Biggest Display in a Museum [Video]

Visiting a museum Image credit: www.artgoestoschool.com
Visiting a Museum
Photo credit: www.artgoestoschool.com 
Take a moment and try to remember your last visit to the museum and try to fish out the unique memory of the largest real object on display......


Do you have it already? If not take a little more time and try to at least remember a short list of items that were on display. Did the display have a longsword, or a long rifle, probably a chariot,  or even a stuffed elephant. For those, who have seen dinosaur skeletons, you are well aware that they are replicas and not the real skeleton.

So, coming our question about the largest real object that you have seen. Only if you have been a visitor to the American Museum of Natural History in New York would you reply, the Giant Squid. Measuring up to 30 feet in length, the Giant Squid is one of the biggest displays at the AMNH and is a display you simply cannot miss (pun intended).

And the visit gets even sweeter, when you know the story behind the display. If you would like to know about the Giant Squid at AMNH, simply watch this video below about The Voyage of the Giant Squid released this month in the Shelf Life Series of the AMNH.




Kinky- Extreme sex the animal way


Leather whips, silk ribbons and fur straps, if you were under the impression that kinky was something exclusively human, think again, nature gets far more freaky than our conservative beds. When it comes to having wild sex, animals and insects take it to a whole new level.  From diving water beetles that catch the females, risk her life, just so that she copulates; to mating plugs that literally means the male severs off his own genitals, sacrificing his life to secure paternity. Here is a look at some really cringe worthy wild sex stories, from the wild.

 Cannibalism


What is common between a praying mantis, Issei Sagawa, and the black widow spider? If sexual cannibalism was your vague guess, then you’re right. Sexual cannibalism is something of a normal phenomenon among the arachnid. And it is generally the male who gives his all (quite literally) to his mate. While many get cannibalized by the larger, more aggressive female, some like the Australian redback spiders, readily sacrifice themselves, to ensure their paternal success. The redback spiders, somersaults into the mouth of the female, who readily consumes the male whole. If you want to read about that stuff, here is a great link. 



Necrophilia
Image courtesy blog.nus.edu.sg

Necrophilia can arouse many terrible thoughts, and the thought that animals engage in it is just appalling. But the truth is that on some occasions, animals indulge in necrophilia as well. During the Terra Nova Expedition, George Murray Levick, wrote in his notes, that juvenile penguins often tried to copulate with carcasses of dead female penguins. The first recording of necrophilia in mallard ducks bagged the Ig Nobel Prize in biology in 2003. KeesMoeliker observed a mallard drake, copulating with the carcass of recently deceased drake for almost 75 minutes, while taking short brakes in between. Here is the link to the paper published.




Rape 


Now this may be a taboo for humans but rape is pretty common in the wild. Take the notorious mallard again, mating season means pairing up of one male and female, leaving several mallards, unattached, meaning they don’t produce offspring that season. But mallards have overcome that difficulty, and sneaked in a cheaky loophole. They have resorted to mounting (forcibly of course) a lonely female, and sometimes, females not restricted to their species. forceful copulation is also observed within chimpanzees and even bottlenose dolphins - where young males move in packs and many a times forcefully copulate with lonely females. This sort of behavior is also seen in diving water beetles as well. These are aggressive aquatic predatory beetles, and their aggression is also reflected during the mating season. The diving beetles have no 
courtship ritual, which just means that a male beetle will ambush and grasp any unsuspecting female diving beetle, catching her unaware and takes her straight to the water where he shakes and forcefully mounts her. Males have exceptional suction cup on their front feet that allow them a good grip on the female, who is kept underwater for a really long time, till she finally stops resisting. This ordeal can take up to six hours, before the female is finally released. This is extreme even where the beetles are concerned and very often leads to the female drowning. Here is a great link to know more about these kinky little fellas.  




Mating plugs


Mating plugs are seen as one of the most effective tools for polyandrous species, or where forceful copulation is rampant. Mating plugs are seen in rats, mice, squirrels, butterflies, spiders, reptiles and even kangaroos. While some may just smother the female genital tract with gelatinous goo, others take it a bit further. Like the male dark fishing spider that severs off its appendage, using it as a mating plug. This means that the males mate just once in their lifetime. (Here's a fun article to read about Mating Plugs)


Traumatic insemination

Imagine the next time you have sex, your partner jabs you at random point, ejaculating each time, covering you inside and out, with his seminal fluid, don't believe me, ask a bed bug. And if the constant jabbing was not enough, how about extra spiky male genitals that have barbs on them, to ensure paternity? Such is the case with Bruchid beetle or bean weevil, Cowpea seed beetles have a rough time with sex as well, (at least as far as the female is concerned). The male beetles have spiky pines on their penis which during copulation does a lot of damage to the female, sometimes increasing her rate of mortality. 
If you want to read about why beetles do have a spiky penis, here is a fun article.


While these may sound terribly extreme, with the female having to bear the brunt of it all, it is interesting to see how the sexes within species have developed coping mechanisms to overcome the assault, leading to the other sex having to step up their game. This is best seen in diving water beetles, the ones that risk drowning the reluctant female beetle in the attempt to successfully copulate with her. While females, over the years, have evolved smoother more slippery backs to dissuade males, males on the other hand have evolved better suction cups and tiny fur to have better grip while mounting females. This arms race has lead to scientist look at the battle of the sexes, where sexes within species go to great lengths to ensure they dictate terms of sexual contact; things like when is the time for sex, how to have sex, how many times and whom to have it with. While in some species this is mainly left to the female, and the male woes her with his charm, in many other species, males have taken it upon themselves to dictate the terms. when this happens it creates a conflict, and in this case, a sexual conflict. What is interesting is, that like us, animals, insects, birds, plants and even fungi tend to have an opinion on whom they'd rather do it with, and that in my opinion where things gets super interesting. 


References: 
Andrade, M. (1996). Sexual Selection for Male Sacrifice in the Australian Redback Spider Science, 271 (5245), 70-72 DOI: 10.1126/science.271.5245.70

C.W. Moeliker (2001). The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard Anas platyrhynchos DEINSEA, 8, 243-247 Bergsten J, & Miller KB (2007). 

Phylogeny of diving beetles reveals a coevolutionary arms race between the sexes. PloS one, 2 (6) PMID: 17565375 Kuntner M, Gregorič M, Zhang S, Kralj-Fišer S, & Li D (2012). 

Mating plugs in polyandrous giants: which sex produces them, when, how and why? PloS one, 7 (7) PMID: 22829900 Hotzy C, Polak M, Rönn JL, & Arnqvist G (2012). 

Phenotypic engineering unveils the function of genital morphology. Current biology : CB, 22 (23), 2258-61 PMID: 23103188

An interview to read for all budding scientists!

Prof. Oliver Smithies
Prof. Oliver Smithies.
Photo Credit: www.nobelprizeii.org
If you are looking to learn something new, it is nice to have a guide along your path of learning. For some, this guide is their enthusiasm to learn, for others it might be the insatiety for knowledge, even mother nature has been a guide for many thinkers and philosophers who have helped us shape the society as we know it today. 

If you are budding scientist, who is aiming to make it big in the scientific community, there could be nothing better than working with a world renowned scientist and honing your skills in his/her lab. But for those who are not lucky enough to get into a famous lab, there are scientists like Oliver Smithies, who even when nearing the age of ninety is still involved with his lab and still has lab books from from his graduation days to refer to. 

The inventor of starch gel electrophoresis, Oliver Smithies used the technique to fractionate proteins, which helped him find differences in haptoglobin (protein that binds haemoglobin) that were inherited. When he probed further, a specific variant of haptoglobin took Professor Smithies towards his life long research interest of homologous recombination, which after three decades of work helped him demonstrate that plasmids can be used to correct defects in human genome, something that won his the much coveted Nobel Prize. However, very few people know the Dr. Smithies tried and made an electron microscope and even a PCR machine for his lab, because back in those days, you simply couldn't buy one. 

Oliver Smithies was recently interviewed by Jane Gitschier from the University of California for the PLoS Genetics Interview Series and it is an interview that all budding scientists must read. 

The Whole of a Scientific Career: An Interview with Oliver Smithies

Do come back to the blog and let us know your favorite part of the interview. 



Good Morning Philae!

Photo credit: http://www.esa.int/ESA
After seven months of hibernation in a dark corner of a lonely comet 67P, Philae has finally woken up! At 2228 CEST, The European Space Agency, received about 85 seconds of communication from the lander that made the comet 67P/ Churyumov/ Gerasimenko its home in November last year.

In the 85 seconds of contact that Philae made via its mothership, Rosetta (read 5 reasons why Rosetta is a Superstar), scientists at the Lander Control Center at the German Aerospace Center received some data packets that show that Philae had probably woken up earlier but failed to contact Earth.

Nevertheless, Philae's battery is now recharged 24 Watts of its 140 Watt Hour capacity and will get better as the comet is approaching the Sun. Philae's revival also means that scientists can now get access to all the data that Philae had recorded before it went into hibernation but could deliver to Earth.

There are exciting days ahead for Philae as life lives his life on a comet and for the ESA who will have months of data to ponder over

Below are a few of our older posts to help revise on Rosetta and her mission and follow CoffeeTableScience to stay updated about Philae!



There is water and glass on Mars [Coffee-byte]

Deposits of glass (depicted in green) on Mars
Image credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/JHUAPL/Univ. of Arizona

Remember our last post about colonizing Mars where we made a list of things we would have to do, before and when humans set foot on Mars. Well, you can strike off Glass from the list since a recent finding says that there is abundant glass on Mars.

After finding water and the beautiful auroras on the Red Planet, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) has now detected presence of glass in impact craters on Mars. Considering the fact that the ride to Mars would probably be a bumpy one, it is unlikely that we would ever take the pains of taking glass to Mars. But the presence of glass on the planet is not happy news for colonizing enthusiasts alone.

Scientists are especially happy that they have found glass in impact craters. The reason for this being this publication from Peter Schultz from Brown University last year, where he and his colleagues were able to demonstrate that glass found in impact craters on Earth contained traces of organic materials and even managed to capture samples of flora found in the area at the time of the impact. The impact glass that Peter Schultz and his colleagues studied was found in Argentina and is estimated to be 9.2 Million years old.


Thus, this finding of impact glass on Mars provides an opportunity to look into Mars' past and check for evidence of life, if there was any, on the planet. Missions planned in the future will look forward to harvesting these impact glass samples and analysing them to help us learn more about the Red Planet. The discovery of the impact glass has been published researchers in the journal Geology by Kevin Cannon and John Mustard of Brown University.


Had this been found a few years ago, Andy Weir's popular book The Martian, could have an interesting twist and Mark Watney's story could have very much different. Never the less, like all sci-fi buffs, we will also wait for the Matt Damon film to arrive later this year. For those, who cannot wait, there is always the book to buy! 



If you would like to know more about such wonderful discoveries from the world of science, subscribe to our blog and we will send you an email every time we post something new and interesting. Alternatively, you can follow us on social media such as FacebookTwitter or Google Plus!


References: 


Schultz, P., Harris, R., Clemett, S., Thomas-Keprta, K., & Zarate, M. (2014). Preserved flora and organics in impact melt breccias Geology, 42 (6), 515-518 DOI: 10.1130/G35343.1

Cannon, K., & Mustard, J. (2015). Preserved glass-rich impactites on Mars Geology DOI: 10.1130/G36953.1

The genetics of Languages [Video]

English: DNA Double Helix
DNA Double Helix (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the past, we have written a few posts about genetics, either on how it can help us recognize faces at crime scenes or helps us understand what the bulk of DNA is doing inside our cells, but can our knowledge of genetics help us learn more about our languages?

Anthropologist Peter Whitley and Computational Biologist Ward Wheeler used logic from gene sequencing to study the origins of languages in native America. Here is the video from the series Shelf Life being produced by the American Museum of Natural History.








And if you would like to know more about such wonderful discoveries from the world of science, subscribe to our blog and we will send you an email every time we post something new and interesting. Alternatively, you can follow us on social media such as FacebookTwitter or Google Plus!

The modern day Leeuwenhoeks

English: Anton van Leeuwenhoek postage stamps ...
 Anton van Leeuwenhoek postage stamps Netherlands 1937
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When Anton van Leeuwenhoek invented the microscope, working out of his own shop in the Netherlands, little did he know the scale of the world, he was opening doors to. From being able to see little animalcules, as Anton called them in his letters to the Royal Society, we moved to a world, where we could isolate these microorganisms and study them. As our understanding improved, we started using these micro organisms for our own benefits like making cheese or beer and today, we know them so well, that we can edit their genetic properties to make vaccines and medicines for us. Yet, these tiny little beings continue their mischievous behaviour as they used to hundreds of years ago. In spite of all the antibiotics that we have, these micro-organisms can cause havoc in our bodies at the slightest opportunity available. The recent of case of Ebola in West Africa or the pandemic of AIDS are just examples of how we are still struggling to stay on top of this human-microbial see-saw. 

As the field of microbiology continues to grow, scientists discover new types of micro organisms, some useful while others harmful. Rather, adventurous scientists like Craig Venter have gone ahead and created synthetic life forms  on their own. While this might sound like a story of a sci-fi movie, with the crazy scientist trying to build a super bug, the larger scare is actually from the organisms that we know are harmful and are hiding amongst us, looking for that opportunity to strike. Tropical diseases have long been neglected by pharmaceutical companies, primarily, because there is little of hope of recovering research and developmental costs from sale of drugs in these countries. But now that we know that these micro organisms are capable of travelling across continents, governments are taking precautionary measures to avoid epidemics from occurring in first place. 

One effective way of preventing epidemics is containing the disease at the source. This is why international organisations such as WHO, FIND, MSF etc. have been working at grass root levels so that they can arrest the spread of such diseases before they turn into epidemics. Unfortunately, diagnostic methods in these remote areas are quite primitive. Just like pharma multinationals, companies dealing with new age diagnostic methods shy away from remote areas and prefer wealthy urban areas as their starting points for on-field implementation. There are some philanthropic organisations that try to avoid such neglect of the needy areas but such efforts are usually time consuming. The best way to address such issues is to to develop new techniques with easily available existing tools so that the costs of R&D remain low and even the remote areas can access them easily. One such effort is the CellScope, being developed by the Fletcher Lab at UC Berkley.  

The CellScope is a modern adaptation of the microscope that is aimed to be used by anybody and everybody. Breaking the tradition that microscopes belong to the lab and to the scientists therein, CellScope is a simple device that fits your pocket and can be carried everywhere. And why not? It is actually your smartphone, improved for scientific pursuit. There are many among us who boast about the capabilities of their new smartphones and probably, even the quality of 'selfies' that it can take. The Fletcher Lab is putting this 'self-obsessiveness' that smartphone companies use to sell us new models, to some good use by harnessing the power of their cameras for investigative purposes. 

Basic CellScope
Image credit: www.cellscope.berkeley.edu
Among the initial models built by the lab, is a platform consisting of comparatively higher optics, a source of illumination for the object to be studied and some custom software that can be applied to get standard (black and white) as well as fluorescent (coloured) images from a regular smartphone. 

Such a simple and small set up is easily portable and is also not demanding in terms of power or technical expertise. The team has successfully conducted some trials in countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Cameroon, Ivory Coast etc. to name a few. 

This simple device can be used to detect cancerous cells in patient samples or simply identify the flora and fauna in water bodies. You could be in the middle of a sea, take a small sample of water and start recording your observations right on the deck with a CellScope. That is how quick this device is. But that is not what is really meant for!

What the inventors of CellScope want to do is make the device more smaller and portable and even simpler to use. This drive to make the device simple to use led to development of the OtoScope to help you keep a track on your child's ear infections.

An Otoscope helps you take videos of the ear and send them to a doctor for his opinion. You get a diagnosis and even a prescription, if necessary, all within two hours, when you are still sitting in the comfort of your home.
Image credit: www.cellscope.com

A simple addition to your phone's camera allows a parent to tackle ear infections at their first notice. Using the Otoscope, you can easily take a video of the inner ear and send it to a doctor, at any time of the day, without having to visit a hospital. The doctor's team at Otoscope will review the video in less than 2 hours and send you their diagnosis and even a prescription where necessary. So, no more waiting at emergencies, just because you an innovative cellscope at your disposal.

But Cellscope is not just about making a device that saves you a hospital trip. Rather, recent developments on the CellScope have allowed researchers to come up with a life saving device. The work published in Science Translational Medicine, speaks about a pilot study carried out in Cameroon, where parasitic infections such as filariasis and onchocerciasis are major health problems.

Ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug, is a simple treatment that can be offered to patients here, but this
drug administration has been compounded by another parasite called Loa Loa, whose presence in the blood, can lead to severe brain complications, if Ivermectin is administered to the patient. Identifying whether a person is infected with Loa Loa is a completely manual task and requires a highly trained technician and a conventional laboratory microscope. In such circumstances, the government's efforts to carry out mass campaigns to inject Ivermectin and control filariasis and onchocerciasis, are severely affected, since arranging men and machine in remote locations for mass drives for the entire country is a logistical nightmare.
English: "Microfilaria of L. loa in a thi...
 "Microfilaria of L. loa in a thin blood smear, stained with Giemsa." (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An advanced adaption of the CellScope was used in the pilot project, where a single drop of blood was taken from the patient and loaded onto a capillary. The capillary is then inserted into an analytical base that is paired with a smartphone. All the user needs to do is inform a custom made app that the sample has been loaded after which, the smartphone communicates with the base, moves the sample near the phone's camera and takes a video of the blood sample. The video is then analyzed by the smartphone for a wriggling motion that is peculiar to the Loa Loa parasite and then displays the number of worms spotted in the sample. All this analysis is completed within a matter of two minutes and requires no high end microscopy or even a well trained microbiologist to tell you where the nasty Loa Loa worm is present. Patients signing up for mass administration of Ivermectin can be quickly screened and protected against any adverse side effects. Called CellScope Loa, the device works something like this.



Aren't these guys the modern day Leeuwenhoeks?

If you would like to know more about the Otoscope, CellScope or the CellScope Loa, you can find all the information at the Cellscope site at Berkeley University. For the readers interested in knowing more about the Loa Loa Cameroon Project, the link to the research paper is given below.

And if you would like to know more about such wonderful discoveries from the world of science, subscribe to our blog and we will send you an email every time we post something new and interesting. Alternatively, you can follow us on social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus!

Reference:

D'Ambrosio MV, Bakalar M, Bennuru S, Reber C, Skandarajah A, Nilsson L, Switz N, Kamgno J, Pion S, Boussinesq M, Nutman TB, & Fletcher DA (2015). Point-of-care quantification of blood-borne filarial parasites with a mobile phone microscope. Science translational medicine, 7 (286) PMID: 25947164

The Tiniest of Fossils and what they tell us! [Video]

English: Tests of foraminifera extracted sand ...
Tests of foraminifera extracted sand from the beach of Ngapali (Myanmar) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
You must have heard of the largest fossil of dinosaur, Argentinosaurus found last year and we know that was probably the largest creature to have walked our Earth.  But what do the tiniest fossils tell us. 

This video from AMNH tells us more about the tiny creatures from the sea floor!