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…

evolution of language

Evolution: Science & Language

Like Words, Like Genes Languages, like living organisms, change and evolve over time. Some languages have survived in isolation, while other languages have taken over large populations. Just like our genes, we humans are the vessels in which language spreads. In this post, I’ll show you some pretty cool examples of language evolution; it’s surprising how similar it is to biological evolution. Cerevisiae The scientific name for beer yeast, specifically ale yeast, is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This yeast, as you’ve learned, has been used in both beer and bread-making for thousands of years. It is, if you will, the OG of…

Neural Networks, Genetic Algorithms

Mimicking Biology Neural networks and genetic algorithms are a type of machine learning that mimics biological systems. Like the name suggests, the way neural networks work is similar to how the nervous system works. Same thing with genetic algorithms, they mimic how genomes evolve over time. Neural Network Nodes make up the different layers of a neural network. These nodes act like neurons and accept or process information. The diagram below is an example that you commonly see when talking about neural networks. The hidden layers between the input and output layers are the algorithms that process information. Hidden Layers…

Machine Learning 101

Follow the White Rabbit The field of artificial intelligence and machine learning has exploded in the last decade. And thanks to The Matrix and Keanu Reeves, it’s all a bit scary and sexy. In this post, I’ll talk about some basic concepts of machine learning. Like with kids, there are different “learning styles”; in the case of the machines, they’re known as either supervised or unsupervised learning. Semantics You can teach a child to do something. You can even teach a dog! But, you cannot teach a machine. The word is train. Write that down because machine learning people will…

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…