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Scientific American has an awesome contest going on right now. They're challenging you to make a video explaining some part, process, or system in the human body using eight objects: Yourself, a writing surface, a writing implement, rubber bands, paper clips, string, cups , and balls. You have to use all eight items. You can't use anything else.
You can read the full instructions and rules online. And check out the sample video, made by Scientific American interns Isha Soni and Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato.
Bonus: The first 100 qualified entries all get a free digital subscription to Sci Am.
Via Bora Zivkovik
Last week, an American and a Russian — Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko — were selected to spend a year living continuously in space, aboard the International Space Station. Only four other people have done this before. All them were Russian, so Scott Kelly is going to break the American record for time spent in space.
The mission won't start until 2015, and it's part of a much longer term goal — sending people to Mars. We know that spending time in space does take a toll on the human body. For instance, hanging out without gravity means you aren't using your muscles, even the ones that you'd use to support your own weight on Earth. Without use, muscles deteriorate over time. Bone density also drops. Basically, after a few months in space, astronauts return to Earth as weak as little kittens. Which is, to say the least, a less than ideal situation for any future Mars explorers.
Having Kelly and Kornienko stay up for a year will give scientists more data on what happens to the human body in space, give them a chance to test out preventative treatments that could keep astronauts stronger, and allows them to see how the amount of time spent in space affects the amount of time it takes to physically recover from the trip. As an extra research bonus, Kelly is the identical twin brother of Mark Kelly, the astronaut married to former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Which means that there will be a built-in control to compare Kelly to when he comes back from his mission.
In honor of that upcoming experiment, here's an old video that will give you an idea of what we knew (and didn't know) back at the dawn of the space age. Science in Action was a TV show produced by the California Academy of Sciences. In this 1956 episode, they explore the then-still-theoretical physiology of space travel ... with a special guest appearance by Chuck Yeager!
Imagine an apatosaurus with a long, elephant-like snout. Plenty of people have. That's because the nostril placement on sauropod dinosaurs is, in some ways, remarkably similar to that of trunked animals that live today. In both cases, the nostrils are large, and they're located up around what we'd call the forehead, kind of smack between the eyes.
On the one hand, this is one of those things that it's really hard to ever know for certain. We don't have preserved soft tissue, so when we make models of what dinosaurs might have looked like we're really going on clues from the bones and comparisons to living animals with similar bone structure. Because of that, it is somewhat reasonable to suggest that hey, maybe, sauropods really did look like grumpy diplodocus in the image above. It's fun to speculate.
But not all speculations are created equal. In a fascinating post at the Tetrapod Zoology blog, Darren Naish explains why a superficial similarity to trunked animals isn't enough to counteract the much-more prevalent evidence against sauropod trunks. One of the more interesting lines of evidence he points out is the fact that dinosaurs apparently lacked the facial which form the trunk in living animals. We know this partly because muscles leave their signature on bone, and Naish says there's no evidence sauropods had the right facial muscles. It's further bolstered by the fact that the animals most closely related to sauropods don't have those facial muscles, either.
Naish's piece reminds me of the last time we talked about sauropod biology here. That, too, dealt with the fact that superficial similarities aren't enough to infer that two animals must have identical biology. Only, in that case, we were talking about the differences between the long necks of giraffes and the long necks of sauropods.
Here's a big difference between nature and a natural history museum: In the wild, when you find a skeleton of anything, it's seldom arranged in a neat, orderly, anatomically correct manner. Even if an animal dies in captivity, nature won't just conveniently produce a skeleton suitable for mounting.
So how do museums get the perfect skeletal specimens that you see behind glass?
The answer: Lots and lots and lots of tedious work. Plus the assistance of a few thousand flesh-eating bugs.
This video from the University of Michigan traces the creation of a bat skeleton, from a fleshy dead bat in a jar, to a neat, little set of bones in a display case. It's painstaking (and moderately disgusting) work. Sort of like building model cars, if the Ford Mustang had realistic organ tissue.
Thanks to Neil Shurley!
This hummingbird is sleeping in a specialized research container connected to a machine that measures how much oxygen it is breathing. According to forrestertr7, who posted the video to YouTube, this experiment was part of research aimed at understanding the differences between the metabolism of hummingbirds and that of larger species. After its nap, the hummingbird was released back into the wild.
But what about the snoring? Does the hummingbird really need a tiny, little beak strip, or what? I asked science blogger Joe Hanson, who posted this video to Twitter earlier today, and he did some research. Turns out, it's not totally unreasonable to call that adorable little wheeze a "snore". But, at the same time, hummingbirds have very different biology than we do. A snore for them isn't the same as a snore for us.
Hummingbirds have incredibly high metabolic needs. To do all that buzzing around and to keep their tiny bodies warm, they eat the human equivalent of a refrigerator full of food every day, mostly in the form of high-energy nectar and fatty bugs. Because of their small size, they also lose a lot of body heat to the air. In order to preserve energy on cool nights, they have the ability to enter a daily, miniature hibernation called torpor.
...Just before morning, their natural circadian rhythms kick in and they start to thaw out, like heating a car engine on a cold day. What we see in the video is probably a bird coming out of torpor (which is what the scientists in the video were studying), starting to breathe in more oxygen to raise its body temperature, and making that adorable snoring noise.
Read the full story at Joe Hanson's blog, It's Okay To Be Smart
If you are a lady, and you think you might be pregnant, you can take an at-home test to find out. You simply pee on a stick. Whether the results are measured in pink lines, blue lines, plus and minus symbols, or a "pregnant"/"not pregnant" digital readout, all the home pregnancy tests on the market are really looking for the same thing — Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG).
HCG is a pregnancy hormone. It's produced by the placenta, a temporary organ that only forms in female bodies when an embryo has attached to the uterine lining. And so it was kind of weird when a male friend of a Reddit user known as CappnPoopDeck peed on a home pregnancy test and it came back positive.
Turns out, HCG can show up in men, too. And when it does, bad things are happening. You might have seen this story on Gawker earlier this week, but the science behind it is so crazy that I wanted to discuss it in a little more depth.
Read the rest
Come on. It's for science.
In fact, it's meant to help people.
Researchers at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, put a dead pig in a shark-proof (and octopus-proof, as you'll see) cage and stuck it in the ocean in order to learn more about how human remains decompose underwater. That knowledge will help forensic scientists interpret crime scenes.
Most of the work is done by maggots known as sea lice, but towards the end, after the maggots have eaten the good bits, you can watch some fat, red shrimp move in to pick apart the cartilage.
Via Deep Sea News
Proteins are made up of chains of amino acids, folded and twisted in on themselves to make incredibly complex shapes.
The human brain, it has been said, is kind of a pattern-finding machine — prone to spotting faces on the moon, fat bunnies in the clouds, and Jesus on slices of toast.
When the two meet, you get Protein Art. May K., a Russian-born artist who lives in Germany, takes actual protein structures, sees the other things those structures seem to look an awful lot like, and then draws cartoons based on the resulting apophenia.
For instance, take a look at the protein structure above. After the jump, you can see the picture that May K. saw in its folds.
Read the rest
Fuzzyatelin, a field biologist, offers graphic and compelling advice on keeping your feet dry during your fieldwork.
1) For frak’s sake, DRY OUT YOUR SOCKS. Put them over the fan over night so that you have 5 precious, precious moments of dryness before stepping out that door into the rain again…
2) Air everything out. For real. I mean everything. If you have electricity, lay in front of a fan in the buff for at least two hours every evening. You think I’m joking… but:
3) When your feet start to bleed - and boy, will they ever - don’t panic. The hole that appears to be eating its way into the space between your 4th and 5th toes on your right foot won’t go any deeper than a full centimeter (you know this because you stuck your finger inside of it and then measured the extent of the bloody seepage on your pinkie finger… the hole is that wide and deep).
4) Ditch the hat. Ditch the hat. Ditch the - oh. Now it’s on your scalp.
It gets worse.
The MouSensor is a lab mouse genetically-engineered to sniff out land mines. Mice have already been trained to find explosives by scent but according to Hunter College biologist Charlotte D'Hulst, the MouSensor is ultra sensitive to the odor of TNT. From The Guardian:
Given its extreme sensitivity to TNT, the mouse would probably have some sort of seizure when it sniffed explosives, said D'Hulst, because so many neurons in its olfactory bulb would be firing at once. And that seizure might be detectable by some device implanted into the mouse.
"We are thinking along the lines of implanting a chip under the skin of these animals that would wirelessly report back to a computer when the animal's behaviour is changing upon being triggered by a TNT landmine," said D'Hulst. Once the location of a landmine had been identified, a bomb-disposal expert could go in and neutralise it in the normal way. The mouse itself would be safe from the landmine, since it would be too small to trigger an explosion.
Remember arsenic life? In 2010 NASA researchers thought they'd found evidence that certain bacteria could use arsenic in their DNA where all other forms of life on Earth use phosphate. Then it turned out their research was really flawed. Then it turned out they were wrong. In general, there was a to-do.
Fast forward to this month, when scientists from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel published a study in which they were trying to figure out how bacteria can tell the difference between phosphate and arsenate and "know" to prefer the phosphate. They used phosphate-collecting proteins from four different species of bacteria in their research, including the one that had been at the center of the arsenic life controversy. And along the way, they discovered a fun twist to that story.
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