Friday, July 30, 2010

Curious Chimpanzee

As a part of The Goulougo Ape Project in the Republic of Congo, researchers have set up many cameras in the field in order to learn more about human's closest relative: the chimpanzee. The region known as the Goulougo Triangle is a dense jungle terrain of great biodiversity, and is home to many other endangered animals including Forest Elephants and Western Lowland Gorillas. It has been dubbed "The Last Place on Earth" by National Geographic and "The Last Eden" by Time. In this short video clip we bare witness to the chimpanzee's innate sense of curiosity upon noticing the presence of the camera. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Dirty Phonecall

According to a recent study by Which?, your personal mobile phone might be the filthiest thing you can think of. After hygiene expert Jim Francis swabbed and analyzed 30 phones, 7 of them were considered dirty enough to have warning or high levels of environmental bacteria (TVC). These are not directly harmful, but could form a base and act as a breeding ground for further bacterial invasion. Put bluntly, mobile phones could harbor on average 18 times more living bacteria than a toilet flusher.

One particular phone had such astronomically high levels of harmful bacteria that it could easily give its user an upset stomach. Researchers actually found traces of faecal Coliforms on one device, as well as Enterobacteriaceae, which include bugs like Salmonella. In an effort to jump-start the movement of clean phones, the group suggests washing your hands regularly and occasionally cleaning your phone with a dry alcohol wipe.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fruits From The Trunk

The Jabuticaba, otherwise known as the Brazilian Grape Tree, is a plant native to South America, including Paraguay, Argentina but mostly Brazil. The grape-like juicy fruit it bares can be plucked and eaten from the tree's trunk. It is often used as an ingredient in jellies or cold drinks. After three days off the tree the fruit begins fermenting, so it's also turned into wine or strong liquor.

The flowers appear twice every year and emerge directly from the trunk and branches. Instead of growing shoots these trees flower directly from the trunk. The fruit that is eventually produced is four to five centimeters in diameter and stores up to four seeds. There have been medical reports suggesting some potential benefits from the fruit. The skin can be dried out and used to treat asthma and diarrhea. It has also been show to alleviate inflammation from swelled regions. Furthermore some potent antioxidant anti-cancer compounds have been isolated from the fruit (PubMed).

The tree likely evolved to fruit from the trunk so that animals that could not climb very high could still reach the fruit, spread the seeds and propagate the species. This theory fits with the tree's name, which is derived from the Tupi word Jabuti (tortoise) and Caba (place), suggesting they were the place where you one could find tortoises feeding. (Images: Filipe Setlik)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Jellyfish Lake

Jellyfish Lake, one of many marine lakes found on Eil Malk island in Palau, certainly lives up to its name. Eil Malk is part of a group of mostly uninhabited, small, rocky islands known as the Rock Islands. Although there are more than 70 marine lakes scattered across the Rock Islands, this one has become famous as a snorkeling paradise. As long as you aren't bothered by millions of golden jellyfish that migrate horizontally across the lake daily, then this is the place for you!

The lake is around 12,000 years old and is estimated to be 30 meters deep. Jellyfish Lake is linked with the ocean through tunnels in the limestone of ancient Miocene reef. Although there is a connection, the lake is still very isolated and the conditions are unique enough that the diversity of species within the lake have been greatly reduced from the nearby lagoon.

Two species of jellyfish occupy the lake: Golden Jellyfish, shown above, and Moon Jellyfish. Both species are known for their rigid daily migratory patterns. For around 14 hours during the night the Golden Jellyfish make repeated vertical excursions between the surface and the western basin, perhaps in search for nutrients near the chemocline. From early morning until 09:30 they move from the western basin to the eastern basin. From early afternoon until about 15:30 they move from the eastern basin to the western end of the lake. As the sun sets they head to the western basin, where they will remain for the night. The Moon Jellyfish do not exhibit specific horizontal migratory paths, and simply migrate up towards the surface to feed at night.

In late 1998 the Golden Jellyfish population suddenly began plummeting, and by December the medusa population had declined to zero. This was attributed to warming water temperatures due to an El Nino weather event, which killed off all the algae (the jellyfish's primary source of food). Today the Golden Jellyfish population has bounced back and is at pre-decline levels.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vaccine Patch

A vaccine patch has recently been developed by researchers at Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology. They hope that this patch will replace the more conventional needle approach. Each patch contains 100 microneedles that are only 0.65mm in length. Depending on the situation, these needles would be packed with a specific vaccine. After penetrating the initial layer of skin, the needles dissolve on contact.

To test the efficacy of the patch, researchers took three groups of mice. One group was given an influenza vaccine via needle, another group via patch, and a control group was given the vaccine-less patch. After three months results suggest that the patch produced a more effective immune response in mice. The groups finding were published in Nature Medicine.

If further efficacy trials are successful, this could have major implications on modern medicine. It would represent the end of an age in which medical training is a requirement to deliver vaccines. Administering vaccinations would become a simple do-it-yourself procedure.

Sea Slug: Half Plant Half Animal

According to biologists who have been studying the Elysia Chlorotica for more than two decades, the bright green ocean dweller is both an animal and a plant. It appears as if this slug has consumed so much algae overtime that it has evolved the ability to convert sunlight into energy, like plants do by photosynthesis.

Sidney Pierce, a biologist from University of South Florida explained that these sea slugs, which can be found in salt marshes of New England and Canada, carry out photosynthesis by using chlorophyll-producing genes and cell parts called chloroplasts from the algae they consume. This genetic material has been passed down to the next generation in line, to the point that the sea slugs no longer need to consume algae for energy.

Pierce's research team collected the species and kept them in aquariums for months. As long as they were exposed to sun for 12 hours per day, the sea slugs could survive without food. However, the baby slugs could not carry out photosynthesis until they stole their own stash of chloroplasts from their first and only meal of algae.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fish Tank + Plant

Sheng-Zhe Feng and Ling-Yuan Chou are responsible for this innovative design concept: The Circulating Fish Tank and Plant Pot. You place your normal houseplant in the pot on top and a small fish on the bottom. The water fed to the plant passes through a filtration layer before entering into the fish bowl, ensuring that it is clean. At the same time, the fish excrement gives off healthy nutrients for the plant. Furthermore, this keeps fish waste from contaminating the water, and persistent humidity results in minimal need for watering.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blue Whales Singing Deeper

The largest animals on the earth manage to be covered by a great shroud of mystery. In the 1960s scientists studied the whale's behavior by analyzing recordings of their underwater songs. Over the years it has been noticed that the blue whales are not singing the same way they used to. According to the data, it appears as if these massive creatures are singing in deeper voices each year. This puzzling abnormality was initially realized when marine biologists off the coast of California needed to continuously recalibrate their automated song detectors used to track the whales. These detectors are triggered by songs matching a specific waveform. As of late, these detectors have to be reset every year.

The results have been published in Endangered Species Research, and show song data gathered from thousands of blue whale populations since the 1960s from the North Atlantic, to the South Pacific, to the East Indian Ocean. In all regions, results indicate that the songs' tonal frequency is falling by a few fractions of a hertz every year. There are some theories floating around which attempt to explain this mystery, including shifting population dynamics, new mating strategies, or increased ocean noise pollution. Another theory involved the recovery of blue whale populations, which were almost extinct in the first half of the last century. Since only male blue whales sing, the answer might involve sexual selection.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Spotless Ladybug

It's the time of year when ladybugs start to emerge. If you look closely, you might notice something odd once in a while when you come across one that is spotless. Have no fear, this isn't some strangely packaged omen. They are commonly known as polished ladybugs or Cycloneda munda. Either that or it's just a normal ladybug that happens to have no spots.

Different ladybugs have different numbers of spots. Some lack them entirely while others have been reported to have as many as 24. A ladybug concludes its lifecycle after just one year, and their spots are with them the whole time. They neither gain, nor lose spots as they mature. The sex of the ladybug can not be determined based on their spots. They primarily feed on tiny insects, but especially love aphids. One ladybug is capable of eating as many as 5000 aphids in its lifetime. Hence, they are commonly used in agricultural settings to control infestation of crops by other pest species.