AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: nyrtac2012

Blondes Unite!

Despite the ‘dumb blonde’ jokes, and Danish or Dutch teases, I have enjoyed being blonde haired. As far as hair colors go, I think being blonde is perfectly suitable. However, there are certain preconceptions about hair color and race that people have. One being that people of certain ethnicities and races cannot have naturally blonde hair. This new study proves that idea wrong.

Photo Cred: Aust Defence Force

An article in the New York Times describes the experiments done on a group of people from the Solomon Islands. For some inexplicable (but not any more!) reason, many of the dark- skinned inhabitants have naturally blonde hair. But why?

Scientists did experiments on a giant chunk of the islanders, taking saliva samples from over a thousand people. Then they looked specifically at 43 blonde, and 42 dark haired islanders. What the discovered was that the blonde haired islanders had a specific gene, now called TYRP1, that changes the pigmentation of their hair.

What is perhaps most surprising is that Europeans have no trace of the gene in their genome. This, as Carlos Bustamante says: “For me it breaks down any kind of simple notions you might have about race,”

Hopefully these scientists will continue to learn more about hair and skin pigments and the genes that cause them. Do you like your hair color? Ever wonder why certain people seem to have one type of hair color instead of another? Just remember, it can all be explained by the genes.

Crocodiles…They Can Take Down a T-Rex

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always wondered what I would do if I was ever being chased by a crocodile. At a young age I learned that you should always run zig zag, because that slows the beast down. Good advice right? Well, what if the crocodile still catches up to you? Don’t say your prayers yet. If your crocodile is relatively small, but just looks like it would have a nasty bite because of the way it’s teeth look, you may be in the clear!

Photo Credit: Ramy Alaa

A recent article explains that the the size, shape, and look of jaws is not an accurate barometer of how hard that particular crocodile will bite. For years, scientists believed that evolution created crocodiles with jaws that are broader so that their bite is also very strong. Reversely, crocodiles with a jaw that looks somewhat delicate would have a low bite force. Now scientists know that teeth and jaws evolve completely separately to that of bite force. In fact, the only variable that affects the bite force a crocodile will have is the size of the animal.

To give some perspective, the average crocodile now has a bite force of approximately 2,000 pounds. In his study, Dr. Erickson discovered that a crocodile alive at the same time of the dinosaurs had a bite force of 23,000 pounds. This bite force is greater than what a T-Rex would have had!

In order to fully test his theory that only size of the animal is related to bite force, Dr. Erickson invented a device that measures the bite force of a crocodile as the animal is crunching down on the metal padded rod. Using this device, Dr. Erickson was able to measure the bite force’s of all 23 species of crocodilians. The results were surprising. Instead of jaw size and shape, the only correlation to bite force came from the size of the animal.

I encourage you to think about an escape plan if you are ever faced with a crocodile. Whether or not their bite force is considered strong or not, most likely it could still severely injure you. I suggest running away, even if the crocodile looks like it’s bite force is less than 1000 pounds. Trust me. What do you think about this recent finding? Common sense? Or did you assume that jaw shape played a part in how hard a crocodile could bite, as well?

No Drinking Age for Fruit Flies!

Photo Credit: digicla

Why can’t I drink alcohol but a mere fruit fly is able to, you ask? Well unless you wish for wasps to lay their eggs inside you I suggest you drop that argument.

A new article explains what is going on. Fruit flies eat a lot of yeast (which as we know from our studies breaks down sugar and in the process produces alcohol). They do this because a certain kind of wasp actually lays its’ eggs inside of a fruit fly, so that when the eggs hatch the baby wasps can eat the living fly and eventually leave the body when they are grown. Beware because things get more disgusting than that…

To prevent such malicious murder, the flies have a trick of their own. They consume so much yeast that they are considered “drunk”. The alcohol smells so bad to the wasps that not only do they choose to not lay their eggs within that particular fly, but any eggs they do lay meet a very violent end.

Here is where things get worse. In a study done by Dr. Schlenke, wasps were allowed to lay eggs in two flies. One fly was perfectly sober, and one was fed food that had 6% alcohol in it. As I’ve said, more wasps layer their eggs in the sober fly, and less in the drunk fly. However, the eggs that did get laid in the drunk fly did not meet an honorable end. Dr. Schlenke found that 65 percent of the eggs inside of the drunk fly not only died, but died because all of their tiny inside organs had shot out through their anus. At this point I wish that I was not writing about this article, but the show must go on.

It was also discovered by Dr. Schlenke that if a fly ate the alcohol ridden yeast before being violated by the wasps, it made no difference. Such a discovery lead scientists to ponder whether the flies realized the deadly wasps inside of them and so chose to eat the yeast then, in order to kill off the parasite. Further experiments with flies showed that the flies do indeed seek out the alcohol as a self medication to kill off the wasps inside of them.

Smart flies right? Can you believe that this is what fruit flies have to put up with? Or that little tiny flies can get drunk off the alcohol produced by yeast? I, for one, will take a drinking age of 21 any day instead of having tiny wasps live inside me. But thats just me, what do you think?

Mac and Cheese Mathematics

Tonight I plan on cooking some mac and cheese. So I went to the store and bought some pasta called Campanelle. Ever hear of it? It resembles a small bell or flower, depending on how you turn it. What if I told you that the Campanelle pasta has a unique mathematical equation to it, that when entered into a program would create a digital rendering of that particular pasta? No, I’m not lying!

An article from The New York Times reports that a Mr. Huisman discovered after dinner one day that the pasta he was eating was a very interesting shape. He decided to give it a go in his computer software Mathematica, and try to discover the equation that creates different pieces of pasta. Miraculously, he was able to come up with the equation, and many more as well!

Photo Credit: Beau Maes

Mr. Huisman may not have been the pioneer of such work however, because in London, two architects were thinking the same thing. Marco Guarnieri and George L. Legendre began to toy with the idea of pasta’s having equations too. Eventually, such experimenting gave way to Legendre’s 208 page book: “Pasta by Design“. Not even this was enough for Mr. Legendre, however,  because he was prompted to create a new kind of pasta! It is named ioli, for his baby daughter, and although it was planned to have about 100 pounds ordered, the production has stopped because of difficulties keeping the ends together.

I wish I could create a new kind of pasta. What would you guys make yours look like? What would you name it? Do you think you will buy Mr. Legendre’s book?

Grab your 3D glasses, it’s dissecting time!


Photo Credit- Tulane Public Relations

Welcome to the future fellow blog readers! If you are an aspiring medical doctor, listen up. If you go to the New York University School of Medicine, you may be asked to examine a virtual cadaver.

An article explains why students were asked to dissect a virtual cadaver, instead of an actual dead body. Actual cadaver’s, although they have been used for centuries to help teach aspiring doctors, are imperfect because of death and other factors. A cadaver must meet many qualifications to be used for research and teaching. The entire medical history must be known, and all vital organs and veins must be present for teaching purposes. But now, with this new technology from Nvidia, medical students can examine a virtual cadaver that is projected on to a screen.

With this new technology, the body can be dissected just as a real cadaver might, but with certain added bonuses. One student, Chana Rich, says that the new technology is particularly useful because she can continually replace organs and veins and it looks as though they had never been removed. Also, the interactive screen allows more students to examine the body and more easily. However, some people disagree. The general consensus among students and professors alike mirror that of a first year medical student Susanna Jeurling. “I don’t think this will ever replace cadavers. There’s something about being able to hold it and turn it in your hand.”

Despite the possible disadvantages, virtual cadavers are a valuable resource to be used in addition to the examination of actual cadavers. Professors at the NYU Medical School, and developers of the virtual body technology have great dreams for their invention. Expansion of the technology into everyday lives is in the plan for the new program, to be used as a useful tool for students in all types of education.

Do you feel that a virtual body can replace an actual cadaver? What are other possible advantages or disadvantages that you have thought of that aren’t outlined in this post?

Pass Me My E-Cigarette Please…

First the world switched from cd’s to iPods, and then books to e-books. This time we’re ditching the cigarettes and buying E-Cigarettes.

Photo Credit: momentimedia

A new invention that is gaining popularity throughout the world is E-Cigarettes. E-Cigarettes is a fake cigarette that when you treat it like a normal cigarette and take a breath from it, releases nicotine vapors into your body. It is designed to rival the experience of an actual cigarette, while still promoting a healthier option. But is it actually healthy? In this article, scientists and other advocates of cigarette abstinence say no.

Traditionally, the usual ways of quitting smoking can vary from cold turkey to using FDA approved products that also include Nicotine gum. However, these E-Cigarettes have been shown to dramatically aid the quiting process, as seen in a study done by the University of Catania. “After six months, more than half the subjects in Dr. Polosa’s experiment had cut their regular cigarette consumption by at least 50 percent. Nearly a quarter had stopped altogether.” 

Not everyone is so thrilled by E-Cigarette success. The FDA, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Action on Smoking and Health, and the Center for Tobacco-Free Kids have banded together against E-Cigarettes. “They argue that the devices, like smokeless tobacco, reduce the incentive for people to quit nicotine and could also be a “gateway” for young people and nonsmokers to become nicotine addicts. And they cite an F.D.A. warning that several chemicals in the vapor of e-cigarettes may be “harmful” and “toxic.””

In many ways E-Cigarette science must still be studied, along with the potential harms it could have on someone’s body. However the incentives to encourage the use of E-Cigarettes instead of normal Cigarettes are clear: “On a scale of harm from 1 to 100, where nicotine gums and lozenges are 1 and cigarettes are 100, he estimated that e-cigarettes are no higher than 2.” 

So what do you think? Should major anti-smoking agencies oppose this potentially safer cigarette substitute? Do you think that smoking is okay? How do you think people should quit if they choose to do so?

This Blog Post is Rated R for Cannibalism

How many Bones fans are out there? For the dedicated few who know, the telivision show Bones took a major plot turn in it’s third season. Basically, Zach, the endearing, yet oddly intelligent forensic anthropologist admitted to killing a man so that another man could eat him! Wow is right! Cannibalism is a disgusting yet intriguing topic that not only appears throughout history, but in modern day books, shows, and movies. Now, scientists are saying, the trend may also be increasingly taking place in different animal groups.

Everyone’s first reaction to cannibalism is ew! But are there certain valid ecological reasons why some animals eat their own kind? In this article, these scientists and researchers say yes. Certain animals, such as cane toads, Caecilians, and Tamarin monkeys, have recently been showing cannabilistic behaviors.

Cane tadpoles have been sighted feeding on similar Cane toad eggs,

Photo Credit: Doug Greenburg

even when given the choice to eat other types of eggs. The researchers defend this behavior by proposing these reasons: “The practice speeds up maturation; it eliminates future rivals who, given a mother toad’s reproductive cycle, are almost certainly unrelated to you; and it means exploiting an abundant resource that others find toxic but to which you are immune.” Regardless if the behavior is validated, the cannibalism is shocking researchers and scientists, prompting them to even come up with a name for this increasing behavior in animals: “extreme or uncanny cannibalism”.

The cannibalism, unfortunatly, doesn’t stop there. The article goes on

Photo Credit: Scott Kinmartin

to talk about a certain kind of Black Widow spiders whose males have been studied to sacrifice themselves to their mate. This particular cannibalism in these particular spiders is perhaps too disgusting to explain here, but basically the male donates his gametes to the female spider, in order to ensure that he can help father many, many more spiders in the future.

Let’s move on from spiders shall we? I mean cannibalism is already bad, but add in creepy spiders and Halloween and

Photo Credit: teague_o

you’re just setting your self up for nightmares. The next animal that has cannabilistic factors are the caecillians. Caecilians are limbless amphibians, whose mother’s feed themselves to their young. In another astonishing, gross manner, that I will not go into in great detail, the mother Caecilian goes through skin changes soon after giving birth that allows her young to feed on her skin in order to stay alive.

Photo Credit: momopeche

The mother, needless to say, dies.

The last animal I will talk about today is the Tamarin monkeys. The article paints a picture of the kind of cannibalism found among these seemingly innocent monkeys.”A mother tamarin holding her infant son was foraging for fruit with her adult daughter. One moment the charming tableau looked fine, baby monkey clinging adorably to mother’s fur. The next, the researchers watched as the mother bit through the baby’s skull and ate out its brain.” I doubt anyone reading this article will ever look at monkeys the same, but keep this in mind. The adult daughter was pregnant, meaning that if the already born baby monkey was to live, the daughter’s baby would be doomed, due to the raising of a Tamarin monkey being a group affair. It is unknown why one baby was better than the other, however it can be reasoned that the mother Tamarin was, by eating its own child, making a pact with her adult daughter that they would care for the next baby together.

Okay, if anyone is still reading up to this point, props to you. Truly, you seem to have no problem reading gruesome stories about disgusting animal cannabilistic tendencies. However, I do not wish to ask you, person who does not mind reading about this cannabilism, whether you think cannabilism is a valid life choice, because truthfully I do not wish to know your answer. Instead I will ask whether you have heard of any other seemingly innocent animals that have turned to cannibalism. Are their actions validated by ecology? Alright, off you go now. Go read about happy animals, or better yet, unicorns. Happy, non cannibalistic, unicorns.

Hartley 2, The Stork of Earth’s Water

You may remember what you were told about how water came to be on earth when you were younger.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons by AndyRobertsPhotos

Perhaps your siblings suggested that you cried so much you made the Atlantic. Perhaps that strange man your parents don’t like confided in you that water is merely a government conspiracy. Perhaps your elementary teachers assured you that you would learn about it when you were older. Well, the answer (or part of it, at least) is here. And the answer is: Comet Water.

A recent finding by researchers suggests that part of the world’s water supply may have been delivered by comets. To this day, only six comets have ever been detected with water on its surface. This new comet, named Hartley 2, was found with ice by scientists using the Herschel Space Telescope. What makes Hartley 2’s ice so profound compared to the other comets with water, has to do with their molecular composition. The other comets’ water had a ratio of deuterium to hydrogen that did not match up with the molecular composition of earth’s water. This suggests that those comets were not the source of earth’s water. Scientists believe that the ratio of these other comets did not match because they came from something called the Oort cloud. Hartley 2, is believed to have come from the Kuiper Belt which is “1,000 times closer to earth [than the Oort cloud]” This closeness seems to be the reason that Hartley 2’s ice is a molecular match for the water on earth.

With this finding, other comets can be compared to Hartley 2’s composition and determined as a match. However, with this exciting new finding also comes the promise of much more work in the future. Paul Hartogh, who works for the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, hints that: “This finding means that models of the formation of the solar system may have to be revisited.” 

Do you think that finding a possible source for earth’s water is worth re-thinking many current scientific knowns? Were you surprised that a comet could be a credible source of earth’s water? Don’t hesitate to comment below, I’m sure everyone would like to be updated on the research about this topic. And remember, with this new found knowledge you have to power to educate others about a true source of earth’s water.

Trust Me, I’m Clumsy

Credit: By mloberg licensed under Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike Non-Commercial Generic 2.0

Are you a clumsy person? Have you ever talked behind someone’s back and then realized they heard the entire conversation? Maybe you mistook a very large woman to be pregnant? Don’t worry, your embarrassment in these situations is actually beneficial to your social life!

A recent study has uncovered findings that seem to show that someone who gets embarrassed often is more trustworthy in his or her friends‘ eyes. UC Berkeley researchers interviewed, tested, and video taped 60 college students to find the correlation between embarrassment and trust.

In three of these experiments, overwhelming data came forward suggesting embarrassment leads to being trusted by your peers. The first experiment simply had the students on tape, explaining an embarrassing moment. The researchers studied how embarrassed the students became by telling the story, measuring the least amount of embarrassment as ” a downward gaze to one side while partially covering the face and either smirking or grimacing.”

The next experiment gave the students 10 raffle tickets and asked them to keep a portion for themselves, and give away the rest to a partner. The students who gave away the most tickets were those who got the most embarressed in the first experiment.

The third experiment had a trained actor tell each of the students separately that he received a 100% grade on a test. For some of the students the actor was humble and downplayed his happiness, and for the rest he acted proud. The students then played various games with the actor that the researchers were able to measure their trust for him. The students tended to trust the actor more when he was humble and embarrassed by the grade than when he was pridfull and not embarrassed at all.

I decided to test this article’s data. While writing this article, in a room full of my classmates, I positioned my chair in a precarious position and fell to the ground. Normally someone in my situation may try to hide their embarrassment and brush it off when everyone laughs. However I allowed my peer, and fellow AP Bio classmate, sweetasglucose, to help me up, and I showed my embarrassment. Once it was determined that I was alright, sweetasglucose said: “You fell to the ground in a rush. Then I noticed your blush. And I was like she will keep the secret about my crush!”

There you have it. Tested in our very own community. What do you guys think about embarrasment and trust? Do you trust your friends more if they’re clumsy? What other aspects about a person’s personality do you think makes them more trustworthy?


Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar