June 18, 2009
In which I fall back on an oldy but goody:
It roams the ocean floor, always ravenous, always ready to kill. When it finds its prey, it pulls it apart with hideous strength and then eats it while the prey is still alive. What is this fearsome beast? Is it a shark? A kraken? The Loch Ness Monster? Nope. It’s a starfish. The most common starfish species on both the East and West coasts, beloved by millions of beach-going children, are actually mighty predators.
June 3, 2009
…I’m-a end up stuck in school. (That’s not what I wanna do, Jeremy.)
Good news, dear readers: your fearless blog-star Miriam has been spotted on the surfside Scripps campus. I imagine she’s currently drafting her “never again on my watch” speech to assure the traumatized in the audience that I’ll not be allowed to make dumb music, football, and psychology references under the auspices of TOG ever again. (Total disappointment was my original goal, but I could certainly be more parsimoniously disappointing and save everyone the hassle.)
Figure 1. OMG, that explains everything!
If you’re still bummed about dead coral babies and me getting electrocuted, well, thank you, and I’m sorry, and I have good news for you. The sun came back out today, so I can blog you goodbye on a positive note. True, my explanatory variable—one day of sunshine—sounds kind of trivial, but it’s all about shifting baselines. We’re so serotonin-addicted here in San Diego that when a cloud rolls in, instantaneous Seasonal Affective Disorder has us all muttering miserably like Milton in Office Space. Imagine what a whole month of May Gray does to our sunny disposition. You can refer to Figure 1 (originally from here) to see how treacherous it really gets this time of year. (This would easily be the funniest graph I’ve seen all year if it weren’t for this fad.) Read the rest of this entry »
June 1, 2009
I’m proud to be at a (g)rad school where scientists not only figure out secrets of the earth (and the universe) but often employ interdisciplinary approaches to get the job done (IGERT cohort represent!). But, full disclosure: I’m even prouder to be from a school with more astronauts and a football team that didn’t dissolve after its first season. (This is because nerds from the Midwest love a solid running game as much as running regression analyses.) Between kicking as-trophysics and taking games, my alma mater scores $500M in research funding each year, and uses it to get mad interdisciplinary and high…Tech.
From my old A-town stomp-ing ground comes a high-profile example of the option offense, as executed by marine organisms. Chemists and biologist at Georgia Tech collaborated to study the secondary metabolites on the surfaces of marine algae using a new technology called desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry. (Can this please be the name of a new hair product, too?) The tool allows scientists to map the chemical properties of an intact biological surface to determine where on the organism a chemical is being used, not just that it’s “in there somewhere, doin’ something.” (This had long been standard protocol in chemical ecology.) Read the rest of this entry »
May 29, 2009
I’m more a fan of Maslow than of Freud or Skinner. I’m pretty sure humans are innately programmed to seek beauty and truth and emotional growth through their behaviors rather than live constrained by the subconscious id or the conditioning of their past. But there’s no optimistic, forward-looking philosophy of motivation that can handle more than a few electric shocks before it collapses into a pile of hatred for the world and aversive behavior. (My sister and I agree not drinking coffee on Saturday does the same thing to a person. Self-caffeination beats Self-actualization anyday.)
I went to Curacao last month to help start a new multidisciplinary research project. As suggested by my trip nicknames— “Microbe Girl” and “K-Party”—it was my job to spend the entire trip inside a container lab doing obscure microbiology tasks while everyone else was scuba diving, and then it was my job to not complain about it later on because it was time to drink beer and watch an amazing sunset. Yay…sunsets are way better than scuba diving? Read the rest of this entry »
May 28, 2009
Engage cute-appreciation apparatus:
May 27, 2009
What’s as excruciating as waiting for corals to grow into a whole reef? I’d argue it’s knitting. In either case, the same thing has to happen over and over and over, without interference, before you get something to house biodiversity or wear for the winter, and then you run the risk of ships crashing into it or moths eating it, or if you decided to knit an iceberg, I guess, both. (Knitting icebergs: it’s like rearranging deck chairs.)
Crocheting the coral rubble is extra-tedious
If you’re an artist, there’s a beautiful symmetry here: why not make something slow-growing out of something slow-going? Yesterday, Eric saw a nice review of the Coral Reef Crochet Project, an art exhibit about corals, by crafters (AC/BC?). Then he remembered something about me and corals. Handicraft handoff.
Read the rest of this entry »
May 26, 2009
…but lean a little bit closer, see, roses really smell like…stinky tee-shirts?
Biology is complicated, but most experimental design isn’t. Thanks to the t-test and its descendants, we scientists end up telling a lot of binary “less vs. more” stories and it ends up being hard to tell what really matters in the grand scheme of stuff. (Flu from animals? Hate on food from animals.)
So I was delighted this weekend when one of my favorite “less vs. more” laboratory results—interesting but of questionable relative importance—turned out to be substantiated by surveys of the larger human population, and was therefore applicable to my everyday life of not eating meat, waiting for football season, and judging things by how they smell.
The major histocompatibility complex (“It’s just major right here, y’all know what I’m sayin’?”) is a region of human chromosome 6 that codes for a bunch of cell-cell recognition capabilities involved in reproduction and immunity (finding cells that your cells like, or don’t like, and responding accordingly). I’ve long been a fan of what came to be known as “The Sweaty T-Shirt Study,” which demonstrated that women prefer the smell of sweat from men whose MHC regions are least similar to theirs, the implication being that the resultant offspring from such a scent-match would have the most “go-getta” immune systems. To me, the study approach—”Here, smell.”—seemed kind of anachronistic, but the conclusions were revolutionary enough to start a whole field of sniff-and-tell research. Scientists later showed that there was no significant preference (p>0.05 = T-Pain) for the smell of outcast-MHCs among women using hormonal birth control; they preferred the smell of men with the most similar MHC. Read the rest of this entry »
May 24, 2009
Savin' the Coral Reefs?
Hi there, blog land. Huge thanks to Miriam for the amazing (scary?) opportunity to guest blog while she is off exploring Eastern California, and for the introduction asserting that I am both credible and cool. I hope to slowly disappoint readers on both counts as the week goes on, ensuring Miriam’s return is met with maximum fanfare and relief.
As Miriam mentioned, I’m studying corals in the Caribbean for my dissertation. With that job comes the obligation to not only save the coral reefs, but have a good time doing it, because after all, everyone wants to be a marine biologist when they grow up, and coral reefs are the coolest things in the ocean, hands down. No pressure, right? During my blog-stint, I’ll expose some behind-the-scenes stories from my job so that you feel better about yours. I’ll reveal whether I am actually saving the coral reefs. I’ll also offer up some of my favorite recent stories from science land in general. I particularly love when things turn out to be way more complicated than we thought they were, which conveniently applies to about 99 percent of discoveries in science.
So, thanks for the welcome, and sorry in advance.
PS: I thought my picture would be kind of unique, and then I pulled out the New York Times Magazine this morning and found this. Apparently, leaping irreverently into gorgeous bodies of water is now a fad and, because it has been discovered by the New York Times, no longer cool. Like I said.
PPS: Dear dive safety officers, I promise to giant stride from now on.
April 13, 2009
Here’s another hint about my Big Important Announcement…
April 7, 2009
The skeletons of two burned children, found in a Russian tomb in 1991, have been genetically identified as Prince Alexei I and Anastasia, the last two members of the Romanov dynasty. Despite cutsie children’s films and a century of crazy speculation, there’s now proof that none of the Tsar’s family escaped the October Revolution. But you shouldn’t doubt Disney’s commitment to historical accuracy too much. It was also recently determined that Bambi’s mom was not faking it.