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…

blue light

Blue Light Kills!

You’ve probably heard of the dangers of blue light. Usually, this is in the context of phones and computers and other screens. But did you know that blue light can actually increase oxidative stress in insects? This results in death for the critters. What’s even more interesting is that different wavelengths of light will affect the insects at different stages in their life. Those Poor Fruit Flies Scientists took some Drosophila, you know them as fruit flies, and exposed their eggs, larvae, pupae, and adult flights to various wavelengths of blue light. Here’s what they found: For eggs, the most…

Moss-Cyanobacteria Mutualism

When people hear the word mutualism, images of bees and flowers or oxpeckers on rhinos appear in their minds. But mutualism can occur between some of the smallest organisms on this planet. In 2013, scientists discovered that the relationship between moss and cyanobacteria provided much-needed nitrogen compounds for boreal trees. In a way, you could say this is a 3-way mutualistic relationship! Nitrogen Availability Plants require CO2, water, and sunlight to make glucose. But what happens to the glucose afterwards? It turns out that plant cells use this glucose to do all sorts of cool things… like build cellulose, lignin,…

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…

bees and flowers

The Physics of Pretty Flowers

We know that flowers love bees and bees love flowers. But their relationship, like with dogs and people, is complicated and involves interaction from both sides. Dogs evolved to read our expressions and communicate via barking. They’ve also evolved an extra eyebrow muscle to pull off the “puppy-dog eyes” and manipulate people. Bees and Flowers Flowers have evolved all sorts of physical features and properties to guide and attract bees. But did you know that flowers also evolved parts to discourage non-pollinators? A review in The Phytologist looks at all the different studies on the physics of flowers to conclude…

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…