Stories tagged Life Science

May
16
2007


Does your pacemaker love an iPod?: Research by a high school student shows significant troubles with iPod music devices and pacemakers working together in close proximity. Electromagnetic fields put out by the iPod can interfere with the performance of a pacemaker. (Photo by DRA studios)
Here’s news that you don’t need to be a highly-degreed scientist to make a scientific research breakthrough.

A high school student in Michigan has discovered that there are dangers of using an iPod if you’ve got a pacemaker inside your chest. Doing a test with 100 elderly patients who had pacemakers monitoring the beating of their hearts, the student found out that iPods caused electrical interference with the pacemakers 50 percent of the time when they’re within two inches of the site of the pacemaker. Other interference issues were discovered when an iPod was held 18 inches away from a pacemaker. In one instance, the electrical influence of an iPod stopped a pacemaker completely.

The average age of the participants of the study was 77. They listened to Frank Sinatra music with the iPod’s earbuds resting on their shoulders as not to blow out their hearing. And while iPods are not commonly used among people of that age group, student Jay Thayer pointed out that the information is still vital for pacemaker wearers to know as they may have grandchildren or neighbors using iPods nearby them.

It’s believed that the electromagnetic field put out when the iPod is playing causes interference with the performance of the pacemaker in the heart. No other types of MP3 music playing devices were tested in the study.

That’s all good information. But what I really want to know is what would happen if you listened to music on your iPod by that old 60s band, Gary and the Pacemakers? But seriously, can you think of any other medical issues that might present themselves with using in iPod? Share them here with other Science Buzz readers.

May
13
2007

Every known species to be included.

Encylopedia of Life
Encylopedia of Life
For the first time in the history of the planet, scientists, students, and citizens will have multi-media access to all known living species, even those that have just been discovered.
The Encyclopedia of Life, to be developed over the next ten years, will provide, via the internet, written information and, when available, photographs, video, sound, location maps, and other multimedia information on each species. The Encyclopedia will be a moderated wiki-style environment.

In terms of practical accountability, efforts are currently being headed by a steering committee of senior officers from Harvard University, Smithsonian Institution, Field Museum, Marine Biological Laboratory, Biodiversity Heritage Library consortium, Missouri Botanical Garden, and the MacArthur and Sloan Foundations. ... Encyclopedia of Life and its board will work with scientists across the globe, securing the involvement of those individuals and institutions that are established experts on each species. Sources

$12.5 million in seed money.

Grant money from the John D. and Catherine T.
MacArthur Foundation($10 million) and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation ($2.5 million) enabled the project to pick up speed. The list of Encylopedia of Life's partners includes Edward O. Wilson as honorary chair of the advisory board.

Learn more about the Encylopedia of Life project:

May
03
2007

Crowds gather at the Berlin Zoo to see the polar bear cub Knut: Photo by Claudius Prosser at flicker.com
Crowds gather at the Berlin Zoo to see the polar bear cub Knut: Photo by Claudius Prosser at flicker.com

Poor Knut! The polar bear cub, abandoned by its mother, has been raised by zookeepers. As we reported in March, some “animal rights activists” demanded that the bear be killed, rather than be raised by humans. This led to great interest in the furry little fellow.

But all good things must come to an end. At five months of age, Knut is looking less and less like an adorable little cub, and more like a full-grown adult every day.

Animals that must fend for themselves as soon as they are born – many fish, insects, and reptiles – often hatch as fully formed, miniature versions of the adult. (Some may go through a larval stage, but development finishes early, long before the animal has reached its full adult size.) Animals that receive care from their parents, however – mammals and most birds – often look very different as children than they do as adults. Certain features are not yet fully developed. Scientists speculate that the parents are genetically programmed to respond in a caring manner to the infant appearance.

(This certainly seems to be the case with humans – just watch everybody ooh and ahh over a baby.)

In fact, the instinct is so strong that it even works across species. Newborn Knut, with his large head and small nose, reminds us of a baby’s features, and we react the same way. An adult bear, with its full snout, no longer generates this reaction. As we noted earlier, our ideas of “cuteness” can influence our feelings about nature, and which animals we are more likely to protect.

May
01
2007

Transmission electron micrograph of Escherichia coli O157:H7: Courtesy CDC
Transmission electron micrograph of Escherichia coli O157:H7: Courtesy CDC
A recent NY times article looks into various approaches underdevelopment to prevent or treat food poisoning by the bacteria E. coli O157:H7. These approaches include:
Prevention – as we saw last fall, this does not always work. This is especially true with fresh produce.
Cattle vaccines – it reduces but does not eliminate the E. coli found in manure. Would this give us a false sense of security? What would the incentive be for farmers to vaccinate their herds? Cows don’t get sick from the bacteria so it would have to be a mandate or altruism.
Cattle antibiotics – feeding antibiotics to cows raises concerns of creating more antibiotic resistant pathogens.
Industrial chemicals – feed cows sodium chlorate which the O157 bacteria converts to it to sodium chlorite which poisons the pathogen
Bacterial-killing viruses – these are viruses that infect and kill only bacteria.
Friendly bacteria – is also known as probiotics. This approach feeds cattle friendly bacteria to displace the O157 bacteria. It is already sold to aid cattle digestion and some believe it reduces the amount of O157 bacteria in the manure
Human vaccines – are still years from the market. Early testing looks promising. Testing the effectiveness will be difficult. Should we be vaccinating every child in order to protect a small number? And would this make us lax with our food handling techniques. That will lead to other food and water borne infections.
Human drugs for treatment – outbreaks are rare and sporadic so these would be hard to test in clinical trials. The clues that signal an infection don’t start until 3-4 days after ingestion of the bacteria so it might also be hard to diagnose and treat the infection in a timely manner.
Monoclonal antibodies – these are a synthetic version of your body’s own infection fighters. They seem to be working in animals and with early human safety trials. But the cost is prohibitive to test them in order to prevent hemolytic uremic syndrome. This would start working once the toxin is already in the bloodstream so there are questions about its effectiveness.

We will probably see a few of these techniques used in parallel. What do you think is the best approach and why?

Apr
30
2007

The Warner Nature Center is offering a Project NestWatch workshop to teach you how to monitor birds nesting in your neighborhood. Become part of an exciting national pilot program to create “citizen scientists.” You'll learn how to collect valuable data on nesting birds in your neighborhood that will be studied by some of the world’s most renowned bird scientists. And you'll learn more about the birds local to your neighborhood, where they nest, how you can make your backyard more bird-friendly, and how to submit your nest observations to a national online database.


Falcon chicks: In the spring, museum visitors can watch baby peregrine falcons on our FalconCam. (Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service)

Mourning dove: This one was nesting in my backyard. You can see the messy nest and a chick's head peeking out. (Photo by Ken Kornack)
Mourning dove: This one was nesting in my backyard. You can see the messy nest and a chick's head peeking out. (Photo by Ken Kornack)

Call 651-433-2427 to register or ask questions. (Please register by May 2.)

**NestWatch is a project led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Apr
23
2007

Where's my lunch?: Pigs on a huge farm in Minnesota get to eat the processed leftovers of school lunches of students from St. Paul.
Where's my lunch?: Pigs on a huge farm in Minnesota get to eat the processed leftovers of school lunches of students from St. Paul.
How do your school lunches rate? Are they fit for a pig?

In St. Paul, Minn., they are. Grade school students were recently recognized with an environmental award by Mayor Chris Coleman for their efforts to help helping develop or promote more “green” living.

The students have found a creative use for their leftover school lunches. The waste food – weighing in at more than 253 tons last school year – has been converted into daily feed for the 4,000 hogs being raised on a farm near St. Francis, Minn.

Here’s how it works: Students dump their uneaten food into a barrel in the lunchroom. Barthold Farm and Recyling picks up the leftovers, cooks it up into a new recipe just for pigs.

Can you think of any other great ways to recycle or reuse waste items at your school? Share them here with other Science Buzz readers today.

Apr
16
2007

“Athena”—the female peregrine falcon at the High Bridge power plant nest box—laid her first egg of 2007 on Sunday, April 15. Peregrines usually lay three or four eggs each year, so we'll be watching for more in the next few days.


Athena's first egg, 2007: Hard to see, but it's there. (It's the orange blob by her foot.) Congratulations, Athena.

The male and female falcons share the 33-day incubation duties, which include turning the eggs regularly. (The birds don't incubate the eggs in earnest, though, until they've laid all the eggs they're going to lay.) If all goes well, the baby peregrines will hatch sometime in the second half of May.

You can get daily updates here on Science Buzz, or get hourly updates by visiting Xcel Energy's High Bridge daily photos page.


Falcon chicks: Baby peregrines are helpless when they hatch, but they grow at an astonishing rate. (Courtesy US Fish and Wildlife Service)
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More on peregrines from Science Buzz...

Apr
13
2007

Two years ago, everyone was talking about the work of paleontologist Mary Schweitzer: she noticed that thin slices of a 68-million-year-old fossil femur from a Tyrannosaurus rex looked like they still contained soft tissue. (See photos of the bone.) Using antibodies to the collagen protein, she showed that the bone still contained intact collagen molecules—the main component of cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.

Hello, dinos?: A new study shows that preserved collagen from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex is similar to that of chickens. (Photo courtesy Danelle Sheree)
Hello, dinos?: A new study shows that preserved collagen from a 68-million-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex is similar to that of chickens. (Photo courtesy Danelle Sheree)

She used antibodies to a type of collagen extracted from chickens. The fact that the antibodies stuck suggested that T. rex collagen is similar to that of birds. And when she compared the preserved soft tissue to that of modern animals, the closest match was an emu—a flightless bird.

To learn more about the collagen in the T. rex bones, Schweitzer worked with John Asara, a chemist at Harvard University, to analyze it using mass spectrometry.

The Economist describes the technique this way:

This technique identifies molecules (or fragments of molecules) from a combination of their weight and their electric charges. Knowing the weights of different sorts of atoms (and of groups of atoms that show up regularly in larger molecules, such as the 20 different amino acids from which proteins are assembled) it is usually possible to piece together fragments to form the profile of an entire protein.

When Asara compared the profile he'd created to proteins from living animals, the closest matches were to chickens and ostriches. (Schweitzer and Asara's study was published in the April 13, 2007, issue of the journal Science.)

Many paleontologists already believed, based on fossil bones, that birds are dinosaurs or their descendants. But this new paper provides even more evidence of the fact.

Buzz stories on the subject from last year:

Recent news articles: