Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Talkin' Scorpions Not From the 80's Hairband

An extreme fascination with Arizona and its desert led me to my next blog topic. When visiting Phoenix, Arizona for last year's spring break, one of the first things I did was browse through a book nestled upon the coffee table that contained cute little pictures and descriptions of all the neat wildlife that exists in the hot desert.

Within this book contained many interesting animals that would easily amuse anyone not accustomed to indigenous desert wildlife (unless you visit the local zoo of course for us Ohioans). I was informed numerous times about the local scorpions that lurk in the shadows of the desert floor to the point where I kept my shoes on more often than I probably should have and slept with blankets completely bundled around my head. So this book allowed me to take a closer look at these creepy-crawly-things without getting too close for my liking. Despite my fear I had for these creatures, thanks to the local residents who instilled it upon me, I have to admit now that I was a little disappointed not to see one for myself during the entire week stay. I'm even more disappointed because Arizona has the most venomous scorpion in North America, the Arizona Bark Scorpion.

The Arizona Bark Scorpion is among ~2,000 species of scorpions and one of the few species that are dangerous to humans. These creatures, I mean scorpions, use their venom to kill or paralyze their prey (typically crickets and roaches) before eating them. They do this by injecting venom that is stored in a glandular sac called the telson just below their stinger also known as the aculeus. The venom that the scorpion injects into its prey is a mixture of neurotoxin and enzyme inhibitors which contain a large quantity of channel blockers. The venom binds to sodium channels and inhibits any activation that may occur which, in turn, blocks overall neuronal transmission causing its immobilizing symptoms. Scorpion toxin is also used in some insecticides and vaccines.

Another interesting fact I quickly discovered (while fearing that during an innocent night walk to the kitchen I might accidentally get stung by one of these beasts and have to be rushed away to the hospital (which probably wouldn't happen-thank goodness)), was the fact that these guys glow in the dark. Well kind of. They do, however, contain a fluorescent compound that allows them to glow under ultraviolet light. Most people don't pack a blacklight in their luggage (though I'm sure if I did the airport security would have confiscated that bad boy anyway), but luckily I found one for my own amusement in finding a scorpion. The compound responsible for the scorpion's glowing qualities is known as Beta-Carboline. This compound, that generates a fluorescent glow under UV, is part of the alkaloids found within many plants and animals and plays a vital role in monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). (It was also the compound that would enable me to see any potential scorpions crouched in any crack or corner so I could inevitably scream and have someone remove it appropriately).

It turns out that scorpions are way cooler than what I previously thought. A Tel Aviv University researcher claims that scorpion venom may actually be used as a substitution for addictive opiate painkillers such as morphine. It is believed that the toxic venom could lead the way to the production of a powerful analgesic drug. Potentially the drug will be used against severe burns and cuts by mimicking and modifying the necessary elements of scorpion venom. This will allow for a more potent and target-specific (to certain sodium channels) while at the same time, reducing any serious side effects shown from pure scorpion venom or addictive opiate painkillers.

So this spring when I head out West, you can bet I just might be looking for scorpions that could quite possibly "Rock You Like a Hurricane". Okay Okay, who's kidding who, I probably won't be snooping for scorpions. I'll just look at their pictures in that book on the coffee table, never quote that song title again, and investigate something else like the Sonoran desert whiptail.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Night Owl Syndrome

I am an early bird! I love waking up in the morning. I love opening my blinds and letting the song birds sing to me. A long shower, a hot cup of coffee, Al Roker and a smile is all I need to have for a good morning.

Well, actually, I lied. Waking up in the morning is number 3,658,915,556.23 on my list of enjoyable things to do. Truthfully speaking, when I wake up, my room has to be completely dark, noiseless, coffeeless, and foodless; otherwise I might get grumpy. And I don't know about you, but I have to set my alarm AT LEAST 1 1/2 hour before I have to leave. However, researcher say I can cut down on my "getting ready time" if I only change one element of my morning routine.

It's called Teenage Night Owl Syndrome and researchers from the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Lighting Research Center (LRC) stated that,

"As teenagers spend more time indoors, they miss out on essential morning light needed to stimulate the body's 24-hour biological system, which regulates the sleep/wake cycle," and

"These morning-light-deprived teenagers are going to bed later, getting less sleep and possibly under-performing on standardized tests. We are starting to call this the teenage night owl syndrome."

A study published in Neuroendocrinology had 11 8th graders wear special glasses which prevented short-wavelength (blue) morning light from reaching their eyes. The results revealed that the students experienced a 30 minute delay in falling asleep over the course of 5 days.

So why does this happen?

Melatonin is a chemical in the body that helps to regulate the body's 24 hour circadian cycle. The body starts to produce this chemical about 2 hours before you go to bed. However, in the continued absence of blue light (getting ready in the dark), it is released 6 minutes later each night and eventually, their sleep cycle is completely out of line.

So, if you are one of these people who can't fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning and have trouble waking up on time, try waking up to sweet sunshine. Open your blinds and soak up the sun!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I Heart Chocolate

Fantastic news for chocolate lovers! The consumption of chocolate has many positive benefits, along side its oh-so-addicting taste, it may reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. What makes this news even better is the more you eat the better. This may sound like a gimmick to those non-chocolate lovers and more reason for chocolate fanatics, such as myself, to continue their chocolatey obsessions, but researchers in Sweden have discovered evidence proving that chocolate contains antioxidants that have great cardiovascular effects. Sweet!

According to a study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the antioxidant important to chocolate's heart friendly effects is known as flavonoid, commonly found within many fruits and vegetables. Flavonoid, like other antioxidants, helps curb the effects of free radicals that cause damage to cells. Free radicals are also responsible for oxidizing LDL (bad cholesterol), increasing the likelihood of plaque build-up within arteries also known as atherosclerosis. In other words, eating chocolate can increase proper blood flow to and from the heart.

Not only does indulging in the divine taste of chocolate have great cardiovascular effects, according to a study at the University of Chicago, chocolate also reduces stress levels and has been shown to act as a painkiller. (No wonder so many women are addicted to its euphoric qualities.) But how much chocolate is too much? Well, studies show that eating just one serving of chocolate a week can reduce stroke risk by as much as 22% and eating up to 50 grams of chocolate a week may reduce the risk up to 46%. Most chocolate deserts, however, contain high quantities of sugar and saturated fats which can ruin these benefits (as well as increase your waistline), but sticking with dark chocolate may be best.

So go on you chocolate fiends, eat to your heart's desire. And for those of you who aren't quite chocolate enthusiasts, you're missing out. I heart chocolate.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Denialism Isn't All Their Fault

Michael Specter's idea of denialism is well founded and I think mostly true but I disagree with the solution that he seems to propose, where people simply become more open minded and accepting of the ideas of science that we establish through research. That people take sides is too obvious in our politics today, and there is clearly a degree of irrationality in our beliefs, but I don't think that the solution to the problem of scientific misunderstanding is for citizens to simply accept expert opinion.

If I were a climatologist, and a close friend asked me "what do you make of this climate-change business?" and I told him it was real, he would probably believe me because I am his friend who wouldn't lead him astray and he knows I am an expert. The same holds for evolution and so on. But it is reasonably more of a stretch to ask someone to trust the opinion of some faraway, faceless expert, especially in an time when science is sometimes closely joined to business and political interests. The solution? It should be easy - just read the literature. The proof is in the pudding. The problem is, scientific papers are not written for the layman, they are written for trained scientists. Naturally then they are usually full of jargon and efficiently (and robotically) worded. For the average person most papers are impenetrable. The problem that arises is that nearly all scientific information is passed to the public through secondary sources, which are sometimes boring (textbooks) and by nature lack the authority and level of engagement of a primary source. This principle holds across disciplines - history and political philosophy textbooks are boring, for example, but original documents are often fascinating (as is the spelling). One of the reasons these particular humanities struggle is because people hate hacking through the prevailing secondary literature.

I can think of a famous precedent for accessible science writing. In the mid-1800s, Darwin published the Origin of Species as a readable theory for the British masses, not just for Owen and Wallace, and it was a smash hit and started a revolution in thought. This happened in closed-minded Victorian England. My opinion on the subject is that today's scientists would be more persuasive if their writing and speaking were more readable and conversational. That the public will magically wake up to scientific understanding or simply accept our "settled science" seems to be a pipe dream to me.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

All is Fair in Love and War...bioterrorism that is

Dr. Oz is a genius! He started out as a regular doctor, then he became Oprah's go-to man for all her weight problems, and now he is a billionaire with his own TV show! I love him, he knows what he is talking about. Anyways, his Tuesday segment was all about bioterrorism and how deadly these pathogens can be. By then end of the show, I was more worried about bioterrorism than I was about regular terrorism. The CDC defines bioterrorism as "...the deliberate release of viruses, bacteria, or other germs (agents) used to cause illness or death in people, animals, or plants." Bioterrorism is not something that has sprung up with the advancement of new technology; it can be dated back to the 14th century. Soldiers would throw the bodies of those who died from the plague, over the walls of their enemies fortresses. The disease was easily transferred from person to person and therefore caused many deaths.

The first bioterrorism agent Dr. Oz explained (and a category A agent according to the CDC) was anthrax. Anthrax is an encapsulated, aerobic, gram-positive, spore-forming, rod-shaped (bacillus) bacterium. The anthrax bacterium is enclosed in a capsule where it is protected from phagocytes which makes it hard to destroy. The gram-positive cell wall of the bacterium also makes it extremely resistant due to the numerous layers of peptidoglycan that make up the cell wall. However, anthrax's most deadly characteristic is its ability to form spores. Dr. Oz held up a regular 5 pound bag of flour, took a handful, and blew it into the air. He said, "This 5 pound bag could wipe out New York City!"
Some symptoms of anthrax include...

If inhaled: flu-like symptoms – fever, aches, fatigue, nonproductive cough, chest discomfort, breathing difficulties, sweating, and blue lips and extremities
If eaten: nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, fever, abdominal pain, vomiting of blood, and severe diarrhea
If on skin: itching, depressed black scar, redness and swelling

It is scary to think that other countries may use viruses and toxins to fight wars. It is even scarier to think that most countries in the world have the technology to engineer mass quantities of toxins that could easily wipe out an entire civilization. Let's just hope that they don't believe that all is fair in love and war!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sexual Behavior of the Narwhal

Hi everyone, my name is Deanna and I am one of the sexy scientists. For my first blog post, I thought it was important to connect our blog title with a topic I found interesting. With that said, I decided to talk about the sexual behoviors of the narwhal. I chose the narwhal due to my love of the movie "Elf" and because the narwhal is a facinating creature. So to start, for those of you who do not know, a narwhal is a toothed whale that lives in the Artic ocean (close to the north pole; where Santa lives). But these creatures are easily identifiable due to their long, straight, spiral tusk protruding from the upper jaw.
The function of this spear-like projection is not clearly understood, however some theories include that it is used by males to determine social rank. It may also be a seconday sexual characteristic much like the feathers of a peacock, the horns of a goat, or facial hair on men. These characteristics are important when it come down to finding a mate. And apparently, for the male narwhal, the larger the tusk, the more likely he will win the battle over the right to a female. And the female narwhal does not want just ANY male. According to the "sexy son hypothesis" proposed by Weatherhead and Robertson (1979), the female's optimum choice among potential mates is a male whose genes will produce male offspring with the best chance of reproductive success (as does any woman).

In the beginning...

...there were 3 sexy scientists, only one of whom was actually sexy. This blog was created out of love for science and truth. While striving to bring this blog to you, the reader, we worked through many hardships and stayed awake many hours, but we were able to overcome our differences and create this masterpiece.
Your humble bloggers are Deanna Blosser, Nikki Burson, and Ryan Yoder. We named the blog "SexyScience" not only in honor of the authors but also because of our infatuation with the subject matter. Just a little information about us: we are all fourth year biology majors and we have a crazy obsession with science. Deanna enjoys long walks on the beach, while Ryan likes tormenting underclassmen, and Nikki likes watching The Price is Right on rainy days. We hope you enjoy our blog.