Kamis, 24 Maret 2011

Living with Invasive Species

What should be done when non-native species introduced into an ecosystem begin to outcompete native species? Should such invasive species, as they are called, be eradicated before they do serious damage to an ecosystem and lead to a loss of biodiversity? The traditional answer is yes, according to many conservationists. But the sad fact is that that most invasive species eradication efforts haven’t been very effective.

More recently, some conservationists are beginning to rethink the problem of invasive species. Perhaps invasive species should be viewed as a more normal part of the constant change that has been shaping our world since life began. Containment rather than eradication seems to be the new buzzword. Ecologists who study the effect of invasive species on ecosystems say that over time, native species begin to compete more effectively against invasive species. It may take decades or even centuries, but eventually a new ecosystem balance is likely to be achieved, with or without human intervention.

Jumat, 11 Maret 2011

The Simeons Therapy Diet Fad

The New York Times published an article this week on the latest diet fad; a daily food intake of just 500 calories a day combined with daily injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). It’s known as the Simeons therapy, and it’s been around since 1964.

Frankly, the New York Times article stirs up an old “controversy” that shouldn’t still exist. Anyone who can stick to a 500 calorie-per-day diet will lose weight. Weight loss accomplished on the Simeons therapy diet has nothing to do with the added hCG, according to a well-documented review written in 1995.

The FDA has warned that non-injectable “homeopathic” forms of hCG available over the counter cannot be labelled as having have weight-loss properties. But there’s a long-standing tradition of allowing physicians to decide what is best for each patient (in consultation with the patient, of course). Therefore, physicians can legally prescribe injectable hCG as part of a diet plan if they wish, whether or not it works. And of course, they are free to charge whatever they like for the consultation/evaluation prior to writing the prescription.

Acquaint yourself with the facts, and then don’t waste your money on this diet.

Kamis, 10 Maret 2011


Thank you to everyone for an interesting end to the quarter. I really do enjoy seeing what has grabbed your imagination.

As well as a (relatively) unstressful opportunity to practice public speaking, this is also a fantastic opportunity for you to see almost 30 brief talks in rapid succession. Which ones did you find most memorable? Why? Think about that for a moment.

Good luck with your finals. Have a safe Spring Break and we will see you in the same place (but an earlier time slot) next quarter. Please sign up for the class if you haven't done so already, our numbers will probably be tight again.

I'm going to take a brief break from daily blogging, although I may still make the odd post if any seminars or research opportunities come across my desk.

Anyway, back to the talks. One of the keys to giving a good talk, whether it is one minute or one hour, is to tell a story. There is something very primal in humans in the way we even respond to the word 'story'. I assume this dates back to the tens of thousands of years when the only means we had to entertain ourselves were sitting around campfires and telling stories (songs are also stories).

Consider yourself in a lecture room. You have come to see a talk because the topic sounded interesting. You don't know much about the speaker but you want it to be a good talk. The speaker steps up to the podium, looks out at the audience and starts their talk. Consider how your brain responds to their first few words:
  • Today I'm going to teach you about... (oh well, at least I might learn something. I wonder what I should have for dinner...)
  • Today I'm going to tell you about cytopathological infection of the mammalian gastrointestinal tract... (err okay. Oh look a squirrel!)
  • Today I'm going to tell you a story... (Cool. I hope its a good story.)
So, regardless of length, think of any talk as a story. Which talks today did you remember? I'm guessing the ones that told a story rather than presented a collection of facts. I'm also guessing that for the talks that were structured as a story you could recall much more of the talks.

A couple of other tips. If you are telling a story then be interested in your story. Enthusiasm is what makes or breaks any oral presentation.

And finally, again regardless of length, have an ending! Always have a well rehearsed final sentence. If you run out of time (which of course you never should) you skip right to your final sentence but you never omit it. Unfortunately many of you had to leave but our final talk for the day had the best final sentence. A fitting note to end on.

New breakthrough in fighting malaria

Malaria affects hundreds of millions of people every year. It is spread by mosquitoes carrying a parasite that, once introduced to your body, multiplies by manipulating signaling pathways in your liver and red blood cells. The parasite's ability to quickly develop resistance to drugs has hindered attempts to find an effective treatment for the disease. However, it was recently discovered that certain drugs used for chemotherapy can also cure malaria. By disabling the host cells' signaling pathways, these "kinase inhibitors" effectively kill the malaria parasite since it can no longer proliferate. This discovery presents an entirely new method of curing malaria in which we target the host cell environment rather than the parasite itself. This method has several benefits: 1. it is effective against all strains of malaria, 2. the parasite won't be able to develop drug resistance, and 3. since there are already many chemotherapy drugs that have been deemed relatively safe and that could potentially be effective against malaria, it might not be necessary to develop a whole new drug. This breakthrough is a huge step toward a much more effective and permanent treatment of this disease.

Full Article:

Rabu, 09 Maret 2011

More dates for your calendar

Going to the Extremes -- from the Blue Holes of the Bahamas to Parasitic Ecosystems to Edge of the Universe -- at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Santa Barbara, CA -- Explore the extremes through the eyes of scientific explorers at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. This lecture series brings Dr. Kenneth Broad (environmental anthropologist), Dr. Kevin Lafferty (ecologist) and Dr. Lynn Rothschild (evolutionary biologist/astrobiologist) who will share their compelling and inspiring tales about the frontiers of science -- from the Blue Holes of the Bahamas to parasitic ecosystems to the edge of the universe. All presentations will be held in Fleischman Auditorium and will conclude with a lively conversation between speaker and audience, as well as an opportunity to meet the scientist. The lectures are weekly on Thursdays (March 10, 17 and 24) and each lecture begins at 7:30 PM. Tickets are available online at www.sbnature.org/tickets or at the door (Museum Members $8; Non-members $10). Parking is free. For more information call 805-682-4711 ext. 170.


Blue Holes of the Bahamas: Caves, Climate, and Cognition

by Dr. Kenneth Broad

Thursday, March 10

7:30 PM

Largely unexplored, and considered among the most hazardous places to dive, the flooded caves, or "blue holes" of the Bahamas, are a potential treasure trove of scientific knowledge. Dr. Broad will speak on the findings of his recent cave diving expeditions to the Blue Holes of the Bahamas which were featured on the cover of the August 2010 issue of National Geographic. Discoveries from the Blue Holes are significant to the fields of microbiology, paleontology and climate science. He will also discuss cave exploration in terms of risk perception.

To quote National Geographic, "Inland blue holes are the scientific equivalent of Tut's tomb. From a diver's perspective, they're on par with Everest or K2, requiring highly specialized training, equipment, and experience. Even more than high-altitude mountaineers, cave divers work under tremendous time pressure. When something goes wrong, if they don't solve the problem and make it back to the cave entrance before their gas runs out, they're doomed."

Dr. Broad is an environmental anthropologist who studies the relationship between humans and their environment. Kenny has led or participated in extreme expeditions around the globe - from dangerous urban slums to the deepest caves on the planet - to gather information and samples that shed light on little known environmental and cultural subjects. He is an associate professor at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and is Director of the University of Miami's Abess Center for Ecosystem Science. He also Co-directs the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions at Columbia University. Broad received the 2006 Emerging Explorer Award and was elected a Fellow National of the Explorers Club in 2009. He received his PhD in anthropology from Columbia University in 1999.


Parasites Rule! Castration, Mind Control, and Human Culture

by Dr. Kevin Lafferty

Thursday, March 17

7:30 PM

Parasitism is the most popular lifestyle on earth and parasites have evolved insidious and fascinating ways to complete their life cycles.  Dr. Lafferty will discuss how parasites quietly affect entire ecosystems and human culture, noting that parasites are normal part of a functioning food web.

Dr. Kevin Lafferty is an ecologist with the US Geological Survey and adjunct faculty at UCSB, specializing in parasites.  He's lived in Santa Barbara for 30 years and travelled the world in search of the parasites he admires.  He and his wife, Cristina Sandoval, the director of Coal Oil Point Reserve, are actively engaged in local conservation issues.


Life at the Edge: Life in Extreme Environments on Earth and the Search for Life in the Universe

by Dr. Lynn Rothschild

Thursday, March 24

7:30 PM

Lynn Rothschild has gone from the Bolivian Andes to the Rift Valley of Kenya searching for the hardiest of organisms in the most extreme environments for life. By getting to know life forms on Earth that can occupy the most hostile niches, we can begin to understand the survival requirements for life in general. She describes her quest for "life at the edge" and how such discoveries will shape our search for life in the Solar System and beyond.

Dr. Lynn Rothschild is an evolutionary biologist/astrobiologist at NASA Ames, and Professor at Stanford and Brown University, where she teaches Astrobiology and Space Exploration.  She has broad training in biology, with degrees from Yale, Indiana University, and a Ph.D. from Brown University in Molecular and Cell Biology. Since arriving at Ames in 1987, her research has focused on how life, particularly microbes, has evolved in the context of the physical environment, both here and potentially elsewhere. Field sites range from Australia to Africa to the Andes, from the ocean to 100,000 feet on a balloon. In the last few years Rothschild has brought her expertise in extremophiles and evolutionary biology to the field of synthetic biology, addressing on how synthetic biology can enhance NASA's missions. Rothschild is a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, the California Academy of Sciences and the Explorers Club.

Great research opportunity

Andrea, a grad student in my wife's lab is looking for good undergrads to help with summer research (and possibly to pair up with to apply for a grant for grad-undergrad research teams). 

This is a fantastic opportunity to get involved in a very exciting research project. The Briggs lab works on a number of research areas but much of the current focus is on the frog-killing Chytrid Fungus in the California Sierra Nevada.

Like most folks in the lab Andrea will be doing some back-country field work, but also does a lot of molecular biology (genotyping chytrid strains and characterizing bacterial communities that are symbiotic on the skin of frogs).  The general idea is to understand how bacterial community composition and chytrid strain contribute to the outcome of infection (persistence or die-off of populations).

Let me know asap if you are interested and I'll put you in touch with Andrea. Cherie has had lots of great CCS students in her lab and I'd like to continue that tradition.

Selasa, 08 Maret 2011

Zombie taxa

The dinosaurs all died out at the end of the Mesozoic, about 60 million years earlier.  Or did they...

Numerous dinosaur teeth have actually been found in much more recent rock formations, well into the Paeleogene. There are a number of explanations for this.

One explanation is that we are entirely wrong about the extinction of the dinosaurs. They did not go extinct at the end of the Cretaceous and persisted much longer, perhaps to the modern day! But for some mysterious reason their bones stopped being preserved and they just left teeth and claws.

An entirely different explanation, and dare I say a much more plausible one, is that in some taxa fossil structures may be eroded out of one layer and then re-deposited in a younger layer. Given that our fossil record of dinosaurs post-Cretaceous consists of just the sort of a structures (teeth) we'd expect to be washed out and re-preserved the evidence is consistent with this hypothesis.

This hypothesis also predicts that even today we would find structures like dinosaur teeth washed out of sediments and being preserved in brand new depositions. Yes, yes we do. Such taxa are known as zombie taxa.
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