Ears in Flight

I'm currently reading The Book of Barely Imagined Beings : a 21st Century Beastiary and I came across a quote mentioning Dumbo's method of flight: "No creature has actually turned its ears into wings like Dumbo the elephant, although a Read more

Crowdfunding Scientific Research: Parasites and Zombie Ants

If you are looking for a last minute holiday gift, you could always boost a research scientist by giving the gift of science. Especially if that person likes zombies. While crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo gain in popularity, scientists Read more

Take a ride with Poseidon's Steed

With such a delicious title like Poseidon's Steed, how could I resist writing a book review? I've already reviewed Neptune's Ark, so it seemed fitting to review a title that paid tribute to the god of the sea's Greek counterpoint. If Read more

Allergies? Curse you, Growing things!

Yay for spring! Boo for allergies. I swear I'm only surviving because of Claritin. I planted blueberries yesterday, but by the end of the day I felt like a giant phlegm monster. It surprises me that so many people suffer Read more

Ears in Flight

Posted on by Kallen in Ponder This | 1 Comment

I’m currently reading The Book of Barely Imagined Beings : a 21st Century Beastiary and I came across a quote mentioning Dumbo’s method of flight:

“No creature has actually turned its ears into wings like Dumbo the elephant, although a little mouse-like creature called the Long-eared Jerboa looks like a cartoon version or one.

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(Above: a Long-eared Jerboa )
I’m fascinated by the chapter on Quetzalcoatlus (a prehistoric flying pterosaur) and flight, especially on how such large creatures were able to take to the air.

I wrote a whole series of posts on Dumbo‘s genetic heritage, but never covered his mechanics of flight.

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings by Caspar Henderson is a fascinating mix of science and philosophy that explores how the richness of the animal kingdom influences what it is to be human.

Crowdfunding Scientific Research: Parasites and Zombie Ants

Posted on by Kallen in Features | Comments Off

If you are looking for a last minute holiday gift, you could always boost a research scientist by giving the gift of science. Especially if that person likes zombies.

crowdfundingparasiteWhile crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo gain in popularity, scientists see crowdfunding as an alternate way to raise funds for research projects on sites like Microryza.

Charissa De Bekker is raising funds on Microryza for her research into mind-controlling parasites that create “zombie-like” behavior in their hosts. That’s right, zombies and parasites… how cool is that?

De Bekker recently did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit, reaching over 1000 comments by people interested in her research.

Crowdfunding reaches out to those interested people, allowing the public to take part in the scientific process in a very important way.

You don’t need to hold the keys to a large grant or be a scientists yourself to participate in the process.

In addition, the research is often published open-source, letting you see the results of your funding.

I asked De Bekker a few questions about crowdfunding science and how she got interested in mind-controlling parasites.

What first got you interested in brain-controlling parasites (besides their weird awesomeness)?

At the time when I learned about brain-controlling parasites I was a PhD student in a fungal genetics lab. I was (and still am) fascinated by how complex microbes can be though they are regarded “lower organisms”.

It is so interesting to me how they interact with each other and their environment and as a result do the most remarkable things: one of them being able to manipulate the behavior of a “higher organism” such as an animal!

So, when I learned about Ophiocordyceps, a fungus that can manipulate the behavior of ants it infects

What an ant infected, manipulated and killed by Ophiocordyceps looks like. (from De Bekker's lab notes posted on Micronyza)

What an ant infected, manipulated and killed by Ophiocordyceps looks like. (from De Bekker’s lab notes posted on Micronyza)

through BBC’s Planet Earth I got obsessed about it. Microbial parasites are pretty complex to begin with, but then there are the ones that establish brain control? It blew my mind.

So when I bumped into the one person working on this fascinating system at a conference, Dr David Hughes, who offered me a postdoc position, I packed my bags and moved across the ocean to go work with him. And here we are today.

How long have you been working in your field?

I have been working on fungi since I started my Master’s in Biomolecular Sciences. I took a brief detour working on bacteria as well, but decided the fungi were more appealing to me.

If you compare what we know about fungi to what we know about bacteria, it’s far less so there are many more interesting mysteries to solve still. I worked on Aspergillus niger for 4 years during my PhD and after that moved to Pennsylvania to apply the skills I gained working on Aspergillus to Ophiocordyceps which I am working on for about 2.5 years now.

What made you chose a crowdfunding platform to fund this study?

From a financial perspective, since this system is still in its early stages, as is the field of parasitic brain manipulation, it is hard to persuade bigger funding programs to fund our projects. With budgets getting tighter,  more people are applying for the same bag of money.

Trying to crowdfund a smaller project to get the very valuable first data sets, like the one I am campaigning will prove this system has a wealth of information to offer and thus improve our chances to fund the bigger picture as well. Next to that, this dataset will be immensely informative for future hypotheses and projects.

From DeBekker's online lab notes on Microryza.

From DeBekker’s online lab notes on Microryza.

I have to say crowdfunding is a great way to reach the people out there that are interested in our work. Not only other researchers, but also teachers and general science enthusiasts. You can reach those people by publishing open-access papers, but in those papers the language is more formal.

Science journalists fill in that gap really well by reporting about the research they think is interesting. However, people still don’t get to see to process behind the publication. Microryza provides the possibility to keep your backers up to date through online lab notes so you can tell people about the progress you are making to get to your research goal.

And it can be more interactive because you can make comments and ask questions.

What is your opinion on open-access research vs more traditional journals and methods of disseminating scientific research?

I think the trend of researchers choosing to publish their work open access to make it accessible for anyone who is interested in learning more about it is a great step forward. The internet allows us to disseminate and receive information with the click of a mouse and reach out to people across the globe.  So why put cheap generic cialis our research behind pay walls and hide it for a big portion of the population to see?

I think if we are more open about our work, we will generate more interest in science in general.

Next to that, our work can actually benefit from it since this will stimulate collaborations between research teams that are working on the same thing separately, or that normally work in different fields. More and better discoveries could be made. My crowdfunding campaign has already proven this to me– so many people were engaging in the AMA (on Reddit) I did about my work and I have met so many interesting and motivating researchers across different fields who I otherwise might have never met.

Charissa De Bekker isn’t the only researcher out there trying to advance our scientific knowledge by crowdfunding research projects.  Micronyza is full of research projects just waiting for interested people and there are other science crowdfunding platforms, such as PetriDish.org.

Visit De Bekker’s project page (“How does a parasite create zombie-like behavior?”) to learn more about her research into brain-controlling parasites or to help fund her project.

Take a ride with Poseidon's Steed

Posted on by Kallen in Book Reviews | Comments Off

With such a delicious title like Poseidon’s Steed, how could I resist writing a book review? I’ve already reviewed Neptune’s Arkso it seemed fitting to review a title that paid tribute to the god of the sea’s Greek counterpoint.
Poseidon's Steed (book)
If you are looking for your perfect summer read (biology-themed, of course), then Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses from Myth to Reality is perfect.

Written by marine biologist and SeaMonster blog contributor Helen Scales, Ph.D, I would definitely reccommend this book for the beach (and I’m not the first, Carl Safina also thinks its a good beach read).

If you are looking for a graduate-level description of seahorse biology, look elsewhere.

One of the strongest points of this book is its accessibility. It brings the history, wonder, and science of seahorses to the casual (but curious) reader.

Although I have always been fascinated with seahorses, I had no idea they were part of the mystery surrounding stolen treasure.

I knew that in a strange reversal of the norm, the males became pregnant, but I didn’t know here the evolutionary theory behind their unusual pouch.

Scales tells the whole story of seahorses, right up to the relatively recent discovery of dwarf seahorses.  Despite descriptions of the challenges that face seahorse survival, such as their popularity in chinese medicine), the book retained its upbeat tone.The people who viagra online canada recognize the environmental threats to seahorses and set aside cialis 20mg online areas for seahorse protection are reason enough for optimism.

Scales informs readers, without sending them into depression like the never ending tales of environmental woe are prone to do.

Add this fascinating (and never stressful) read to your summer reading list.

On a side note: I’m very happy that someone with a last name like “Scales” is a marine biologist.

Reviews of biology-themed science books are posted regularly. Previous book: Mutants. For more book reviews, click the book review tab. Book Reviews by Kallen are also available on GeekyLibrary, where she is a regular contributor.

Allergies? Curse you, Growing things!

Posted on by Kallen in Features | Comments Off

Yay for spring! Boo for allergies. I swear I’m only surviving because of Claritin. I planted blueberries yesterday, but by the end of the day I felt like a giant phlegm monster.

Curse you, growing things!  (wikimedia)

Curse you, growing things! (wikimedia)

It surprises me that so many people suffer from allergies and yet so few people understand what an allergic reaction is. Knowing this is important because it may change how you respond to your symptoms.

Last year, I started to get my persistent sore throat just like every spring. Like every spring, I groaned and went to the store to pick up some Claritin.

I started taking 24-hour antihistamine tablets (Loratadine). Stupid move….

After taking the allergy medication for a while, I ended up with a racking chest cough, a terrible case of congestion and absolutely no energy.

The worst part? I’m pretty sure I am responsible for the severity of my illness. My mistake? Thinking it was allergies. (In fact, it was the flu… I didn’t get my annual flu shot last year).

Claritin

During the spring, I take antihistamines like Claritin to suppress my immune response.

Allergies, put very simply, are caused by your immune system overreacting. It boots itself into overdrive and produces histamines which trigger the immune system’s inflammatory response. Hay Fever is just the immune system inflaming your nasal passages, which causes all those nasty responses we associate with blooming trees and increased pollen in the air.

To combat this unpleasantness, antihistamines inhibit histamines, or basically suppress part of your body’s natural immune system response.

If what you have is a real illness, and not the overreaction of your immune system, the cialis online price last thing you want to do is slow your immune response.

I knew all this going in. I just made a mistake in diagnosing my symptoms. However, the case still remains that when I should have been stocking up on orange juice and kleenex, I took the allergy medication. I usually have an extremely strong immune system, but all I did was prevent it from doing it’s job.

Believe me, when you’re lying on the couch feeling miserably sick, knowing you may be partly responsible only increases the misery.

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