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Archive for April, 2013

One year ago today, April 25, 2012, I started writing The Great Dead North.

It is a post apocalyptic journal entry novel on Twitter.

When I blogged about it last year, I called it My Twitter Experiment.

Cdn-zombie-licence

Each entry is no more than 140 characters… the maximum allowed per tweet.

I post daily journal entries from the second year in aftermath of the Zombie Apocalypse.

Only a relative handful of people have survived the first year. Food, vehicles, gasoline, medicine and supplies were relatively abundant during the first year. By the second year, gasoline (a highly refined product) has ‘gone bad’ and vehicles no longer run on it. Most of the ‘easy picking’ supplies have been exhausted. Specialized ‘city folk’ are now forced to exist in a hostile environment. Our world, at best, has been plunged back into the Dark Ages. For some survivors, they have been thrown back to the Stone Age.

Please check it out on Twitter and Follow it, if  you like it.

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I’m a bit of a sword nut.

So is my son, really.

My apartment has been described as ‘bristling with weaponry!’

fencing-chart

Judge my delight, then, when I ran across this little chart.

Love it. Had to share it!

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Nano ‘Shrooms!

nanomushroom(I’ve heard of baby mushrooms but this is nuts!) 

This ‘nanomushroom’ happened to grow among a field of nanowires.

nanowires(Nanowires grown by Electron Transfer Group, New Mexico State University)

Researchers grow many types of nanostructures, some for their intrinsic properties, and others as tools.

nanomushroom3

The Electron Transfer group at New Mexico State University (aka Smirnov’s Group) grows their nanowires to help probe the electron transfer properties of organic molecules.

nanomushroom2

The mushroom may not be quite what they were looking for, but it is a great example of the range of shapes nanostructures can come in.

These photos were taken 10 years ago, April 28, 2003. They still fascinate me!

Check out the article at the National Science Foundation website!aa-kendo-kanji-red__________________________________________________________

Image credit: Pavel Takmakov, Ivan Vlassiuok and Sergei Smirnov.

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THE SPIDER, THE PORCUPINE, THE LIZARD AND THE BAT

by Lydia O’Donoghue

Poecilotheria-rajaei(Spider the size of a dinner plate… or your face)

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Nature Box

Spiders, porcupines, lizards and bats. What could they possibly all have in common? Well according to a recent suite of published research, each of these animal groups has a new addition to their ranks.

Scientists working in Sri Lanka have described a new species of tarantula ‘as big as your face’, in the British Tarantula Society’s latest journal. The species has been named Poecilotheria rajaei, and is believed to belong to a group of arachnids known as tiger or parachute spiders. At almost 8 inches across, it is one of the larger species of known spiders.

It is particularly fast-moving and venomous, consistent with the traits tarantulas are infamous for. P. rajaei is also an arboreal species, preferring to live alone in tree crevices. But if its size alone wasn’t enough to terrify arachnophobes, the scientists say that loss of its forested habitat in Sri Lanka is leading to…

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Many years ago, my first wife Susan and I would often spend lazy Sunday afternoons lying on the floor leafing through the New York Times.

More than a few things have changed since then [1] but I still browse the NYTimes (albeit online) on Sundays.

That is how I stumbled across this article about bean leaves and bedbugs.

How a Leafy Folk Remedy Stopped Bedbugs in Their Tracks

New York Times science journalist Felicity Barringer writes, “Generations of Eastern European housewives doing battle against bedbugs spread bean leaves around the floor of an infested room at night. In the morning, the leaves would be covered with bedbugs that had somehow been trapped there. The leaves, and the pests, were collected and burned — by the pound, in extreme infestations.”

Now a group of American scientists is studying this bedbug-leaf interaction, with an eye to replicating nature’s Roach Motel.

bean-leaf-bedbug-trap(Hooks on the bean leaf  trap bedbug’s exoskeleton. The more the bug struggles, the more stuck it gets)

study published Wednesday in The Journal of the Royal Society Interface details the scientists’ quest, including their discovery of  how the bugs get hooked on the leaves, how the scientists have tried to recreate these hooks synthetically and how their artificial hooks have proved to be less successful than the biological ones.

At first glance, the whole notion seems far-fetched, said Catherine Loudon, a biologist at the University of California, Irvine, who specializes in bedbug locomotion.

“If someone had suggested to me that impaling insects with little tiny hooks would be a valid form of pest control, I wouldn’t have given it credence,” she said in an interview. “You can think of lots of reasons why it wouldn’t work. That’s why it’s so amazing.”

But even though there is no indication that the bean leaves and the bedbugs evolved to work together, the leaves are fiendishly clever in exploiting the insects’ anatomy. Like the armor covering knights in medieval times, the bedbug’s exoskeleton has thinner areas where its legs flex and its tiny claws protrude — like the spot where a greave, or piece of leg armor, ends.

trichomes-bedbugs

“The areas where they appear to be pierceable,” Dr. Loudon said, “are not the legs themselves. It’s where they bend, where it’s thin. That’s where they get pierced.”

This folk remedy from the Balkans was never entirely forgotten. A German entomologist wrote about it in 1927, a scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture mentioned it in a paper in 1943, and it can be found in Web searches about bedbugs and bean plants.

But the commercial availability of pesticides like DDT in the 1940s temporarily halted the legions of biting bugs. As their pesticide-resistant descendants began to multiply from Manhattan to Moscow, though, changing everything from leases to liability laws, the hunt for a solution was on.

bedbugclaw

The first task was to determine exactly how the hooks — the technical name is trichomes — worked. The process was viewed through an electron microscope, Dr. Loudon said. “The foot comes down onto the surface, but as it’s lifting up, it’s catching on these hooks,” she said. “The point is pointing down. So all of their legs get impaled.”

“And as soon as one leg gets caught,” she added, “they are rapidly moving legs around and try to get away on the surface. That’s when they get multiply impaled.”

Dr. Loudon and her co-authors — Megan W. Szyndler and Robert M. Corn from Irvine and Kenneth F. Haynes and Michael F. Potter of the University of Kentucky — then set out to mimic the mechanism.

The scientists, though, think they know what needs to be done. “Future development of surfaces for bedbug entrapment must incorporate mechanical characteristics of whole trichomes,” they concluded in their paper.

And they are far from giving up. As they wrote in the study, “With bedbug populations skyrocketing throughout the world and resistance to pesticides widespread, bio-inspired microfabrication techniques have the potential to harness the bedbug-entrapping power of natural leaf surfaces.”

Or as Dr. Loudon said, “It would be our greatest hope that ultimately this could develop into something that could help with this horrible problem.” Already, she said, she and her colleagues have a patent on the technology pending. It has, she said, been optioned by a commercial company.

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[1] One of which was our Maine Coon cat, Toots, flopping himself down on our opened newspapers, not because he wanted us to pay attention to him but rather because he hated the idea of us paying attention to anything else.

Image credits: Megan W. Szyndler and Catherine Loudon/University of California, Irvine

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Torn from today’s headlines!!

Self-Medication in Animals Much More Widespread Than Believed

YES!! Drug use in the animal kingdom is a much more pervasive activity than originally suspected!

As our intrepid geeks and nerdlings over at ScienceDaily.com reveal, “It’s been known for decades that animals such as chimpanzees seek out medicinal herbs to treat their diseases. But in recent years, the list of animal pharmacists has grown much longer, and it now appears that the practice of animal self-medication is a lot more widespread than previously thought, according to a University of Michigan ecologist and his colleagues.”

The fact that moths, ants and fruit flies are now known to self-medicate has profound implications for the ecology and evolution of animal hosts and their parasites, according to Mark Hunter, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and at the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

monarch-eggs(A parasite-infected monarch butterfly lays her eggs on medicinal tropical milkweed that will help to protect her offspring from disease.) [1]

In addition, because plants remain the most promising source of future pharmaceuticals, studies of animal medication may lead the way in discovering new drugs to relieve human suffering, Hunter and two colleagues wrote in a review article titled “Self-Medication in Animals,” to be published online today in the journal Science.

“When we watch animals foraging for food in nature, we now have to ask, are they visiting the grocery store or are they visiting the pharmacy?” Hunter said. “We can learn a lot about how to treat parasites and disease by watching other animals.”

Much of the work in this field has focused on cases in which animals, such as baboons and woolly bear caterpillars, medicate themselves. One recent study has suggested that house sparrows and finches add high-nicotine cigarette butts to their nests to reduce mite infestations.

“Perhaps the biggest surprise for us was that animals like fruit flies and butterflies can choose food for their offspring that minimizes the impacts of disease in the next generation,” Hunter said. “There are strong parallels with the emerging field of epigenetics in humans, where we now understand that dietary choices made by parents influence the long-term health of their children.”

fruitfly-larva(Fruitfly larva – Is this young’un getting the benefits of Mom’s drug use?)

The authors [2] argue that animal medication has several major consequences on the ecology and evolution of host-parasite interactions.

In addition, animal medication should affect the evolution of animal immune systems, according to Hunter and his colleagues.

The authors also note that the study of animal medication will have direct relevance for human food production.

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[1] Image credit Jaap de Roode

[2] The first author of the science paper is Jacobus de Roode of Emory University. The other author is Thierry Lefevre of the Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement in France.

Journal Reference: J. C. de Roode, T. Lefevre, M. D. Hunter. Self-Medication in AnimalsScience, 2013; 340 (6129): 150 DOI:10.1126/science.1235824

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Yes, my little geeks and nerdlings, the folks over at ScienceDaily.com have done it once again!

Striped Like a Badger: New Genus of Bat Identified in South Sudan

Researchers have identified a new genus of bat after discovering a rare specimen in South Sudan.

Bucknell University Associate Professor of Biology DeeAnn Reeder and Fauna & Flora International (FFI) Programme Officer Adrian Garside were leading a team conducting field research and pursuing conservation efforts when Reeder spotted the animal in Bangangai Game Reserve.

“My attention was immediately drawn to the bat’s strikingly beautiful and distinct pattern of spots and stripes. It was clearly a very extraordinary animal, one that I had never seen before,” recalled Reeder. “I knew the second I saw it that it was the find of a lifetime.”

striped-bat(Niumbaha superba –  Is this the cutest little thing or what?? [1])

After returning to the United States, Reeder determined the bat was the same as one originally captured in nearby Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1939 and named Glauconycteris superba, but she and colleagues did not believe that it fit with other bats in the genus Glauconycteris.

“After careful analysis, it is clear that it doesn’t belong in the genus that it’s in right now,” Reeder said. “Its cranial characters, its wing characters, its size, the ears — literally everything you look at doesn’t fit. It’s so unique that we need to create a new genus.”

Reeder and her colleagues placed this bat into a new genus — Niumbaha. The word means “rare” or “unusual” in Zande, the language of the Azande people in Western Equatoria State, where the bat was captured. The bat is just the fifth specimen of its kind ever collected, and the first in South Sudan.

Thanks, Dr Reeder, for bringing this adorable little sweetiepie to our attention and giving it the proper classification!

Well done!

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[1] Photo Credit: LeeAnn Reeder, Bucknell University

Research Paper: “A new genus for a rare African vespertilionid bat: insights from South Sudan”, published by the journal ZooKeys, author:  DeeAnn Reeder, along with co-authors from the Smithsonian Institution and the Islamic University in Uganda.

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