Courtesy Gertrude K.Even if you are terrified of spiders - you have to admit that they're pretty cool critters. Dr. Susan Rayor of Cornell University's Biology Program certainly thinks so. She spends much of her time studying the behavior of spiders, whose unusual sex and predatory lives are the subject of talk she'll be giving tonight at the Bryant-Lake Bowl in South Minneapolis. This talk is part of a monthly science series called Cafe Scientifique. You can find out more here.
Cafe Scientifique: A Romance With Spiders
Presented by The Bell Museum of Natural History
Tuesday, February 17th, 2009. 7PM.
Bryant-Lake Bowl, 810 W Lake St., Minneapolis.
Spiders are primarily solitary, often cannibalistic, voracious predators that are one of the most important terrestrial predators on earth. Yet 1% of spiders are highly social, living in large groups characterized by tolerance and cooperation. Even in the most social spider species, individuals must balance the benefits of group living and the strong compulsion to eat irritating colleagues. In this talk, Dr. Susan Rayor of Cornell University's Biology Department will discuss how she came to combine romance with spiders and aspects of their unusual sex and predatory lives. In addition to giving public talks across the country, Rayor has been featured on the Discovery Channel, and is working with her husband on a book about the behavior and ecology of spiders.
For countless centuries, people have attempted to become immortal. Now, we are ever closer to this ancient goal. This is not just like the progress in raising life expectancy that has been continuing since the Industrial Revolution. It is extending the lifespan beyond what is naturally possible, about 120 years (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4003063.stm , from 2004, but still relevant). New medical discoveries and technologies that are leading us to this goal are being developed faster than ever. (http://www.physorg.com/news143392265.html)
Many methods using modern science have been proposed to make people live unnaturally long. Those include genetic engineering, adding physical enhancements which will basically make people cyborgs, cryogenics, and uploading a person's mind onto a computer and abandoning the human body altogether. For now, at least, this is basically science fiction, but the goal is coming closer to realization. Many researchers are working on the scientific problem, and bioethicists are arguing over whether it is actually desirable.
Arguments in support of life extension basically revolve around the fact that they believe death is avoidable and thus is an unnecessary tragedy (see http://www.nickbostrom.com/fable/dragon.html for an explanation of this view in allegory form). Opponents of artificial life extension argue that it would cause overpopulation, drain the world's resources, and very likely be impossible or improbable in the foreseeable future (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/4059549.stm). Many private foundations fund research into life extension currently. While this does not seem to be a pressing issue right now, in the future it will come more into the spotlight, along with other speculative technologies such as artificial intelligence and space colonization. What do you think about life extension?
See the links on the Wikipedia page.
What are the major differences in Microbiology and Immunization biology? Just wondering.
A great biology teaching resource can be found at biologybrowser.org. Both the Biology Browser home page and their search engine are subdivided into:
Courtesy Art Oglesby Another feature is the "Hot Topics" box inserted top and center of the page. Todays hot topic was "stem cells". The link took me to an Essential Science Indicators page listing the top 20 papers, authors, institutions, and journals.
An editorial section features, interviews, first-person essays, profiles, and other features about people in the stem cell field. Three scientists are featured, the first being Dr. Outi Hovatta discussing her highly cited paper, "A culture system using human foreskin fibroblasts as feeder cells allows production of human embryonic stem cells"
Check it out
If you wish to keep up with advances in the biological sciences, I recommend exploring BiologyBrowser and learn to use the tools they provide.
Cut spinal cords, destroyed brain tissue, or damaged heart muscle can be repaired by injecting stem cells into the damaged area. Embryonic stem (ES) cells are like blank cells that give rise to every type of cell and tissue in the body. Using human embryos or unfertilized human eggs as a source of stem cells raised show-stopping opposition. Now stem cells have been produced from skin.
Two separate teams of researchers announced on Tuesday they had transformed ordinary skin cells into batches of cells that look and act like embryonic stem cells -- but without using cloning technology and without making embryos.
Both teams call the new cells induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells and say they look and act like embryonic stem cells.
The research was published online Tuesday by two journals, Cell and Science. The Cell paper is from a team led by Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of Kyoto University; the team published by Science was led by Junying Yu, working in the lab of stem-cell pioneer James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Thompson said the technique is so simple that "thousands of labs in the United States can do this, basically tomorrow." In contrast, the cloning approach is so complex and expensive that many scientists say it couldn't be used routinely to supply stem cells for therapy.
I've been chatting with Chris Condayan from the American Society for Microbiology and discovering a bunch of great website about this science of "wee beasties." I had to share some of the fun:
Adopt a Microbe is a goofy blog from Emma Lurie, a microbiology student in perth. A graphic artist, Lurie, draws great cartoons of common microbes and posts them along with fun and simple descriptions. From Bacillus cereus' description:
I love rice!
Rice is one of my favourite places to live, especially if it's been reheated over and over.
You can get food poisoning from me that will give you diarrhoea and vomiting.
I use a special toxin to make you sick.
Ever wonder about the history of microbiology but didn't want to watch a dry film with boring scientists? LEGOs to the rescue. These whimsical animated LEGO mini-figs tell the wild history of microbiology greats like Louis Pasteur.
Rescuers from the US Fish and Wildlife Service are trying to capture a manatee that has strayed far from home. These large, gentle creatures normally live in the Gulf of Mexico. But one half-ton hombre swan 700 miles up the Mississippi River and is now inhabiting the harbor at Memphis, Tennessee!
Scientists are concerned for the animal's health. Nearly hairless, manatees need water 68 degrees or warmer. The river is a little bit chillier than that, and biologists worry that the creature’s digestive system could shut down. They are trying to corral it and move it to Sea World Florida, where it can receive medical attention.
The common housefly or even an octopus might inspire the next generation of optical gadgets. Bioengineers are looking to the animal kingdom for ideas for the next high-tech cameras, motion detectors, and navigation devices. It does not come as any surprise that bioengineers wish to replicate the advanced light catching structures in animal eyes. Stated in an article from AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) “natural selection has produced at least ten animal vision systems, each tailored to fit the specific needs of its owner. Eyes for different species are adapted for seeing in the day or night, short or long distances, with wide or narrow fields of view, ect.”
In some cases, animal systems are less complex and more efficient when compared to synthetic counterparts. Nanotech researcher Luke Lee at the University of Berkeley with college Robert Szema are trying to better understand and imitate animal eyes in hopes of creating the next cutting edge optical gadget. Lee and Szema described their attempts in the November 18 issue of the journal Science. Now lets gain a better understanding about animal eye structure.
Animals have two main types of vision systems: camera-type eyes and compound eyes. Humans have camera-type eyes, as do many fish, birds and reptiles. Camera-type eyes utilize a single lens focusing images onto a light detector termed a retina. Lee and other researchers have only created gadgets using the principles of the camera-type eye. However, scientists are getting closer in constructing gadgets based on compound eyes.
Compound eyes, such as in dragonflies, use up to 29,000 lenslets per eye. Lenslets or ommatidia function independent of each other producing remarkable fast-motion detection. Biology professor and dragonfly-vision expert Robert Olberg at Union College in Schenectady, New York stated, “The dragonfly’s field of vision is actually 360 degrees.”
Lee has gone as far as creating 180-degree hemispheres with ommatidia, like the dragonfly, though the hemispheres might not display all the possible pictures. Lee hopes to bond two 180-degree hemispheres to create a 360-degree view. Practical uses could be outstanding surveillance cameras or perhaps scoping the inside of our digestive tract. Would you like to own a gadget having 360-degree vision? If so, what would it be?