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…

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…

oral grooves

Carbon Neutral

Carbon In, Carbon Out What does it mean when an energy source is carbon neutral? Does using it still emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere? What are some examples of carbon neutral sources of energy? Are all renewable sources carbon neutral? You’ve already learned about molten-salt reactors as a possible new source of energy. In this post, we’ll take a look at some new developments in the renewable energy sector. Biomass Biomass is a by-product of the agricultural industry. Let’s say you are a corn farmer and you’ve just harvested your crop. Selling the kernels is how you make money,…

amoeba

The Root Cause

The Rhizosphere Around the roots of plants, there is a tiny world called the rhizosphere. While it may be small, it is not insignificant. In fact, the rhizosphere plays an important role in cycling carbon and nitrogen between bacteria, protozoa, nematodes, and the plant roots themselves. The easiest way to see the rhizosphere is by collecting water that drips out the bottom of a flower pot. You don’t need anything more than about 100x magnification to see all the players (except the bacteria). Rhizosphere Players How does this little ecosystem work? Let’s start with the bacteria. Plants will release precious…

molten-salt reactor

Molten-Salt Reactors

Written by Philippe WerrieEdited for Oralgrooves.com by Evie The Other Nuclear Reactor While proponents tout the carbon free nature of the nuclear reactor, ecologists condemn them for their risk and the nuclear waste they produce. Did you know that while there are hundreds of active nuclear power plants in the world, most of them use the same basic design? There’s actually a lot of potential ways to design a nuclear reactor. In this post, I want to introduce you to the molten-salt reactor. Components An actual nuclear power plant is a complicated machine but its basic mechanism is easy to…

global warming

It’s Complicated

Saving the Planet When you read articles about climate change, much of the focus is on carbon dioxide emissions. At the end of these articles, there may be a few encouraging tips on how to save the planet, but have you ever stopped to ask yourself, “Why the focus on carbon dioxide?”Have you ever wondered, “Is there more to the story than polar bears and melting ice caps?”Turns out, global warming is a really complicated process. In this post, I’m going to lay out some of the other factors that contribute to fluctuations in Earth’s climate. Albedo The word “albedo”…