BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: freysanatomy

Battle of the Mongeese!

The Mongoose!

It turns out the banded mongoose also participates in the planned and systematic battle that humans are famous for! Lovely! The banded mongoose is a highly social, squirrel-like creature commonly found in the savannas and plains of western Africa and feeds on insects and small rodents. Families of mongeese stay very close, and remain together throughout their life spans. Because of this, the mongoose is very territorial and during breeding season will actually participate in full-scale warfare.

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mongoose.jpg

War!

Unlike other animal conflicts, battle between groups of mongeese is highly organized, mimicking the warfare styles of humans. They will arrange themselves in lines facing each and charge forward as one, knocking rivals into bushes and killing each other mercilessly. This fighting actually promotes solidarity and closeness within groups. Similar to the “rape and pillage” technique of early humans, rival mongeese often mate with each other. This proves very beneficial to the groups as it eliminates the repercussions of inbreeding that can occur in small isolated groups of mammals.

 

A Strange Phenomenon!

Surprisingly, pregnant females are more likely to carry their litter to term in times of warfare. Females seem to find some way to better maintain their pregnancies. Perhaps this is due to the higher tensions and need for new “troops”. Scientists are unsure.

 

Why Microbiota Will Ruin Your New Years Resolution:

This year, people across America will make New Years Resolutions about eating better, losing weight, and being healthier. Unfortunately, microbiota, those pesky little gut bacteria in charge of digestion, will be trying to foil your plans.

Microbiota is the term used to describe the entire population of trillions of microbes living in our intestines. Every person has a unique set of individual microbiota, based both on genetics and environmental factors such as diet. It is crucial in the digestive and immune systems, and in producing some vitamins.

A new study has shown that humans living an unrestricted American diet develop certain gut microbiota, that aren’t so easy to get rid of, and once a person switches to a nutritious, plant based diet, that microbiota interferes, counteracting the effects of the diet. In an experiment at the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at Washington University in St. Louis, scientists took the microbiota of human samples, half who followed calorie restricted plant-rich diets, and half who had un-restricted diets, and implanted them into test mice. They then switched all the mice to a healthy, plant-rich diet. Although both groups responded to the diet, those with the unrestricted diet had a much weaker and delayed reaction. Scientists then started co-housing the groups of mice. The healthy diet microbiota slowly migrated to the unhealthy mice, accelerating their reaction to the diet, symbolizing hope for future strategies for improving the effectiveness of diets using this data.

Photo:

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Mus#/media/File:House_mouse.jpg

As a US government publication, this picture is in the public domain

IS THAT POISON IVY???

Scientists have discovered a possible new treatment to prevent itching from poison ivy, a painful nuisance that affects up to 50 million Americans annually. Using an antibody for the protein interleukin-33, scientists were able to drastically reduce itching in test mice. As treatment now generally doesn’t do much to combat the discomfort of itching, this is a major breakthrough in poison ivy treatment.

What is Poison Ivy?

 Poison Ivy is a plant that produces resinous oil called urushiol that covers the entire plant: stems, leaves, and roots. When this oil comes into contact with human skin, either directly or through a secondary source like an animal or tool, it triggers an allergic reaction in 85% of people, causing your immune system to attack and create an itchy rash. This rash can escalate into hives and blisters.

What is this discovery?

So far there is treatment such as antihistamines and corticosteroids that help swelling, pain and accelerate recovery, but there is no real cure for the itchiness and discomfort this rash can cause. However, by blocking a certain protein in the immune system with an antibody, one can block the signals to the brain communicating an itch on the skin. This protein is interleukin 33 (IL-33), a common protein that acts directly on the nerve fibers in the skin, exciting them and telling the brain that the skin is severely itchy. When blocking this protein, scientists conducting an experiment on lab mice were able to reduce not only inflammation, but the amount of scratching.

What does this mean?

If this treatment could be used on humans, it would provide a far more affordable and effective treatment for victims of this pesky condition, and eliminate the doctors visits, lost time at work or school, and costs of only partly helpful drugs that are now necessary for people suffering from this rash. Hopefully, the pain and annoyance that comes with Poison Ivy will soon be a thing of the past.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Poison_ivy-20141524-038.jpg

SAVE THE BEES!

What is happening to bees?

The media has been buzzing lately about bees! Pesticides and fungicides have long been thought to be problematic for our yellow, fuzzy, pollinator friends, but never more-so then now; 7 species of bees have been officially placed on the US Endangered Species List. In fact, a UN sponsored report revealed that over 40% of pollinator species such as bees and butterflies are facing extinction. This is an incredibly dangerous statistic, as 75% of the world’s food supply depends at least partly on pollination.

This rapid decline is forcing scientists to reexamine the use of pesticides on crops and bee colonies, and begin to think holistically. It’s a concept reminiscent of cancer research, calculating the “exposome,” or the net amount of pesticides an organism is exposed to over its lifetime.

When investigating the health of bees it is important to consider the colony as a single “super-organism” led by the queen bee, rather than individuals. On average, a queen bee will live for around two years, but lately queens haven’t been making it through a single season. Sometimes, the colony is able to replace her, but often they cannot. The loss of a queen can end in death for the entire colony.

Why is this happening?

After following almost a hundred colonies owned by three different beekeepers, for a full agricultural season, researchers from the University of Maryland found a total of 93 different pesticide compounds that came in contact with the bees. Some of these accumulated in wax, pollen and even the bodies of Nurse Bees. After further tests, they found between 5 and 20 different pesticide residues in every sample that exceeded the “hazard quotient”, or amount of a toxin an organism can handle. One surprising finding concerns fungicides, an alternative long thought to have been bee-friendly. In fact, these fungicides tended to have even more deadly effects on Queen Bees.

What can we do?

Ultimately, these findings, coupled with the rapid decline of bee population nationally shows us that we as humans are undeniably at least partly responsible for the decline of bee population. Bees are crucial to our way of life, and we should do everything we can to protect them. By supporting sustainable agriculture practices, and farms that use alternative forms of pest and fungus control, you too can do your part to save the bees.

 

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar