When There’s Nothing Else to Eat…

Image

While searching online for examples of natural selection I found something very fascinating: bacteria that actually adapted to eat nylon products.

A strain of flavobacterium that feeds on nylon was discovered in 1975 by Japanese scientists, specifically in a pond filled with factory waste. Nylon’s only been around since 1935, so any lifeform that feeds specifically on it would have to have cropped up relatively recently.

Needless to say, this discovery has been used a lot in arguments against creationism and intelligent design. I won’t get too deep into my beliefs in the issue (short version: I’m still a Christian, but I do believe in evolution and natural selection), but I find the existence of the bacteria more fascinating than the argument it’s used for. Could this mean that nature could adjust to deal with any of our waste products? Could evolution make pollution less of an issue? Really, this is fascinating stuff!

Advertisements

Mickey Mouse of the Desert

jerboa
VIDEO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t4vP-cXXWkY

This is the Long-eared Jerboa, a very rare nocturnal species on the edge of extinction that lives in remote regions of Mongolia and China. Jerboas are small jumping rodents that resemble mice with long tails and hind legs. You can distinguish the Long-eared Jerboa from other Jerboas (obviously) by its enormous ears, which are about a third larger than its head. The Long-eared Jerboa uses vibrations to communicate with one another. Their ears are believed to be a desert adaptation. The larger ear surface allows them to dissipate the heat and cool down their blood under the hot desert sun. Their ears also allow them to hear predators from a great distance.

They are currently being threatened by human disturbance of its habitat through agricultural practices and illegal mining. The mining practice uses up the already limited water supplies that are vital to a sustainable ecosystem in the desert. The introduction of new predators such as the domestic cat has also been identified as a reason for the decline of this population. Ironically, while the biodiversity of the Gobi Desert is declining, the desert itself is rapidly expanding. The desert has expanded 20,240 square miles between 1994 – 1999; roughly half the size of Pennsylvania.

The Long-eared Jerboa is the sole representative of the rarely seen Euchoreutes naso genus. It is said to have rabbit-like ears, pig-like snout, mouse-size body, and kangaroo-like hind legs. Because the specific species is genetically distinct and it has so few close relatives, it is very important to preserve its genetic diversity. According to research Dr. Richard Lankau, “If any one type of species is removed from the system, the cycle can break down, and the community becomes dominates by a single species.”

If the Long-eared Jerboa cannot be saved from extinction there will be a loss of genetic diversity, and a loss of a very cute little animal.

Sorry Teach’, My Genes Made Me Sick!

If the next time you’re sick causes you to miss classes, you may have a legitimate excuse: the presence or lack of particular genes may determine how vulnerable you are to particular illnesses.

For instance, a study in China recently revealed that people carrying a specific version of a gene that affects the immune system may be up to six times more likely to catch a severe version of influenza, versus those who lack that particular gene variant.  Another, older study, this time primarily focusing on people of European descent, revealed that people with a particular gene variant  (called IFITM3) were more receptive to severe cases of the flu; what is more concerning, especially for those of Chinese descent, this same gene variation can be found far more commonly members of the Chinese populace, and made them far more susceptible to pneumonia or other severe flu symptoms when viruses like H1N1 were on the rise.

This is interesting information to consider as bacteria and viruses continue to evolve and human populace increases.  For instance, scientists believe that survivors of the Bubonic Plague may have been able to live on, despite close contact with plague-bearers and the virus, because of their genetics.  As viruses and bacteria change and adapt to new vaccines and anti-viruses, so must humanity if it hopes to survive any future epidemics – however, if humans will be able to adapt quickly enough to their new forms is part of the problem.  Coupled with the information we learned last week – about genes being “triggered on and off,” this leads to the question: will the answer to combating severe illnesses and ultimately lay in gene therapy?

While I would prefer being knowing if I'm genetically predisposed to certain viruses and bacteria, if it comes down to it I wouldn't mind sporting one of those spiffy masks.

While I would prefer knowing if I’m genetically predisposed to certain viruses and bacteria, if it comes down to it I wouldn’t mind sporting one of those spiffy masks.  Just in case.  Of course.

“Discovering the Giant Squid” – Discovery Channel

As part of Discovery Channel's episode.

“Discovering the Giant Squid” – Discovery Channel

 

“Discovering the Giant Squid” – Discovery Channel

Over the weekend I watched the hour and half episode on Discovery Channel, of the first sighting of the Giant Squid alive by a human. It was very interesting how the project was derived. Discovery first brought together a whole team of people from all over the world. They met for two days before deciding whose idea of how to film the squid would be best. They selected three marine biologist all with “different” lures and techniques on how to attract the squid.

The three scientists and their teams set out for a tiny spot off the coast of Japan believed to be a Giant Squid feeding ground, during that time of year. It was interesting at this point, because us as the viewers slowly became aware of how little marine biologists know about the “kraken.”

The first marine biologist, had the idea that blending together all the parts of a smaller squid on the Giant Squid’s diet, with the hopes that it would attract the giant, by using pheromones and scent. He ground up the squid and filled a giant syringe filled with the calamari and injected it into the ocean’s frigid waters. The first few dives were exciting to watch as we saw bioluminescent creatures fill the darkness of the ocean deep. But after two weeks, he had no such luck in being the first human to the giant alive.

The second marine biologist, invented a machine that mimicked an animal in distress utilizing bioluminescent flashes. The machine was placed out infront of the submersible and mimicked the distress calls of an octopus. The distress light show is usually put on by a creature being attacked with the hopes that a bigger fish will see the lights and eat the attacker. It was very cool to watch, but after a few dives, no giant squid showed itself. The same marine biologist, invented a camera version of the bioluminescent machine and left it at the bottom of the ocean for a few days with the hopes of capturing the giant squid on camera. She was successful in this approach, she did manage to film the giant and gave hope for the team, but it still was not enough, the teams wanted to see it in person.

The final marine biologist’s idea, was to dangle what was believed to be the giant squid’s preferred meal outside the submersible. After the first few dives, he came up short handed as other marine life ate the dangling bait before ever reaching the destination. On the last dive of the entire mission, he gave his theory one more shot. THIS WAS IT. A 12 foot giant squid began devouring the dangling bait for over 24 minutes. The marine biologist was concerned at first because they could not quite see what was eating the bait, and in a desperation turned on the white lights of the submersible and became the first person to see a live giant squid! IT WAS INCREDIBLE.

Building a dinosaur from a chicken

I came upon this ted talk a few months ago and it was one of the most interesting TED Talks I have seen. Paleontologist Jack Horner talks about his passion for studying these ancient creatures that use to roam the earth. He popped the idea of what if we can extract the DNA from our current decedents of the  dinosaur, birds and use it to recreate these creatures. It is a thought that most youngsters and dinosaur lovers would fantasize about. We have all seen the famous Jurassic Park and it seemed so fictional when it was released. But could it be possible? Could this lead to other scientific wonders of bringing extinct species that could help balance out our environment?

This is talk is really entertaining; Horner describes the process of extraction that one of his colleagues had tried after Jurassic Park came out. Even a million year old fossil could still carry remnants of blood and protein. So why not?! I mean a dinosaur is super cool, a raptor or T-rex is just much cooler than looking at the modern dinosaurs. We want to see it come true. The skin colors of dinosaurs are only interpretations of what scientist think they look like, what if they were really multi colored or bio- luminescent?

“The chicken is a dinosaur. I mean, it really is. You can’t argue with it, because we’re the classifiers and we’ve classified it that way.” (Jack Horner)

With the advances of science we really have the power to bring back the dead and give them a second chance to prosper. Scientists are able to replicate and control what characteristics should turn on in organisms DNA and have them grow ancestral traits. I feel this project could benefit our ecosystem in some way and be extremely educational for us to learn about evolution. However this could pose a problem that certain species are extinct for a reason and may not survive in our current habitat. But it they may be able to change our habitat. Who knows?! All I know that if we could bring dinosaurs  through extracting traits and DNA and replicate them, it would be absolutely cool to see dinosaurs roam again. Maybe we can live together in peace, we’ll see.

Watch the talk HERE

Also an extra little video about how there are not as many dinosaur species we think there are. Due to the stages of growing up for each dinosaur is different. As an infant they may look different from their adult form so there is a misconception that certain small dinosaurs are a separate species. This is really interesting!

Watch this other talk: HERE

Susan Yung

Elephant Evolution

en_1126_sanjayan_480x360

The Idea of natural selection is that it can change a species of animals but the result is not only from nature itself but people can be a part of the evolution. For example, elephants are beginning to lose their tusks and this is caused by poachers who hunt them exclusively for their tusks. Now, their tusks havent fully vanished yet, but it is apparent that they are getting smaller and smaller. This evolution happend at lighting speed being  just 150 years ago it started happening. Usually evolution takes thousands of years to start making a difference. The ancestor of elephants, mammoths and mastodons was a pig-size animal with an upper lip like a tapir that lived about 55 million years ago. As these creatures evolved their heads got small and their upper lip became longer and more flexible until it became a trunk. For the current elephants,It can probably become a factor of how often these elephants are hunted and they are evolving to protect themselves from their number 1 predator: poachers. It makes sense because without tusks they won’t be valuable anymore.It used to be that the elephants with the larger tusks survived longer because they could protect themselves an their tribe better. Now the smaller elpehants with the smaller tusks are the ones who are surviving. Elephants have decided to take the matter into their own hands and in due time elephants will probably become smaller and tusk less.  Humans have a vast effect on species when they senselessly hunt them for their own benefit, they don’t see the permanent changes they are making in the whole genome. It’s amazing how a species can evolve in order to work against their enemy and it seems as if this process might actually speed up if their can be a danger of extinction.This is a great example of natural selection and it shows that the length of time it takes is not definite and people have a larger impact than they may think.

Peacocks

aka. Indian Peafowl or the Green Peafowl.

The difference being the color of either the blue peacock or the green peacock.

I will talk about Peacocks and sexual dimorphism. Example of Sexual Dimorphism in male birds:

That is not his tail he is showing off… It is called a Plumage.

Continue reading

Wolf to Dog Evolution

6598044.bin

Darwin believed that the diversity of dogs was reflected interbreeding with several types of wild dogs, meaning the dog itself was it’s own descendant. But current DNA findings and recent molecular evidence has come to show dogs, Canis familiaris, are descendants of the gray wolf, Canis lupus. A DNA Analysis published in 1997 suggests that the domestication of dogs dates back 130,000 years, when they officially turned from wolf to domesticated wolf (In other words, dogs as we know them are really only domesticated wolves. Their behavior changed but domestic dogs/wolves are different in form from wolves, mainly smaller and with shorter muzzles and smaller teeth.).

Although, this doesn’t mean they held all the characteristics of the breeds we see today. That’s where humans come in. It is said that years of selective breading by humans has resulted in the “artificial evolution of dogs” into many different types, including breeds like the Great Dane and the Yorkshire Terrier. This “artificial evolution of dogs” comes from years of human’s interbreeding different dog breeds, mainly breeding those dogs with traits they wished to continue or make a regular part of the breeds overall appearance. On the positive side this allows dogs to take on characteristics necessary for specific tasks needed at the given time for the human.

An example of this can be seen in the Yorkshire terrier, originally developed in the 19th century in the county of Yorkshire England to catch rats in local clothing mills. Workers from Scotland came to Yorkshire in search of work and brought with them several different varieties of small terriers, the Paisley Terrier and Maltese are said to be the two main breeds used to create the final breed. Using the smallest of these terriers brought over, they created their own breed. Their small size allowed them to fit into smaller spaces then the average dog to catch pesky vermin.

Sadly there is a negative side to this “artificial evolution”, in the process of creating purebreds with individual traits many disease-causinggenes have been breed into the dog along with these wanted traits. An example of this can also be seen in the Yorkshire terrier again, their common health issues can include bronchitis, lymphangiectasia, portosystemic shunt, cateracts, and Keratitis sicca. Today Scientists are hard at work on the “Dog Genome Project”, the goal is to locate and map out different canine genes to find those whom cause disease or influence behavior among our beloved pets. Overall in the long run this can help both Dogs and humans.

For more information on the “Dog Genome Project” see below links

http://www.broadinstitute.org/mammals/dog

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/12/051207175814.htm

Hermit Crab Behavioral Adaptation

 

761px-Pagurus_bernhardus_small

Hermit crabs, we’ve all seen one at one point in our life. Normally we spot them in a local pet shop, between the snake tank and the fish tank, their bright and vibrantly painted shells the soul focus of our line of vision. But we must remember their shells do not simply serve as a glossy eye catchers for us humans, these little guys have come to adapt, we humans have simply found a way to amuse ourselves with this their adaptation. But this small property to us is a key component to the life and survival of the crab itself.

Grabbing an empty shell to live in is a behavioral adaptation that allows hermit crabs to better survive the intertidal environment, their natural habit. Time they spend between high-tide and low-tide upon the shore can be dangerous. At this point there are many creatures willing to make the exposed crab a meal, because of this the crab has taken on this behavior to ensure its own safety as pray for birds and other animals looking for food. The crab itself does not have a shell of its own, it takes any it can find to use as protection, because it’s own soft, long, spirally, and curved abdomen, is a weak point to the creatures survival.

As a hermit crab grows it requires a larger shell. The availability of empty shells in the wild is based upon the abundance of gastropods and hermit crabs in the given area. At times if their isn’t enough to go around these little guys will fight it out to see who gets the new shell, often times to the death. A hermit crab with a shell that is too small cannot grow as fast as those with better fitting shells, thus they are more likely to be eaten because of their lack of ability to retract back into their shell properly. In short, they must continually find a new shell as to keep their more delicate body protected. Overall I feel this adaptation of behavior has helped them to become a stronger organism in the process and shows a level of intellect seemingly uncanny for a creature such as the Hermit crab.

The Miraculous Mule

Mules

The mule is a cross between a male donkey and female horse. The hybrid was originally used for heavy labor and farm work, as they could carry more, and eat and drink less than a horse of comparative size. Breeders chose the horse and donkey for its comparative characteristics; the mule is more sure-footed, hardy, and long lived than the horse and considered less obstinate, faster, and more intelligent than a donkey. When it comes to labor mules show more patience under the pressure of heavy weights, and their skin is harder and less sensitive than that of horses, rendering them more capable of resisting sun and rain. Their hooves are harder than horses’, and they show a natural resistance to disease and insects. Many North American farmers with clay soil found mules superior as plow animals. The more interesting characteristic of the mule is in its inability to reproduce. While a female may have the rare occurrence of pregnancy (nearly always resulting in failure) a male mule is always sterile. Mules and hinnies have 63 chromosomes, a mixture of the horse’s 64 and the donkey’s 62. The different structure and number usually prevents the chromosomes from pairing up properly and creating successful embryos, rendering most mules infertile. The likeliness of a female (or Molly) in carrying to full term is about 1 in a million. The modern mule can be created in a variety of ways depending on the breeders requirements. A heavier mule for farm work and heavy labor can be bred from a draft horse. Show mules can be created for a variety of disciplines by adjusting the breed or color of the mare. In North America the mule has become a hobbyists breed since its characteristic cannot be passed down, each show mule is considered a unique variation between the parents.

 Spotted Mule