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  • December 31, 2010
  • 08:07 PM

Naked Mole Rat: World's Strangest Rodent

by beredim in Strange Animals

The naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is arguably one of the strangest mammals out-there, combining all kinds of crazy adaptations. Some of them are the lack of pain sensation, a remarkably long lifespan, being the only known mammalian thermoconformer and one of the known mammals to form ant-like colonies... Not to mention its scary and alien-like appearance.... Read more »

Park TJ, Lu Y, Jüttner R, Smith ES, Hu J, Brand A, Wetzel C, Milenkovic N, Erdmann B, Heppenstall PA.... (2008) Selective inflammatory pain insensitivity in the African naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber). PLoS biology, 6(1). PMID: 18232734  

Azpurua, J., Ke, Z., Chen, I., Zhang, Q., Ermolenko, D., Zhang, Z., Gorbunova, V., & Seluanov, A. (2013) Naked mole-rat has increased translational fidelity compared with the mouse, as well as a unique 28S ribosomal RNA cleavage. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(43), 17350-17355. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1313473110  

Seluanov A, Hine C, Azpurua J, Feigenson M, Bozzella M, Mao Z, Catania KC, & Gorbunova V. (2009) Hypersensitivity to contact inhibition provides a clue to cancer resistance of naked mole-rat. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(46), 19352-7. PMID: 19858485  

Csiszar A, Labinskyy N, Orosz Z, Xiangmin Z, Buffenstein R, & Ungvari Z. (2007) Vascular aging in the longest-living rodent, the naked mole rat. American journal of physiology. Heart and circulatory physiology, 293(2). PMID: 17468332  

  • December 31, 2010
  • 05:54 PM

Pandemic Influenza: 1510 – 2010

by Michelle Ziegler in Contagions

My first clue on the existence of specific influenza pandemics before 1918 came a few years ago while reading some local newspapers on the Spanish Flu itself. The papers were warning people that this was not an ordinary flu year, it would be like 1893! The papers referred to 1893 in the same way that [...]... Read more »

  • December 31, 2010
  • 03:34 PM

What causes cancer?

by Science Exploiter in Science Exploits

A local radio station recently hosted a physician and asked him various questions.  As you'd expect, one of the topics included cancer.  Unfortunately the physician made a blanket statement: everyone has cancer.I don't know about you, but I do not want to receive a diagnosis of cancer from a medical professional.  Certainly the diagnoses of many cancers has changed today when compared to twenty years ago, but that does not make the thought of receiving such a diagnosis anymore comforting.  Thus to tell an audience of people that everyone currently has cancer seems irresponsible and meant for ratings.  Based on the current shortages in people with clinical degrees, one can assume that the majority of listeners lack a collegiate understanding of that doctor's statement.  While most probably have the common sense to realize that by telling an entire audience, he obviously does not mean it personally, I still feel the need to explain.  After all, by his definition everyone currently has an active infection as well.To explain this, consider blood: the life liquid pulsing through the body.  It enters the right atrium of the heart via the vena cava, passes through the tricuspid valve into the right ventricle before coursing into the pulmonary arteries towards the lungs.  Oxygen and carbon dioxide diffuse based on their concentration gradients, and then the blood makes its way back to the heart via the pulmonary veins.  Flowing into the left atrium the bright red richly oxygenated blood falls through the bicuspid valve into the left ventricle, where it is finally pumped into the ascending aorta--a portion of the thoracic aorta.  Such an intricate process, all for one single type of tissue.  Sure, the components of blood vary, but throughout the body it generally has the same consistency, barring any pathology--the blood entering the basilar artery in the brain is the same as the blood coursing through the popliteal arteries at each knee.  It serves numerous functions, which include the capacity to carry oxygen to the tissues; transport glucose, medicines, and waste products; and even provide an avenue by which to buffer the pH.  Going along with this explanation, take our fictional patient: involved in a car accident, losing blood rapidly.  He arrives to the emergency room in shock: low blood pressure, racing heart, and rapid breathing.  The emergency department gets two large bore IVs into his arms and immediately begins infusing him with liter boluses of lactated ringers, in the hopes that fluid infusion will boost his blood pressure.  His blood pressure fails to rise much higher, and no obvious sign of bleeding can be found.  A quick thinking resident orders the standard blood panel: a complete blood count (CBC) and a complete metabolic panel (CMP), while another pages the surgical team to arrange emergency surgery.  While radiology confirms internal bleeding, and surgery prepares the patient for the operating room, the anesthesia department prepares for rapid sequence intubation while looking at his labs--they need to know which blood type to order when transfusing, which he will surely need.  Unfortunately nobody ordered a type and cross of the patient's blood...The above tale is merely fictitious, but provides an excellent example as to the importance of the immune system.  While blood serves a very important function, that patient cannot receive just any type of blood: he needs his own type of blood.  Despite his body crashing, struggling to send blood to the heart and the brain, his immune system will continue to fight anything it views as an intruder.  Thus if given Type B blood, the immune system of a blood Type A individual will immediately respond, causing the blood to clot.  The immune system only did its function: the blood with the Type B markers did not belong there, thus should be fought.  It would not fight a transfusion with Type A blood, since it recognizes Type A as self.  Similarly it would not fight Type O blood, since Type O lacks any markers by which the immune system would distinguish it as an intruder.  All cells have markers by which the immune system can recognize self from nonself.  Just as with blood transfusion, organ transplantation involves finding a donor and a recipient with as many biochemical marker similarities as possible; otherwise the immune system will cause the body to reject the tissue, resulting in the need for a new transplant.  For this reason transplant recipients must take immunosuppressive drugs, to keep the immune system from attacking the new tissue. Now consider a cancerous cell.  It grows fast and without any observation at all.  The various steps in the cell cycle which normally regulate cell growth fail to take place.  The cell grows large and multiplies rapidly, missing key ingredients necessary for a normal functioning cell.  The functioning immune system, just like when responding to a bad transfusion or a poorly matched graft, should recognize the missing or abnormal cell markers, and as such attack the bad cell.  Once destroyed, the cancerous cell is gone, and that person is cancer free.  This may happen time and again, but only once such a cell evade the immune system does it truly become a cancer, as recognized by the general public.  Why the immune system picks up many cancers, but misses others remains something which science continues to investigate.Thus back to the doctor: his broad statement is correct, but unduly alarming.  It's what the immune system does, and it does it well.  Don't believe it?  Find anyone who has undergone a failed transplant--they will tell you just how well the immune system can do its job. MCCONNELL, H., WATTS, T., WEIS, R., & BRIAN, A. (1986). Supported planar membranes in studies of cell-cell recognition in the immune system Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Reviews on Biomembranes, 864 (1), 95-106 DOI: 10.1016/0304-4157(86)90016-X... Read more »

MCCONNELL, H., WATTS, T., WEIS, R., & BRIAN, A. (1986) Supported planar membranes in studies of cell-cell recognition in the immune system. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) - Reviews on Biomembranes, 864(1), 95-106. DOI: 10.1016/0304-4157(86)90016-X  

  • December 31, 2010
  • 02:47 PM

The Ink Post – Ink as a conspecific alarm cue in squid

by Mike Mike in Cephalove

Cephalopods have a lot to offer – tentacles, beaks, and big scary (and perhaps cute) eyeballs. Today, though, let’s look at a part of the cephalopod body that doesn’t get paid so much attention to, especially by us neurobiologist types: the ink. Most coleoid cephalopods (that is, all the living cephalopods excluding nautiluses and a [...]... Read more »

W. F. Gilly and Mary T. Lucero. (1992) Behavioral Responses to Chemical Stimulation of the Olfactory Organ of the Squid, Loligo opalescens. Journal of Experimental Biology. info:/

  • December 31, 2010
  • 12:18 AM

Shark Finning, Fisheries, and Smooth Dogfish

by Chuck in Ya Like Dags?

I’m fashionably late to this party due to the holidays, but let’s see what I can do.  The shark blogs have been abuzz with the news that the Senate has passed the Shark Conservation Act, which is a big win … Continue reading →... Read more »

C.L. Conrath, & J.A. Musick. (2002) Reproductive biology of the smooth dogfish, Mustelus canis, in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Environmental Biology of Fishes, 367-377. info:/

  • December 30, 2010
  • 04:20 PM

Burrowing Owls Embark on Cross-Continent Migration

by Scott A. in JournOwl

I’ve definitely been neglecting my journal reading over the last few months, and if I want to be honest it’s probably more like a 6 month hiatus.  As I returned from a field visit in Winters, California, I got the itch to see what’s up with the latest in raptor research.  And the little voice [...]... Read more »

Holroyd, G., Trefry, H., & Duxbury, J. (2010) Winter Destinations and Habitats of Canadian Burrowing Owls. Journal of Raptor Research, 44(4), 294-299. DOI: 10.3356/JRR-09-87.1  

  • December 30, 2010
  • 04:20 PM

Pocket guide to GPCR structures still valid

by Peter Nollert in Emerald BioStructures Blog

In 2008 the guidelines for crystallographic GPCR structure determination were a just a trend (N=3), now at the end of 2010 with 2 more GPCR structures in our pocket, both of which follow these guidelines, this pocket guide is starting to look like a rule book.... Read more »

Hodges, M. (2008) A pocket guide to GPCRs. PSI Structural Genomics Knowledgebase. DOI: 10.1038/fa_psisgkb.2008.16  

  • December 30, 2010
  • 11:19 AM

specific inhibition of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay by small molecule

by Vasili Hauryliuk in stringent response

The last step of protein synthesis is called translation termination. During this step the stop codon is recognized by the protein factor called "release factor" and finished protein is cleaved off the tRNA. Mutations which cause premature termination (nonsense mutations) lead to shortened protein which is usually defective, and in order to avoid accumulation of these proteins such mRNA are recognized by nonsense mediated mRNA decay (NMD) machinery and degraded.This is usually a good thing, but imagine that the gene which has this nonsense mutation is very important for survival of the cell, and imagine that the truncated version is still somewhat functional. In this case it would be beneficial to produce it even if it is somewhat compromised: something is better than nothing.Therefore in some cases NMD is actually a cause of a desease, such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis - over-zealous NMD removes all the damaged mRNAs and no protein product is produced. In this case suppression of NMD is needed.Treatment with antibiotic gentamicin wich causes error-prone translation is a solution, but unfortunately gentamicin is not specific for NMD and causes errors on all the steps of translation. Specific inhibition of NMD was sought after for many years, and finally a smal molecule which inhibits it was discovered.The molecule is called PTC124, and we know that it does the trick (inhibits NMD) and works well against the DMD. It was discovered in 2007, and by now we still don't know to what it binds (ribosome? NMD factors?) and what is the mechanism. The reason for that is that it is extremely complicated to construct an in vitro system for studying PTC124 (you will need purified translational and NMD components, and that is a lot of components). So for now we have no idea how it works, but it does! Welch EM, Barton ER, Zhuo J, Tomizawa Y, Friesen WJ, Trifillis P, Paushkin S, Patel M, Trotta CR, Hwang S, Wilde RG, Karp G, Takasugi J, Chen G, Jones S, Ren H, Moon YC, Corson D, Turpoff AA, Campbell JA, Conn MM, Khan A, Almstead NG, Hedrick J, Mollin A, Risher N, Weetall M, Yeh S, Branstrom AA, Colacino JM, Babiak J, Ju WD, Hirawat S, Northcutt VJ, Miller LL, Spatrick P, He F, Kawana M, Feng H, Jacobson A, Peltz SW, & Sweeney HL (2007). PTC124 targets genetic disorders caused by nonsense mutations. Nature, 447 (7140), 87-91 PMID: 17450125Manuvakhova M, Keeling K, & Bedwell DM (2000). Aminoglycoside antibiotics mediate context-dependent suppression of termination codons in a mammalian translation system. RNA (New York, N.Y.), 6 (7), 1044-55 PMID: 10917599... Read more »

Welch EM, Barton ER, Zhuo J, Tomizawa Y, Friesen WJ, Trifillis P, Paushkin S, Patel M, Trotta CR, Hwang S.... (2007) PTC124 targets genetic disorders caused by nonsense mutations. Nature, 447(7140), 87-91. PMID: 17450125  

  • December 29, 2010
  • 09:40 PM

Bacterial Biofilms that Broadly Resist Liquids and Gases

by Michael Long in Phased

Adhered aggregates of bacterial cells can be far more resistant to chemical attack than is commonly appreciated, exceeding the resistance of any other known natural material.... Read more »

Epstein, A. K., Pokroya, B., Seminara, A., & Aizenberg, J. (2010) Bacterial biofilm shows persistent resistance to liquid wetting and gas penetration. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. info:/10.1073/pnas.1011033108

  • December 29, 2010
  • 05:36 PM

Pleiotropy is 100 years old

by Bjørn Østman in Pleiotropy

This year, the term pleiotropy was defined 100 years ago, and Frank Stearns, graduate student at the University of Maryland biology graduate program has written a perspective in Genetics, which I highly recommend.... Read more »

  • December 29, 2010
  • 01:20 PM

Energy Scales

by Kevin Bonham in Food Matters

Bacteria are tiny. Compared to our cells, they can seem insignificant. There are about ten times more bacteria cells in your gut *right now* than there are human cells in your entire body, but they only make up about 5% of your mass. They're tiny, but they're successful - they live in places we can't, they can metabolize things we can't, and they're everywhere. Despite this success, there's some things they don't do, like multicellularity, but why?

PZ has a great review of a recent paper in Nature that tries to answer that question, so I don't need to recapitulate it, but I have just a couple of (minor) quibbles with this analysis. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Lane N, & Martin W. (2010) The energetics of genome complexity. Nature, 467(7318), 929-34. PMID: 20962839  

  • December 29, 2010
  • 12:11 PM

Belgian Blue: The super cow

by Beredim in Strange Animals

If Arnold Schwarzenegger had a pet cow, it would most probably be Belgian Blue. These cows are incredibly muscled, toned and have very little fat. Interestingly, the breed has been created using the genetic power of selective breeding. No steroids or anabolics. Only natural bodybuilding here :P... Read more »

  • December 29, 2010
  • 09:23 AM

Stegosaur Wars: the SJG stegosaur special, part I

by Darren Naish in Tetrapod Zoology

Among the most iconic and remarkable of dinosaurs are the stegosaurs, a mostly Jurassic group of thyreophorans famous for the rows of spikes and plates that decorated their necks, backs and tails [somewhat inaccurate Stegosaurus stenops shown below. I did it many years ago].

As I'm fond of saying, the stegosaur we know best - Stegosaurus - is an atypical member of the group. It's particularly large and possesses lots of plates and but a few spikes. Stegosaurus may also be unusual in lacking shoulder spikes (aka parascapular spines), but this is less clear that it used to be since the 'parascapular spines' of some stegosaurs have been reinterpreted as tail spikes. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...... Read more »

Maidment, S., Norman, D., Barrett, P., & Upchurch, P. (2008) Systematics and phylogeny of Stegosauria (Dinosauria: Ornithischia). Journal of Systematic Palaeontology, 6(04), 367. DOI: 10.1017/S1477201908002459  

  • December 29, 2010
  • 09:01 AM

Caterpillars Whistle, Warblers Go Hungry

by Kelly Grooms in Promega Connections

Is there anything a caterpillar can do to cause a bird, one of its biggest predators, to duck for cover? If your answer is no, think again and read on. (If your answer was yes, congratulations you are very, very smart, but read on anyway). Caterpillars are a great example of defense mechanisms at work. [...]... Read more »

  • December 29, 2010
  • 05:30 AM

It’s all about energy

by Becky in It Takes 30

Over the last 10 years or so — thanks to tools that allow us to study the behaviors of individual cells — we’ve become increasingly aware of and interested in cell-to-cell variation in genetically identical populations.  For example, in response to a challenge, some cells may live and others die (I’ve written before about examples of [...]... Read more »

  • December 29, 2010
  • 02:47 AM

DON’T PANIC: Sustainable seafood and the American outlaw

by Miriam in Deep Sea News

Time: 9 PM, after a long day in the lab.
Place: Lucha Libre Taco Shop
Internal Monologue:
Bad Miriam: “If I do not have a Surf ‘n’ Turf burrito I will surely perish!”
Good Miriam: “No! Shrimp is bad! You know shrimp is bad! You are a goddamn marine biologist!”
Bad Miriam: “But it is sooooo delicious. Plus it tastes so . . . → Read More: DON’T PANIC: Sustainable seafood and the American outlaw... Read more »

  • December 28, 2010
  • 09:34 PM

Trio of Dogs Study

by Leema in Some Thoughts About Dogs

What do three dogs do by themselves in St Louis City, Missouri, in 1973? Researchers studied their behaviour.... Read more »

Fox, MW, Beck, AM, & Blackman, E. (1975) Behaviour and ecology of a small group of urban dogs (Canis familiaris). Applied Animal Ethology, 1(2), 119-137. info:/

  • December 28, 2010
  • 09:18 PM

A Fistful of Teeth – Do the Qesem Cave Fossils Really Change Our Understanding of Human Evolution?

by Laelaps in Laelaps

A handful of fossil teeth found in Israel’s Qesem Cave, described in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology and attributed to 400,000 year old members of our own species in multiple news reports, are said to rewrite the story of human evolution. This discovery doubles the antiquity of Homo sapiens, the articles say, and identify [...]... Read more »

Hershkovitz, I., Smith, P., Sarig, R., Quam, R., Rodríguez, L., García, R., Arsuaga, J., Barkai, R., & Gopher, A. (2010) Middle pleistocene dental remains from Qesem Cave (Israel). American Journal of Physical Anthropology. DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.21446  

  • December 28, 2010
  • 11:48 AM

Tuesday Crustie: Terrible claw

by Zen Faulkes in NeuroDojo

Everyone knows “dinosaur” means “terrible lizard.”

Meet Dinochelus: “terrible claw.”

Although it’s described as a “lobster” in the paper’s title it’s more of a size that most people would describe as a prawn, or maybe even a shrimp, It’s maybe 10 centimeters long.

I’m pleased that this animal has a prehistoric type of name,* because its claw reminds me of nothing so much as the gaping maw of dozens of reconstructions of marine reptiles. It’s stunning. Click the photo to enlarge; this one is worth viewing full size.

The picture of that claw is so striking, I was hoping that the species description by Ahyong and colleagues might give some glimpse of what this highly impressive appendage was used for. For competition between individuals? For hunting? It certainly looks like it could hold very slippery prey in place!

Sadly, there is no hint of speculation about how this claw is used by this crustacean. This isn’t surprising, as it was found by dredging and trawling during the Census of Marine Life. The authors comment on how the claw makes it possible to identify even damaged specimens, so it’s likely that several arrived at the surface in poor condition. So some lucky grad student will have to travel to the Philippines to do a doctoral thesis on the behaviour of this beast!


Ahyong ST, Chan T-Y, & Bouchet P (2010). Mighty claws: a new genus and species of lobster from the Philippine deep sea (Crustacea, Decapoda, Nephropidae) Zoosystema 32(3): 525-532

* I’m less than thrilled by the species name. It’s D. ausubeli, named for Jesse Ausubel, who gave money to the Census of Marine Life. I’ve never been a fan of naming species after people; I much prefer names to reflect something about the biology of the organism. (Of course, I’ve already admitted I have genus envy.)... Read more »

Ahyong ST, Chan T-Y, & Bouchet P. (2010) Mighty claws: a new genus and species of lobster from the Philippine deep sea (Crustacea, Decapoda, Nephropidae). Zoosystema, 32(3), 525-532. info:/

  • December 28, 2010
  • 11:14 AM

Update on circulating tumor cells in colorectal cancer

by Sally Church in Pharma Strategy Blog

Earlier this year we discussed some interesting papers on circulating tumour cells (CTC’s) in prostate cancer and how they are becoming a potentially useful surrogate marker in clinical trials for other cancers including lung cancer. # I was therefore intriqued … Continue reading →... Read more »

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