planaria

Planaria Ripping Themselves Apart

Planaria are little flatworms with triangle heads, beady eyes, and the ability to regenerate after being cut in half. Bet you didn’t expect that last part, did you? Unlike cell division, planarian fission is violent and … well, weird. To stimulate these little guys to split, you have to first decapitate them. Unlike mitosis, planarian binary fission is simpler. There are no chromosomes that form or mitotic spindles. The worm simply holds on to a surface with its pharynx, uses peristalsis to create a waist, and pulsating muscular contractions rip the worm in half. The tighter the worm is able…

auto-brewery syndrome

Auto-Brewery Syndrome

We all have bacteria and yeast that live in our gut and you’ve probably read about them here! For most of us, we live in relative harmony with these tiny guests. But sometimes, either due to our immune systems malfunctioning or lifestyle changes (like when we take antibiotics), yeast that ferment ethanol start to grow in our intestines. And that leads to auto-brewery syndrome. Not A 24/7 Party I know, it sounds like a dream right? You can brew your own alcohol! Unfortunately, people with auto-brewery syndrome live in a world where they are either drunk or hungover. This is…

tough times

Getting Through Tough Times

Living organisms have come up with lots of interesting ways to get through tough times. Sometimes, “tough” means stuff like… winter. Other times, there might be a food shortage or the puddle dries up. Whatever the stressor, being adaptable is the key to survival. In this post, we’ll take a look at how 3 weird organisms survive tough times. Tardigrade Myth Rotifers and tardigrades react to crappy times by desiccation. They dehydrate their cells, their DNA fragments, and they roll up into a cocoon (aka: a tun). There’s a misconception that tardigrades can live in space, but no. Tardigrades are…

Electronic Tongues

I do this lab with my advanced biology class called “The Mystery Milk” lab. I give them 4 unknown liquids and they have to use a series of indicators to figure out what these milk-like products are. The students always ask me if they can taste the products (Answer: No, it’s a science lab). But imagine if there WAS a device that acted like a tongue for mystery liquids… Beer, Wine, Milk Scientists have used a combination of techniques to create electronic tongues (and noses). The tongue was able to identify wine from beer from milk. In fact, it was…

algae

Holding Up the Line: RuBisCo

With all the extra CO2 we’ve been putting into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, the age of global warming is finally upon us. In our scramble to find new sources of energy, some scientists have turned to algae. The logic is there: plants take CO2 and make O2. More plants = less CO2. It’s even carbon neutral! Problem solved, right? A New Kind of Biofuel Algae are a promising source of alternative fuel because, in the right conditions, they grow fast and don’t take up a lot of space. Anyone who has ever had to spend a Saturday afternoon…

The CRISPR-Cas System

It’s about time I covered CRISPR, don’t you think? It’s the hottest topic in science since space-tardigrades! Once again, no, water bears can’t live in space naked, they have to be in a dry tun. Back to CRISPR though, this new gene editing technology isn’t actually new at all. Bacteria have been using it as an adaptive immune system to remember past viral infections. Some History and Terminology CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. They are exactly what their name says they are… In 1987, scientists noticed these repeating sequences in E. Coli and eventually, other scientists…

donkeys

Someone Actually Did A Study On This…

Donkeys may seem like hardy animals, but a scientific study has shown that these big-eared equines don’t do well in cold weather. Before we dive into the weird world of equine winter coat-lengths, let’s first look at some equine terms that you need to be familiar with. Also, they may be useful later on in life when you’re playing trivia or something. Horses vs Donkeys Horses and donkeys all fall under the genus Equus, which includes other horse-like animals such as zebras and onagers. Physically, the differences are obvious. Donkeys are shorter with big ears. Horses are taller with small…

CBD, THC, and ECS

I recently had the chance to do some research on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and cannabidiol (CBD). What I realized was that there are lots of myths, some truths, and way too much marketing. So, in this post, I’ll simply present to you what the research says. No gimmicks, I’m not selling anything, and you’re free to make your own decisions. Endocannabinoid System The ECS consists of three parts: ligands, receptors, and deactivating enzymes. The ligands are lipid-based molecules called endocannabinoids and they bind to the receptors, CB1 and CB2. Deactivating enzymes do exactly that, deactivate the ligands after they’ve…

How Nerves Fire

Whack! OUCH! Ever wonder how pain from a whacked hand gets to your brain so quickly? Also, what do people mean when they say we have electrical impulses inside our bodies? In this post, we’ll take a look at how nerves send messages throughout your body. Though, let’s not call it “firing nerves”, in biology we use the term “action potential”. Anatomy of a Neuron A neuron is a nerve cell. It resembles a smashed spider with a long, frayed tail. The spider part is analogous to the cell body, the long tail is the axon, and the frayed end…