WBEZ | biology http://www.wbez.org/tags/biology Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en University of Chicago biologist receives MacArthur Genius Grant http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-10-01/university-chicago-biologist-receives-macarthur-genius-grant <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/genius.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>The winners of this year&#39;s <a href="https://www.macfound.org/programs/fellows/">MacArthur Fellowships</a> were announced this week and of the 24 so-called MacArthur Genius Grants, three went to Chicagoans. Latoya Ruby Frazier is a documentary photographer and filmmaker who teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Juan Salgado is the head of a community organization working with immigrants on the city&rsquo;s West Side. And John Novembre is a computational biologist.</p><p>Just in case you don&rsquo;t know what that is (we didn&#39;t), Novembre joins the show to discuss his work and plans to spend the money.</p></p> Thu, 01 Oct 2015 12:46:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-10-01/university-chicago-biologist-receives-macarthur-genius-grant What does the Lincoln Park Zoo do with all its poo? http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-06/curious-city-secrets-lincoln-park-zoos-poo-100260 <p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/204249224&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor&#39;s note: This report expands on reporting we started when we first visited this question in 2012. The audio story includes interview excerpts from the Curious City Fecal Matters! live event of March 2015.&nbsp;</em></p><p>There&rsquo;s a natural cycle to urban life that can&rsquo;t be ignored; as the snow melts away and the citizenry emerges from winter burrows, residents spend more time outdoors, and with that, there&rsquo;s more opportunity to ponder the animals&rsquo; rhythms and cycles, including the less seamly ones.</p><p>Chicagoan Kelley Clink reflected on life&rsquo;s natural processes, particularly as she potty-trained her pup two springtimes ago. She wondered how poop management worked on a larger (Ok, institutional) scale, and she then sent us this question:</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em><a href="http://curiouscity.wbez.org/#!/archive/question/33">What happens to all the, um, &#39;animal waste&#39; from the Lincoln Park Zoo?</a></em></p><p>&ldquo;My dog at the time was pooping in various places,&rdquo; Clink said. &ldquo;Sometimes I&rsquo;d pick it up and throw it in a dumpster, and sometimes if he pooped on my rug I&rsquo;d take some toilet paper and flush it inside. So it made me think, &lsquo;Gosh, with all these animals are they flushing it? Putting it in the dumpster? Where is it going?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><p>Well, the answer can be summed up like this: Lincoln Park Zoo tosses the poo, it studies the poo, and it stores the poo (in the hopes of studying the poo even more someday). That may not be returning poo to &ldquo;the great cycle of life,&rdquo; but it&rsquo;s how the stuff is dealt with, regardless. If you can hold your nose for a short bit, here are the details.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Toss it</span></p><p>The first thing to note is that zoo poop is not so easy for journalists to access, so you&rsquo;re spared first-hand accounts of the nitty-gritty, behind-the-scenes scraping, shoveling and the like. The Lincoln Park Zoo tells us raw animal waste is considered biohazardous, so we could not actually go anywhere near it to follow its journey.</p><p>But, the Lincoln Park Zoo confirms that the bulk of the animal waste is pretty much handled like garbage; it&#39;s hand-removed by staff, thrown into dumpsters or bags, and compacted along with all the other garbage, according to General Curator Dave Bernier. He says the zoo uses a waste management company to cart everything away.</p><p>Some zoos have opted to<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjfNVEvRI3w"> use the feces for composting</a>, even <a href="http://www.zoo.org/page.aspx?pid=2001">selling the material as fertilizer</a> in their gift shops for use in home gardening. Bernier said he&#39;s heard talk of doing similar things at Lincoln Park, but he says there are some considerable barriers to doing so. He said it would require hiring staff and the park currently doesn&#39;t have space or a back-lot for such an operation. Besides, Bernier said, &quot;We have a hard time getting people to like the smell of our aardvark, I can&#39;t imagine they&#39;d like this feces brewing somewhere.&quot;</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">What can you do with zoo poo? Study it!</span></p><p>But the old heave-ho doesn&rsquo;t apply to the zoo&rsquo;s entire supply of animal feces. Dave Bernier says a portion of the poo is studied for insights into the animals&rsquo; physical and emotional well-being. In some respects, Bernier says, the zoo treats feces as a &quot;management tool&quot; to monitor animal health. For example, zoo keepers look for obvious changes in the consistency, color or amount of feces animals produce.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/8%20CAMELS.jpg" style="height: 465px; width: 620px;" title="Normal Bactrian Camel waste should look like chocolate-glazed donut holes, explains Bernier. When one of the camels had a loose stool, the zoo studied its fecal matter and learned it was eating too much of the free-growing plant foliage. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe) " /></div><p>Bernier says that a few years ago the zoo &quot;had a camel that had loose stool. Normally they&#39;re well-formed pellets of stool &mdash; just think of chocolate-glazed donut holes.&quot; He explains that staff looked into that camel&#39;s diet and realized it was eating too much of the free-growing plant material in its space.</p><p>&quot;So we ended up cutting back some of the plants they could reach in their exhibit and then their stool normalized again,&quot; he said.</p><p>But the zoo keepers take an even closer look at feces, too, performing diagnostic tests in an on-site laboratory.</p><p>Rachel Santymire, director of the zoo&rsquo;s Davee Center for Epidemiology and Endocrinology, oversees and studies about 10,000 poop samples a year from about 50 animal species at the zoo. Santymire says each sample is a clue into an animal&rsquo;s emotional health.</p><p>&ldquo;Animals can hide certain behaviors,&rdquo; Santymire said. &ldquo;I can look inside the animal &mdash; they can&rsquo;t lie to me! &mdash; and I know exactly how they&rsquo;re reacting to whatever they&rsquo;re encountering &hellip; all from poop.&rdquo;</p><p>For example, Santymire can tell whether an animal is pregnant by detecting changes in its hormonal levels. She can also get a sense of whether an animal feels stressed out &mdash; all by looking for the hormone cortisol.</p><p>Bernier says those fecal tests can be used to make important decisions, <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10888705.2011.576968">such as changing an animal&#39;s living situation</a>.</p><p>&quot;I had a singly-housed female antelope which normally lives in groups and she seemed perfectly fine. But she was alone because her cage-mate had recently passed away,&quot; Bernier said.</p><p>He wondered if introducing another antelope to her cage would ultimately be a positive change, or if it would stress her out. They tested the theory by slowly introducing a new antelope friend. All the while, staff collected and tested samples of both animals&rsquo; feces &mdash; before the introduction and after it. Bernier said the cortisol levels spiked and then dipped after the introduction.</p><p>&quot;But ultimately both of their stress hormone levels went down below their baselines when they were together,&quot; Bernier said. He adds that, without this kind of testing, staff could not have known whether it was a positive or negative change because the animals showed no outward signs of stress.</p><p>&quot;Animals are meant to mask any kinds of injuries illnesses or deficiencies because a lot of them are prey animals or have to survive in a social setting,&rdquo; Bernier said.</p><p>But, as zoo staff often say: Hormones don&rsquo;t lie.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">Institutional poo hoarders</span></p><p>With about 10,000 poop samples a year making their way through Santymire&rsquo;s lab, you&rsquo;d suspect she has a complex storage system for all that waste; however, Santymire says the setup&rsquo;s quite simple. It involves refrigeration. And lots of it.</p><p>First, the animal care staff collects samples from the animals like you might pick up after a dog, using sealed, plastic bags. The staff puts those samples in refrigerators all around the zoo, and Santymire collects the new material every month. She then weighs out portions of the poop, shoves them into test tubes, and then places the tubes into carefully labeled boxes, according to species. Santymire says each box holds 100 poop samples, and she&rsquo;s got 10 standard, 21-cubic-foot freezers full of poo boxes.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/lpzoo%20strorage.jpeg" style="height: 278px; width: 620px;" title="The zoo's endocrinology lab studies about 10,000 poop samples a year and stores them in 10 freezers throughout the grounds. (Photo courtesy Lincoln Park Zoo)" /></div><p>Why keep all that poop at the ready? Well, Santymire says, it stays fresh for a long time, making the samples good material for follow-up questions she comes up with.</p><p>&ldquo;Instead of throwing away samples when we&rsquo;ve published our results, I look at the tubes and say, &lsquo;Wow, I can ask and answer another question with these poop samples. I cannot throw them away. I admit it,&rdquo; she said.</p><p><span style="font-size:22px;">The kicker: What are the grossest offenders?</span></p><p>Questioner Kelley Clink wasn&rsquo;t just interested in the Lincoln Park Zoo poo&rsquo;s ultimate destination. She tossed us a quick follow-up that we couldn&rsquo;t resist: Which animal is the worst to clean up after?</p><p>We put the question to both Santymire and Bernier.</p><p><strong>Santymire&rsquo;s nominee: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fishing_cat" target="_blank">The Fishing Cat</a></strong></p><p>&ldquo;Imagine a cat that eats mostly fish. If you boil the feces you can clear out the fecal lab,&rdquo; she said. &ldquo;No one wants to be around when you&rsquo;re working on fishing cat poop.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/fishing%20cat.jpg" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="(Flickr/Attis1979)" /></div><p><strong>Bernier&rsquo;s pick: <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmy_hippopotamus" target="_blank">The Pygmy Hippo</a></strong></p><p>&ldquo;Special note on the hippos ... They&rsquo;re the messiest of all animals,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Because our hippos here are a river species &mdash; they&rsquo;re pygmy hippos. So they advertise their territory with feces. But instead of just dropping the feces, they use their tails like a propeller and they spray it all over the place.&rdquo;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe frameborder="0" height="350" scrolling="no" src="https://i.imgur.com/LPGeFb1.gifv#embed" width="620"></iframe></p><p style="text-align: right;"><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-jXMeo4a4k" target="_blank"><span style="font-family:arial,helvetica,sans-serif;"><span style="font-size:10px;">(Shawn O&#39;Dell/YouTube)</span></span></a></p><p><em>Logan Jaffe is Curious City&rsquo;s multimedia producer. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/loganjaffe" target="_blank">@loganjaffe</a>. Jennifer Brandel founded Curious City, and is now expanding the project as <a href="https://twitter.com/Curious_Nation" target="_blank">Curious Nation</a>. Follow her <a href="https://twitter.com/jnnbrndl" target="_blank">@jnnbrndl</a>.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Wed, 06 May 2015 18:42:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/bez/2012-06/curious-city-secrets-lincoln-park-zoos-poo-100260 Bed bug reports up in Chicago http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/bed-bug-reports-chicago-105080 <p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bedbug%20with%20penny%20courtesy%20StarMaster.jpg" style="height: 413px; width: 620px;" title="Cimex lectularius. (Courtesy StarMaster via Flickr)" /></p><p>Chicago is now the <a href="http://blog.chron.com/sciguy/2013/01/and-the-most-bedbug-infested-u-s-city-is/">top city for bed bugs</a>, according to pest control company <a href="http://www.orkin.com">Orkin</a>. There is no population count for the blood-eating insects, so Chicago&rsquo;s dubious honor is based on an increase in the number of bed bug treatments local residents have called in Orkin to perform.</p><p>As worried reports from metro areas around the country make clear, bed bugs are back. Although they are not known to transmit diseases, bed bug bites can cause an allergic reaction leading to itchy red welts. They are notoriously hard to get rid of, and <a href="http://curbed.com/archives/2011/11/09/renter-horror-story-2-bed-bugs-ignored-for-three-months.php">the stress they can cause</a> renters and homeowners is hard to overestimate.</p><p>Their resurgence over the past 10 years could be seen as a return to normal though, historically speaking. Bed bugs have been around since ancient times, earning mention in medieval European texts and writings from the time of Aristotle. After World War II, however, widespread use of broad-spectrum pesticides like DDT largely stamped out bed bugs in the U.S.</p><p>Ten years ago Karen Kramer Wilson, then an extension agent in Colorado, said reports of bed bugs were rare, but she would sometimes see infestations of related species known for feeding on bats and birds. DDT was phased out for <a href="http://www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/chemicals/ddt-brief-history-status.htm">environmental and toxicological effects</a>, and an increase in international travel revived the U.S. population.</p><p>&ldquo;The key to getting a handle on this is really understanding their ecology and biology so you know what you&rsquo;re dealing with,&rdquo; said Wilson, who is now the <a href="http://www.chias.org/">Nature Museum</a>&rsquo;s living invertebrate specialist.&nbsp; &ldquo;In our current situation, everyone should be aware of what they look like, and how you could contribute to their movement.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bedbugs%20by%20cuttlefish.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px;" title="Bed bugs seek out crevices and small openings, like mattress seams. (Courtesy cuttlefish via Flickr)" /></div><p>Bed bugs like tight quarters &mdash; a behavioral response known as thigmotaxis, also seen in earwigs and silverfish. That has served them well, evolutionarily speaking, but it can make them exceedingly hard to oust from an apartment building. Look around mattress tags and seams, behind headboards and anywhere your bed meets the wall. Clutter also makes for good hiding places, so don&rsquo;t leave luggage or laundry lying on the floor. These are good tips not just at home, Wilson said, but also when traveling.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s one of those things that crosses all the socioeconomic barriers,&rdquo; Wilson said.</p><p>Pest control specialists have been called in to clear bed bugs from four-star hotels and million-dollar homes, as well as more modest accommodations.</p><p>How do you know if you&rsquo;ve found bed bugs? Their flat, oval-shaped bodies are about 3/16 of an inch long and reddish-brown in color. In addition to the actual bugs, you could see rust-colored streaks or small dark splotches on and around your bed.</p><p>Bed bugs can live for many months without feeding, and can even slow down their metabolism in cold weather to survive cold temperatures. So rather than trying to starve or freeze them out by leaving your apartment, eliminate their hiding places and get encasements for your mattress and box spring. Pest control specialists can also kill existing bugs by steam-heating the air to 120 degrees, which melts the bugs&rsquo; waxy coating and dehydrates them.</p><p>Though it&#39;s not a viable option for long-term pest control, bed bugs do have a rather effective natural predator. Masked hunters (<a href="http://www.extension.umn.edu/yardandgarden/ygbriefs/e608maskedhunter.html"><em>Reduvius personatus</em></a>) are of the &quot;assassin bug&quot; family of insects. The aptly-named bugs sometimes carry dust on their backs for camouflage while stalking prey, which includes bed bugs. Any heat or pesticide treatments to kill off the pest, however, would also eradicate the masked hunters.</p><p>So the only long-term solution, Wilson said, is diligence.</p><p>More bed bug information is available from <a href="http://www.ca.uky.edu/entomology/entfacts/entfactpdf/ef636.pdf">the University of Kentucky</a> and <a href="http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pcbedbugs.htm">the Illinois Department of Public Health</a>.</p></p> Wed, 23 Jan 2013 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/chris-bentley/2013-01/bed-bug-reports-chicago-105080 Clever Apes #27: Breaking the fossil record http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-03-08/clever-apes-27-breaking-fossil-record-96971 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-March/2012-03-07/Orgel2.JPG" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="Joseph Orgel holds his sample of T. rex tissue. (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)" class="caption" height="450" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-07/Orgel2.JPG" title="Joseph Orgel holds his sample of T. rex tissue. (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)" width="600"></p><p>Dinosaurs loom large in our imaginations not just because they were in fact enormous, but also they are so ridiculously old. There has always been a big, impenetrable curtain separating us from prehistoric life. Sure, we have some ancient bones, but those had long since turned to stone. Any actual tissue, the stuff of flesh-and-blood creatures, is irrevocably lost, lasting only a few tens of thousands of years in most cases. Maybe a few stray organic molecules could persist for a few million if, say, they were frozen deep within primeval ice.</p><p>So, needless to say, it came as something of a shock when Mary Schweitzer <a href="http://www.sciencemag.org/content/307/5717/1952.abstract">discovered that she had some 68-million-year-old dinosaur tissue </a>on her hands.</p><p><img alt="Researchers at Argonne lab use tricycles to get around the Advanced Photon Sourc" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-05/Orgel trike.jpg" style="margin: 10px; width: 350px; float: right; height: 267px;" title="Researchers at Argonne lab use tricycles to get around the Advanced Photon Source. (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)">The find was and is controversial. <a href="http://genome.fieldofscience.com/2009/06/dinosaur-proteins-from-t-rex-and.html">Many scientists are skeptical or outright dismissive </a>of the idea that tissue could have persisted inside the partially fossilized thigh bone of a T. rex. But since then Schweitzer and her collaborators have gradually built up evidence that the find is real. And most recently, <a href="http://www.iit.edu/csl/bio/faculty/orgel_joseph.shtml">Joseph Orgel of the Illinois Institute of Technology </a>has begun to understand how mummified dino-flesh could possibly have survived a thousand times longer than was thought possible.</p><p>Orgel used <a href="http://aps.anl.gov/">x-ray diffraction</a>, a kind of molecular imaging technique, to understand how the dinosaur tissue is structured in detail. The particular stuff they have in hand is collagen, a material found in our bones, tendons, blood vessels and skin. It is itself a hardy molecule, and Orgel found that the protein sequences preserved in their fossils came from the innermost, protected part of the collagen fiber. So it’s possible that <a href="http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0020381">collagen’s tough, ropelike structure preserved a tender bit of dinosaur jerky inside.</a></p><p>Keep in mind, this is not DNA. We will not be cloning Barney from this stuff. But understanding how these proteins can be shielded from decay for so long could hold practical lessons for modern medicine. If you’re repairing, say, a bone or cartilage, you might be able to leverage or mimic nature’s ability to make durable organic materials that don’t degrade, in effect, forever.<img alt="Phillip Messersmith designed a medical glue based on the blue mussel's natural a" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-March/2012-03-05/Messersmith.jpg" style="margin: 10px; width: 250px; float: left; height: 333px;" title="Phillip Messersmith designed a medical glue based on the blue mussel's natural adhesive. (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)"></p><p>Also in today’s episode, we consider another example of design inspired by biology. <a href="http://biomaterials.bme.northwestern.edu/mussel.asp">Dr. Phillip Messersmith’s muse is the blue mussel </a>– a bivalve that secretes a unique adhesive to stick itself to rocks or boat hulls or wherever it feels like sticking. (They form their connective threads and tacky pads through a kind of shellfish injection-molding process. The video below, provided by the Messersmith lab, captures an amazing example.) This stuff turns out to have some key qualities that a surgeon would envy. It starts as a liquid and solidifies quickly, it functions well under water and it’s sticky as hell.</p><p>That’s a big advantage over the medical glues out there that doctors use to attach or repair tissues. The safest ones are too weak. The strongest ones (basically, super glue) are toxic. <a href="http://biomaterials.bme.northwestern.edu/">Messersmith and his lab-mates at Northwestern University </a>are using the fundamentals of the mussel glue to design their own version, which they demonstrated for us on some sausage casing.</p><p>So someday, maybe they’ll be able to install a dino-inspired bone patch in your body, and lock it down with some mussel glue. Until then, don’t forget to subscribe to our <a href="http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wbezs-clever-apes/id379051174" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="451" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/38034455?color=ff0179" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="601"></iframe></p></p> Wed, 07 Mar 2012 16:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2012-03-08/clever-apes-27-breaking-fossil-record-96971 Clever Apes #22: Paper covers rock http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-11-22/clever-apes-22-paper-covers-rock-94295 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-22/IMG_3809 keeper.JPG" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-22/IMG_3809 keeper small.jpg" title="Rock paper scissors, and its variations, may lie hidden in the math that underlies natural systems. (WBEZ/Gabriel Spitzer)" width="600" height="450"></p><p>Charles Darwin ushered in modern biology with his explanation of how different species evolve. But his work leaves us with a paradox: Why should dozens or even thousands of species coexist in a single habitat? The theory suggests they ought to duke it out until just a few winners dominate. And yet we have such magnificent biodiversity all over. More than 2,000 species of trees share a single acre of rainforest in the Amazon. So what gives?</p><p><em><strong><span style="font-size: 8px;">Listen to the episode:</span></strong></em></p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483827-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Clever_Apes_22_Paper_covers_rock.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>The answer might lie in a game you probably mastered before you were 12: rock, paper, scissors. Any pairing of two species (say, “rock” tree and “paper” tree) will almost always lead to the weaker one going extinct (so long, “rock” tree). But introduce a third species – “scissors” tree – and you close up into a stable loop, where all three can coexist. This has been known for a while, and observed in natural settings among <a href="http://bio.research.ucsc.edu/%7Ebarrylab/lizardland/male_lizards.overview.html">side-blotched lizards in California</a> and <a href="http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v428/n6981/full/nature02429.html">bacteria growing in a dish.</a></p><p>University of Chicago ecologist <a href="http://allesinalab.uchicago.edu/people/stefano-allesina.html">Stefano Allesina </a>scaled it up with a computer model, and showed it could indeed explain big, complicated systems like the Amazon jungle or underwater kelp forests. In fact, you can have as many species as you want coexisting, with one big caveat: Strangely, it has to be an odd number. That means no fourth throw in roshambo, though <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iapcKVn7DdY">“rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock”</a> is safe.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-22/ouroborous.GIF" style="width: 250px; height: 169px; float: left; border-width: 1px; border-style: solid; margin: 10px;" title="Side-blotched lizards form a loop in competing for mates. (Courtesy of Barry Sinervo)"></p><p>Dig even a little deeper, and it seems that rock, paper scissors describes a basic mathematical concept that appears in all kinds of systems, as shown in <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/game-theory/">game theory</a>. Whether it’s economics, political science or biology, any system where competitors have different advantages that can’t be ranked from best to worst probably has a little rock, paper, scissors tournament hiding in there somewhere.</p><p>Incidentally, actual rock paper scissors tournaments have been gaining steam, thanks largely to the efforts of the <a href="http://www.worldrps.com/">World Rock Paper Scissors Society. </a>If you want to learn how to crush the competition (and never change a diaper again! Oh wait, that’s probably just in my household), check out their <a href="http://www.worldrps.com/index.php?option=com_content&amp;task=view&amp;id=256&amp;Itemid=37">strategy tips. </a>You can also practice against a robot <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/science/rock-paper-scissors.html">here</a>.</p><p>Finally, we inaugurate our recurring series, Ask an Ape, in which we answer science-y questions posed by listeners. Please weigh in with your own question in the comment section below, <a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes">tweet us</a>, post to our <a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook wall</a>, or call our hotline: 312-893-2935.</p></p> Tue, 22 Nov 2011 22:19:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-11-22/clever-apes-22-paper-covers-rock-94295 Kids' sugar cravings might be biological http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-25/kids-sugar-cravings-might-be-biological-92434 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//npr_story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-26/candyboy_wide.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Ask a child if they like sweets and the answer is almost universally a resounding "Yes!" It's no surprise to most parents that kids love candy, cookies, sweetened drinks, and some kids have even been known to <em>add sugar</em> to a bowl of Frosted Flakes. But don't blame the kids, say researchers, it's biology.</p><p>Scientific evidence shows that children not only have a stronger preference for sugar than adults – but that sweet-tooth is <a href="http://journals.lww.com/co-clinicalnutrition/Abstract/2011/07000/Innate_and_learned_preferences_for_sweet_taste.12.aspx" target="_blank">hardwired</a> from Day One.</p><p>"We know that the newborn can detect sweet and will actually prefer sweeter solutions to less sweet ones. The basic biology of the child is that they don't have to learn to like sweet or salt. It's there from before birth," explains <a href="http://www.monell.org/faculty/people/mennella" target="_blank">Julie Mennella of the Monell Chemical Senses Center</a>.</p><p>Unlike adults, who often find overly sugary things unpleasant, Mennella says kids are actually living in different sensory worlds than adults when it comes to basic tastes.</p><p>"They prefer much more intense sweetness and saltiness than the adult and it doesn't decrease until late adolescence, and we have some evidence they may be more sensitive to bitter taste," Mennella says.</p><p>A reason for this may be that a preference for sweet, caloric substances during rapid growth may have given children as an evolutionary advantage when calories were scarce. That notion is supported by the fact that sugar doesn't just taste good to children -– it actually makes them <em>feel good</em> too.</p><p>Mennella's <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1364537/pdf/nihms7936.pdf">research</a> has shown that sugar is a natural pain reliever in children, and many hospitals even put a sweet tasting liquid in a baby's mouth during circumcisions or heel stick procedures to help <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20829174" target="_blank">lessen the pain.</a></p><p>When researchers gave adults and children water mixed with various amounts of sugar, adults preferred sugar concentrations similar to that of a can of soda, while finding higher concentrations too sweet. By comparison, children preferred at least twice that concentration, and younger children had virtually no limit.</p><p>"You can keep putting sugar in to the point where you can't dissolve it in the water anymore and they still like it," says <a href="http://depts.washington.edu/nacrohd/about_us/personnel/coldwell" target="_blank">Sue Coldwell,</a> a researcher at the University of Washington who has studied kids and sweets.</p><p>But there seems to be an age limit on the super-sized sugar preference.</p><p>Coldwell and her colleagues suspected that sugar preferences changed during adolescence. They checked a bunch of indicators, like body image and hormones, and then they checked bone growth. They gave the sugar-water test to adolescents while simultaneously <a href="http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2764307/pdf/nihms100732.pdf" target="_blank">measuring</a> a marker of bone growth in their urine. What they found was that kids who were still growing preferred sweets. While those whose growth had already stopped –- around age 15 or 16 — had taste preferences similar to adults.</p><p>Exactly how this all works is still somewhat of a mystery, but Coldwell says that one important clue lies in the discovery that growing bones actually secrete <a href="http://classic.the-scientist.com/news/display/53475/" target="_blank">hormones that can influence metabolism</a>. Other well-known metabolic hormones like <a href="http://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/endocrj/57/6/467/_pdf" target="_blank">leptin and insulin</a> have been shown to act on brain areas that control cravings and appetites, and even directly bind to the tongue where they affect the preference for sweet tastes. Coldwell suspects that hormones from growing bones may be doing the same thing. In other words, it's not your kid's fault he raided the cookie jar – the hormones from his growing bones made him do it.</p><p>"I don't know for sure but I am very suspicious that the bones are somehow telling either the brain or the tongue that there is energy needed for their growth and signaling for that preference to increase," says Coldwell.</p><p>That's not to say a kid can't overdo it. In a modern world of calorie overload and childhood <a href="http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/07/19/138513138/latest-figures-on-obesity-paint-an-uglier-picture">obesity</a>, cravings for sugar are no longer the evolutionary advantage they once might have once been. But if the goal is to get children to reduce their intake of sugar, researchers say understanding the biology behind their cravings is the first step.</p><div class="fullattribution">Copyright 2011 National Public Radio.</div></p> Mon, 26 Sep 2011 03:30:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/2011-09-25/kids-sugar-cravings-might-be-biological-92434 Lab mishap shows risks of working with dangerous bugs http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-09-15/lab-mishap-shows-risks-working-dangerous-bugs-92043 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-September/2011-09-15/lab sign.png" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Despite precautions, a recent mishap shows research on nasty pathogens is still " class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-15/lab sign.png" style="width: 473px; height: 370px;" title="Despite precautions, a recent mishap shows research on nasty pathogens is still dangerous. (WBEZ / Michale De Bonis)"></p><p>In the most recent installment of Clever Apes, I got a taste of what it’s like to work at the highly secure Howard T. Ricketts Laboratory, dealing with extremely unsavory bugs like plague and anthrax (<a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-09-13/clever-apes-18-biological-weapons-91950">listen here</a>). I saw all the steps researchers take to protect themselves from infection: respirator, multiple airlocks and air filters, biosafety cabinets, full gown and two pairs of gloves, etc. The protocols seemed to make the risk of any contact with the bugs, which are generally present only in tiny amounts anyway, pretty remote. But, as lab director Howard Shuman put it, “We do everything we can possibly imagine to reduce risk to people who are working. That doesn't mean the risk is zero.”</p><p>A recent occurrence at Ricketts’ sister lab, the Cummings Life Science Center on the University of Chicago campus (the university also runs the Ricketts facility), drives this home. <a href="http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2011/09/university-of-chicago-microbiologist.html">A researcher there was infected with the pathogen</a> Bacillus cereus<em>, </em>and required hospitalization and surgery. This is not the worst germ on earth – it’s a common cause of food poisoning. But it happens to be exactly what Ya-Ting Wang, the researcher we spied on in the BSL-3 suite in the story, was working on. Don’t worry, she’s fine.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="A researcher handles bacillus cereus in a biosafety cabinet at Ricketts laborat" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-15/cereus.png" style="width: 500px; height: 457px;" title="A researcher handles bacillus cereus in a biosafety cabinet at Ricketts laboratory. (WBEZ / Michael De Bonis)"></p><p>But the important point here is that the Cummings center researcher would have been using the same protocols while working on B. cereus as the scientists at Ricketts (By the way,<em> </em>B. cereus is considered a level-2 pathogen, but the university has a policy of using the higher-security protocol with it). That means that all the same levels of redundancy and precaution would have been present, and still a likely contamination happened. We can all be thankful it was B. cereus and not something much worse like anthrax.</p><p>So how could this happen? I talked with Conrad Gilliam, dean for research and graduate education at the university's Biological Sciences Division about this.</p><p>Hear our interview here:</p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483722-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Gilliam interview.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>The investigation is ongoing, but Gilliam shared a number of working assumptions: 1) This was likely a lab-acquired infection, though that’s not confirmed yet; 2) the contamination probably came from a spill by another investigator (meaning researcher), probably without that person realizing it; 3) the patient (<a href="http://www.suntimes.com/7662835-417/university-of-chicago-suspends-research-in-lab-after-scientist-gets-a-skin-infection.html">identified as a female researcher </a>in published reports) probably touched the spill, which would have had to be at a high concentration to ultimately cause infection, and 4) the patient would have had to touch the contaminated gloved hand to an open wound – which is to say, she likely scratched an itch under her gown or something. All of this is still somewhat speculative, but Gilliam says that’s the best guess right now.</p><p>The relevant section of the Cummings lab has been shut down since the end of August and isn’t likely to reopen until at least next week, after which it could take weeks to get back to normal. Meanwhile, the university has moved all the B. cereus research, as well work on similarly classed bugs like Staphylococcus aureus (as in MRSA) off campus and into the Ricketts lab. But as we see here, wherever it's studied, a little breach in protocol like scratching an itch is all it takes to upend the most carefully conceived protections.</p></p> Thu, 15 Sep 2011 19:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-09-15/lab-mishap-shows-risks-working-dangerous-bugs-92043 Clever Apes #15: Trick of the light http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-07-26/clever-apes-15-trick-light-89684 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-July/2011-07-26/P1080171.JPG" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Lisa Utschig holds a vial of the protein active in photosynthesis. " class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-26/green stuff.JPG" style="width: 600px; height: 400px; margin-top: 5px; margin-right: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px; margin-left: 5px; " title="Lisa Utschig holds a vial of the protein active in photosynthesis. (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)"></p><p>Photosynthesis is one of the oldest biological processes on earth. Microorganisms figured it out more than two billion years ago, and <a href="http://www.geo.arizona.edu/%7Ereiners/geos195K/Huxmanreading.pdf">completely transformed the planet</a>. Sure, there was life before photosynthesis, but unless you like <a href="http://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Anaerobic_Respiration">breathing rust</a>, it probably wouldn’t have been your bag.</p><p>Photosynthesis put oxygen into the air, fueled the plants that feed us and formed the organic molecules that would become fossil fuels. Life on earth is positively drenched in sunshine, and yet the basic processes of how green things turn light into energy are still shrouded in mystery.</p><p><span style="font-size: 8px;">Listen to the episode here: </span></p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483579-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Clever Apes_15_Trick of the light.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>In this installment of <a href="http://www.wbez.org/cleverapes">Clever Apes</a>, we consider why photosynthesis, a concept <a href="http://www.biology4kids.com/files/plants_photosynthesis.html">familiar to most third-graders</a>, remains a puzzle to science. And we’ll find out how a research team at <a href="http://www.anl.gov/">Argonne National Laboratory </a>has begun to <a href="http://www.anl.gov/Media_Center/News/2011/news110518.html">crack the code</a>.</p><p>Plus, how a Chicago scientist homes in on tiny atomic clocks to figure out how long it’s been since the sun shone on a specimen. That can tell you when, say, a layer of sediment was covered over, and consequently how old stuff buried in that layer is. The <a href="http://www.uic.edu/labs/ldrl/">optical dating technology </a>has already led to major discoveries, including one that helped <a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/anthropology/chicago-scientist-dates-artifacts-may-rewrite-ancient-history-84190">overturn the conventional wisdom </a>about when North America was settled.</p><p>Listen up, subscribe to our <a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, and find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="David Tiede heads a team trying to unlock the secrets of photosynthesis. (WBEZ/M" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-26/Tree chem.JPG" style="width: 600px; height: 400px; margin-top: 5px; margin-right: 5px; margin-bottom: 5px; margin-left: 5px; " title="David Tiede heads a team trying to unlock the secrets of photosynthesis. (WBEZ/Michael De Bonis)"></p></p> Wed, 27 Jul 2011 01:51:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-07-26/clever-apes-15-trick-light-89684 Postcard: Scientists climb into bald eagle nests to measure health of the Great Lakes http://www.wbez.org/content/postcard-scientists-climb-bald-eagle-nests-measure-health-great-lakes <p><p><em>Biologists with the National Park Service are in their sixth year of visiting eagle nests on Lake Superior for blood and feather samples that help them monitor the level of toxic pollutants in the lake</em></p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/25677824?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0" width="513" frameborder="0" height="341" scrolling="no"></iframe></p><p><a href="http://vimeo.com/25677824">Feisty is good</a> from <a href="http://vimeo.com/wbez">WBEZ</a> on <a href="http://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p><p>Jim Spickler is wearing an orange hardhat and hanging on a climbing rope 100 feet up in a white pine tree on Basswood Island in Lake Superior.</p><p> <style type="text/css"> div .inline { width: 290px; float: left; margin-right: 19px; margin-left: 3px; clear: left; } div .inlineContent { border-top: 1px dotted #aa211d; border-top-width: 1px; border-top-style: dotted; border-top-color: #aa211d; margin-bottom: 5px; margin-top: 2px; } ul { margin-left: 15px; } li { font-family: Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: 1em; background-repeat: no-repeat; background-repeat-x: no-repeat; background-repeat-y: no-repeat; background-position: 0 5px; background-position-x: 0px; background-position-y: 5px; padding-left: 3px; margin-bottom: 0.5em; }</style> </p><div class="inline"><div class="inlineContent"><a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter"><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/story/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-28/FNC-inset-promo.jpg" style="width: 280px; height: 50px;" title=""></a><ul><li><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-06-23/runaway-algae-returns-lake-erie-88249">Runaway Algae</a></strong></li><li><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/episode-segments/2011-06-23/front-and-center-how-chicagos-excrement-killing-fish-gulf-mexico-88234">How Chicago's excrement is killing fish in the Gulf of Mexico </a></strong></li><li><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-06-21/how-likely-fear-west-could-steal-great-lakes-water-88162">Could the West steal Great Lakes Water? </a></strong></li></ul><p><strong>SLIDESHOW</strong></p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-06-14/postcard-detroits-floating-post-office-88094"><img alt="" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2011-June/2011-06-28/img_1542.jpg" style="width: 120px; height: 90px; float: left; margin-left: 5px; margin-right: 5px;" title=""></a><p 12="" font-size:=""><br> <strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/frontandcenter/2011-06-14/postcard-detroits-floating-post-office-88094">&nbsp;J.W. Westcott,</a></strong><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/postcard-detroits-floating-post-office-87236"><br> Detroit's floating<br> post office</a></strong><br> &nbsp;</p><p><strong><a href="http://www.wbez.org/story/postcard-detroits-floating-post-office-87236"> </a></strong></p></div></div><p>“Good morning, Mr. Eagle,” he says to a fuzzy brown bird sitting on the six-foot-wide jumble of sticks that serves as the eaglet’s nest. Spickler is a wildlife biologist and an expert climber from northern California where he works in giant redwood trees. It’s his job to gently stuff the eaglet into a sack and bring it to the ground for a quick checkup. The eaglet is only seven weeks old, but it’s already the size of a small goose, and it has formidable talons attached to its bright yellow feet.Waiting for Spickler on the ground is Bill Route, an ecologist with the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring Program, which keeps tabs on the wellbeing of plants and animals on Park Service land.&nbsp; Route heads up this survey of eagle nests.“Eagles are a success story,” Route says. “Their numbers are increasing.”</p><p>Route says there were no eagles at all nesting on the Great Lakes in the late 1960s, thanks in part to the insecticide DDT, which left the eagle’s eggs perilously thin and nearly wiped the birds out. But DDT was banned in 1972, and eagles started to bounce back. They were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2007.</p><p>“We still find traces of DDT in eagles,” Route says. “It’s very persistent. And that’s what we’re worried about: persistent, toxic chemicals that accumulate up the food chain.”</p><p>Like some flame-retardant and stain resistant chemicals. The scientists will screen the eaglet’s blood for those, too.</p><p>“Eagles are a sentinel species,” Route says.&nbsp; “They get this magnification. Since bald eagles sit on top of the food chain, they get a lot of the contaminant because they eat other organisms that are also contaminated.”</p><p>As Route is talking, Jim Spickler descends the climbing rope with the eaglet. They draw a blood sample from the bird and make some measurements. The eaglet hisses at them and makes some klutzy attempts at biting their hands. In minutes, Spickler is on his way back up the rope to put the eaglet back on its nest.</p><p>Two adult eagles circle above the trees letting out a steady stream of cries. The sound is surprisingly thin and high-pitched for a bird with a seven-foot wingspan. The biologists say adult eagles can be noisy, but they rarely attack humans. The adults will be back on the nest soon after the humans leave.</p><p>A few minutes later, the eaglet is in its nest and Jim Spickler is on the ground.</p><p>“It’s a little bit of a feisty chick,” he says as he starts packing his climbing gear. “But that means that it’s well fed and it’s likely to survive. So, mission accomplished.”</p><ul></ul></p> Wed, 29 Jun 2011 14:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/content/postcard-scientists-climb-bald-eagle-nests-measure-health-great-lakes Clever Apes #10: Yuck http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-04-13/clever-apes-10-yuck-85105 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-April/2011-04-12/P1070472.JPG" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Bill Stanley holds the skull of an African rat he discovered, being cleaned by c" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-April/2011-04-12/Beetle small.JPG" style="width: 500px; height: 375px;" title="Bill Stanley holds the skull of an African rat he discovered. It's being cleaned by carrion beetles. "></p><p>Let’s consider the beauty of a seething swarm of carrion beetles picking clean the carcass of a dead rat.</p><p style="margin: 0.6em 0px 1.2em; padding: 0px;">Sorry – were you eating breakfast?</p><div>To a scientist, that grisly scene might evoke the cycles of ecosystems, the connectedness of life and death, and the elegant efficiency of a life form sculpted by eons of evolution to be the <a href="http://www.hunthd.com/taxidermy-supplies/dermestid-beetles/250-dermestid-beetles/prod_391.html">perfect flesh-removal machine</a>. To most of the rest of us, it’s just gross.</div><p>Yucky stuff has always been part of the mystique of science – alluring for some, forbidding for others. In the latest installment of Clever Apes, we consider the dirty work of science, from the <a href="http://www.museumsecrets.tv/dossier.php?o=77">“bug room”</a> at the <a href="http://www.fieldmuseum.org/">Field Museum</a> to <a href="http://www.microtracescientific.com/">the lab</a> where scientists analyze dead critters found in food.</p><p>But we aim not to titillate. Oh no. In this part one of our two-part series, we hope to show how the yucky can also be elegant. So hold your nose and listen.&nbsp;</p><p><audio class="mejs mediaelement-formatter-identified-1332483438-1" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/sites/default/files/Clever_Apes_10_Yuck.mp3">&nbsp;</audio></p><p>Subscribe to the Clever Apes&nbsp;<a href="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150);" target="_blank" title="http://feeds.feedburner.com/CleverApesPodcast">podcast</a>, follow us on&nbsp;<a href="http://twitter.com/#%21/cleverapes" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150);" target="_blank" title="http://twitter.com/#!/cleverapes">Twitter</a>, or find us on&nbsp;<a href="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412" style="text-decoration: none; color: rgb(0, 104, 150);" target="_blank" title="http://www.facebook.com/pages/Clever-Apes-on-WBEZ/118246851551412">Facebook</a>.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="Chris Palenik mans the transmission electron microscope at Microtrace. " class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-April/2011-04-13/P1010288.JPG" style="width: 500px; height: 375px;" title="Chris Palenik mans the transmission electron microscope at Microtrace. "></p></p> Wed, 13 Apr 2011 15:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/clever-apes/2011-04-13/clever-apes-10-yuck-85105