against the bird flu that has been developed can only hope to slow it down until a custom tailored vaccine can be produced. Even then, it will have to be updated as the pandemic progresses to match the rapid mutation rate of the virus, making it logistically challenging to administer vaccinations worldwide. So relax… live for the moment. We could be dead soon.

Image Sources:

Nature, 343, 25 January, 1990, p.304.


Do it again next year:


Bird Flu Vaccine:

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Source: , November 14, 2007

This banana probably looks very familiar to you. It should because “100 billion Cavendish bananas consumed annually worldwide,” and it is America’s number one choice of fruit. Many of us take this wonderful fruit for granted. However, we should enjoy them while they last, because there is a chance that the Cavendish banana population will be wiped out completely. This may be hard to believe, but this is actually not the first time that bananas have faced extinction.

Up until the 1950’s a banana called the Gros Michel, or “Big Mike,” was the most popular banana type. It was apparently larger, and tastier, then the bananas that fill our homes today. Unfortunately, all the Big Mike banana
populations were wiped out by the Panama disease, which is caused by the Fusarium oxysporum fungus.
Fortunately, for the last 50 + years the Big Mike has been replaced by the bananas that we find in our homes today. They are a Chinese variety called the Cavendish, that were able to resist the disease. However, the very popular, inexpensive, and delicious fruit, may not be around for much longer because in the last thirty years a new disease, called the Black Sigatoka has been wiping out bananas crops everywhere, and not only Cavendish bananas. Other types of bananas in Asia, Africa and Latin America have been affected by the disease. The disease is having a major impact on the banana industry. Banana crops are being cut in half, and farmers have to use more fungicides to try and fight of the disease. Farmers may have to”spray their plantations up to fifty times a year! (” This is costly, harmful to the environment, and to the health of the employees that harvest the fruit. One serious issue is that the major use of fungicide is actually creating ‘super fungus.’ The fungus that is destroying the banana crops is at an advantage because it has a very short generation times, which allow them to adapt quickly, and create new generations of fungi that are resistant to the fungicide treatment.
The Black Sigatoka is not the only thing threatening the banana population. It is actually a combination of things. One huge contributor to the doom of bananas as we know them, is the fact that Cavendish bananas are pathenocarpic.

-The forming fruit without fertilization
The fruit of parthenocarpic plants are seedless, which is relatively rare among plants. Most cultivated bananas are parthenocarpic. Genetic engineering has been used to create seedless varieties of tomato, strawberry, raspberry, and eggplant. – (

So why is parthenocarpy a problem?

“Rather than forming seeds, bananas reproduce by forming side-shoots and suckers. This means that the gene pool of bananas never really changes over the generations. This is a major restriction to breeding possibilities: all efforts to introduce fungus resistance to Cavendish bananas through conventional breeding methods have failed (”

Don’t be too quick to kiss the banana goodbye… there is still hope! With the useless effort to fight off fungus with fungicide, many banana producers are now hoping that genetic engineering can save the Cavendish bananas (and they might not be putting their bananas in the wrong basket).
“Last year a group of scientists announced that they would completely sequence the banana genome. They intend to focus particularly on banana varieties found in nature. Wild bananas can reproduce by seeds and are constantly confronted with fungi and other pathogens. Sequencing the genome should enable researchers to discover resistance genes that could be transferred to high-yielding, seedless varieties (”
Many people have declared their love for bananas in song. One song that came out during a banana famine in 1923 was entitled, “Yes! We have no bananas.” Below is a link to a recreation of this 1923 hit, sung by the loveable Muppets.

Yes, we have no bananas- Muppet recreation :


Friday, November 16, 2007

Jellyfish - 500 million years old

University of Kansas researchers used recently discovered "fossil snapshots" found in rocks from 500 million years ago to identify the oldest definitive jellyfish ever found. In a new article researchers describe four types of cnidarian fossils preserving traits that allow them to be related to modern orders and families of jellyfish. The specimens are about 200 million years older than the oldest previously discovered jellyfish fossils.

"The fossil record is full of circular shaped blobs, some of which are jellyfish," said Paulyn Cartwright, KU assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and one of the article's authors. "That's one of the reasons the fossils we describe are so interesting, because you can see a distinct bell-shape, tentacles, muscle scars and possibly even the gonads."

A film left behind by the jellyfish in the fine sediment resembles a picture of the animal. Often being preserved in coarse sand, jellyfish don't leave behind such a clear impression. Lieberman said the jellyfish the group describes, found in Utah, offer insights into the puzzle of rapid species diversification and development that occurred during the Cambrian radiation, a time when most animal groups appear in the fossil record, beginning roughly 540 million years ago. This record reveals more about the early evolution and origin of animals with hard shells or bones, and very little on jellyfish.

"The fossil record is biased against soft-bodied life forms such as jellyfish, because they leave little behind when they die," Lieberman said. "That means that we are still working to solve the evolutionary development of many soft-bodied animals."

With the discovery of the four different types of jellyfish in the Cambrian, however, the researchers said that there is enough detail to assert that the types can be related to the modern orders and families of jellyfish. The specimens show the same complexity. That means that either the complexity of modern jellyfish developed rapidly roughly 500 million years ago, or that the group is even older and existed long before then.

Cartwright said the jellyfish described in the article are also unique because they push the known occurrence of definitive jellyfish back from 300 million to 505 million years, a huge jump, and show more detail than anything previously described that is younger.

Since we are learning about invertebrates in class, including jellyfish, I thought this article to be interesting and relevant. Fossils allow us to research and determine the origin and evolution of many species, found years ago and found recently.

Photo Source :
Information Source:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Hobbits - a new species?

On the island of Flores, Indonesia, was the discovery location of fossils of adult humans just 3 feet tall, with a cranial capacity of 380 cubic centimeters. Homo floresiensis is their scientific name. Since these fossils have been found, it has caused great controversy over whether or not these 'humans' were either a new human species or were dwarfs or pigmies possibly suffering from microcephaly, having abnormally small bodies and brains. These fossils date back anywhere between 12,000 to 95,000 years old. A recent study, led by Dean Falk (Florida State University), concluded that the hobbit's brain doesn't resemble microcephalics, and instead resembles a normal human brain, therefore they concluded that the hobbits do represent a new human species. Other scientists insist upon critisizing this study by mentioning the fact that the hobbit brain has other abnormalities, that the sample was too small, and that there should have been more brains to sample. The scientists that believe these hobbits are indeed a 'new human species' are basing this on an evolution theory. This theory is that these human species became seperated by a barrier impossible for either population to cross. These populations experience different mutations and will have different selection pressures over many tens of thousands of years, the time will come when they will be different enough so that they would not be able to interbreed even if they were placed together. Genetic isolation because of geographic isolation is one way evolutionists believe that new species are created. Some previous studies mentioned that the hobbits were humans, but with extreme brain deformities. Falk continues to explain that since the hobbits are small in both body and brain, they must be a new human species. Being isolated from humans on the Indonesian islands resulted in them evolving into this new species. It is clear that Falk and her team, based upon the theory of how new species are created, are 'creating' this new human species. Even if evolution were true, the island of Flores is too small to have maintained an isolated population for long enough to allow the evolution of a new species, say researchers at Pennsylvania State University.

The Bible does not use the word “species.” It is a word in the scientific vocabulary that does not sufficiently describe life as God created it. The word “species” has a very dissimilar meaning from the Genesis word “kind.” Regarding humans, God created one man, Adam. From Adam, God created Eve. From this pair, all humans have originated—mankind or humankind.

The fact that Falk and her team, using a humanistic philosophy, call the hobbits “another species of Homo” is meaningless. Evolutionists cannot prove that the hobbits were unable to reproduce with Homo sapiens, and interfertility is the basis for true biological relationships according to the Bible. God made only one kind of human.

I find this study to be very intriguing, and interesting. It seems that there is always a new discovery of evolution. It really makes us humans think about our true ancestors when we hear about such findings. And it also brings up the question as to what kinds of people roamed our earth thousands of years ago.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Polar Bears

One subject that I keep on reading about that particulary distresses me is the subject of-and I'm not even joking here-hermaphrodite polar bears. It appears that toxic waste and chemicals have caused some of our friends up North to develop new reproductive organs. These body-altering chemicals are called endocrine active substances (EAS) and many are a result of human activity. As humans continue to pollute the earth, the animal world is feeling the effects. It's not only polar bears that are becoming hermaphrodite, many Artic animals are in danger including seals, whales, and reindeer! Why are Artic animals particulary at risk? Because they have high levels of body fat and long life spans, which means they absorb a lot of toxins (mercury, cadmium, etc) for a long period of time. Also, the climate is freezing and there is no soil to absorb the pollution. How does this relate to evolution? Well, clearly these bears have undergone a mutation, and in a way adapted to their environment. Will they continue to mutate, or will they die out? Will other animals become hermaphrodites? What about humans? Due to environmental and lifestyle factors, the human male sperm count has been steadily decreasing. Will there come a day when men and women will no longer reproduce? Maybe in the future, humans will also mutate and become hermaphroditic...unless we stop polluting!


National Geographic,

The Register,

Internet Journal of Urology,

Friday, November 9, 2007

Manufacturing Evolution

Have you ever thought about cloning and the impact it could leave on this planet? How evolution will have human finger prints all over every genome know to man. Does this scare you or does it fascinate you? Personally I am confused, because neither the pros nor the cons of cloning can outweigh each other. Yes, cloning will cure diseases and replace much needed organs; however, cloning will also create a synthetic evolution and ultimately human race.

How you ask? Well it is simple, as humans, we have a natural desire to better ourselves. With the power of cloning we will never have to worry about another disease or organ failure again. We will have "optimal health", so we think. However, with no diseases life expectancy will increase and our world will become over populated. In turn, humans will become earth’s number one disease. If cloning becomes an everyday commodity, natural selection will take the back seat. The genes responsible for illnesses and less desired traits will not have natural selection to weed them out. Therefore, future generations are more likely to inherit "bad" genes.

The Council for Responsible Genetics warns that we do not know enough about the relationship of genes and traits. Therefore, there is no guarantee that if a gene is altered it will present the results we are looking for. Also they warn that there are many ideas of "biological perfection". Therefore, a gene that is altered by a parent and is considered "good" may in turn be considered "bad" by the descendent.

Morally cloning is in the eye of the beholder. For example a Christian may feel differently about cloning than an Atheist. Prof. Qiu Renzong, Director of the Bioethics Program at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, points out solid arguments against the morality of human cloning. He believes that cloning not only will cause religious issues but also legal issues. Prof. Qiu Renzong also supports his argument by adding that when animals are cloned we are only fulfilling human need. Like I pointed out earlier humans have a natural desire to better themselves and unfortunately the life of other species are at risk of our selfishness.

I think in the near future cloning will become a major medical tool and evolution will be based on the ability to balance natural selection with human desire.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Time Is Running Out

“We're losing at least two species an hour. (This is 2,500 times the "background" rate at which species have disappeared due to evolution.)” (2007 David Suzuki Foundation)
Incase you haven't noticed, we, humans, the selfish things that we are (naturally), are killing off more species than we could ever imagine. I guess part of it is not the fault of a single person considering that it takes two people for the population to grow. But let's come to our senses people; we are on the road to destroying our own kind. From the time we finally realized that what we are doing now may have a big influence on the lives of our great great great great grandchildren, it was already too late. There have been countless times where one person or group tries to take initiative in reducing whatever harmful things that us humans produce so that biodiversity can still be a part of this world but it's the fact that there are only so little of us who truly care what is happening to the earth. Take a look here at the list of things (other than population growth) that are threatening biodiversity. Everything, everything, is our fault; we are even capable of climate changes.

People, like David Suzuki, have dedicated their lives to find ways for society to live in balance with the natural world that sustains us. But the truth is, hardly anyone really cares for nature the way he does. Don't think that just because we are living in Canada, then by simply following the laws and promotions that are already set about recycling, carpooling, saving endangered species...etc. that we are doing the best we can. You would think that Canada should be a world leader in sustainability. However, in a recent study comparing the environmental performance of Canada to other developed countries, we finished 29th out of 30. Sad isn't it?

Some threats can be reduced in a short period of time. But some will take as long as we took to realize all the things we've done to damage the earth. Either way, we have to take action now.
After all, if it takes all of us to make up this world, then it takes all of us to save this world.

  • References:

  • Photo References:

"Nature, The Wildlife Blog" Patricia Morel 2007

Monday, November 5, 2007

Invasive species and the death of biodiversity on Earth!

It has come to my attention that 300 species a day are transported in the ballast water of large ships or freighters. Many species including lamprey, alewife and zebra mussels have been introduced into our Great lakes and some of these species are having a very negative affect on the biodiversity in this area. I was utterly shocked to learn that invasive species were being introduced to these lakes in this manner and at this rate. Ships fill there ballasts with water while out for stabilization in the sea and many times will not release this water until they are in an extremely different ecosystem. In this water there are many species that are alien to this dumping location.

In many cases the new species is incapable of surviving, but this is not always the case. Sometimes, the introduced specie is capable of invading the habitat of native species and becomes a strong competitor for food and space. An excellent example of this is the introduction of the zebra mussel into the Great lakes some time in the 1980s.

This species, believed to be transported in the ballast of a large freighter, is a filter feeder that is capable of surviving at an extremely high density rate. Due to the increase of this species population the water looks much clearer than it has in the past, although many native species are suffering because of this. With the numbers of zebra mussels increasing the amount of food they intake and deprive native species from also increases. There are many other native mussels and fish that feed on the phytoplankton that these invasive mussels are hording.

Why must such a ruthless and corrupt invasion continue? These species damage many aspects of the community and are capable of blocking drains, and even small inlets, yet, it is not a very high priority. Many states have adapted new regulations regarding ballast exchange before entering this water system, but it will require an extreme group effort considering the amount of people, and different governing systems that surround these bodies of water.

I did come across some information regarding some possible solutions that may have the ability of counteracting some of this invasion. One is the introduction of a less invasive species that is capable of feeding on the mussel. There are may different sponges that feed on these mussels but research is still underway.

Scientists are also trying to come up with a possible chemical that would kill all life in ballasts before they unload and would not harm the ecosystem. To me, this is just ridiculous! To fight a problem that occurred because of lack of knowledge, we should dump newly tested, chemically treated water into an already stressed habitat? How does that make sense? These lakes contain 95% of North Americas surface freshwater. This fact alone makes us aware of the importance of these lakes, and the impact they have on our survival. It is almost a guarantee that a few years down the road there will be a negative impact on this environment due to the intoruction of this chemical. What would the solution be then, and what impact would it have on the Great Lakes?