Friday, May 21, 2010

Belated Happy Mother's Day

This song was sent to us by Theresa Long, who said "I just received this link to a Mother's Day tribute written by a young biologist for his mother - I smiled during the whole 3 minutes and am thinking - that this may just earn an entry in the Catlin Coverslip".
It has indeed made it to the Coverslip - thanks for the link. Any song that contains the lines "trans-placental inheritance" and "transcription factors" and rhymes "rent" with "hypothalamic development" is more than qualified to be featured here. So, here it is, dedicated to all mothers......

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Synthetic Life Created

In what is considered a huge scientific breakthrough, scientists have created an artificial genome and implanted into a bacterial host cell. The host cell subsequently "behaves" as instructed by the artificial DNA, raising hopes that simple cells can be created to do our bidding in such areas as biomedical science and fighting global warming. A summary of the story published in Science can be found here.
Many researchers and philosophers, however, are extremely worried about the potential of this research and are imploring research labs to take a responsible and cautious approach. What do you think? Should scientists be allowed to pursue such research? What is the limit to what scientific research should be allowed to work on? Such ethical decisions are going to play an increasing role in our lifetime, so are definitely worth thinking about.....

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Wind Farms, Bad For Birds?

"Wind farms kill a lot more birds daily than are probably going to be killed in this oil spill."
--George Will, Washington Post columnist 5/9/10

Hmm, does he have a point? No. True, wind turbines do affect avian populations, but they're not the dire threat that oil mavericks might have you believe they are.

The Audubon Society supports wind power.

This peer-reviewed report examines number of birds killed by various energy sources.

The Exxon Valdez spill is estimated to have killed a quarter million birds outright, plus reduced food availability and destroyed habitat for survivors and several future generations (there's still 20,000 gallons of oil on Alaska's shores, 21 years later!).

Here's a chart estimating annual bird deaths:

Building strikes: 100 million to 1 billion
Car strikes: 200 to 300 million
Communication towers: 4 to 50 million
Power lines: around 75 million
Cats: 365 million (1 million per day)
Wind farms: 100,000 to 300,000

Note that cats are a far bigger threat to avian populations than wind farms (but we all knew that from watching Sylvester and Tweety Bird cartoons).

Monday, May 10, 2010

Don't put Beaver in a Corner

This is a sad story of an injured beaver trying to escape from the Audobon Society in Portland Oregon. Five doors, it chewed through five doors in no time at all. Beavers are not large in stature, they are about thirty five pound and thirty inches long. They have a massive skull and jaw. Pretty amazing that this rodent has close-able nostrils.

Busy Beavers

I cant believe the size of this structure and how long the beavers have been working. The article says you can see it from space, but it does not say where or how.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Is there a bit of Nearderthal in us all?

A recent paper in the journal Science and reported on the BBC website presents research that some of us may be more closely related to Neanderthals that we previously thought. Previous analysis of our evolutionary history suggested that modern humans (Homo sapiens) out-competed the Homo neanderthalis and drove this hominid species to extinction when Homo sapiens migrated north out of Africa.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute managed to extract DNA from Neanderthal bones found in Croatia, and found that there was up to 4% overlap between this DNA and modern human DNA from Europe, Asia and Oceania. This suggests that there was some gene flow between Neanderthals and humans during the 10,000 years during which they co-existed. "They are not totally extinct. In some of us they live on, a little bit," said Professor Svante Paabo, from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Sally Sells (Deformed) Seashells By the Seashore

10th grader Rachel gets credit for the title...ask her or any other Catlin 10th grader about ocean acidification and you'll get an earful. The ocean's ability to store carbon dioxide seemed like a great solution to the increase in carbon dioxide emissions...until we realized the consequences.

This editorial in today's Oregonian discusses ocean acidification, a topic well understood by Catlin's sophomores, who just last month performed a lab activity in which they observed increasing amounts of calcium carbonate seashells dissolving as they decreased the pH of the solution it was in. Scary!

The Oregonian editorial is in response to a new report from the Ocean Studies Board that makes a strong case for the harmful effects of too much carbon dioxide in the ocean. This report was commissioned by Congress, who now must decide whether to pay for the increased ocean monitoring that the report advises.

Thanks to Bob S. for spotting the Oregonian article this morning.