Research

Fungus Among Us & Other Things

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Happy Sunday! So I’m trying something new. From now on I will start posting multiple short topics on recent articles I have read, organizations or artists that I follow, or other science or sciart related topics. I figure variety is the spice of life. Let me know what you think!

Fungus Among Us-A recent article in the New York Times discusses the art of wild mushroom hunting and the bioluminescence that some mushroom species emit.

Bambi Likes Ribs-From Popular Science, a deer was spotted munching on a human carcass by forensic scientist on a body farm. Note-Do NOT Google “body farm images” if you spook easily.

The Crowd and the Cloud-A new show premiers on PBS about citizen science and the use of mobile technology to help collect data on a variety of topics.

Courtney Mattison-An amazing ceramic artist who creates intricate coral reef ecosystems out of clay to help highlight their importance and their fragile state due to human-induced threats.

Minute Earth-Short animated YouTube videos on a variety of scientific topics such as “Why Some Molecules Have Evil Twins“.

About the Illustration: Acrylic painting of mushrooms at night (with some glow in the dark ferns).

Barbara of the Corn

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My 11th hour post for March, Woman’s History Month. Barbara McClintock, an American scientist and cytogeneticist won the 1983 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for her discovery of transposable elements or jumping genes. Through her work with maize, she found that genes can actually move with the potential to activate and inactivate surrounding genes. Her work is pivotal to our understanding of genes and heredity. She is also an inspiration to women in the sciences (and beyond).

Note: Check out the excellent Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers who Changed the World by Rachel Ignotofsky if you would like to learn more.

  About the illustration: Watercolor ink and micron pens on Yupo paper.

 

Left Hand, Left Hand, Right Hand, Right

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Why are some people right-handed and why are some people left-handed? For years it was believed that “handedness” (i.e. if you are left-handed or right-handed) was determined in the fetal brain. Researchers from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany recently suggested that asymmetrical gene expression in the spinal chord might help determine handedness. The researchers looked at gene expression in the spinal chord of fetuses between the eighth and twelfth week of pregnancy. Differences in gene expression on the left and right side could already be detected and those areas of activity correlated with arm and leg movement. The researchers also suggested that differences in left and right gene expression could be due to environmental factors.

The study of changes in genetic expression that occur without changes to genetic sequences is called Epigenetics. Environmental factors can act as a trigger for expression of certain genes both in our fetal development and throughout our lives. It will be interesting to find out more about how environmental factors determine handedness and perhaps we may also find out why left-handed people are superior 🙂

About the Illustration: Watercolor with some Photoshop magic. I kept the illustration pretty basic because handedness is a very basic part of our identity. The title is a play on the first line of the “Foot Book” by Dr. Seuss. It was his birthday a few weeks ago and I have read that book enough times this past year that it’s content might rattle around in my brain for all eternity.

Strawberry Squid…Forever

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The “Strawberry Squid” or Histioteuthis heteropsis is a deep-sea squid that is known for it’s resemblance to a strawberry and it’s mismatched eyes. It is also affectionately called the cock-eyed squid by it’s squid friends and a few marine biologists. Particularly after it’s had too many strawberry daiquiris 😉 Sorry, I couldn’t help myself…

Recently researchers at Duke University determined why the Strawberry Squid has a large, light colored eye that is angled upwards and a smaller, darker eye angled downwards. After analyzing hours (and hours) of underwater footage from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Duke graduate student Kate Thomas determined that the larger eye evolved to detect marine life in the water column above it while the smaller eye evolved to detect bioluminescent light from marine life found below it. So one eye looking out for predators and one eye looking out for prey.

In the past, studying and observing organisms that inhabit the deeper parts of the ocean was challenging. But with the advent of remotely operated vehicles (ROV)  and and other related technology, researchers can get to know some of the odd fellows that populate the deep, deep sea. If you are curious about what MBARI finds at the bottom of the ocean, check out their YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/MBARIvideo. Another favorite is NOAA’s Ocean Exploration and Research YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/oceanexplorergov. And you thought YouTube was only good for watching cat videos.

 

Happy Darwin Day!/Get To Know A Living Scientist

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On this day in 1809 Charles Darwin, the English biologist and geologist, was born. He is best known for his contributions to the theory of evolution. In this illustration I have him posed in front of a cladogram (a diagram indicating the evolutionary relationship between organisms) of finches of the Galapagos. The most well known subject of his research into the theory of the evolution of species. So Happy Darwin Day!

Okay, that was my post from last year. I am adding on to it this year by suggesting you become acquainted with a living scientist. Don’t get me wrong, Charlie deserves his own day and eternal admiration. However, knowing present day scientists will help you better understand how far science has gone and where it is going. How do you do that you ask? Dr. David Steen, a wildlife biologist, made it easy for you by creating the Twitter hashtag #actuallivingscientist. This came out of the concern that most Americans could not name a living scientist. So now scientists all over the world and from different disciplines are tweeting about their research and a little bit about themselves. It is fascinating to read and it is critical, in these crazy times, to get to know a scientist.

Just The Facts Jack

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In this age of fake news and science illiteracy I cannot stress enough the need to read unbiased, factual science journalism (really any kind of good, truthful journalism). In addition to reading it may I also stress the need to pay for it. A soy latte doesn’t come free, news and facts should not be free either. Before I get off my soapbox here are some suggested sources of scientific information. Please share any that I missed via the comments section.

Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com

Popular Science: http://www.popsci.com

New Scientist: https://www.newscientist.com

American Scientist: http://www.americanscientist.org

Science: http://www.sciencemag.org/news

Nature: http://www.nature.com/news/index.html

New York Times, Science Section: https://www.nytimes.com/section/science

Science News: https://www.sciencenews.org

About the Illustration: Mixed Media-acrylic paint, acrylic medium, paper. I call it “The Tip Of The Iceberg”-for obvious reason.

 

 

Sugar in the Morning, Sugar in the Evening

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Back in the 1960’s the sugar industry, under the guise of the Sugar Research Foundation, funded research by Harvard scientists to basically dismiss sugar as a serious health concern and instead point their fingers at fat. This went on for years. At the time of these studies researchers were not required to disclose funding sources to peer-reviewed journals so no one knew the truth. A recently published paper in the  journal  JAMA Internal Medicine uncovers this sweet (or rotten) tale.

Today with dwindling federal research dollars, corporate sponsorship of research is even stronger. In some cases that is not a cause for concern but when corporations stand to benefit from that research it can be a different story. One well known example being Coca Cola funding obesity research that, surprise surprise, questions the role sugary drinks plays in obesity.

 

About The Illustration: Watercolor, gouache, acrylic ink, micron pens-I used all the stuff. Unfortunately it scanned a bit funny. I will fix it…at some unknown time in the future when I have the time.

On My To Read List: The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes. His book focuses on how sugar impacts our health and the sugar industry’s role in shaping the American diet through the years.