Kamis, 30 Desember 2010

It all starts/ends here

Posting the same thing twice is a repeat. Posting it three times is a tradition.

At various points this quarter we'll be talking about the origin of life, the early history of the earth and the importance of asteroid impacts.

For everyone who has ever wondered what it would be like when a 500km diameter asteroid crashes into the earth. If you go to YouTube to watch it you can click a little link to watch it in high def. (highly recommended). You might also want to wait until you can crank up the speakers. The perfect soundtrack to the end of the world. Or the beginning...

Rabu, 15 Desember 2010

Why Did Swine Flu Kill Healthy Adults?

One of the most intriguing questions about the swine flu epidemic last year was why most of the deaths occurred in healthy young adults. Why were the very young and the very old generally spared?

A recent paper in Nature Medicine provides a clue, according to a news article in Science magazine. The gist of it is that the immune system of most adults is not very effective against first exposure to the H1N1-type virus. Unable to kill the virus initially with just a normal first immune response, the immune system in some patients mounted an all-out “do or die” effort to kill the virus. The result was a severe inflammatory reaction in the lungs that ultimately killed the patient instead of the virus.

The theory of a hyperactive but ineffective immune system would explain why the very young and the very old were spared by swine flu. The very young do not have a fully developed immune system with which to mount even a normal immune response, much less an exaggerated one. And many older persons may have had at least some effective antibodies against H1N1 by virtue of having been exposed to the previous H1N1 strain that was around until the late 1950’s.

Minggu, 12 Desember 2010

Does Aspirin Reduce the Risk of Cancer?

In addition to its known blood anticoagulant properties, aspirin might also help prevent cancer, according to an article soon to be published in The Lancet. The authors of the study examined past data from the medical charts of over 25,000 patients in eight different studies who were taking aspirin to reduce their risk of a cardiovascular event. They found that daily doses of at least 75 mg of aspirin for at least five years reduced the overall death rate due to cancer by an astonishing 21%.

So should we all start popping aspirin? Not necessarily, says the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the national office of the American Cancer Society in his blog post of Dec. 6. Although he finds no fault with the reported results as an interesting observation, he points out that the study was a retrospective (in the past) examination of cancer deaths in studies originally designed for other purposes – far better would be a randomized prospective (looking into the future) trial, in which both the risks and benefits of aspirin could be studied together. But such a study would take another 20 years! Who wants to wait that long?

It’s a quandary often faced in medicine – what to do when there’s tantalizing new information that seems to point in a certain direction, but no way to know for sure. No doubt, some of you will start taking aspirin as a result of this new study. Before you do, consider carefully that taking aspirin may be a double-edged sword; risks associated with taking aspirin include (in some people) gastrointestinal bleeding and bleeding in the brain. It’s your call.

Selasa, 07 Desember 2010

Cellulosic Ethanol? Not Any Time Soon

Old conventional wisdom: ethanol made from farm and forest organic wastes (cellulosic ethanol) would soon be powering our cars and trucks. New conventional wisdom: cellulosic ethanol is dead, at least for now.

Not five years ago the government was pouring money and tax credits into various cellulosic biofuels projects. Although there were technical hurdles still to be overcome in extracting ethanol efficiently from cellulose and lignin (the primary energy storage molecules in most plants), there was optimism that the problems would be solved in short order. Today, plans for large-scale demonstration plants have been shelved, venture capital has dried up, and the industry is producing just 10% of the production goal once set by the Environmental Protection Agency. What happened?!

Lots of things happened, it turns out. Ethanol production from corn (technically easier) increased four-fold and is at an all-time high. Oil got cheaper again, technical problems in producing ethanol from cellulosic feedstocks have not yet been overcome, and investors are worried that government support (i.e., subsidies) for the developing cellulosic biofuels industry may dry up. Unless something changes, don’t expect to hear much about cellulosic biofuels for a while.

Senin, 06 Desember 2010

Evolutionary Ecology Internship Opportunities in the Mazer Lab

The Mazer lab tests predictions and develops hypotheses concerning the process and outcome of evolution by natural selection in wild plant species. In our current work, we’re examining the causes and consequences of the evolution of plant mating behaviors (yes, plants behave!). The "mating system" of wild plant and animal populations refers to the ways in which sperm and egg unite within and between individuals. In plants, outcrossing occurs when pollen is transferred (often by insects or by wind) from one plant's flowers to another's. In contrast, self-fertilization (selfing) is an extreme form of inbreeding that occurs when a single plant pollinates itself; the united egg and sperm originate from the same individual! Just as in humans and other animals, inbreeding in plants can have harmful effects on their offspring. Nevertheless, the evolution of selfing (from outcrossing ancestors) is quite common in plants. Indeed fully 20-25% of living plant species regularly engage in selfing. Detecting the “costs” and “benefits” of self-fertilization — especially in a stressful and changing climate, where pollinators may become a highly limiting resource — and predict the ecological conditions under which selfing evolves are the central goals of our research.

We would like to recruit undergraduates into the Mazer lab to help with a supervised research project on mating system evolution in several species of the California native wildflower, Clarkia. Undergraduate researchers will work with Professor Mazer, graduate students, postdocs, other undergraduates in the lab to learn a variety of lab, greenhouse, and computing techniques that we’ve developed to study:
1) The physiological performance of selfers vs. outcrossers under stressful conditions
2) Genetically based associations between mating system, physiology, and fitness
3) The ways in which natural selection operates under field conditions

Time Commitment: 8-10 hours per week, including a weekly meeting. Students who work for at least two full quarters will be eligible for paid positions in future quarters (pending available funding).
Current Lab Members:
• Dr. Susan Mazer, Principal Investigator (mazer@lifesci.ucsb.edu)
• Dr. Leah Dudley, Post-doc (dudley@lifesci.ucsb.edu)
• Alisa Hove: PhD Student (hove@lifesci.ucsb.edu)
• Brian Haggerty: PhD Student (haggerty@lifesci.ucsb.edu)
Please contact Leah Dudley (dudley@lifesci.ucsb.edu) if you are interested in joining our research group. Also describe why you are interested in this project and what preparation you’ve had that might help you to be an excellent co-worker (Examples: course work in ecology or evolution, organizational skills, statistical experience, data entry, lab work, chemistry, camping, wilderness experience, or field work). We will meet
Tuesday, January 4, 2010, the first week of the new quarter in LSB 4301 2-3pm to introduce ourselves and chat about schedules and possible projects. However, please contact me beforehand if you are interested in the lab and especially if you cannot make it to this meeting time.

Minggu, 05 Desember 2010

Dinosaur Proteins Found in Fossils

Paleontologists have generally assumed that the only useful information that could be obtained from ancient fossils was in the sizes and shapes of the organism’s bones. The prevailing view has been that the soft tissues and any organic molecules or cellular structures within the bones themselves would have long since disappeared, leaving behind only fossils comprised of the same minerals found in rocks.

That view is slowly changing. It now appears that under the right conditions of fossilization, organic molecules may still remain in some fossils. So far, researchers have identified molecules that appear to be collagen and even fossilized osteocytes (bone-forming cells) and red blood cells, from the bones of dinosaurs as old as 80 million years.

No one is suggesting that we could ever resurrect dinosaurs from these ancient materials – cloning dinosaurs is still in the realm of science fiction. However if we could identify the precise sequences of certain ancient proteins, we’d have a better understanding of the function of these proteins within the organism. We might also be able to more accurately map out the evolutionary relationships between organisms, both ancient and living.

Reference: Schweitzer, Mary. Blood From Stone. Scientific American Dec. 2010, pp. 62-69.

Kamis, 02 Desember 2010


Learn about Sanford-Burnham's Core facilities: THURSDAY, Dec 2, 3:30-4:30pm, Rathmann Auditorium (ie 1001LSB)

This week's MCDB seminar is a departure from our normal form and represents a unique opportunity to learn more about the Core facilities and research resources of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.  The purpose is to provide faculty, staff, and students with information on what these facilities are and how they can access them in supporting research projects here at UCSB.  The speaker is Dr. Craig Hauser, the VP for Scientific Resources at SBMRI.  

Dr. Hauser is of the UC system, having done his undergraduate studies at UC Davis, Ph.D. at UC Irvine, and postdoctoral studies at UC Berkeley.  He was then recruited to the Sanford-Burnham faculty in La Jolla in 1989.   His research has centered on the interplay between the regulation of gene expression and oncogenic transformation, focusing on the Ets family of transcription factors.  In 2005, he became an adjunct faculty member and assumed a full-time administrative position, currently serving as Vice President for Scientific Resources.   His responsibilities include overseeing the operations of the Institute’s Shared Resources (cores), scientific equipment, and scientific regulatory compliance.

Dr. Hauser will present some background on the other two Sanford-Burnham sites (La Jolla, California and Orlando, Florida) and describe the somewhat unique philosophy and operations of the Institute’s many core facilities at these sites.   In addition to presenting the capabilities of these cores, he will describe how Sanford-Burnham’s partners, such as UCSB, can access the core services.  
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