Gila Monster Lizard

Nature is a rich source of medicine – if we can protect it

The Pacific yew tree and the Gila monster have something in common: both species have been the source of drugs which have saved lives. The Pacific yew tree gave us Paclitaxel, a cancer treatment. Exenatide is a synthetic version of a compound discovered in Gila monster saliva. It is used to treat type 2 diabetes. It has been estimated that one important drug is lost every two years because of our failure to protect the diversity of the natural world.

Key Takeaways:

  • The few tree and the Gila Monster are both natural sources of medical components useful to humans.
  • The Pacific conifer, known more commonly as the yew, is the source of the drug, Paclitaxal.
  • Paclitaxal has been studied extensively is a widely accepted treatment for an array of cancers.

“They’ve both given us drugs that have saved and improved the lives of millions of people.”

Read more:

Mirror monkey

A ‘Self-Aware’ Fish Raises Doubts About a Cognitive Test | Quanta Magazine

The mirror test, conceived by evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup, has been used for almost fifty years to test animals for self-awareness. The animal to be tested is allowed to become familiar with its image in a mirror. Then a mark is placed on the animal, in a place that the animal can only see in the reflection. If the animal touches or examines the mark on its body, it is deemed to be “self-aware”. Up to now, besides humans the only animals to pass the test have been big-brained mammals, such as chimpanzees. Recently, a tiny fish called the cleaner wrasse has passed the test. Scientists are unsure whether this means that the fish is self-aware, or that the test is not in fact a valid way to test for self-awareness.

Key Takeaways:

  • The reaction of a little blue-and-black fish to the mirror test has scientists questioning what their perceptions are about the mental abilities of animals.
  • The mirror test is used as a test of self awareness in animals. It helps scientists understands the level of perceptions of self on these animals.
  • An animal in the mirror test is allowed to see a mirror a second time after a mark is placed on it. Some animals perceive the mark.

“Some animals’ mental skills may be more impressive than we imagined, while the mirror test may say less than we thought.”

Read more:

How to read and learn from scientific literature, even if you’re not an expert

Reading scientific literature can be overwhelming, even to the best of us. They are often full of technical terms and jargon, specific to that field of study. Yet, in an era of greater transparency and open access, journals are making it easier to view these articles. Before starting, ensure the scientific articles you are reading are worth the effort. Seek out journals endorsed or put out by reputable sources. Find those that the experts/writers have appropriate credentials in that field. Many databases require a fee to get the full article. View the free previews carefully before committing to a buy the full paper. Scientific articles always include an abstract. This is a summary of the paper and may indicate whether the entire paper is worth reading. The more you read and the more you get familiar with the terms the better you will get at understanding scientific articles.

Key Takeaways:

  • Search for articles published in reputable journals instead of those where authors can pay to have work published.
  • Abstracts of articles are free; read these and decide if you want to pay for the entire article.
  • Familiarize yourself with the standard sections in most journal articles- introduction, materials and methods, results, and discussion.

“As more and more journals embrace the principles of open access and more information becomes freely available online, curious readers are more likely to start engaging with scientific literature.”

Read more:

nasa jupiter mission

NASA’s Jupiter mission reveals giant polar storms

In an effort to understand the planet Jupiter more, Dr. Candice Hansen set up a camera on its moon, Juno, to take detailed images of the giant planet. Some of these pictures are available to the public to analyze. These NASA images reveal more details about the size and duration of Jupiter’s storms. The mIssion shows promise of more exciting discoveries in the future.

Key Takeaways:

  • Juno orbits Jupiter every 53 days and attempts to determine the composition of the largest planet in our solar system.
  • Some surprising and enlightening insights have been revealed using Junocam, the camera installed on Juno that is observing Jupiter.
  • Among the many outstanding images taken by the cameras are cyclones, huge storms, twice the size of Texas.

“Nasa’s mission to Jupiter’s moon Juno has passed its halfway mark and has revealed new views of cyclones at the planet’s poles.”

Read more:

Ocean fish

Ocean fish are under threat if we don’t curb carbon dioxide emissions

Smell is important for fish to gather information about their environment in order to find food and avoid predators. Unfortunately, rising atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions are interfering with this. Since oceans absorb about a quarter of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere ocean water is becoming more acidic. This interferes with the sense of smell in ocean fish. Researchers have calculated that higher dissolved carbon dioxide levels force fish to be ~42% closer to the source of a smell in order to detect it.

Key Takeaways:

  • Fish can use their sense of smell for survival and for location finding. They have nasal receptors in their nasal cavity that work similarly to the way humans’ work.
  • The annual increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is making the oceans  more acidic.
  • To study the effects of changing ocean chemistry on the survival of fish and their effects on the food chain, the researchers used the ocean sea bass as their model.

“These changes in ocean chemistry have been shown to affect the behaviour of some fish, even making them prefer the smell of their predators.”

Read more:

Happy Winter Solstice Day

Happy Winter Solstice: DNA Model “Xmas” Tree

Prof. Paul Lacaze of Monash University in Melbourne, VI, Australia poses beside our
36 base pair “Big Bang Theory” DNA model in the picture below.

Paul is Head of the Public Health Genomics Program & recently took delivery of our best DNA molecular model.  It’s doing double duty as a Xmas tree which is a bit ironic since Melbourne will be close to 30o this Christmas.  All the best from us at Indigo Instruments where it will be much colder here in Waterloo.

Continue reading