Sleepy crocodiles and one eyed monsters. #researchsaves #crocodiles #snakes #science

As a child, we used to return to the city of Trichur, in Kerala, India every summer to stay with my grandparents. The Trichur(Trissur) zoo holds a special place in my heart and memories for two reasons, the crocodile that I would never see and the king cobra that would never move. I remember running to the crocodile pond and staring down into the green algae filled pond to see the crocodile each year but I never saw it. One summer, I fancied I saw a shoe floating in the water and imagined the poor soul to whom the show belonged to. The reason why I probably never saw the crocodile was because it was usually submerged under the green still water with only its eyes sticking out and from a height of 50 feet, it was hard to spot two dots in the murky green water.  Twenty years later, scientists now in the Journal of Experimental Biology have found out conclusively that crocodiles can sleep with one eye open and by extension one half of their brain active while the other half sleeps.

Why?

Well, unless you live with immature room mates who like to walk in while you are sleeping as a prank, then you don’t really need to keep one eye open as the old adage goes. However, for animals, the cost of sleeping fully is a very steep one as they could fall prey to predators or on the other side of the equation, loose potential prey.

To understand how difficult this is, try, sleeping with your eyelids on one eye open. Yes, it is very difficult for us- Homo sapiens, keeping the eyelids open forcefully will cause our eyes to dry out without being able to blink.

Crocodiles can and they can actually regulate the amount of activity their open eye can process depending on the type of environment the paper says. Put a human in the vicinity and that one eye is more active while the other one sleeps, constantly keeping a vigilant ‘eye’ on the human threat. Why is this important to us? Well, for a neuroscientist, it tells us just how much the brain can adapt to help a species in its environment.

Yes, their brains cannot derive multivariable calculus equations like mine can, but hey, they can sleep with one eye open, a very cool adaption which makes them the king of their environment like I am in calculus class.

Yes, they grow up to 18 feet and carries enough venom to kill an elephant. Click on the photo to learn more.
Yes, they grow up to 18 feet and carries enough venom to kill an elephant. Click on the photo to learn more.

The king cobra, well thats another post about the conservation of energy in cold blooded reptiles, I swear, I thought it was made of rubber because it never moved.

Have a good day 🙂

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Oct 21st 2030. Alien superstructure and back to the future. #deathstar #starwars #alien #backtothefuture #science

The DeLorean rushed through time and Marty McFly arrived in the future on Oct 21st 2015, thirty years from 1985.

Delorean Time Machine

The world he saw was vastly different from the one he was used to. The movie made predictions in 1985 about what 2015 would look like and it is interesting to point out that even for us today on Oct 21st 2015, we would look to the future 30 years from now and wonder how much our lives would have changed. What that really means, for a lot of people is how much our lives would change with innovation in technology.

So as a first, I am asking readers to post comments as to what they think the future will look like, what changes do you expect science and the society it serves to make?

Maybe, it will have a lot to do with this piece of news creating a lot of buzz in the astronomy world recently. Perhaps the greatest thing we can all look forward to is the participation of all ‘citizens’ in scientific endeavors. Scientific American in their article aptly points out how this superstructure would not have been found by computer algorithms but by citizen scientists working together peering over thousands of images from the Kepler telescope.

Science and technology will be changing our lives even as I write this post, what will it be like on Oct 21st 2030? I will be exactly 65 years old and a day but other than that, it is all up to our imagination and scientific innovation 🙂

Adios

Being a Soprano and Surgery on the Rectus abdominis. #soprano #surgery #music #muscle

What does a being a Soprano and surgery on the Rectus abdominus have anything to do with each other?

A lot actually.

Your 6 or 8 pack :)
Your 6 or 8 pack 🙂

The beautiful soprano singing the Domine Deus from Poulenc’s Gloria requires her abdominal muscles to maintain breath support for not only the sustained high notes, but phonation for all pitches; it is not all about just training the vocal folds. Singing at a professional level requires discipline in breathing, and muscle control. Muscle control you say? Yes, the abdominal muscles are needed to precisely control the negative pressure created by the diaphragm to control breathing. Inspiration and exhalation have a whole new meaning in this context 🙂

What happens if surgery is done on the rectus abdominis, or any other muscle associated with breathing?

After a muscle is surgically cut, it is instantly weaker due to the need for healing. During the healing process, an incised muscle cannot immediately be used with the same force as it had been used prior to surgery. It must first heal, and then gradually recover its strength, and coordination capabilities. These effects inevitably will be imposed on the singer’s ability to produce phonation at the same caliber as they had before. This is not to say, that the singer will be forever unable to perform, but just as all people who undergo surgery, the singer will require a recovery period, time for strengthening and a relearning of proper use and coordination of both the inspiratory and exhalatory muscles needed for singing. Sadly, it is clear to see that in this time of healing and recovery, given that there are no surgical complications, the singer will be greatly affected.

However, if you sing like I do at Karaoke, nothing will save you, but for a professional singer, it is important to work with the surgeons to minimize recovery time and even something as simple as intubation during surgery has to be carefully looked into because of possible damage to the vocal chords. Research by surgeons into better minimally invasive techniques using the latest tools and technology available ensures that there is nothing to sing about when it comes to a bad recovery.

Sing I say, sing away 🙂

Satsriyakal

Note: Special thanks to Nereida García for help with editing and use of her youtube video, be sure to check her channel out.

New superheroes – Science, Math and Botany #researchsaves

Gravity (2013), Interstellar (2014) and The Martian (2015), movies whose stories all take place in zero gravity, dusty martian surfaces and interstellar environments are trying to send us a very subliminal message inadvertently of course.

An artist's rendering of a monster black hole at the center of a galaxy. Yes, we have one also in the center of our beautiful galaxy.
An artist’s rendering of a monster black hole at the center of a galaxy. Yes, we have one also in the center of our beautiful galaxy.

Is the message coming to us from beings that have understood the string theory and managed to treat time like the edge of a table they sit on everyday?

337742_the_martian
The Martian,now a major motion movie playing everywhere brings a whole new kind of player to the superhero game- science, math and the botanist.

If these beings had a message they were trying to impart to us, I would take a gander and say that they are trying to say, ” Wake up everyone, its time to science the shit out of all our problems and save humanity.” Anyone who has seen the Martian know this line which Matt Damon’s character jokingly says with an underlying truth i.e. the problem is real, it is a life or death situation but we can do it by using science.

“Gravity Poster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

The movies all stand witness to the problem solving nature of the human brain and what we are truly capable of in order to survive. For 200,000 years, since the human brain of our species Homo sapiens diverged from the common human ancestor, we have been solving problems to help our species survive.

This is what I want to see when I open the paper tomorrow, headlines that read:

                                                                            “Scientists cure cancer.”

                                                                                “Scientists cure HIV.”

                                     “Scientists find a way to create a renewable energy source.”

Plants grown in space last year by NASA
Plants grown in space in 2014 by NASA

“Scientists grow plants in space.” Well this actually happened last year as NASA              scientists figured it out.

But, what do I get instead?

(Photo composite: Yahoo News, photos: Riccardo De Luca/AP, Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
(Photo composite: Yahoo News, photos: Riccardo De Luca/AP, Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

It really is time to wake up, use the power that has been given to each and everyone of us in the space between our heads, instead of wasting our intelligence.

Scientists in the movie The Martian (2015) unite from every corner of the globe regardless of nationality, color, creed, race or any other categorical definition that can separate us and solves the problem. Considering that the world was witness to the U.N General Assembly drama, a week before the movie was released serves as a stark reminder that the ideal situation of global co-operation in the movie is a far cry from our woeful reality. The movie also serves a stark reminder to our government, that without the kind of money that needs to be put BACK into research, we stand a chance of grievously falling behind. #POTUS, please increase the NIH funding :),  it will be the greatest executive order you could fulfill before you leave office.

One can only hope, that future generations will get to read the headlines I posted in this article #researchsaves, and my personal message to #KimDavis, please leave the Pope alone.

خداحافظی                                              

Cloned dogs for $100,000 now available, Frankenstein not yet.

Cloned dogs in Louisiana. Click on picture for NPR article and Photo Credit.

Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, a literature classic that showcased the feelings of a monster that was reanimated to life from different human cadaver parts. At the end of the book, the monster’s humanity far outshone its creators- a mad scientist trying who wanted to defeat the scourge of death in 1818.

J.R.Tolkien in the Lord of the Rings trilogy had characters called Ents who highlighted the importance of ecological and scientific conservation of nature for survival of all life on earth soon after World War I.

Will we ever learn or are the classics of literature and its lessons to be relegated to the dusty shelves of old libraries?

Dr. Hwang Woo Sook from Soam Biotech in Korea, a disgraced scientist who claimed he had cloned human embryos was found to be false and unethical on many counts in 2006. However, he is now being reported to clone dogs for pet owners for $100,000.

Am I going to judge a grieving pet owner with money to spend for cloning his or her dog? No.

What I am worried about it is how much longer will unregulated genetic cloning without proper oversight from a world body go on before we find out that human embryos have been cloned secretly if possible for an absurd inordinate sum of money.

Science without regulation has the power to be misused and much like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the cloned dog embryo is zapped with a jolt of electricity to kickstart its division. Are we on our way to loosing a part of our humanity as well with that jolt of electricity as was seen in Frankenstein?

Sayonara.

CRISPR gets crispier :) #research #genes #researchsaves #Jurrasicworld #CRISPR

The dream of bringing the T. rex as shown in so many movies, the most recent one being Jurassic World captures everyone’s imagination. The movie Jurassic World along with its predecessors, many zombie and vampire movies all talk about gene splicing and adding a trait from one species to another. You can imagine what many molecular cell biologists, geneticists and many other individuals involved in research using cutting edge technologies groan when they see the term used liberally. It lulls the avid movie fan who may not have exposure to the difficulties and advancements in gene splicing technologies into a false impression that mixing DNA between species and getting a fully functional organism is easy.

King Kong (2005)
King Kong (2005)

In the world of gene splicing, the term that is driving all the researchers wild just as the new Halo 5 due to be released in November 2015 is going to drive all the gamers wild, is CRISPR-CAS9. Researchers are now able to actually edit DNA and insert with some restrictions pieces of DNA that gives them the trait or molecular effect they are looking for in a cell. Needless to say that, despite technical restrictions like the size of the gene insert and type of cell line used, it has given researchers a more precise cutting tool than PCR which for its time was the major advancement.

CRISPR_logo from Nature

Well, in a nature news update today, CRISPR has just got crispier if I might use the term. Scientists have found a smaller size version of the CAS9 enzyme which makes it easier to insert bigger pieces of DNA into a plasmid.

Check out what Zhang and his team at the BROAD institute have found in this latest Nature update.

Happy Gene cutting everyone.

再见 (Goodbye:))

Viruses, maybe they live!! Also President Obama, Putin and Zarif shakes hands. #Virus #news #Putin #POTUS

Anyone who has studied any level of Biology has been fed the dogma of the definition of the word “alive” or “life”. A virus by definition is not technically “alive” because it can only “come alive” or become active in a specific environment that activate it i.e the inside of a nice cozy nutrition rich cell or body fluids. They are host specific but can be manipulated to infect new hosts if gene re assortment occurs, they can only duplicate using host machinery but till today, they were for all intents and purposes not technically “alive”. Consider this news article that talks about reanimating a 30,000 year old huge Viral particle found underneath the Siberian ice to see how it behaves.( Am I the only one who sees the beginning of yet another zombie movie script with B-actors and even worse cinematography about to happen 🙂 ? )

30,000 year old virus unearthed under the Siberian ice
30,000 year old virus unearthed under the Siberian ice

However a new paper published recently using phylogenmics is forcing scientists to revisit that question along with how, and why viruses have originated. The paper published in Science Advances talks about the evolutionary ancestry of viruses and how they may have come from ancient cell progenitors which harbor segmented RNA.

So, well, that begs the question, what the viral progenitor and the ancient cell progenitor share in common and who belonged to who and when did the break up happen if indeed that is what happened?

Are we finally going to have to change our “life” paradigm about viruses?

Then again, yesterday, President Obama and Prime minister Putin shook hands, President Obama and Iranian Foreign minister Zarif shook hands. The United Nations General Assembly, yesterday was witness to new alliances forming, old ones breaking and political paradigms being tested severely because of certain viruses like ISIS and the unending Syrian conflict putting everybody to the test.

So maybe, change is in the air, in what direction, that is yet to be determined, however as science progresses forward, the most important thing to remember is to never stop asking and questioning.

Auf Widerhesen