Thursday, November 29, 2007
Posted by lauraep at 10:06 AM
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
A recent article by Michael Krutzen et al. documents the first case of tool use by wild bottlenose dolphins in Shark Bay, western Australia (http://www.pnas.org/cgi/reprint/102/25/8939). 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. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tool)
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? (http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/AN/journal/issues/v164n5/40471/video2.mov). 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 (http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=xwVhrrDvwPM). 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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gregorymjunge/598605680/
Posted by Adam & Lynn at 7:39 PM
Posted by K.Hobor at 4:44 PM
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
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.
Posted by celina at 10:11 PM
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.
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.
Posted by lincoln at 3:16 PM
Posted by Sarah m. at 2:21 PM
Thursday, November 22, 2007
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.
Posted by Rachael at 11:31 AM
Posted by lauraep at 10:01 AM
Sunday, November 18, 2007
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.
Nature, 343, 25 January, 1990, p.304.
Do it again next year: http://www.rice.edu/sallyport/2003/fall/sallyport/flu.html
Bird Flu Vaccine: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/gen-info/qa.htm
Posted by Jer at 10:21 PM
Saturday, November 17, 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! (gmo-compass.org)” 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. – (http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/glossary/52.parthenocarpy.html)
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 (http://www.gmo-compass.org).”
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 (http://www.gmo-compass.org).”
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 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B78rrwSQB24
Posted by MadelineBrowne at 5:46 PM
Friday, November 16, 2007
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 : http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071030211210.htm
Information Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071030211210.htm
Posted by emac at 6:36 PM
Thursday, November 15, 2007
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.
Posted by emac at 11:07 PM
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
National Geographic, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/10/1008_021008_arctic.html
Internet Journal of Urology, http://www.ispub.com/ostia/index.php?xmlFilePath=journals/iju/vol2n1/sperm.xml
Posted by lauraep at 10:01 AM
Friday, November 9, 2007
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.
Posted by K.Hobor at 9:23 PM
Thursday, November 8, 2007
“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.
- Photo References:
http://www.deviantart.com/ Patricia Morel 2007
Posted by --jinR * at 9:41 PM
Monday, November 5, 2007
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.
Posted by AshRab at 4:46 PM