Scientific Discovery

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.

Going, Going, Gone

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The remaining portion of the Antarctic ice shelf called ” Larsen C” is showing signs of disintegration and may be no more by the end of the decade. This is deeply concerning since ice shelves help hold glaciers in place. Without that support the pace of glacial movement out to the ocean increases and therefore increases the pace of sea level rise. This particular ice shelf supports three glaciers named Leppard, Flask and Starbuck (anyone recognize the Moby Dick connection?). In 2002 a portion of Larsen C collapsed, it looks like what remains of the  10,000 year old ice shelf will soon be gone. The ice shelf Larsen B collapsed in 2002 which led to the increased flow of supporting glaciers. But Larsen C is 10 times the size of Larsen B and the fourth biggest ice shelf in Antarctica. What this could mean for coastal areas around the world is unknown.

Scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory recently made this discovery through the use of data from NASA’s Operation IceBridge (a six-year airborne survey of the Earth’s polar ice, the largest of it’s kind).

Interested in what’s going on in the Antarctic? Other aspects of climate change? Consider subscribing to Climate Central: http://www.climatecentral.org “An independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the public.” Facts still matter.

About the Illustration: Micron pen on vellum paper.

Jet Lag

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The Common Swift (Apus apus) can remain in the air for up to 10 months straight. Scientists tracked birds from (or to) their breeding grounds by attaching  data loggers to record their route and flight activity during their annual migration. Some of the birds made short landings but remained in the air most of the time but some birds didn’t touch down once in the entire ten months. Talk about jet lag.