Stories tagged Life Science


These three stories are all about weird fish.  No, not the restaurant in SF, but the wet kind.: Photo by lawgeek at
These three stories are all about weird fish. No, not the restaurant in SF, but the wet kind.: Photo by lawgeek at

I surf the web. I read the blogs. I see stuff that looks interesting, and I file it away, They accumulate, they reach critical mass, and they burst forth in full, horrendous flower.

Which is a roundabout way of saying, I’ve seen a few interesting articles on marine life lately, and rather than write three separate posts, I thought I’d wrap them all up into one.


Scientists in Hawaii have discovered a new deep-sea creature with the arms of an octopus and the mantle of a squid. Dubbed “octosquid,” it was caught in the filter of a deep sea pipeline.

Hungry squid invade California

Humboldt squid, a giant predator that can grow 7 feet long and weigh up to 110 pounds, has expanded its range into central California. It normally hangs out in tropical waters from Peru to Costa Rica. But fishing pressures have reduced its natural predators – tuna, swordfish and sharks – resulting in a squid population explosion. They have moved north into new territory. Humans, seals, otters and other mammals have nothing to fear, but the squid do eat large amounts of hake, anchovy and other commercial fish.

Sea monsters

Check out this photo gallery of weird, cool creatures of the deep.


Squish it down, roll it out, and it becomes a worm: Photo NOAA.
Squish it down, roll it out, and it becomes a worm: Photo NOAA.

When it’s related to jellyfish. In 1851 scientists discovered an odd marine worm called Buddenbrockia. Unlike other worms, it has no internal organs. According to Oxford zoologist Peter Holland, “It has no mouth, no gut, no brain and no nerve cord. It doesn’t have a left or right side or a top or bottom – we can’t even tell which end is the front!”

No one knew where exactly if fit on the evolutionary tree. Until now. Holland studied the creatures DNA and found it is actually a close relative of jellyfish, sea anemones and coral.

Before you shrug your shoulders and say “so what?,” realize that Buddenbrockia is a parasite, and comes from a whole family of parasites. It devastates salmon fisheries, and has been hard to eradicate, since the fish farmers didn’t know what they were up against. Now we do.

Holland also notes that this research was made possible by the Human Genome Project, which decoded all the DNA in the human body. Not that human genes have anything much to do with jellyfish and worms. Rather, the Human Genome Project developed new, powerful ways to quickly study DNA. Those methods are now available to other researchers who could never have developed them on their own. In science, we call this the Trickle Down Effect.


Blood donation.: Image courtesy size8jeans.
Blood donation.: Image courtesy size8jeans.
I am a blood donor – and if you are not, and are able to, I would encourage you to be a donor too. The process of blood donation is relatively simple, and sort of painless. And although all blood looks the same, and is made of the same basic elements, there are actually eight different common blood types: A(+/-), B(+/-), AB(+/-), and O(+/-). The letters A and B stand for two antigens that can be present on the surface of a red blood cell. Someone with the A antigen can’t donate to someone with the B antigen, and vice versa. For example, I have type A blood, meaning the A antigen is present on my blood cells. My blood can be donated to persons who have types A or AB blood and I can get blood from donors who are also type A or who are type O. If I received type B blood I would suffer a serious, possibly fatal, hemolytic reaction. It is therefore very important that the blood type of a donor and a recipient be properly identified.

To further complicate matters, blood types are also either positive or negative for the presence of another antigen, Rh. If you have the Rh antigen on the surface of your red blood cells you have Rh+ blood, if you do not have the Rh antigen, you are Rh-. So, if you have Rh- blood you can only receive blood from others of the same blood type (A, B, AB, or O) who also have Rh- blood. But, if you are Rh+ you can receive from both Rh+ and Rh- blood types.

Now, type O blood (called type zero in some countries) has neither the A or B antigen and therefore, type O negative blood can be given to anyone. Persons with type O negative blood are referred to as “universal donors”. If everyone had type O negative, blood transfusions would be less risky – unfortunately, only about 7% of Americans have type O negative blood.

Recently a company called ZymeQuest in Massachusetts announced that it had discovered two enzymes, called glycosidases and derived from bacteria, that could be used to strip A or B antigens from the surface of the red blood cells, essentially enzyme-converting them to type O cells. By converting all A-negative, B-negative and AB-negative blood into O-negative blood would increase the availability of “universal donor blood” from 7% to 16%. While we’re likely far away from this blood conversion being used in patients, it is currently being tested in the U.S. and in Europe.

Learn more about donating blood here and here.

Play a game to see if you can match the right blood donor to the right recipient here.


No, he's not dead, he's restin'! Remarkable bird, the Brazilian blue. Beautiful plumage!: Photo by gnakcgnackgnack at
No, he's not dead, he's restin'! Remarkable bird, the Brazilian blue. Beautiful plumage!: Photo by gnakcgnackgnack at

Chalk up another victory for environmental protection. Lear’s Macaw, a brilliant blue parrot native to Brazil, is coming back from the brink of extinction. Ten years ago, a survey found only 70 birds in the wild. A June count by the American Bird Conservancy found 751.

The bird is still endangered by hunting and illegal pet trade. But protecting its habitat in northeastern Brazil has helped bring the bird back.

Oh, and before I forget: Season 1, episode 8.


The deadly cycle: Farming > River > Dead Zone > SHARKS!
The deadly cycle: Farming > River > Dead Zone > SHARKS!
Did you know that the food we grow up here in the Midwest might cause shark attacks down in the Gulf of Mexico? Okay, I might be getting a little sensational but here is my train of thought.

  • We do a ton of farming up here in the central states. This requires lots of fertilizer which in many cases eventually runs into the Mississippi River.
  • The nutrients in this fertilizer flow down to the Gulf of Mexico where they cause a huge area of low oxygen in the water causing fish who can't swim long distances to die.
  • Other fish that can migrate, like sharks, get the heck outta dodge and end up swimming around in larger numbers in beach areas where people swim.

It gets worse. Just today, the BBC is reporting that scientists think that this year's dead zone could grow to 8,500 sq miles, the biggest ever!

I wonder what the "tipping point" is for this issue? I'm not seriously too worried about the shark attacks. But the environmental impacts of the dead zone are huge. How bad will this have to get before people start talking about the issue of fertilizer run-off around the water cooler? Then again, maybe we can get some positive public action during the upcoming shark week, but I am guessing agricultural practices won't exactly be their focus...alas.

Related link

Dead Zone - Great resource on the science behind the Dead Zone from none other, the Science Museum of Minnesota.


Some dinosaurs are just bigger than others: And it's nothing to be ashamed of.    (Image by red5standingby on
Some dinosaurs are just bigger than others: And it's nothing to be ashamed of. (Image by red5standingby on
Do you remember MDR’s post about the people of Henan, China, who had been grinding up dinosaur bones to be used in traditional medicine? I do. It was neat, and he made the cool picture of the stewed skeletons, And do you remember the story Thor covered , about heavy kids becoming stigmatized because of their weight? Of course you do. It’s just down the page.

Well, just this last week, the butterfly of fortune flapped its little wings, adding to a tiny gust of wind, which disturbed a droplet of sweat above the eye of a bull, which charged and scared those two stories so badly that they ran into each other in their panic. The collision was so severe that MDR’s article broke its leg, Thor’s article got a concussion, and a third story, an amalgam article, was spontaneously created.

It seems that some of the bones being soupified in the Henan province (which, interestingly, was not previously thought to have sediment old enough to contain dinosaur fossils) belonged to an undiscovered species of dinosaur, a dinosaur that looks to be the heaviest on record in all of Asia.

There doesn’t seem to be too much information available on the find right now, but paleontologists figure that the dinosaur was a robustly boned sauropod (four legs, herbivore, long neck and tail) that measured at least 59 feet. They also think that it had an unusually large coelom (“the body cavity that contains the digestive tract”), making it a very heavy, big-bellied creature.

Compared to the dinosaurs of Africa and the Americas, many of the dinosaurs of Asia were relatively small, and scientists believe that this creature very probably suffered merciless ridicule from its sleek and agile neighbors. It likely wore dark or vertically striped clothing (although fossil evidence for this is still very sketchy), and often told the other dinosaurs that it was simply big-boned (which was a wholly accurate, if rarely accepted, explanation).

Upon hearing that it had been made into soup, the new dinosaur began rolling over in its grave, which has severely hindered excavation efforts.

A couple of quite similar articles:


Danny told me so.

Bottled water: Photo by Dannyman
Bottled water: Photo by Dannyman
I saw this photo on dannyman's website.. He was illustrating that he refills his collection of bottles with tap water and that he thought bottling water in New Zealand and transporting it to North America was immoral. This quote also made me think.

I read that San Francisco recently enacted a ban on spending any further money for bottled water by city departments–currently the city spends $500,000/year on bottled water.

Drink tap water and save $1400/yr.

If you drink 8 glasses of water per day your cost per year is 49 cents (in New York). Buying that water in bottles could cost you $1400. Americans spent more than $10 billion on bottled water last year. The cost to the environment needs to be addressed, too. Transporting a gallon of water from France to Chicago burns about a cup of petroleum. Four out of five of the 30 billion throwaway bottles of water per year end up in landfills.

We switched to tap water.

I noticed that my wife recently switched to drinking tap water cooled in our refrigerator. She still kept buying cans of carbonated water for me, though. Last month I made the switch, too. What about you?

Read more:
New York Times
ABC News


Medical meditation: MRI technology has been used to help trace what's going on inside of the brain of someone meditating. The findings show medical reasons why people feel better after meditaing.
“Seinfeld” was a show about nothing, but a lot people really liked it and found it a worthwhile way to spend their time.

Could it be the same kind of situation for meditation? A new study thinks so.

Like “Seinfeld,” meditation is a lot of nothing – sitting still and concentrating. But the new research has focused in why it may be so effective for its practitioners. And actually, there’s a lot more going on in your head when you meditate than you would ever imagine.

Psychologists and therapists have known for a long time that talking about your feelings allows us to have more control over them. Through meditation, that process could be happening internally.

The researchers at UCLA hooked up test subjects to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine and watched what was going on in their heads. The scans showed that putting negative emotions into words actually calmed down activity in the brain and helped people get rid of those bad thoughts.

Here’s how one step of the process worked. While hooked up to a fMRI, subjects were shown pictures of people making emotional expressions. With that, they were presented with a variety of words to describe the emotions being expressed in the pictures. For negative emotions, the fMRI recorded increased activity in the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex region of the brain. That’s an area where we deal with words and language. At the same time, activity in the amygdala, our brain’s area of emotional processing, calmed down.

When the process was repeated by asking participants to give personal names to the same faces expressing emotion, the results were different. The amygdala did not calm down.

Some of the participants in the study also completed a questionnaire to see how “mindful” they are. Mediation and mindfulness are practices that people can follow to connect deeper with their emotions without having a strong reaction to them.

Those whose questionnaires showed they were more “mindful” also had strong differences in their fMRI scans between the activity in their right ventrolateral prefrontral cortex and a stronger calming effect in their amygdala after labeling their emotions.


Alzheimer's sniffer?: Are declining abilities to sense certain smells a sign that Alzheimer's disease is coming? Some researchers think it might be a possibility.
Alzheimer's sniffer?: Are declining abilities to sense certain smells a sign that Alzheimer's disease is coming? Some researchers think it might be a possibility.
While lost memories are the most evident sign of full-blown Alzheimer’s disease, new research is showing that our nose may be able to detect the onset of the dreaded condition.

A new study is targeting our sense of smell as being one of the first things to be impacted by Alzheimer’s. An easy scratch-and-sniff test might be the key to discovering the start of the condition in a person.

Through a five-year study, 150 people with memory loss had their noses’ effectiveness tested and compared with similar results in 63 healthy adults. The test was to have all of them identify ten specific smells – lemon, strawberry, smoke, soap, menthol, clove, pineapple, natural gas, lilac and leather.

What the researchers found was that the same percentage of people who had difficulty identifying the smells matched closely to the same percentage of people who develop Alzheimer’s through research that’s conducted by using MRI scans to measure brain volume loss.

While there’s not a direct correlation between the smell test and brain testing, researchers think it could be a good tool for doctors to use in monitoring the possible start of Alzheimer’s. Patients who do poorly on the smell test could go through more extensive testing that might find some early signs of the disease.

And while there is no cure, there are drugs and treatments that can slow down the progress of Alzheimer’s in the body. The sooner signs of the condition are discovered, the quicker slow-down action can be taken.

How does this all smell to you? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.


Cervarix, a second vaccine for cervical cancer prevention.

Cervarix vaccine: competition for Gardasil
Cervarix vaccine: competition for Gardasil

Results of the new vaccine, Cervarix, were recently published in Lancet. Report co-author Dr Rachel Skinner said the results were very encouraging.

"We have found through this study that this vaccine is extremely effective in the prevention of pre-cancerous disease of the cervix due to infection with HPV types 16 and 18."
"However we now have evidence that Cervarix offers women broader protection by providing some protection against infections caused by HPV types 45 and 31. These types together with HPV types 16 and 18 account for 80 per cent of cases of cervical cancer worldwide.

Nearly 500,000 new cervical cancer victims each year.

Cervical cancer is a major global health problem, with nearly 500,000 new cases occurring each year worldwide. It is the second most common cancer - and the third leading cause of cancer deaths - in women worldwide. Each year an estimated 270,000 women die from the disease, and it is the leading cancer killer of women in the developing world.

Links to our ongoing discussions on cervical cancer vaccinations.

Source article: GlaxcoSmithKline