Courtesy MissTessmacherThe naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is truly one of the most remarkable animals on this earth. On average 3 inches long and weighing just over an ounce, one would not think this creature so high and mighty. However, its unusual traits have brought it under more medical scrutiny and established an ever increasing presence in research laboratories. Stories have rung for years about how the only species to survive a world Armageddon would be cockroaches and rats. My money is on the naked mole rat.
While called a rat, they are one of 37 species of mole rats globally and are more closely related to guinea pigs and porcupines than other Rodentia. Limited to parts of East Africa, they spend their lives under ground in a highly social commune of individuals, all governed by a queen. This is very similar to the eusociality seen in bees and ants. The queen is the only female to breed, with all other individuals serving as guards or workers. This unusual social life for a mammal in a colony can lead to fierce competitions among females when the old queen dies. It may take days or weeks of power struggle before life in the colony returns to normal.
In search of plant tubers for sustenance, they dig through the dirt with their teeth, developing a system of burrows that can carry on for miles. One of the naked mole rats remarkable features is its ability to survive in the high carbon dioxide environments of these tunnels. Their extremely low metabolic rate and high absorption of oxygen allow them to overcome the limitations of the cramped and congested space. Research has found that these mole rats are void of a pain transmitter called Substance P found in other mammals, and have an uncanny resistance to the oxidative stress of daily metabolism.
Researchers hope this could lead to new insights into the process of aging. Captive research colonies have had individuals live as long as 28 years. That is more than nine times as long as a research mouse! This longevity and unique durability lead even more scientists to consider the naked mole rat for captive study populations in the fight against other afflictions like stroke and cancer. If these superman-like traits haven’t given you a deeper appreciation for such a tiny hairless creature, perhaps you just need a clever ditty to sing their praises. Oh! …you so UGLY!
Courtesy Mark RyanThe Open Dinosaur Project (ODP) allows anyone with an interest in paleontology, and access to skeletal information, scientific publications, or museum skeletons themselves the opportunity to be part of the compilation of an actual scientific paper. Paleontologists Andy Farke, Matt Wedel, and Mike Taylor make up the core ODP team, but only the core. The rest of the team is made up of individuals around the world. The hope is to put together a comprehensive database of information about the dimensions of limb bones (legs, arms, hands, and feet) of ornithischian (bird-hipped) dinosaurs in museums around the world with a goal of “investigating the evolution of locomotion and limb proportions in this group.”
“The Open Dinosaur Project fits very comfortably into that loose coalition of ideas: we’re trying to democratize science, open up data, blog the process, and make sure that the final publications are freely available to the world,” Mike Taylor said during a recent interview with the Brazilian science publication Ciência Hoje On-line.
Courtesy Mark RyanTwo volunteers here at the Science Museum of Minnesota got themselves involved with this unique study. Becky Huset and Neva Key both work in the SMM paleo lab, usually hunched over fossils extracting them from rocks or preparing them for display. But recently, the two have spent time out on gallery floor measuring the limbs of some of the museum’s mounted ornithischian dinosaurs.
“We did the Camptosaurus and some cast bones from Stegosaurus from the collections,” Becky said. She added that measurements of the SMM Triceratops were already listed.
Why only ornithischian dinosaurs? Part of the reason was to keep the study somewhat manageable. But ornithischian dinosaurs also have an interesting evolution of locomotion that to date hasn’t been studied in depth. The dinosaur order radiated from a two-legged (biped) form into at least three different four-legged (quadruped) forms including armored dinosaurs (e.g. stegosaurs and ankylosaurs), ceratopsians (e.g. triceratops and chasmosaurus), and various ornithopod types, (e.g. camptosaurs, hadrosaurs, and iguanodontids).
Courtesy Open Dinosaur ProjectIn order to aid team members in gathering the proper information, instructions, templates, and other documents are available on the Open Dinosaur Project website. Diagrams explaining ornithischian limb osteology – including each bone’s proper name - are also on the site, as are illustrations showing exactly how to properly measure the dimensions of different bones. For those involved who don’t have access to museum specimens or material in other collections, the team leaders provide lists where prior publications with skeletal information can be accessed and mined for the study.
By last week, the Open Dinosaur Project had acquired nearly 1600 entries, but the results of all this work remain to be seen. The compiled data will be analyzed over the next couple months, and Farke, Wedel, and Taylor plan to begin writing the paper this spring. When completed the study will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. If all goes as planned, after publication, the lead researchers will make all the data available online for future studies.
Now that their data has been entered on the ODP site, SMM volunteers Huset and Key will have their names included as contributors, and eligible to be included in the resulting paper.
"We wanted to get the general public excited about and involved in doing “real” science, working in cooperation with paleontologists. There is a great interest out there in paleontology, particularly dinosaurs. It’s amazing how many non-paleontologists read the technical literature! I thought, “Why not harness this enthusiasm?” There have been many people waiting for this sort of opportunity (even if they didn’t know it), and I think the response speaks for itself." – Andy Farke in Ciência Hoje On-line
Becky Huset enjoyed being involved with the project. “[It] sounded like a good idea,” she said. “I like having knowledge that is freely available to everyone, and it was a good way to contribute to a paper. Do some "real" work."
Courtesy Wiki Media CommonsScience Buzz bloggers have been buzzing about this topic for some time, but as the time draws near, I thought I would jump in for those new to Science Buzz. The rapidly expanding field of DNA analysis is now being used to verify the genealogy of the great kings of Egypt. Zahi Hawass, chief of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt, has announced that on February 17th, 2010 he will be revealing the results of DNA testing on the famous mummy of the boy king, Tutankhamun. DNA testing has already been done on King Amenhotep III (who reigned from approximately 1388 to 1351 BCE) for comparison as he is believed to be either Tut’s father or grandfather. The mummy of Amenhotep’s son, Akhenaten (who could be Tut’s father), has yet to be found. Researchers also plan to test the DNA of two mummified fetuses found in the tomb to determine if they are related to Tut and shed light on whether King Tut’s bride, daughter of Akhenaten, was his full sister or half sister.
Despite the popularity of King Tut and the splendid artifacts found in his tomb, he is actually only a minor figure in the history of Egyptian pharaohs, reigning for a mere 10 years in a time of great unrest. The story of Akhenaten is more interesting. Akhenaten, who ruled from 1352 to 1336 BCE, is famous for changing both religion and artistic style in Egypt, what is now known as the Amarna Period. Akhenaton introduced a new monotheistic cult of worship surrounding the sun disc Aten and excluded all other Egyptian gods from being worshipped in an effort to suppress the powerful priesthood of Amun.
Courtesy Hajor and Wiki Media CommonsArtwork during the Amarna Period took on a more naturalistic style and often emphasized affectionate family scenes of the Pharaoh with his wife Nefertiti and their children. Of interest to many art historians is the depiction of Akhenaten himself. He is represented with an accentuated feminine appearance, rounded protruding belly, wide hips, long slender limbs, and a long thin face. Some believe it is a purposeful political depiction stressing his belief in equality of the sexes, some suggest he was a hermaphrodite, and others suggest he had Marfan’s syndrome. People with Marfan’s syndrome are usually very tall with long thin arms and legs, have thin faces, and funnel shaped chests. Unfortunately, until his mummy is located this will remain a mystery.
When Akhenaten died, the priests of Amun regained power, striking Akhenaten’s name from Egyptian records, reversed all of his religious and governmental changes, and returned the capitol to Thebes. His son, Tutankhaten changed his name to Tutankhamun to honor Amun and became the now famous boy king ruling from 1336 to 1327 BCE.
Mr. Hawass has announced plans to test all the royal mummies using their new $5 million DNA lab in the Egyptian museum. However, there is some concern in the scientific field that he will not submit results to labs outside Egypt for independent verification as is common practice in DNA testing. For example, DNA results of Hatshepsut, Egypt’s famous, powerful and only female pharaoh have never been released. Our fascination with the pharaohs is sure to continue for many more centuries.
Courtesy Dr. Mohamed FaisalNo… not a rock bass (even though it has a red iris). Nor any normal walleye you might be lucky enough to snag. This fish you might not even need to actually catch. It could be floating next to the boat along with most of the other fish in your favorite river, lake, or reservoir. That is if the dreaded VHS continues to spread and strike us deep in the land of 10,000 lakes. Move over zebra mussel, Eurasian milfoil, and the Asian carp, VHS is viral hemorrhagic septicemia and the latest migrant in the spread of invasive species.
Viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) is a virus. It is a small invading critter that can be quite infectious. Not all fish will show obvious signs. Those that do can exhibit hemorrhaging in the eyes, around the fins, or on the gills. Bloating, erratic behavior, bulging eyes, or even lesions could also be present. On the inside, the disease will attack the liver, kidneys, spleen or swim bladder. Those fish that do survive can still be infected and spread the disease. Blood, urine and even the reproductive fluids of infected fish can pass on the virus. Larger fish can get it from eating smaller infected fish.
The disease can be wide spread and is known to affect up to 28 different species of fish. Some of the fish kills have numbered in the tens of thousands. Many of our popular game fish are susceptible. Walleye, Northern Pike, Muskellunge, Smallmouth Bass, Perch, Crappies, Bluegills, Sheepshead and many others are on the list. Even some species of shiner bait fish have been found to carry the disease. While deadly for many fish, the disease is of no harm to humans. The warmth of our bodies is too hot for the virus to survive.
The virus has been known for many decades, but until recently was mainly a scourge of European fish farms. Viral hemorrhagic septicemia was first detected in American coastal waters in 1988, among the salmon populations of the Pacific Northwest. Then in 2005, tested fish showed up positive between Lake Huron and Lake Erie, and were confirmed in samples harvested two years earlier. Now, local news just recently reported on a Cornell study that found VHS diseased fish in the bay waters of the Duluth-Superior harbor on the western edges of Lake Superior. Make no mistake… the ‘bleeding fish’ disease is here at our doorstep.
Guests of the inland waterways will be reminded to be vigilant in safe boating and fishing practices by local resource managers. Be mindful not to transport fish, plants, or bait from one water body to another. Keep those live-wells empty, and dry or rinse that boat! It will fall upon all of us to remain vigilant. Let’s not allow this disease to become a crippling blow to our native fisheries. If we do, it is possible that we’ll witness many seasons of massive fish kills.
More good VHS information:
Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources
Courtesy PixelAndInkNo fries. I’m watching my diet.
Yeah, I said ammonia burger. Haven’t you heard that your favorite fast food beef gut –bomb was most likely treated with ammonia? It’s not like the teenage fry cook at the burger joint reaches under the counter and grabs the bottle of floor cleaner to splash on a sizzling grill. However, there is still extra ammonia used to treat a ‘portion’ of your burger. Just a little extra ammonia injected during a specially patented process that makes up a percentage of the meat to form a patty. That ‘portion’ is where I think the real story lies.
Over the last few months, the news wires have been releasing stories about this specially patented process, including leading breaks by the New York Times. The stories center on the company, Beef Products Inc. (BPI) located in South Dakota. BPI developed the procedure of treating beef trimmings with ammonia to reduce the presence of harmful bacteria such as salmonella and E. Coli. Some of their main customers include McDonald’s, Burger King, and local food conglomerate Cargill. BPI had performed so well during USDA inspections that by 2007 they were exempted from testing. Its customers have stood firmly by its side. Last summer, things changed when school outbreaks of salmonella resulted in a banning of BPI meat products in some states. The pressure is on the U.S. Department of Agriculture now to investigate any issues.
No one wants to eat meat products contaminated with E. Coli or salmonella. But the whole idea of eating something treated with ammonia just doesn’t sound safe. Was it too many years of Mr. Yuck stickers as a child? I realize ammonia is a naturally occurring substance and can be already present in meats. When I really began to search my inner self about this angst, I found that what truly bothered me was the product being treated. This ammonia process wasn’t used on all beef. Slaughterhouses don’t give the fated bovines an ammonia bath before packaging. This process only is used on beef trimmings. Just say those two words to yourself slowly… pause and contemplate. Beef Trimmings.
Courtesy cobalt123Described by one source as a “pink slime”, trimmings are the last vestiges of muscle tissue left from a good butchering. It has been separated from the ‘majority’ of bone, cartilage and connective tissue. It is then spun by centrifugal force to remove fat, pressed, screened for metal, frozen, chipped, and pressed into 60 pound blocks. In the end, it only need be 12% visible lean tissue to classify as trimmings. The USDA has standards on what constitutes both meat and trimmings. This scrap used to be regulated to pet food and cooking oil. Do we really need to be mixing some into each of our double cheeseburgers? I’d be curious to know what percentage of trimmings makes up that quarter pound patty. Take out the trimmings and we can skip the whole ammonia question.
Recent questions are being plumbed by many parties about these food safety issues. Requests for documents have been met with some resistance by BPI. They seek to block any release of the research done by the Iowa State professor who published supportive findings. Now the courtroom waltzes begin and the delay of answers drags on. I’m certain this won’t be the last we’ve heard of those tasty ammonia treated trimmings.
I think i'll change that order to a chicken sandwich. That's 'free-range' correct?
Courtesy Chuang Zhao and Lida XingScientists from China and the United Kingdom say they have found hints of color present in the fossils of both an ancient bird called Confuciusornis and a non-avian dinosaur called Sinosauropteryx. Using an electron microscope the researchers detected differently-shaped organelles called melanosomes in the feathers of each creature. Melanosomes contain melanin which determines color in human hair, animal fur, and feathers, but it's the shape of the melanosomes that determine the shade.
"A ginger-haired person would have more spherical melanosomes, and a black-haired or grey-haired person would have more of the sausage-shaped structures," said Mike Benton, professor of paleontology at the University of Bristol, and leader of the study.
Both shapes were found in the remains of Confuciusornis, which lived during the Early Cretaceous period. In the Sinosauropteryx fossil, which dates back to the same time, light and dark bands visible along its tail were determined to be white and ginger in color when its fossilized melanosomes were viewed under the microscope. The presence of melanosomes also confirms that the turkey-sized dinosaur had actual feathers rather than just shredded connective tissue as some scientists have suggested. The research appears in the latest issue of Nature.
Courtesy Walters Art MuseumThe Dead Sea Scrolls have been radiocarbon dated two different times since they were discovered (excludiing the test on a piece of linen associated with the scrolls in the 1950’s by Willard Libby(the guy who invented the radiocarbon dating method)) by the Zurich Institute of Technology (1990) and the University of Arizona (1994). From these tests, researchers concluded that the scrolls are roughly 2,000 years old. However, scientists now think they can take “roughly” out of the picture, and provide more precise dates for the origins of the scrolls.
How would they do this? Is there a brand new method used for dating ancient objects?! Umm…no. Scientists will still use carbon-14 dating, but they found that a good ol’ scrub before the dating process provides better results (that usually holds true for people, too). I don’t mean that they’ll use soap and water (that would probably not be a good idea), but rather a chemical to remove plant residue. What happened was that in order to unroll the scrolls and spread them out without pulverizing them, researchers treated the scrolls with plant oil. This oil is thought to have interfered with the carbon-14 dating.
But now, after more than ten years of lab work, archaeochemist Kaare Lund Rasmussen and his team of researchers have developed a chemical that will remove the plant oil without harming the scrolls themselves. With this residue gone, the Dead Sea Scrolls can be more precisely dated, and history can be more accurately written (if you subscribe to the “accuracy” of history). At this point, there has been no new round of tests on the scrolls, and it’s unclear when that will take place.
I was surfing around the web the other night and came upon some a series of new videos on YouTube documenting a program originating out of the Paleon Museum in Glenrock, Wyoming. If you want to hunt for dinosaur fossils, Wyoming is the place to go. The series of videos follow a crew of paleo-wannabees led by museum director, Sean Smith, to a couple nearby dig sites. Renowned paleontologist Bob Bakker also gets involved, adding knowledge and background facts, and helping the participants decipher what exactly they find.
The program is well done and contains pretty much what you’d expect on the subject, but what’s cool about this particular series is that one of the participants involved was a volunteer here at the Science Museum of Minnesota a couple years ago. Katie Grace worked with me in the Dinosaur and Fossils gallery, and I remember talking with her about the summer adventure she had with her dad looking for dinosaurs in Wyoming.
Katie appears throughout the videos but most prominently in Pt. 1 where she is interviewed starting at 7:10. Way to go Katie!
By the way, the last video in the series features several watercolor paintings by geologist Arthur Lakes, a subject I wrote about a couple weeks ago.
Courtesy toolmantimHere’s an article about a paper airplane virtuoso who’s trying to break the world’s record (held by himself) for keeping a hand-launched paper plane in the air. Engineer Takuo Toda of Japan not only wants to beat his old record of 27.9 seconds – set last April in Hiroshima – he’s also set his sights on achieving the nearly impossible - breaking the 30 second barrier. Actually, the record time of 27.9 seconds should require an asterisk in the record books since it was set using a paper plane with tape on it. The paper-only airplane record – using a single sheet of uncut paper - is 26.1 seconds, and Toda holds that one, too. This guy seems to be the undisputed king of paper airplanes, but I'm sure somebody out there can show him a thing or two. Check out some of the links below and maybe it can be you.
MORE ABOUT PAPER AIRPLANES
More about paper airplane aerodynamics
Build your own paper airplane (by former record holder Ken Blackburn
Build the best paper airplane
How to build 10 paper airplanes with animated instructions no less
Even more paper airplane designs
Courtesy ESACan it be true? Yes, for a mere $5,544 dollars round-trip airfare to Greenland! In March 2009, the European Space Agency launched the Gravity field and steady-state Ocean Circulation Explorer (GOCE) into orbit around our planet, which is now transmitting detailed data about the Earth’s gravity. The GOCE satellite uses a gradiometer to map tiny variations in the Earth’s gravity caused by the planet’s rotation, mountains, ocean trenches, and interior density. New maps illustrating gravity gradients on the Earth are being produced from the information beamed back from GOCE. Preliminary data suggests that there is a negative shift in gravity in the northeastern region of Greenland where the Earth’s tug is a little less, which means you might weigh a fraction of a pound lighter there (a very small fraction, so it may not be worth the plane fare)!
In America, NASA and Stanford University are also working on the gravity issue. Gravity Probe B (GP-B) is a satellite orbiting 642 km (400 miles) above the Earth and uses four gyroscopes and a telescope to measure two physical effects of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity on the Earth: the Geodetic Effect, which is the amount the earth warps its spacetime, and the Frame-Dragging Effect, the amount of spacetime the earth drags with it as it rotates. (Spacetime is the combination of the three dimensions of space with the one dimension of time into a mathematical model.)
Quick overview time. The Theory of General Relativity is simply defined as: matter telling spacetime how to curve, and curved spacetime telling matter how to move. Imagine that the Earth (matter) is a bowling ball and spacetime is a trampoline. If you place the bowling ball in the center of the trampoline it stretches the trampoline down. Matter (the bowling ball) curves or distorts the spacetime (trampoline). Now toss a smaller ball, like a marble, onto the trampoline. Naturally, it will roll towards the bowling ball, but the bowling ball isn’t ‘attracting’ the marble, the path or movement of the marble towards the center is affected by the deformed shape of the trampoline. The spacetime (trampoline) is telling the matter (marble) how to move. This is different than Newton’s theory of gravity, which implies that the earth is attracting or pulling objects towards it in a straight line. Of course, this is just a simplified explanation; the real physics can be more complicated because of other factors like acceleration.
Courtesy noneSo what is the point of all this high-tech gravity testing? First of all, our current understanding of the structure of the universe and the motion of matter is based on Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity; elaborate concepts and mathematical equations conceived by a genius long before we had the technology to directly test them for accuracy. The Theory of General Relativity is the cornerstone of modern physics, used to describe the universe and everything in it, and yet it is the least tested of Einstein’s amazing theories. Testing the Frame-Dragging Effect is particularly exciting for physicists because they can use the data about the Earth’s influence on spacetime to measure the properties of black holes and quasars.
Second, the data from the GOCE satellite will help accurately measure the real acceleration due to gravity on the earth, which can vary from 9.78 to 9.83 meters per second squared around the planet. This will help scientists analyze ocean circulation and sea level changes, which are influenced by our climate and climate change. The information that the GOCE beams back will also assist researchers studying geological processes such as earthquakes and volcanoes.
So, as I gobble down another mouthful of leftover turkey and mashed potatoes, I can feel confident that my holiday weight gain and the structure of the universe are of grave importance to the physicists of the world!