Monday, February 8, 2016

Brain Folding 101

 If you're like me, you don't really think about your brain. Well, maybe when you see brain coral or a crazy brain-like cactus, but those are special occasions.

Did you know that just like the rest of your body, the brain starts out all smooth and pretty? Then, as it grows, it folds and refolds to accommodate all the connections and memories and brain stuff that needs to go in there. 

Also, scientists have noticed that the higher the intelligence an organism has, the more its brain is folded. [And before you ask, we don't have the most folded brain. Dolphins have more folds than humans. Of course they do! They get to swim and play all day long. No dolphin cubicles on the horizon.]

Anyway... Check out this super great explanation of brain folding by PhD Comics. My brain just folded a little more taking it all in. Go science!

Monday, January 25, 2016

NASA Asteroid Redirect Program

Scientists believe the dinosaurs were wiped out from the collision of an asteroid (about 7-8 miles wide) with the Earth. The resulting volcanic activity and dust cloud blocked sunlight and plants/animals died. A planet killer would be around 60 miles wide.

However, a half mile wide asteroid would also ruin your day as its impact would be roughly that of 100 billion tons of TNT and cause wide-spread earthquakes.

If you're like me, an asteroid colliding with the Earth is not on your DVR list of scheduled events anytime soon. Ditto for Netflix coverage in the next several thousand years. Hopefully, we will be vacationing on Alpha Centauri by then. Anyway, it doesn't look like there are any likely planetary colliders in the neighborhood.

But even if there were, NASA has a new program called the Asteroid Redirect Program that will land on a large asteroid, grab a boulder to study and then redirect the asteroid into a stable orbit around the moon. Although it seems like a new Bruce Willis or Matt Damon film, this mission is set to launch by 2020. 

Sounds like the operational outcome of all the work astronomers have been doing for years. Now instead of just shouting, "Incoming!" We'll soon have correctional space technology and a plan to divert disaster. Go Science!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Off Switches for Killer Bacteria

Genetically engineered (GE) bacteria are not just the stuff of science fiction novels. They can be used to carry biomarkers and treatments to cancer tumors as well as to control and eliminate oil spills.

But how do we get rid of these helpers once their task is complete? 

Off switches.

Clement T Y Chan, Jeong Wook Lee, D Ewen Cameron, Caleb J Bashor & James J Collins, (researchers at MIT's Institute for Medical Engineering & Science, Cambridge, Massachusetts) have created synthetic gene circuits that act as "OFF Switches" that kill GE microbes once their job is done. Two circuits, described in the Dec. 7th issue of Nature Chemical Biology, increase the safety of diagnostics, therapies, or environmental remediation strategies based upon GE bacteria. They are called appropriately called "Deadman" and "Passcode." Its good to know folks are thinking ahead. Go science!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Newly Discovered Sea Life Off Phillipines

If you are not impressed with land slugs you might change your mind when you see the biological diversity and beauty of marine sea slugs. One type of sea slug or nudibranch is the Chelidonura alexisi, a speckled specimen that looks a bit like an elegant topological map. According to research team leader, Terry Gosliner, PhD, senior curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the California Academy of Sciences and a principal investigator of the expedition, Chelidonura alexisi joins the ranks of 40 more previously unknown nudibranchs discovered in the waters off the Phillipines. 

“The Philippines is jam-packed with diverse and threatened species—it’s one of the most astounding regions of biodiversity on Earth,” reports Gosliner to the California Academy of Sciences. 

Nudibranchs can be tiny to nearly a foot in length. They can blend into their surroundings or vivid as flamenco dancers in a variety of colors. Check out their great variety on this Pinterest link

Nudibranchs get their bright colors from their prey (e.g., algae, sponges and anemones to barnacles, corals and other nudibranchs). 
Although sea slugs aren’t speedy predators, they are far from helpless. Highly sensitive tentacles, called rhinophores, allow them to smell, taste and feel their way around. These sensory appendages also pick up chemical signals that help them "spot" prey. 

Just when some people thought we had discovered most of the undersea species, discoveries like the Phillipines' new nudibranchs and fish are found. Stay tuned for more. Go science!