Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Basking Sea Turtles

Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) basking on a rock SC2360
Green turtle (Chelonia mydas) basking on a rock. The green turtle lives in warm seas throughout the world. It usually stays close to coasts, feeding on aquatic plants. It can grow up to 1.5 meters in length and weigh up to 200 kilograms. The female green turtle usually returns to the beach where she was born to lay her eggs. 

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The Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef 3S7348
The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is the world's largest coral reef system composed of over 900 islands stretching for over 2600 km. It is located in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland in northeast Australia. 

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Quest for "Drugs from Dirt"

Petri dish of bacteria - D0006
Scientists from Rockefeller University recently discovered a new potential antibiotic, known as teixobactin, after screening uncultured bacteria with soil samples containing various nutrients and growth factors.  Researchers found that the compound was extremely effective against gram-positive bacteria that are normally antibiotic resistant, such as MRSA or Streptococcus pneumoniae.  The quest has begun to collect soil samples from around the world, particularly from unique or unexplored environments like caves and islands, to unearth new compounds produced by the soil's bacteria. 

Developing drugs from microbes found in the soil is nothing new.  Antibiotics such as penicillin are derived from compounds produced by the Penicillium soil fungi, known for causing mold and spoiling food.  However widespread misuse of modern antibiotics has contributed to the development of resistant strains of bacteria.  The organic diversity found in these new soil samples will hopefully lead to a new generation of antibiotics to combat the more dangerous strains of bacterial infections.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Bearded Vulture

Bearded Vulture BD3284
The bearded vulture, also known as the lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus), is found in Europe, India and Africa. This vulture is a specialized, solitary scavenger that feeds almost exclusively on bone. It will patrol a large mountain territory, looking for the cleaned skeleton of a carcass. Small bones are digested whole and larger bones are dropped from a height to break them open and expose the bone marrow. This vulture has strong gastric juices that enable it to digest bone. The bearded vulture, found in Europe, Asia, and Africa, is endangered in part of its range. This medium-sized vulture has a wingspan of around 2.5 meters.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Blueberries May Help Patients With Hypertension

Blueberry Heart - JA7955
A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that daily blueberry consumption improved blood pressure and reduced arterial stiffness in postmenopausal women.  Researchers performed a double-blind study on a group of women, ages 45-65, with pre- and stage 1-hypertension.  Half the participants were given daily servings of freeze-dried blueberry powder, while the other half received a placebo.  After eight weeks, blueberry eaters showed significant decreases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure as well as an increase in levels of nitric oxide, a chemical known to relax and widen blood vessels.

Though the changes in blood pressure were modest compared to traditional blood pressure medications, a growing number of patients are turning to more natural remedies.  Blueberries in particular have demonstrated anti-hypertensive and vascular-protective abilities which other fruits have not been able to exhibit.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Is "bad luck" responsible for our risk of cancer?

Lung cancer cell division - SB3769
New research suggests that only a third of cancer cases could be attributed to environmental factors, such as drinking and smoking, and that most types of cancer were found to be caused by random mutations.  The study, published in the journal Science, sought to explain why some tissue types were more vulnerable to developing cancer compared to others.  Cells in the body constantly divide in order to replace old or damaged tissue.  Over time, a cell's DNA experiences random mutations which passes on to the newly replicated cell.  The result can eventually lead to a mutation which makes the cell cancerous, simply by chance.  Tissue cells which constantly regenerate and have a high turnover rate, such as cells in the intestine, were much more susceptible to these random mutations.

However, lifestyle and environmental factors still heavily influence the odds of developing a mutation that leads to cancer.  Smoking, alcohol consumption, and too much sun exposure are still responsible for the most common (and deadly) cancers around the world.  Scientists agree that while cancer may end up being a roll of the dice, keeping a healthy lifestyle reduces a person's risk in the first place and will only "stack the odds in our favor."


Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Mars, Viking Orbiter Mosaic JB1960
The center of Mars is at latitude 30 degrees north, longitude 270 degrees. NASA's Viking Mission to Mars was composed of two spacecraft, Viking 1 and Viking 2, each consisting of an orbiter and a lander. The primary mission objectives were to obtain high resolution images of the Martian surface, characterize the structure and composition of the atmosphere and surface, and search for evidence of life. The results from the Viking experiments give our most complete view of Mars to date. Volcanoes, lava plains, immense canyons, cratered areas, wind-formed features, and evidence of surface water are apparent in the Orbiter images. The planet appears to be divisible into two main regions, northern low plains and southern cratered highlands. Superimposed on these regions are the Tharsis and Elysium bulges, which are high-standing volcanic areas, and Valles Marineris, a system of giant canyons near the equator. The surface material at both landing sites can best be characterized as iron-rich clay. Measured temperatures at the landing sites ranged from 150 to 250 K, with a variation over a given day of 35 to 50 K. Seasonal dust storms, pressure changes, and transport of atmospheric gases between the polar caps were observed. The biology experiment produced no evidence of life at either landing site. June 1998.

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NASA Curiosity Rover Detects Methane on Mars

Curiosity rover, artwork - SS5365
Since landing on the red planet in 2012, the Mars Curiosity Rover has been has been analyzing the planet's atmosphere and measuring its chemical components.  Curiosity has recently detected concentrated spikes of methane, a gas normally released by microbial organisms here on Earth, which may indicate the presence of life on Mars.  Scientists have yet to identify the source of the methane gas, which may be trapped in ice on the planet's surface or released from underground fissures due to mechanical or thermal stress.  Most of the Martian atmosphere consists of carbon dioxide, with methane measuring about 0.7 parts per billion by volume (ppbv).  By comparison, Earth's atmosphere contains about 1,800 (ppbv) of methane.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

New Drug Combines Hormones to Treat Obesity and Diabetes

Research on obesity - BC4625
Researchers from the Hemholtz Diabetes Center in Munich, Germany were able to successfully test a drug on rodents which reversed the effects of obesity and diabetes over the course of three weeks.  At the end of the study, the fat mass of the rodents dropped by a third and their blood glucose fell by half.  The drug is a combination of the hormones glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1), gastric inhibitory peptide (GIP) and glucagon, which are responsible for regulating blood sugar and appetite.  The newly created hybird-hormone would be able to stimulate chemical signals to trigger the body's metabolism to lower blood glucose, burn fat, and lose weight. 

Bariatric surgery is typically reserved for patients suffering from life threatening obesity, and sometimes involves removing part of the stomach or small intestine to limit food intake.  Recent studies have shown that these procedures can alter the way hormones are released from the gut in order to stimulate weight loss.  This latest finding may be the first step in creating a drug with the benefits of weight loss surgery, without the risks associated with the operation.

Friday, December 5, 2014

NASA Launches Orion Deep Space Capsule

Orion crew exploration vehicle, artwork - SM9377
NASA is testing an unmanned version of a newly developed crew capsule to be used in conjunction with a more powerful rocket that will debut in the next few years.  The technology currently in development would be designed to send astronauts past the International Space Station to other planetary bodies such as the Moon and Mars.  The Orion capsule launch is the first step in testing the vehicle's heat shielding and re-entry parachutes, as it withstands temperatures of around 3,600°F while traveling almost 20,000mph.

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