Tuesday, September 29, 2009

If we're on the topic of interesting ledes

While reading all the different ledes on Discovery Magazine's website, the story "For Proteins, Evolution is a One Way Street" (though "Toothy Sea Monsters Need Sanctuary, Too" was a very close second), had a very interesting first paragraph that had me drawn to read the rest of the story. It reads:

"Organisms evolve to fit the world around them–but if the changes don’t work out, can a creature reverse the process? Say, for example, an insect originally eats a wide variety of tree leaves, but then evolves to live exclusively on the leaves from one type of tree that is abundant in its habitat; if that tree goes extinct, can the bug reverse course? A new study in Nature sheds some light on such questions, which have perplexed evolutionary biologists for many decades."

It wasn't so much that the lede was mind-blowingly compelling, it posed a question that tickled my curiosity and led me to find out if the process of evolution can be reversed. Well, the headline itself does not lie, they have proven due to constant mutations in evolution. They had performed tests by reversing 7 mutations in order to see if its "ancestral functions" would present themselves, but the case subject inevitably did not pull through with what they wanted.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Girl You Are Wearing That Beard!

I am a proud member of the beard club.

I fancy growing out a beard no matter what the season is there is usually some form of facial hair on me. In some cases, women will tell me how much they enjoy my beard. Now, I'm not trying to use this as some forum about how great my beard is (trust me there is room for improvement, especially in the mustache area).

What if the gender roles were switched around, what if Hillary Clinton grew out a devilish goatee, what would you do if your mom challenged you to a beard growing contest. I really did not see any of this as being at all possible but women do have the ability to grow beards.

It is said that before and after menopause, women have a sudden increase in facial hair growth. The reasons behind this is because of a decreasing amount of estrogen and there is an increase of androgen which creates the growth of a nice, bushy beard like that of an old Civil War General (a bit of an overstatement).

The science of it all is quite intriguing. Estrogen usually produces the growth of what is called sex hormone binding globulin. This prevents the male hormones from greatly effecting women. When the estrogen levels drop as a woman goes through menopause, the male hormone androgen goes into action and trigger more hair growth.

The other situation is not necessarily a fun one. Porphyria cutanea tarda is a metabolic disorder of hemoglobin bio-synthesis.While it is rare, it can be an explanation why Grandma is sporting a brand new handlebar mustache. This can be caused by heavy alcohol consumption, excess of iron intake, and "estrogen administration."

So these are the few reasons of why some women might grow beards, though it is rarely uncommon mainly because women would never allow something like that to happen. Well, some women at least.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Adam and his introduction to Eve...

As written from the Times' article, New Clues to Sex Anomalies in How Y Chromosomes Are Copied, the lede goes as follows:

"The first words ever spoken, as fable holds, were a palindrome and an introduction: 'Madam, I'm Adam'"

While we don't know for sure if Adam used such a proper introduction when he first met Eve, the lede written by Nicholas Wade caught me off-guard. It made me unsure of what the article itself was about, yet I was also curious why he chose to open up a story with that lede. My curiosity outweighed my confusion and it lead to a very interesting read.

The story is tells of David C. Page of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts finding palindromes in the Y chromosomes sequence of bases. It led to the discovery that the Y chromosome is able to recombine with itself and do away with bad genes. The problem it can lead to when creating these palindromes is that the Y chromosome and its palindromes can conjoin with its counterpart, causing the two Y chromosomes to fuse together. This leads to everything at the point of connection to the end of the chromosome being lost. This process can cause differences in sexual appearance. The result of some of these palindromes can lead to Turner's Syndrome in women, meaning though they do not have Y chromosomes in the female gonads, they can be found in the blood cells.

I would not known any of this if it wasn't for such curious looking lede. While the information can be a bit overwhelming, it will be stored as a little nugget of information that might come to use some day.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Things We Don't Know About What's Most Common

Calves burning as my right foot puts all its weight on a rock in order to make that last inch up the mountain. Hiking Poke-O-Moonshine is not a difficult task, but climbing it for the first time with a pack on my back full of clothes, food, and other camping supplies introduced a whole new world of physical exercise.

We had reached our destination; the lean-to that was only 10 minutes away from the summit, depending on how fast you walk, and all I could think of doing was taking a seat while I grab a drink of water. Soon enough, I began to feel something crawling on my leg. The wide space between all its legs stretched across my lower calf as it trickled its way up to my thigh. I knew immediately that it was a Daddy-Longlegs spider.

While most people are afraid of spiders in general and at a sight of one that is the size of a Daddy-Longlegs, many don't know that it is harmless. The sighting of such an Arachnid sparked a bit of a conversation amongst all who were sitting in the lean-to. It made me realize that none of us really knew why the spider was so harmless, but we did know a few things that we weren't sure was true.

To my own surprise, there are two different types of creatures referred to as Daddy-Longlegs. One is the Daddy-Longleg, which is referred to as Opiliones. These creatures show segmentation on its posterior, and is known for only having one body segment. A report from the University of California Riverside says that the body is the size of a pill. They get their name for having such long, outstretched legs, and also for the fact that they do not have teeth or venom glands. They mainly eat vegetation and animal remains since they have no means of attacking their food. They are mainly found underneath rocks and are apparently uncommon in public, so this may not have been the species I had seen.

Most likely, the spider I saw was what is referred to as the Daddy-Longlegs spider. They are apart of the Pholcidae family. These spiders have two body parts, which are the abdomen and the cephalothorax, have eight eyes, and has no segmentation on the body. These spiders are mainly found in cellars as well.

Unlike the Opiliones, they do produce silk and can make webs. There have actually been no tests done to see if the spider is deadly because of rules and regulations against killing the spider and injecting its venom into humans. These spiders do have teeth, but there is no scientific evidence stating that their teeth are too short to bite. What has been speculated is that the spider does not have a strong musculature to bite because it is able to use its web to catch its prey. Still, there is no evidence this spider has bitten a human and causing it any harm.

What we were always led to believe was that all Daddy-Longlegs spiders were extremely venomous but did not have any teeth to use the venom with. What I did not know was that there were two different types of Daddy-Longlegs. Something I see so often, I had no idea what it actually was. I am not entirely sure of which one I had spotted, but through the description I had read, the Daddy-Longlegs spider seems most probable.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I went for a run on Saturday afternoon when I began hearing a loud incessant knocking. I decided to run over to it since the bird had caught my eye. Though I know of a woodpecker, I don't know too much about the bird itself.

The pileated woodpecker, whose scientific name is dryocopus pileatus, seems to be an incredibly hard worker as it's head is in constant movement trying to get food from inside the tree. The bird's beak has a sharp, pointed beak in order to get through the wood for insects. What took me by surprise was to discover that the woodpecker has a glue-like substance on the end of its 4-inch tongue in order to grab insects. It also has two clawed toes that point in each direction, allowing it to grasp onto the tree for balance. Besides insects, they also eat fruits, acorns and nuts.

While most would say that the sole purpose for woodpeckers knocking on trees is to search for food, they do it to communicate with other woodpeckers as well. It is also known to be a form of mating call.

The bird is quite small as it average from 19 to 21 inches in height and weighs only 1 pound. With being such a small bird, it is greatly harmed by human settling and different pesticides. This has led to some woodpeckers being listed on the endangered species list. The specific ones are the ivory-billed, the red-cockaded, and the imperial woodpeckers. This was something I found interesting because I had no idea that there was any sort of true threat to these birds. Most of it, I am sure, is due to the building of several developments and apartments around the United States. The human population itself has unfortunately been a very destructive force.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

And the Winner Is... Who Knows?

In the article A Clash of Polar Frauds and Those Who Believe, writer John Tierney discusses the debate on between explorers Dr. Fredrick A. Cook and Robert E. Peary regarding who made it ti the North Pole first. There is also a debate whether either of them even made it at all. The expedition made by both was conducted a century ago and there is still new evidence coming to light.

The proof that each explorer was expected to provide have been negated by several experts who say that Cook didn't make it past 400 miles away, and that Peary didn't make it past 100 miles away. Tierney points out that when a human believes in something so strongly, that their brain tends to block out any information that may refute the fact. He then uses the example of the Bush Administration's reasoning for going into Iraq. President Bush was sure that Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. With all of the evidence, such as H.W.'s absolving Hussein, Republicans felt that they were allowed to have their own "counter factual" opinion. This is all due because of what Tierney refers to as, "a feel good dopamine surge."

The article itself is what I have a problem with because I feel Tierney's focus is all over the place. While trying to explain why the New York Times and the New York Herald were adamant in believing both Cook and Peary, he haphazardly goes on a rant about the Bush Administration's invasion of Iraq. I can agree with the article because I know I am guilty of such things when I strongly want to believe something is true. Though I used politics as my example, his rant was a little out of place, along with being unnecessary. Regardless, it was an interesting article about an issue I had no idea existed.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

There's this constant debate between the faithful and the scientifically savvy over the belief of what created mankind and the universe we all exist in. Currently at the French-Swiss boarder there are a multitude of scientists huddled underground working on explaining the creation of our universe and also the "billionths of a second" after the earth was created by using what is called a Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is the world's biggest particle accelerator according to the LHC UK's website that is intended to, as reported in a Science Times article titled , "to accelerate protons to 7 trillion electron volts and smash them together," in order to recreate the scene and give scientist's evidence that this instance had occurred at the dawn of time.

I have been thrilled and excited by this experiment since I had first heard about it a few years ago. My interest was severely heightened as I watched an hour long documentary about the project on my flight over to Australia, in between viewings of the film Burn After Reading. Lately, I have been having long discussions with friends, family, and strangers on what really caused the creation of the universe. The idea of an intelligent designer, to me, sounds like a great deal of fiction. I have tried to open myself up to the idea that a being inconceivable to man is what led to the creation of Earth and the universe as a whole, but again it is a theory hard to wrap my mind around. With the LHC experiment that is taking place just outside of Geneva, Switzerland, it will hopefully give some on the fence of the debate a little more insight

The LHC has made recent headlines such as the Times article, Particle Collider Will Operate, but at Half Power, where there are reports that the particle collider will begin again in November, but not at its desired speed. The collider has run into a few malfunctions in the past year after an explosion that ended up "vaporizing magnets" causing costly damages to the machine. They are hoping to have the LHC running at 3.5 trillion electron volts, and slowly increase the speed in the coming years.

Though this seems like an experiment that will take years and possibly decades to gain a substantial results, it is a project that is certainly worth pursuing. There are unfortunate doubters who are blowing ideas out of proportion. In an article in the Science Times in September last year called Suits to Halt Big Collider in Europe is Dismissed, a trial in Honolulu was tossed due to lack of jurisdiction in Europe. There was belief that the LHC could bring about the end of the world. The idea that the project would create a black hole has been shut down by safety studies. Either way, the idea seems like a bit of a stretch.

Truly these are exciting times we are living in. With such an extensive project that will hopefully be underway in Mid-November, the prospect of learning about the beginning of time as well as hopefully proving the Big Bang theory correct is enthralling. I personally believe that people should at least look at both sides even if they denounce the other. With this project and it's results, it will hopefully give people some new insight.