Friday, December 5, 2008

Brown fat

Last Thursday Dr. Ahmad mentioned brown fat during his discussion of various types of metabolism. He asked the class if we knew whether as adults, humans possess this type of fat. Someone responded by saying that, no as adults we do not, but in early childhood, we do. He said that was correct because this type of fat serves as a type of defense mechanism in the very young human being. He described how the brown fat is essential to polar bears of all ages because its properties allow an organism to preserve the energy of their body heat. So the polar bear core body temperature remains at a stable, warm and comfortable level because of this type of fat.
When we humans are very young (infant and toddler age) it can be difficult for us to gauge or sense when our environment is too extreme, (in terms of temperature), or even detrimental to our survival. He gave an example he had heard about some years ago: There was this little Canadian girl who somehow wandered out of the kitchen (where her mother was trying to simultaneously cook and look after her young daughter) and into the bitter winter environment of the wooded area directly outside her home. Once her mother became of aware of her absence, and searched with no avail, she notified the authorities and a search party was mobilized. They spent hours searching and after twelve hours they found her alive thankfully. It is in those extreme situations when the young human body is suddenly exposed to harsh environmental factors that may threaten their survival, that this brown fat is utilized. Dr. Ahmad said he believed that the temporary location of this fat is somewhere around the back of the head or the base of the skull. As we grow and mature we lose this fat so as adults we no longer possess it. Essentially its purpose is outgrown.

Prey defenses & Pop. dynamics

Other prompts given to us by Dr. Baines included the following: “Distinguish between Batesian and Mullerian mimicry and provide an example of each. Describe and provide examples of TWO additional prey defenses against predators.” I wrote, “Batesian mimicry occurs when non-toxic species adapt the colorations of toxic species in order to prevent being preyed upon. An example would be the nontoxic King Snake adapting similar colorations (red-yellow-black striping) to those of a toxic snake species (Coral Snake). Mullerian mimicry occurs when all those species which are toxic appear or adapt to have similar colorations and warn predators that they are all venomous (may be harmful or even a deadly species). An example of this would be toxic wasps or caterpillars all having similar banding patterns along their bodies. Another example of prey defense would be the Behavioral defense of certain frogs who puff up and wail loudly to deter their predators to back away. Also, the body armor of armadillos would be an example of such kind of defense.
She also wanted us to write about this prompt: “Calculate the net reproductive rate [by looking at a table I will explain shortly]. Is the population increasing or decreasing in size? Why? Explain what this means biologically.” The table she referred to in the question contained the values for the variables needed to calculate the net reproductive rate for a population containing three cohorts. I calculated the net reproductive rate to be 0.80 and explained the significance of the value by writing the following: “Population is decreasing in size because since this value is less than one, females are not having enough offspring to even at least replace themselves within the population. Therefore, since no replacement is occurring, ultimately this results in a decrease in population size.”

Potassium and plants

Dr. Baines asked us to respond to the following prompt: “List and provide examples of three approaches you could use to test the hypothesis that increases in potassium lead to increases in the number of seeds a plant produces.” She also wanted us to write a null hypothesis for this experiment as well as identify the independent and dependent variables. My response was as follows: “My first approach would be the Open field approach which would include taking a group of plants into the lab and experiment with exposing them to various levels of potassium while leaving other variables (such as light, temperature) uncontrolled. Then I would record the results.
The second approach would be to conduct a lab experiment. This would include taking a group of plants into the lab and controlling (as much as possible) all aspects of the experiment. Specifically, I would expose the plants to various levels of potassium and record the effect on the number of seeds produced (while controlling pressure, temperature and amount of light received by plants).
The last approach would be to use simple observation for data collection purposes. I would observe how various levels of potassium affect the number of seeds produced in the plants natural state or environment without controlling any of the variables (uncontrolled method).” The null hypothesis would be that the, “potassium does not have an effect on the number of seeds a plant produces.” Finally, the dependent variable would be the number of seeds a plant produces, while potassium level would be the independent variable.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Gram Stain

The first staining procedure we did for Microbiology lab this semester dealt with the Gram Stain. The stain was, “…named after the Danish bacteriologist who originally devised it in 1882,”is done in order to allow for the classification of bacteria as either gram positive or gram negative, often for diagnostic purposes. The procedure consists of the following basic steps: a drop of primary stain (crystal violet) is applied to a heat fixed smear of the bacteria of interest, leaving all cells stained purple initially. Secondly, the bacteria are washed using distilled water and a single drop of IKI or Gram’s iodine is then applied over the smear so that CV-I complex crystals may be allowed to form. Next, after another washing with distilled water, ethyl alcohol or the decolorizing agent is applied so that the thin outer layer of gram negative bacterial cells is dissolved away, allowing for the loss of the primary stain in this particular type of organism (while the thickly walled gram positive bacteria are capable of retention of the CV-I complex). Lastly, after washing the decolorizing agent off with distilled water, the counterstain, Safranin, is applied so that the gram negative bacteria may be identified or colored by this reddish-pink dye. Therefore, when viewed microscopically, the gram negative cells are expected to appear pink in color (retain the counterstain color, Safranin) since the CV-I complex typically would have been washed out when treated with ethyl alcohol. However, because the cell structure of gram positive cells consists of a much thicker peptidoglycan layer (which allows for greater retention of the CV-I complex), those bacteria which are gram positive are expected to appear purple in color when viewed microscopically.

Making Zen laugh (or trying to)

So I'm supposed to make you laugh, huh? Well here's my attempt: I was sitting there thinking, ‘What would Dr. Faulkes find funny?’ All I could think of was the picture on that slide you kept pointing out. You know, the one of this younger, pasty looking guy sitting on a couch, surrounded by attractive and adoring young women (groupies you could say). I don’t even know why but my mind suddenly connected that to this song I’m ashamed to say I’ve heard my younger brother playing over and over again. The lyrics go something like this: “When I grow up, I wanna be famous, I wanna have groupies…be on T.V., drive nice cars…,” I think it’s annoyingly loud and obnoxiously repetitive, but it made me think of that picture from class. And then suddenly, a weird sort of montage played out in my head and it went like this: Dr. Z (not the mad scientist from some seventies comic series but the unfortunate professor who actually has to sit and read my silly interpretations and commentaries on biological topics) is in a music video with of all people, the Pussycat Dolls (who sing the song I mentioned). In this vision, Dr. Faulkes is dancing around, using moves very similar to those of Michael Jackson in Thriller, when suddenly the Pussycat Dolls appear and begin surrounding him seductively. Then, BAM! Dr. Zen stops his dancing, places his hands akimbo, stares at the gorgeous lead singer of the band, Nicole, (who’s standing right off to his left), then looks directly at the camera and smiles. At that moment Nicole asks him, “Could you please tell me about crustaceans?” He then turns to stare at her again and continues to smile (pleased as punch). But then as he begins to respond, Pam Anderson, (wearing an undersized, ‘I Godzilla [love] Tokyo’ tee), rushes in (because she’s a beautiful Canadian and she can), saying, “No Zen, I want you to teach ME about crustaceans!” A catfight breaks out and again, Zen grins. He is happily amused. Then finally, the scene zoomed out and faded to black as it ended in my mind’s eye. It’s lewd, wildly absurd and over the top (much like dancing ponies) but maybe style point worthy? I hope so. Go Feral Cats, go.

Monday, December 1, 2008


Dr. Baines gave us a prompt just the other day that went like this: “Describe the three arguments for preserving biodiversity in the essay, “Asteroids, Bulldozers, and Biodiversity”.” “The term biodiversity (bio=biological, diversity=variety) did not exist before the mid-1980s.” (Cummings, 2006). The first argument economically discussed how preserving our planets biodiversity is necessary because there are so many species out there that humans have yet to discover. These undiscovered or unresearched species may serve to provide us with resources which could contribute to an increased quality of living for human beings.
The second argument was based on the evolutionary importance of preserving biodiversity. By not driving a variety of species to extinction, we allow for the possibility of further evolution. The more species that are allowed to thrive (for a longer period of time), the greater the chance some of those species will be able to give rise to new species. Furthermore, these new species may play crucial roles in the future evolution of the world’s genetics.
The final argument for biodiversity was philosophically based. Essentially, the importance of preserving our Earth’s biodiversity is determined by how humans choose to respond to this crisis we have created. Humans are capable of acting to preserve the biodiversity of the planet and until this understanding is realized, the devastating rates of extinction which we are causing will continue to devastate the planet. I feel the most compelling argument would be the final one since it takes into account the importance of human ethics and morality. It discusses how humans may be heavily swayed by the economic and evolutionary repercussions of our destructive behavior, but what ultimately dictates how we will deal with the situation is our own consciousness.

antibiotic resistance

The populations of bacteria discussed within the article, “The Ecology of Antibiotic Resistance,” clearly show that there is ‘variation’ in regards to the degree of resistance to treatment. Also, the text illustrates how, ‘individual differences,’ among the bacteria impact individuals’ chances at ‘reproduction and survival.’ Since these two conditions are satisfied one may say the situation is a representative example of evolution by natural selection.

Within a population, there are bacteria with varying levels of antibiotic resistance; therefore it is easy to determine that the condition of variation is being met. The administration of antibiotic medication results in those bacteria with the genetic capacity to resist termination to survive, while those bacteria lacking the necessary genes for tolerance to the treatment are eliminated. Additionally, there are differences in how a bacterium may acquire its resistance to antibiotics in order to achieve increased chances of survival: transformation, plasmid transmission and spontaneous mutation. Collectively these varied conditions set the stage for natural selection to occur.

Furthermore, once the antibiotic takes effect and bacteria lacking resistance are destroyed, those bacteria which do survive readily multiply and in doing so confer resistance to the next generation. As the cycle repeats, one can see natural selection at work. With so many different possibilities, so many different ways for bacteria to survive and multiply it is evident that the conditions are ripe for bacterial antibiotic resistance to continue evolving through the process of natural selection.

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Last week I took an Ecology Exam and really drilled the concepts because I needed to do well on it. So I remember a lot of interesting examples of the topics we covered, including parasitism. An example Dr. Baines talked about that particularly stuck in my mind was about this parasitic worm like organism, whose name I can’t recall and did not write down. What I found memorable about the organism was (obviously not the name ;-) that it had the ability to dramatically alter the behavior of its intermediate host (that host which will, “harbor developmental stages of [the] parasite”). Once the parasitic worm infected its host (a snail), it caused biochemical reactions to occur within the body of the snail which resulted in the snail changing its normal behavior in dangerous ways. Instead of the snail moving carefully along the ground and keeping itself well concealed by the tall grass blades within its environment, an infected snail will crawl to the top of the blades of grass. This made the snail more visible to its main predator, local birds. The easily seen, infected snail would then be snatched up and consumed by the bird, which conveniently serves as the definitive host (the, “ host in which [the] parasite reaches maturity”) to the parasitic worm. Once the parasite reaches a certain level of maturity the bird will excrete it in its feces often onto a grassy area. There the parasite will produce offspring which may be picked up by the snail and the whole process of parasitic development is repeated.


As the semester has progressed Dr. Baines has hammered the concept of tradeoffs into our brains. So it makes sense that she asked us the following question on a previous exam: “Explain why organisms are not able to adapt to ALL environmental conditions.” Here is my response: “This is due to the concept of tradeoffs and constraints. Some characteristics may allow individual organisms to be optimally equipped to survive in their own unique environments, however if the environment changes, then that individual might be at a disadvantage (in terms of survival and reproduction) because of their characteristic(s) which was or were previously beneficial. Previously advantageous characteristics might be detrimental to an organism in an environment which has changed drastically from the one they were well adapted to.” I have found the concept can be applied to a variety of situations. Specifically, an example which represents how tradeoffs work would be the changing composition of a tree population. The environment in which these trees exist has a varying moisture gradient (moist to dry). Of the three tree types within the environment, the Douglas-fir is the dominant (or numerous) tree type under moist conditions because it is a superior competitor. The next most numerous tree types under the same conditions would be the Port-Oxford Cedar, followed by the Pacific Madrone. However, as the environment becomes increasingly dry, it is the Pacific Madrone that becomes the dominant tree type (again, the most numerous) because it is well adapted to stressful environmental conditions (when water is limiting). During very dry conditions the Port-Oxford Cedar completely drops out of the picture while the Douglas-fir is found in relatively limited numbers. Therefore no single organism is well adapted to all environmental conditions and tradeoffs exist between stress tolerance and competitive aptitude.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Aquatic Changes

At the beginning of the semester Dr. Baines gave us an exam in which one of the essay questions required quite a bit of explanation, but it was interesting so I remember it. She asked us to, "discuss how light, temperature and oxygen levels change with depth and season in aquatic environments and describe any interactions among these factors." So I wrote the following: "During the summer, thermocline occurs which may be described as a rapid decrease in the temperature of woater at a particular depth. during Fall turnover the ater on the top is heated, (by solar radiation), so it becomes more dense thn the water below it and sinks to replace the water at the bottom. In this way htere is an exchange of nutrients within the movement of the water. Furthermore, during the winter months decomposing organisms contribute to a decreased amount of oxygen gas diffusion due to the fact that they needconsume oxygen as they perform respiration. At increased depths there is less penentation of light and so the rate of photosynthesis is decreased. In general, at higher temperatures the rate of oxygen gas diffusion into water decreases (the two elements are inversely proportional). It made sense to me this way at the time I took the exam, but then Dr. Baines returned our exams and saw that she wrote in a comment. What she wrote was that in the portion where I said that, "...during the Fall turnover the water on the top is heated," she commented that I should have said the water is cooled instead. That confuses me because then a good chunk of my response doesn't make sense. So I don't understand why she gave me full credit for my answer, but I'm not going to complain. I haven't taken the time to go back and ask her about it or reread the section of the notes that covers aquatic environments so it's still not exactly clear to me. I just need to go visit her and ask for further clarification on the matter.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

An end to Eco Lab :-(

Earlier last week, we conducted our final Ecology Lab experiment. The purpose of the experiment was to observe characteristics of Island Biogeography. We used ping-pong balls to represent our colonizing species and empty egg cartons to simulate the islands to be colonized. First, we used a empty egg carton which was capable of holding one dozen eggs or ping-pong balls, then we used one half of a carton, capable of holding, duh, six ping-pong balls. Using five balls for each trial, Krizia stood about 1 meter from the 'large island' and tried her best to 'colonize' or bounce, each ball into one of the cups of carton. Liz and I counted how many instances of colonization she got for each trial and caught balls as they flew every which way. After each trial of five balls being tossed at the island we rolled a die to determine at which cup within the carton there would be an 'extinction' event (all cups of the carton were previously labled). By extinction event I mean that if we rolled the die and say rolled a two and there was a ping-pong ball in cup two, that ball would be removed and not counted in the final number of colonizations. We then repeated the procedure after having moved the same carton two meters away from Krizia. Then we used the 'smaller island' to carry out the same procedure while Lisa recorded all of the data and made calculations. What we determined from our readings and experiments was that with a larger sized island, there is decreased chance of extinction. With the smaller island there is increased chance of extinction. Also, as the distance from the 'mainland' increases, there are decreased immigration rates.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Plant adaptations

Three weeks ago I learned about how plants interact with the environment and change their growth patterns according to which resources are most limiting. I think it all makes sense, so this is what I learned: Since the effects of global warming have led to a gradual increase in the minimum temperatures, this causes the relative humidity to decrease. This subsequently causes a drop in water availability within the atmosphere or the plant’s environment; specifically the soil becomes less saturated and there is less water present in the air to be taken up by the plant. Essentially this means that water is a limiting factor in terms of plant growth, therefore the plant will allocate its resources so that a larger root system will develop and thus the respiration rate increases. This increased rate of respiration means that the rate of carbon loss is increased and since the net carbon gain is the difference between the photosynthetic rate and the respiration rate, the end result is that the net carbon gain decreases.

The Acid fast staining procedure

A couple of months ago I had to learn the acid fast method of staining and write about it. So this blog contains what I learned about that topic. “The acid fast stain… is an important diagnostic stain,” (Talaro, 2008) performed so that one may be able to differentiate between those bacteria containing mycolic acid in their cell walls (which therefore may be classified as acid fast staining bacteria) and those which are nonacid-fast staining. This unique structural characteristic of acid fast bacteria renders its cells impervious to most staining agents; however this type of staining procedure allows for adhesion to this specific type of waxy cell wall (using a combination of dyes) and thus, differential identification. The procedure is done by first smearing and then heat fixing a culture of bacteria to a clean slide. The smear is then covered with adsorbent paper and saturated with Carbolfuchsin. The slide is then placed over a beaker filled one quarter of the way with boiling, distilled water (Ziehl-Neelsen Method) for a period of five minutes. This method is used so that the dye may adhere more readily to the acid fast bacterial cells and prevent drying out. The paper is then removed and the smear is then washed carefully by allowing distilled water to run through it. Next, acid-alcohol is made to cover the smear for one minute in order to decolorize those bacteria which are nonacid –fast staining. Then again the smear is washed gently with water. After this, the counterstain, Methylene blue is applied to the stain for one minute so that the non-acid fast bacteria may be dyed and identified during viewing. This is followed by one final washing of the smear with distilled water. Lastly the specimen is blotted dry using Kim Wipes and viewed under oil immersion magnification. It is expected that those bacteria which contain mycolic acid within their cell walls will retain the fuchsia hue of the Carbolfuchsin dye, while the other cells within the smear will stain purple with the counterstain, Methylene blue.

Bees, pollination & parasites

I had to read an article out of my Ecology lecture text and then write about it so I figured I'd just blog about it as well. Mutualism exists between flowering plants and their pollinators-bees. Plants benefit from this relationship in that they greatly increase their chances of reproduction. The chances of having their pollen grains fertilize another flower are much more probable if they rely on a pollinator like the bee who moves among many flowers in a short amount of time, rather than simply relying on the unpredictability of the wind for reproductive purposes. Flowering plants invest a substantial amount of energy in pollen production and so by utilizing bees as a vehicle for carrying out pollination they are increasing their energy efficiency. The bees benefit by extracting nectar from the flower and then internally converting it into honey (“a high quality energy store”). Once the bees inadvertently pick up the pollen grains, they may consume the highly nutritious grains which are rich in proteins and oils.

A host-parasite relationship exists between bees and two mite species: Varroa and Tracheal. The cost to the host (bees) is their mortality and fitness. The Varroa mite benefits from the relationship by deriving sustenance from the internal fluid of the bee. The Tracheal mite derives nutrition from its host’s body, but also uses this medium as a site for reproduction. Due to varying levels of exposure to the parasites, different host species have developed differing levels of resistance. Often, the more time a bee species is exposed to a parasite, the more likely it is able to develop resistance to the pest and survive if attacked.

Coffee is my kryptonite

About a week and a half ago I remember it was pretty chilly outside and so I decided to buy a small cup of coffee to warm myself up. I know because of past experiences that if I drink more than one cup, my body will not react well, but I thought I would be alright if I just had maybe like three fourths of this small cup. Plus, as I walked through the library lobby I saw a bunch of students sitting around chatting happily while sipping on their cups of coffee. They looked warm and happy and that's how I wanted to be, so you know, monkey see, monkey do. I bought a cup and sipped it while I ate a tasty banana nut muffin, not thinking about the effects the caffeine might have on my body. A couple of hours later, the effects seem to hit me all at once: my stomach felt like it had wings and was fluttering about within my abdomen, my mind was racing with the thoughts of the day and I felt like my heart was beating a little fast. Maybe this means that there is something wrong with my body in terms of metabolism or maybe it could be a bigger problem. But maybe I'm just highly sensitive to the effects of caffeine because I try to stay away from it as much as possible (except on days when I want a hot drink- which doesn't happen often). I don't know what it is but I didn't even finish that small cup and look what happened-Geeze! I like having a drink of coffee every once in awhile, but I tend to forget how ugly it makes me feel inside a couple of hours after I consume it. Oh well, next time I'll try to remember the way I felt and opt for another drink instead. Yeah, I know I'm weird, you don't have comment about it.

I Need Analogies!

Just the other day I was sitting there listening to a microbiology lecture and this tiny but significant detail about the process of translation that I had always had trouble understanding finally became a little clearer. I was always a little shaky on my understanding of exactly how the tRNAs move within the ribosome and interact with (among other molecules) each other to form the polypeptide or protein (aspects of the process of translation). He (my professor) said it's like the tRNA in the P-site says to the one in the A-site, "Oh, I've been here awhile, I'm old and tired already, but you are young since you are newly arrived. So here take my load (the strand of amino acids which are attached to the tRNA in the P-site)." Then that 'old' tRNA is ejected from the ribosome. The 'old' tRNA "hands over" his polypeptide to the 'new' tRNA when a peptide bond is formed between its polypeptide chain and the amino acid on the 'new' tRNA. Then the old guy releases its bond to the polypeptide chain and is ejected from the ribosome. Next, the ribosome moves on down to the next codon on the mRNA, the tRNA in the A-site with its attached polypeptide strand moves over to the P-site and the whole process is repeated again and again. In this way more and more amino acids are added to the chain and a protein is synthesized. I know I should have understood this as a senior in my high school Biology class, but sometimes things just don't click until I hear somebody explain it in a particular way. It's like I have to be able to picture it happening in my mind because I'm a very visual learner like that. Maybe I have it all wrong, but right now this process makes sense to me, so I hope I learned it correctly.

Fun w/Ecology lab

A couple of weeks back we carried out an experiment that was supposed to teach us about predator-prey interactions. It was kind of fun since we got to essentially play around in an organized way while we gathered our data (not datum :-) ). The experiment consisted of one person closing their eyes and then using one finger to search for nuts and bolts that were to placed somewhere in the general vicinity of the table directly in front of them. Once they located a bolt (with a nut screwed all the way to the top of the screw), they were supposed to remove the nut and repeat the process with as many screws as possible for a duration of three minutes. We did this in groups using at first five, then ten and then fifteen screws. What I got from the experiment was that as the number of prey (or screws w/nuts) increased it was easier to "catch" (or in my case blindly attain) them, but the trade-off was that handling time (the time it took to undo each nut from the screw) increased. It worked out well because I think I got the point of lab even though my fingertips were a bit sore after it all. I was a pretty good predator too because although at first my capture numbers weren't that high when compared to those of my good friend Liz (who was the other predator in my group), with each group I handled, my numbers improved. Liz was insane though, she could 'consume' an average of like eighteen screws/nuts in three minutes! Madness, pure madness! Her fingers just flew over the 'prey'.

Stream of Consciousness

I don’t like getting 3.5 out of 5 points-I really thought I had earned better. I didn’t half a** it, you know??? Stray letter…how could I have missed that? The proof is not in the pudding, HAH, I knew that didn’t make sense! Slap, you got rejected, so be tenacious. These are some of the thoughts that flow through my mind as I sit there in Biological Writing sometimes. Dr. Baines picture perfect dog is named Dargo…I didn’t hear her explanation of that? I know she said something about Dr. Zen understanding the significance of the dog’s name because he’s ‘nerdy’ too and into some old comic or something like she is. As I’m proofreading this I feel like circling behaviour and writing ‘This looks funny because I’m not Australian, British or Canadian but I know it is right.’ It’s just that I wanted to comment on it to see if I could get a chuckle out of Faulkes. Haha, as I’m typing this out, the computer agrees with me. What happens if I type colour? Haha, denied again! I really hope I didn’t get any Ethidium Bromide on my sandwich…I don’t want to die yet, honestly, I’m still young and spry. L.o.l., I know that’s totally not up to me, whatever. I don’t see any grammatical or spelling errors on this second page-damn!!! And I need to get to lab!!! What’s wrong with my brain today?!? Props to Dr. Zen because I could never care about “digging” so much, really. Some people make vicious comments. I seriously need to blog. I’ve been avoiding that and it’s festered and grown like an ugly fungus in a dark corner of my mind. Rejection is not final…Really? Could this be true even if my writing consistently contains serious structural errors? I could work on that though…but how? I know, I know, I’m venting but that’s life, so it counts as a biological topic.

Trials of Life-3

These are my descriptions and interpretations of again, the "Trials of Life," DVD. This blog entry is most concerned with interesting examples of mimicry and mutualism in nature.An example of mimicry would be when the walking stick imitates the appearance of leaves in order to achieve a camouflaged look and guard against its predators. The Praying Mantas mimicking the flowery color and appearance of the white orchid while it lies in wait for its prey is another example of mimicry in nature.

One example of mutualism would be the relationship between shrimp and the Gobi. The two species live together in a cave excavated by the shrimp. In return to the shrimp, for having provided the home the share, the Gobi, with his excellent eyesight serves as a guide and protector of the blind shrimp. The shrimp stays in contact with the Gobi by constantly touching the fish with his own antennae. Through this connection the Gobi can tell the shrimp when it is safe to wander out of the cave or when to stay within because predators are in the vicinity. This relationship is symbiotic because they need each other in order to survive. A second example of mutualism would be the relationship between deer and monkeys. In this instance, the monkeys forage in trees and in doing so, drop leaves which the deer pick up and eat. When the monkeys wander down to scavenge for food on the ground, the deer act to warn the monkeys if a predator comes near so that the primates may escape safely back up into the tree tops. This represents a non-symbiotic mutualism since both species could survive without each other and so they have a facultative relationship with each other. These relationships are both good examples of co-evolution because they demonstrate adaptations and contribute to the continued survival of each species involved.

Trials of Life-2

This is just a continuation of my notes and interpretations of the material covered on the Trials of Life DVD. This blog entry focuses more on predator-prey interactions though. An example of a prey species defending itself against predators would be when certain trees develop poison within their leaves in order to deter herbivorous spider monkeys. The monkeys have adapted to this defense so that they are capable of ingesting small amounts of the poison while feeding. If they have had enough poison they simply move on to another plant and may continue eating. A similar situation occurs when particular types of plants are consumed by beetles. Again, the plants produce poisons to defend against its predators, but do so in a way where the poison is produced specifically in the center of its leaves. The beetles have adapted and overcome this defense by puncturing the leaf, causing the milky poison to drain out, and then feeding safely on the end of the leaf. These are good examples of co-evolution because in each case, the two species involved in the predator-prey relationship developed mechanisms to preserve their own survivorship.

Trials of Life-1

Last Wednesday I was forced to stay in Ecology lab and watch a DVD called, "The Trials of Life," which because of the length, I found somewhat boring. Some parts of it I did find interesting though. So because its all about adaptations and I took notes while watching the DVD, I think I write a few blogs about it. Here I go. One specific [behavioral] adaptation of a particular type of prey (in the rainforest environment) would be the Trinidad Tree Frog developing an aquatic nursery to keep its embryos safe from predatory fish. The adult frogs house their developing embryos in a small sphere of sticky jelly (on tree branches, above water), which will dissolve away once the offspring reach a mature stage of development. This then allows them to fall into the main body of water below and complete maturation. The point of the behavior is that the frog embryos are kept away from the predatory fish until they have outgrown their vulnerable infancy stage and developed well enough so that they may be able to defend themselves against attackers. A specific example of adaptation involving partners in a mutualism would be how the shape of the Saber Wing Hummingbird beak has developed so that it fits perfectly with its food source, the Columbian flower. The hummingbird derives nectar from the flower and the flower benefits from the relationship by having the hummingbird carry out its pollination.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

our profound environment*

When I sit down to write these blogs it’s always hard to get started. I think it’s stupid of me because there’s biology going on all around me, I myself contain millions of biological processes and yet it seems to take forever for something to come to mind. But here we go. Do you ever wonder how & why your DNA was fashioned together to make you the way you are? Or how exactly your environment has impacted your genetics? I do. The other day my younger brother & I were in the living room standing around talking while listening to this song playing off his ipod /stereo. Well at this one point in the song we both stopped what we were doing and randomly busted out in our own little dance move. It was funny because we didn’t mean to do it at exactly the same time & we hadn’t planned it at all. It just sort of happened that we felt like moving at the exact same moment. Sometimes we are so similar but other times he’s like on the opposite end of the spectrum. I think our environment has greatly influenced our genetic make up and so that’s why we’re often in synchronous. I know runs deeper than that, but biologically that’s the only explanation I can give for those weird instances. This whole environmental impact stuff reminds me of this episode I saw on PBS one morning. I can clearly remember scenes of a hospital nursery room being shown while the narrator spoke about how it is really difficult to tell the sex of a baby who’s wrapped comfortably in a receiving blanket. I thought about it for a second, and found the observation to be true, girl or boy, they all pretty much looked very similar-little eyelids, noses, toothless gums, small mouths yawning, taking a breath. The narrator went on to discuss how as we move on into childhood, adolescence and adulthood, our environment influences us to give us our own perceptions of what it means to be female or male. We adjust, in our own ways to fit the mold. We grow up to play soccer and avoid crying/showing emotion if born male; wear dresses and agree with Oprah if born female. I remember giving a presentation on schizophrenia last semester. My focus was on determining whether the causes of developing schizophrenia had more to do with ones genetics or on their environmental influences or maybe a combination of the two. Based on the studies I looked at, it was both factors coming together and interacting in a particular way to result in what we call schizophrenia. Sometimes one identical twin developed it, while the other did not. It was the first time I had encountered case studies & so information like that fascinated me. Now I’ve come to know that identical twins are often studied in order to try to understand the genetics behind a number of debilitating disorders or diseases, but I still find it an interesting subject. I think our environments impact us in ways that we are only just starting to understand.

on roaches

I think Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches are gross. I’m sorry; you might think I’m just being a girl, but I in general do not like bugs. It might seem stupid but if I find an insect in my home and it isn’t a tiny dust spider, or a mosquito, most of the time I will try to get it to crawl on a piece of newspaper & then toss it outside, a few meters from the edge of the driveway. If it is a mosquito or cockroach, I have no problem killing the thing & tossing its remains in the trash because I guess I’m just cruel like that. Dust spiders I know may grow large & multiply but for some reason seeing them crawl along my windowsill every once in a while, does not bother me, so I leave them alone. Last week in Ecology lab, we observed that the larger an organism is physically, the smaller its surface area to volume ratio. I think. Well anyway, the point of the matter was that larger ectoderms will take longer to warm up after being cooled than smaller ectoderms because the smaller the organism, the more readily it exchanges heat with the environment to achieve a stable internal temperature. So when we took the ladybugs out of the fridge they began to move about after just a few minutes had elapsed. But then we got to the Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches and our all girl group got uncomfortable-except Liz because she’s awesome like that. She handled them with ease and laid them out, placing them on their designated spots. We waited around for more than half an hour without seeing them start walking around as we (or really only Liz) had hoped they would. The people in my group thought it was funny that in the beginning of the experiment, I named them so that if they started moving we could tell who was who. I gave them male names just because in my opinion, they were big, grotesque things that in no way reminded me of anything female. It wouldn’t have been right to name them say I don’t know, Annie or Mae or Bridgette, but then I was criticized for being gender-biased. Geeze man, you can’t please anyone these daysJ! Anyway, the only thing they did was move around in place a bit but none of them were able to move out of their starting circle, which was a tiny bit disappointing but in the same respect also kind of cool because that meant we wouldn’t have to do any cockroach wrangling. In truth, I did not want to see them start crawling around, possibly in my direction or have to save one from falling off the edge of the lab counter like we did with the ladybugs. I did not want them to get upset about being shoved together into an undersized container and begin hissing as their name implies they might. So overall, it went well and I think I grasped the concept. <<<>>> But alas, the insects went back into the fridge & I felt a bit guilty.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Breaking Down Tyrosine

I enjoy watching this show about various patients who have usually rare medical conditions which often leave a whole host of doctors dumbfounded before someone realizes what is actually going on and gives the patient the right treatment. It was funny because just a few hours before I saw this particular episode I was trying to memorize the structure of the standard amino acids (tyrosine being one of them). Well the episode I saw had to do with a newborn who kept throwing up each time she was fed. Also, I remember that her mother had gone to her prenatal checkups regularly and that during one of the last checkups doctors found after some testing, that the baby had abnormally high levels of a particular protein in her blood. Therefore they warned the mother and told her that her baby may suffer from mental retardation and other complications. The mother was very worried but at birth her fears momentarily subsided since the child appeared to be at least normal physically. So the child was taken home where she proceeded to vomit immediately after each feeding. She was taken to her pediatrician who suggested the parents switch the baby to a different type of formula and check back with him in two weeks time to see how the baby had progressed. The child only continued to vomit and soon her parents decided that she was truly sick so they took her to the local emergency room. She was examined by a number of doctors before a liver specialist saw her and realized that her problem was that she was lacking a particular protein which broke down the amino acid tyrosine. Each time she ate and broke down the food, her tyrosine levels would increase to dangerously high levels because she was unable to metabolize tyrosine. So her body would react to the toxic levels of tyrosine the only way it knew how-by throwing up the partially digested food and decreasing the amino acids levels within her body. Fortunately, once diagnosed there is an effective means of treatment which was administered to the sickly newborn immediately. She improved dramatically and today is a healthy eleven year old who lives the life of a normal, vivacious pre-teen. Today pre-natal checkups screen for this protein difficiency, which if left uncorrected is fatal. I find it pretty amazing when I can see how the things we're learning in class can be related and applied to situations we may see one day as a health care professional or have to deal with personally if our own children are afflicted. So that tyrosine is pretty important if I can only remember its structure I'll be set for that exam Tuesday!

sleep and stress

So this week has been stressful I must admit. I am looking around and I see it’s not just me who’s feeling the semester starting to get into full swing. It has been four weeks and yes I’m getting into the groove of things because I realized after a couple of weeks of cutting it close, I needed to make the necessary adjustments or else the semester will not turn out the way I’d like it to.
I think I can see the effects of all the things I am stressing over physically. For instance, I am seeing laugh lines around my mouth which I thought were not supposed to appear until I was in my late twenties or early thirties according to the women I hear complaining on Oprah all of the time. I think it’s the lack of sleep though mostly. I have read in various places that sleep deprivation accelerates the aging process and just recently I learned that it also may factor into increasing the severity of a number of common ailments in old age. I heard O.B./Gyn. on Oprah say once that lack of sleep changes the way your body metabolizes foods and that was when it clicked for me. I understood the links between food, sleep and functioning at least somewhat. It's all interrelated and sleep is like the physiological cornerstone. I need to sleep better and that's the point I'm driving at. A friend of mine put it in perspective when she admitted that she had fallen asleep in the library before class. I think that's just a sign you're pushing yourself a little too hard and you need some sleep, some time to rejuvenate yourself. But she realized it herself and said she was going to go home and take some downtime for herself. It's just finding a balance between work, play and sleep-duh right? No, actually I think we all understand that on some level, knowing that life needs balance is common sense but achieving that balance is what I think gets most of us. So maybe I should go work on striking my balance and get some rest huh? Haha. I'm a piece of work-stressing about stress!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

More on cats...then lobsters

Last time I was commenting on how I do not care much for cats. I just wanted to expand on the whole animal subject by saying that for the most part I like animals. Fish, little hampsters (minus the ones with sharp teeth who enjoy biting your hand as you try to pet them), starfish, whales, dolphins, giraffes, gorillas, pandas, monkeys, lions, turtles, iguanas, mocking birds, butterflies, pigs, tigers, elephants, hummingbirds, camels and koalas-you name it and I'm pretty much happy that I get to share the planet with with them. It's just the common house cat or the feral kind running around campus that I dislike. Specifically, I am more of a dog person. I just like the relaxed way my own dog sets his head on my lap and closes his eyes to rest when I'm sitting there studying or talking with my family. Maybe cats do the same thing but I don't think I could get past my fear enough to let one try to get that close to me.
Also, I was thinking about trying some lobster before this past Wednesday but after the whole "nociception" discussion (even though I think Dr.Z just used the session to reveal what a farse that woman's argument was) I felt guilty about wanting to try it (I've never tasted lobster before). Now I wonder if Dr. Z has ever had lobster and whether or not he thinks it's humane to consume the animal. It's stupid, but I never thought about the fact that even though I think certain animals are tasty, they have brains and can feel pain. I didn't mean for that last part to rhyme, it just came out that way. But I eat the meat of cows and chickens nearly everyday and I'm pretty sure the same is true for them, so maybe I should just stop being so hippocritical and eat some pasta or something else instead. This is getting too ethically touchy so I'll stop here. Plus I don't think I could handle being a vegan and it's getting late and I got a ton of other work to get to so I have got to end this now. Goodnight bloggers, see you in class Monday hopefully.

Creepy cats and yeasty balloons

So this week I can’t think of much to write about to be honest except two things which come to mind: Feral cats and yeast. I didn’t know what “feral” meant exactly but I asked my older brother and he said that a feral cat was one which was at one time domesticated but chose to return to wild ( I guess to live on its own as a stray). Lovely, I’m a wild, mangy cat. Yep, that’s my group. I just do not care for these animals, I don’t know why, but I’m not comfortable around them. I apologize to anyone who reads this and is offended but everyone has their own idiosyncrasies, right? My mother feels otherwise and has two of her own (one grey and the other a yellow tomcat who looks like the heinous one Dr.Z had on the feral cats slide in class). Again I do not dislike them; it’s just that with their yellow eyes and sharp claws they make me wary. Maybe I had an unpleasant run in with a cat as a baby or a young child and I either am subconsciously suppressing it or truly can’t recall it. I think I have this fear in the back of my mind that someday I’ll just be walking along and accidently step on a cats tail or do something to inadvertently piss one off and it’ll just leap up and slash my jugular with its claws (or if declawed, use its teeth to do so). I know, highly unlikely but that’s just me.
Oh and about the yeast: I got a call from my friend who’s just spent her first week teaching high school freshman biology. She wanted to make the class interesting and use experiments to help reinforce the concepts she’s teaching them. So she was trying to mix yeast, water and sugar together in the right proportions so that when these ingredients are heated then placed into a balloon, they expand and inflate it. She wasn’t given specific amounts of how much of each ingredient she should use so she did some troubleshooting and finally after multiple attempts and much frustration, enjoyed success! She called me when she finally got the experiment to work and I was happy for her. I liked my high school freshman biology teacher (she was a sweet lady) but to be honest, I didn’t learn a single thing about biology that year because all we did was hurriedly copy biological notes from the overhead and turn them in for a grade. Sorry, but I don’t learn like that. At the end of the year I still didn’t even know how to properly draw out a Punnet square! I just wanted to mention it because I think my friend’s enthusiasm over the inflation of the balloon is noteworthy. I would have preferred to have someone like her as my teacher any day out of my freshman year in high school. Just a thought, you know.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Presidential Debate-Ahhhh!

I'm supposed to post about whether or not I think it would be worth while to have a Presidential Science Debate and I definitely think it would be beneficial to do so. I feel that Science plays an important role in each and every life and so to progress as a nation and to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life for people across the globe, we need to know what our leader for the next four years (be it John McCain or Barack Obama) thinks about the subject. I read some of the responses (and skimmed others) which were posted on the website Dr. Z thoughtfully provided (Thanks, you went the extra mile :-) ) and for the most part my confidence in the candidate I am partial to was reinforced. I admit that I was unfamiliar with some of the terms used in the responses, but it's not like I can't Google them and figure things out. Anyway, from what I did understand, I have concluded that I share my candidate's views on a number of science oriented topics and was pleased to find detailed responses to questions on how exactly they would deal with issues like the energy crisis, stem-cell research and promotion of more rigorous math and science curricula in our nation's schools. I preferred reading the details of how they plan to work to ameliorate our nation's situation in terms of these and other various topics as opposed to listening to a speech where I have found they (both candidates) tend to gloss over the steps they would take to resolve these problems and instead use language to appeal to the emotions of public. The site was very helpful and informative in my opinion.

I like P.B.S.

So Dr. Z has asked me to write about which scientist I would invite to visit and speak at UTPA if I could ask any living biologist...interesting. At first I had a tough time coming up with someone I would ask and why, but after a while I remembered an individual I saw a program on a few weeks ago. I was up late one night and I found an interesting piece on P.B.S. about a young, female scientist showing so I stopped flipping through the channels and watched. It described her life so far like this: She was born I believe, in Israel and immigrated with her family to the East Coast of the United States at the age of two. Once she reached school age it was clear that she excelled academically especially in the areas of math and science. She ended up having a real passion for these subjects and decided to pursue her studies in these fields at Harvard University. She went onto develop an algorithm which is now commonly used in genetic research and currently teaches Genetics at Harvard. Her brilliance and youth were initially what captivated my attention but as the program went on, I began to notice as I was listening to her speak about her work, that she really, honestly loved what she did. She said a couple of things which caught my attention more than anything else. One of them was that when asked to describe herself she said, "I am a scientist." She gave a much more detailed response than that but ultimately, fundamentally that's who she said she was and the fact that she said it with such enthusiasm was what left an impression on me. The memory stuck in my brain and after some time spent thinking about Dr. Z's prompt for the week I was able to recall her-the way she spoke with such passion and fluidity about her work-it was fascinating to watch. The other thing she said was something to the effect that if you do what you love, you'll be alright. I don't think that's true 100% of the time, but I'd like to believe it's true for the most part. I know, I know, I'm young and naive but what the heck? This is starting to sound too much like the conclusion of a Grey's Anatomy episode so I'll stop now and say that I'd invite Pardi (that's her first name, I can't remember her last name right now) because she loves her science (which happens to be a field of Biology-Genetics) and it's always refreshing to listen to someone speak about something they genuinely love.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Type II Diabetes

I heard a report on the news the other day about a group of genes being identified that may possibly be associated with an increased risk of developing Type II Diabetes and I became interested because the disease is a common affliction to people of my own heritage, Hispanics. By doing some reading on the subject I have come to understand that by having a clearer idea of which genes may heighten an individuals risk for developing the disease, we are taking the necessary steps so that we may find a more individualized, effective means of treating Type II Diabetes. I know from personal experience with family members and my own work experience that the effects of the disease could be extremely devastating physically and consequently emotionally. So taking steps through genetic research to prevent the disease or treat it in afflicted individuals more efficiently I believe is highly beneficial to those currently suffering with the disease and also to future generations. Specifically the genes I read about were HNF1B and JAZF1. In the first gene HNF1B, researchers were able to gather data which indicated that a particular variation in the expression of the gene indicated an elevated risk of developing Type II Diabetes, while strangely for reasons not yet understood, this same variation was also found to be related to an decreased risk for developing prostate cancer. The second gene JAZF1, was also identified as being related to the onset of Type II Diabetes, which is caused by the cells of the body becoming incapable of uptaking blood glucose. Overall there have been about 16 genes found to be associated with the disease to date but these two are the ones I found mentioned while perusing various articles on the topic.