Biology in the News
Contemporary Biology N100, Winter/Spring 2004

That's it for the N100 news, but what about tomorrow....??? Keep reading that Science News at Nature Science Updates, Wired, The New York Times, Scientific American, etc ! Have a great summer!

3 May Superbug dodges lab tests Uh oh...Natural selection in action again.... "A new strain of bugs resistant to antibiotics may be eluding routine laboratory tests. More hospitals around the country are reporting that a last line of antibiotic defense - Vancomycin - for hospital-acquired infections has been crossed. Most strains of Staph. aureus, a common skin bacterium that can cause severe hospital acquired infections, have become resistant to common antibiotics such as penicillin for years...and now are becoming resistant to Vancomycin. "We need new antibiotics, it is as simple as that," says Mark Enright, who studies S. aureus at the University of Bath, UK."

30 April 2004 Move back that timeline for fire! Earliest fire sheds light on hominids "Ancient hearths unveiled as nearly 800 millennia old. Archaeologists have collected evidence that early humans mastered fire much earlier than previously thought. There is already good evidence for hearths that are 250,000 years old, and it was widely believed that the first controlled handling of fire occurred 400,000 to 500,000 years ago. But an analysis of burned remains carried out by Naama Goren-Inbar of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and her team shows that fire was tamed at least 300,000 years earlier than that. The researchers have spent the past 15 years unearthing and sorting sediments at a site in Israel. The site is of particular interest to archaeologists because it was an old crossroads between Asia and Eurasia. It is also waterlogged, which means that any ancient remains are extremely well conserved." [Image]

29 April 2004: "God, Send a Realistic Tech Flick" Two thumbs down for the new movie Godsend: "In movies, anyone who dares to use a newfangled technology to "play God" almost always opens the 'gates of hell.' Godsend, a new film starring Robert De Niro, Greg Kinnear and Rebecca Romijn-Stamos, is no different. Jessie and Paul Duncan agree to clone their son Adam (Cameron Bright), who was killed by a car when he was 8 years old, but wish they hadn't when the clone starts behaving erratically. The movie is the kind of publicity that people who want to outlaw all human cloning could only dream of. Whether the filmmakers realize it or not, the message is clear: Scientists who want to clone are evil, or mad, or both; cloning should not be done, period." YUK! Bad title, bad science, predictable plot, next year's cloning academy awards nominee!

27 April 2004: Bone marrow stem cells help mend broken hearts Bone marrow-derived (not hES-derived) stem cells may help damaged heart muscle to regrow, a clinical trial suggests. Researchers harvested stem cells from patients with cardiac failure, and then transplanted the cells into their damaged hearts. Six months later, the hearts functioned significantly better than those of patients who had not received the therapy. The results suggest that adult stem cell transplants are a good way to treat heart failure, researchers told the American Association for Thoracic Surgery. An estimated 23 million people worldwide are affected by heart failure."

27 April 2004: "Somebody help me!" Look sharp to save lynx "A conservation expert has sounded an alarm over the dwindling numbers of the Iberian lynx. Unless it can be rescued, the lynx will be the first big cat to vanish completely at the hands of humans. There may be as few as 120 Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) left in the wild, says Dan Ward. The cats now consist of just two small populations in southern Spain's Andalusia region, he reports. The lynx is in deeper trouble than other endangered cats such as the Siberian tiger, Ward believes. "They are a more serious problem than tigers," he says. "This is the most endangered feline species in the world." [Image]

23 April 2004: Cretacious extinction update: Did dinosaurs lack daughters? "Dinosaurs may have been forced into extinction partly because there were too few females, say researchers in the UK. The creatures died out roughly 65 million years ago, around the time that a huge meteor slammed into earth. Some scientists believe that the immense dust cloud thrown up caused swings in the climate that the dinosaurs were unable to survive. However, it is not clear exactly how the temperature change killed them off. Now David Miller of the University of Leeds and his colleagues are proposing in Fertility and Sterility that if dinosaurs used temperature to determine the sex of their offspring, climate changes could have messed up the ratio of males to females. This idea is based on the reproduction of modern day reptiles such as crocodiles. Crocodiles' sex depends on the temperature at which their eggs are incubated. Male crocs hatch in moderate temperatures, while females emerge if the heat rises or falls by a few degrees. In the case of dinosaurs, Miller suggests that changes in temperature after the meteor impact favoured the birth of males. Over time females would become rare, causing fewer young dinosaurs to be born and species to dwindle to extinction. "They'd probably have had it," he says." [Image]

15 April 2004: No offense, guys, but...Girl chimps learn faster than boys "Young female chimpanzees are better students than males, at least when it comes to catching termites, according to a study of wild chimps in Tanzania's Gombe National Park. While daughters watch their mothers closely, the boys spend more time monkeying around. The discovery mirrors differences in the learning abilities of human children - girls tend to catch on faster than boys when learning skills such as writing and drawing; manual tasks that are not dissimilar to the chimps' technique of using a stick to fish for termites, says Elizabeth Lonsdorf, now at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Lonsdorf's team watched eight young males and six young females who accompanied their mothers to termite nests. Female youngsters enjoyed more success than males in catching termites. They also started younger: females picked up the skill at around 30 months of age, whereas males were usually twice as old as that. Whatever pattern a mother showed, her daughter matched it almost exactly. Males were more easily distracted, choosing to spend their time swinging in trees, turning somersaults and wrestling with each other, says Lonsdorf. This failure to pay attention is reflected in their poor termite hauls. The males are not necessarily wasting their time, says Andrew Whiten, a chimpanzee expert at the University of St Andrews, UK. While termites are a valuable food for females, males often catch larger animals such as monkeys. Their rough-and-tumble play may be a way to hone their hunting skills, Whiten suggests..." Something to remember if your future is in elementary ed!! :) [Image]

April 4, 2004: After 17 Years, Brood X is Back, and in the Mood for Love After more than 16 years underground, periodical cicadas from Brood X - numbering in the BILLIONS - will emerge in late May or early June. Brood X (like the Super Bowl and royalty, cicada broods are identified by Roman numbers) has spent the past 16 years as nymphs, growing and passing through five juvenile stages, sucking harmlessly on tree roots all the while. One evening after sunset, the nymphs will emerge, and, in about two hours, molt into adults. Later they'll mate, the females will lay eggs and the tiny nymphs that hatch will fall to the ground, burrow into the soil and settle in for the long wait until 2021... North American periodical cicadas consist of seven species that have become synchronized developmentally: three have 17-year cycles, and four have 13-year cycles. Broods emerge most years, in different parts of the Midwest and East. Fifteen broods have been documented. Scientists suspect species synchronization has much to do with protection from predators. Brood X is the largest brood, and while birds may eat them and people may squash them, billions of them will survive....' [Image] Stay tuned!

March 31, 2004: Cat Cloning Offered to Pet Owners: "The company that funded the first successful cloning of a domestic cat two years ago has gone commercial. The Genetic Savings and Clone company sent an e-mail in early February to their gene-banking clients, offering to clone up to six cats. The cost? U.S. $50,000 each. Clients had less than a month to take advantage of the offer, which ended Friday, February 27..." Note from Dr. Marrs: This is a good article that discusses many of the issues around animal cloning - particularly of pets and endangered species. Thanks to Brittany P. from N100 for sending this one in! [Photograph of cute little Cc copyright Richard Olsenius, Genetic Savings and Clone, Inc.]

March 31, 2004: A few updates to things discussed in class: Endocrinology and Turner Syndrome; "The most commonly prescribed treatment for Turner syndrome (45, X0) includes the use of growth hormone to improve growth speed and final adult height, and estrogen replacement therapy to promote sexual development as should occur during puberty. Estrogen therapy is also important for the development and maintenance of bones. Some patients require other therapies, such as thyroid hormones. Though most Turner syndrome women are infertile, modern reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization can be used to help those that want to become pregnant."

Also mentioned in class discussions: March 26, 2004: Senate Outlaws Injury to Fetus During a Crime: "The Senate approved legislation on Thursday making it a separate offense to harm a fetus in a federal crime committed against a pregnant woman. This bill recognizes that when someone attacks and harms a mother and her unborn child, that attack does, in fact, result in two separate victims. The authors of the bill dismissed the claim that it was a back-door attack on abortion rights, saying the legislation specifically exempts abortions consented to by the woman. 'It's not about abortion,' said Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-SC) 'It is about criminals who attack pregnant women'. Opponents of the bill it would ultimately be used as an argument to overturn existing laws protecting abortion rights. Stay tuned...

March 15, 2004: Mooove over, regular milk! Healthier milk straight from the cow: "Cows who are fed a diet rich in rapeseed yield healthier milk - with lower levels of saturated fats- and butter that can be spread straight from the fridge. "This is a healthier balance of fats," says nutritionist Toni Steer from the UK Medical Research Council's Human Nutrition Laboratory in Cambridge. Rapeseed is rich in unsaturated fats, which pass through the cow's digestive system into its milk. One of these fats, called oleic acid, makes butter produced from the milk spreadable when cold. 'Naturally Spreadable Butter', as it is known, is already available from Marks and Spencer supermarkets in the U.K., but the research behind it has only just been published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (2004)." Mmm good. Pass the (whole wheat) bread! [Image]

March 14, 2004: NY Times Book Reviews! Need something to read on Spring Break? Well, check out: 'The Great Influenza' and 'Microbial Threats to Health' Read up on some wicked statistics on that most deadly of killers in human history: the 1989 Influenza Pandemic, and some facts about the Top Three today - AIDS, Malaria, and TB.

March 10, 2004: Science at work: Women May Replenish Eggs: Is a textbook re-write necessary? 'The long-held idea that women are born with their lifetime supply of egg cells is now in doubt, and the change could revolutionize fertility treatments. The findings of a new study raise the possibility that women, like men, replenish their reproductive cells throughout life. The research, published in the March 11 issue of Nature, was done in mice, a mammal often used as a model for human biology. If the results can be replicated in humans, the findings will upend a doctrine held by fertility researchers for half a century. The evidence that women are born with the number of eggs they'll have for the rest of their lives was first postulated in 1921. The declaration was solidified with a landmark study in 1951, and it has been a core dogma about female fertility ever since. The new research will surely send many fertility researchers back to their files in hopes of deciphering studies that had previously puzzled them".

February 26, 2004: FDA Approves Avastin, A Targeted Therapy for First-Line Metastatic Colorectal Cancer Patients -- First Anti-Angiogenesis Treatment Approved for Treating Cancer  -- "Genentech today announced the FDA approval of a new drug. Avastin is the first FDA-approved therapy designed to inhibit angiogenesis, the process by which new blood vessels develop, which is necessary to support tumor growth and metastasis." Watch out, cancer cells!

Why wasn't this at the Academy Awards? SuperSize Me! Ewww: Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock puts his own body on the line, living on nothing but McDonald's three meals a day, for 30 days ... get ready to see the movie and find out what happened! Thanks to several N100 students for sending this one in!

February 13, 2004: Who knew? After Packing M&M's Together, Scientists Like What They See "In possibly the biggest advance in the science of candy since the discovery that Wint-O-Green Life Savers emit faint blue sparks when chewed, scientists are reporting today that M&M's pack more tightly in your mouth than gumballs." The research, reported in this week's Science, indicates that spheroid shapes (like M&Ms) will randomly arrange into a dense packing structure, resulting in a much higher density than can be filled with spheres. "You can just randomly pour them and without any effort get something that approaches the densest lattice packing," Dr. Torquato said. Science reports: "Not just a theoretical puzzle, the ways in which objects pack are of vital concern to the shipping and manufacturing industries". [Image: guess how much of the of the available space is taken up by these yummy M&Ms!?]

February 12, 2004: Cloning Creates Human Embryos "Scientists in South Korea report that they have created human embryos and extracted embryonic stem cells, the universal cells that hold great promise for medical research. Their goal, the scientists say, is not to clone humans but to advance understanding of the causes and treatment of disease. Patients with diseases like Parkinson's and diabetes have been waiting for the start of so-called therapeutic cloning to make embryonic stem cells that are an exact genetic match of the patient. Then those cells, patients hope, could be turned into replacement tissue to treat or cure their disease without provoking rejection from the body's immune system". We will talk about Human embryonic stem cells in N100 on March 8th.

2/12/03: Happy Birthday to You....Charles Darwin! Charles Robert Darwin was born in the village of Shrewsbury, England, on February 12, 1809 (and died on April 19, 1882). On the same day (February 12, 1809), the 16th President of the United States of America, Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was born in Kentucky. Coincidence...OR NOT? (Just kidding.)

"I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term 'Natural Selection'. And I'll have another piece of cake, please."

This is a wonderful article, read it if you get a chance: Darwin's Influence on Modern Thought
by Harvard Professor of Zoology Ernst Mayr.

February 12, 2004: Oldest Known Insect Identified From 400-Million-Year-Old Jaws "Scientists say they have discovered the world's oldest known insect fossil, a 400-million-year-old set of minuscule jaws that have been lying unrecognized for nearly a century in a drawer at the Natural History Museum in London. "We were at the museum to look at another famous insect fossil," said co-discoverers Dr. David Grimaldi and Dr. Michael S. Engel. But the two could not resist examining the other fragment stored in the same drawer, a curious bit of fossil that had long ago been dismissed as being of little interest. Dr. Grimaldi said, "We looked at each other and said, `Holy moley!' "

February 6, 2004: NOT for the faint-of-heart... Warning: DON'T click on the link unless you are ready to see a rather graphic photo of this explosion. Thar she blows! Dead whale explodes! "Residents of Tainan, Taiwan learned a lesson in whale biology after the decomposing remains of a 60-ton sperm whale exploded on a busy street, showering nearby cars and shops with blood and organs and stopping traffic for hours. The 56-foot-long whale had been on a truck headed for an autopsy by researchers, when gases from internal decay caused its entrails to explode in the southern city of Tainan....." You just don't hear stories like this every day! The decomposition and gas production was probably caused by a bacteria like Clostridium, the genus of bacteria responsible for tetanus, botulism, and gas gangrene...... [Full story and - repeat warning - graphic photo!]

February 5, 2004: Hey, here is a good article in today's IndyStar: The lowdown on carbs - lots of info on one of our FAVE macromolecules, and info on local restaraunts promoting low-carb meals.

Uh oh....Feb 4, 2004: Finding of Ricin in Office Disrupts Senate "The Senate shut down its three office buildings on Tuesday, disrupting the work of lawmakers and thousands of their aides, after a powder identified as the deadly poison ricin was found in the office suite of the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist. Many experts consider the public health risk posed by a mailed poison much smaller than that from a mailed germ, particularly anthrax, which can multiply explosively if only a small number lodge in the lung." However, the presense of Ricin disrupted life for thousands of Washingtonians and tourists in the past few days, and again raises unsettling realities of our vulnerability to bioterrorism through the US mail. Ricin is a toxic protein made from castor beans, and has been used throughout history as a means of suicide, covert assasination, and bioterrorism (read more about ricin here (biology and history) and here (health facts). [Image]

Feb 3, 2004: Latest on the Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) Outbreak: The CDC and WHO are also investigating what "may be the first case of person-to-person spread, among family members who attended a wedding in Vietnam in early January. The groom, 31, and two of his younger sisters died. The bride became ill but recovered and was the only survivor in this cluster."

January 28, 2004: Talk about homeland security! Emerald ash borer nears northern Indiana borders. Indiana is bracing itself from attack by a newly reported beetle in the US that leaped from the continent of Asia (probably carried into the US on imported wood products) and is killing millions of beautiful ash trees (genus Fraxinus) . From the USDA Forest Service: "The metallic, coppery-green Emerald ash beetle has already caused the demise of more than 6 million ash trees in Michigan since it was found in July 2002. Of special concern to Hoosiers are the infestations found just two miles from the Indiana border near Fort Wayne and one found this month in St. Joseph, Mich. This brings the beetle much closer to northwestern Indiana and Chicago"" YIKES! Will we be able to keep this hungry bug out of Indiana? Stay tuned!! Thanks to N100 student William Lawson for bringing this story to my attention! [Image (small but deadly: The Emerald Ash Borer]


January 27, 2004: Rules Issued on Animal Feed and Use of Disabled Cattle WOW! The NY Times reports the FDA's new rules," including a ban on feeding cow blood and chicken wastes to cattle. The agency also banned using dead or disabled cows to make products for people like dietary supplements, cosmetics or soups and other foods with traces of meat. The rules, described by Mark B. McClellan, FDA commissioner, take effect in a few days. Animals can no longer be fed "plate waste," the meat and other scraps that diners leave on their plates in restaurants and that is rendered into the meat and bone meal added to feed. Also banned from products for humans will be the tissues most likely to carry the infectious agent like the brain, skull, eyes and spinal cord of animals 30 months or older and the tonsils and part of the small intestine of all cattle. Because a product called mechanically separated meat may carry infectious tissue, it will also be banned. Finally, the new rules say equipment that makes feed with meat or bone meal can no longer be used to make cattle feed. A remaining loophole is allowing rendered matter from cows to be fed to pigs and chickens and rendered pigs and chickens to be fed back to cows. In theory, that sequence could bring the disease full circle, back to cows...." Let's close that loophole!

January 23, 2004: W.H.O. Seeks Vaccine for New Bird Flu: "The World Health Organization is taking urgent steps to develop a new human vaccine to stop the spread of a new, and highly virulent, H5N1 Avian Influenze Virus. In the 5 cases reported in Vietnam so far, all have been fatal and all the result of contact with infected chickens, and the disease is rapidly spreading to Thailand and Korea. Health officials worry that the new strain might combine with another virus to create a new virus that could spread easily among people. Because the H5N1 strain kills chickens, scientists cannot use chicken eggs in the initial stage of making the vaccine, as they do for human strains of influenza virus. Instead, scientists will be trying a newer laboratory technique known as reverse genetics to develop a human vaccine, and if all goes well, the vaccine will be available in about a month."

January 21, 2004: Sleep A Must For Creative Thinking "German scientists have demonstrated for the first time that our sleeping brains continue working on problems that baffle us during the day, and the right answer may come more easily after 8 hours of rest. Creativity and problem solving appear to be directly linked to adequate sleep, scientists say, but over 70 million Americans are sleep-deprived - a valuable reminder for overtired workers and students that sleep is often the best medicine". So what are you waiting for?!?!

Followup on something mentioned in class Wednesday Jan 15:

Nov 28, 2003: NY Times: A Capitol Hill Mystery: Who Aided Drug Maker? How mysterious..."The Homeland Security Act (legislation to protect Americans from terrorist attacks) signed by President Bush included an 11th hour surprise... a provision that protects Eli Lilly from lawsuits over the preservative thimerosal, a mercury containing compound that may be involved in the development of autism in children. This provision may result in the dismissal of thousands of cases filed by parents on behalf of their children." (Whether thimerosal is truly harmful is still unclear, but neither the anthrax or the smallpox vaccine contains thimerosal...just childhood vaccines.. Hmmm, now HOW is this a matter of domestic security?). The NY Times continues: "Not a single member of Congress — or the Bush administration — will admit to being the author of the Lilly rider..." From Jenny Thompson of the Alternative Medicine Health Sciences Institute " A spokesman for Lilly said that the company knew absolutely nothing about the sweetheart provision. Right. I suppose that includes Sidney Taural, the chairman, president and C.E.O. of Eli Lilly, who has a seat on President Bush's Homeland Security Advisory Council....." Is there a conspiracy theory here???

Thursday, January 15th: Jaguars Breakfast Club, Lecture Hall from 7:45-9:30 am. mmm...Free bagels and coffee from Panera Bread, free giveaways from Radio Now 93.1, and info about the coolest class at IUPUI, the Urban Percussion Ensemble class (N100 being the second coolest class at IUPUI...) "The Jag Breakfast Club is designed to give students useful campus information, Men and Women's Basketball Schedules, Campus Maps, Shuttle Bus Schedules, and much more. Bonus: You get a front parking space for being here early!

5 January 2004: SARS returns to southern China. "The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed a new case of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in China. Chinese authorities announced plans to slaughter thousands of civet cats, ferret-like animals that are a delicacy in China's food markets and are suspected of transmitting the SARS coronavirus to humans." The SARS virus is an unusual entirely new virus related to the common cold virus that is part-animal and part-bird virus in origin. In the last 2 years, SARS has infected over 3,000 people in over 30 countries and has killed over 700 people by causing a severe pneumonia-like infection. [Image]


30 December 2003: First mad cow found in America: "US beef imports were banned by Japan and other countries after the USDA announced the diagnosis of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), or mad cow disease - in a 'downer' dairy cow, unable to walk yet still sent for slaughter and human consumption". Beef producers in the US have lost their biggest export market, worth ~$1 billion / year. Mad cow disease, or BSE, is of great concern to people because humans can develop a fatal brain-wasting illness similar to mad cow disease, called variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), from eating contaminated beef products. While USDA Secretary Ann Veneman has reasured the public that none of the BSE-infected tissues of the dairy cow entered the human food market, the USDA will be under intense pressure to tighten rules for meat production, testing of cattle for BSE, and use of downer cows and their by-products as food for humans or other animals. [Image] Stay tuned...