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Author: Jeffrey Martz | Views: 4498 | Comments: 15
Last by GUEST COMMENT on Dec 15, 2011, 3:34pm
I was invited by Brian Krueger to participate at LabSpaces in order to offer a "paleontology perspective." I also maintain a separate blog called PaleoErrata, which I do not recommend visiting for any conceivable reason. It uses extremely bad language and has a tendency to ramble. This blog is intended to be a bit more focused. In addition to discussing important discoveries in the field of vertebrate paleontology, I want to explain to non-paleontologists exactly what this science is about, how it is done, and why it is significant.

Paleontology is the study of ancient life. As such, it is the bastard child of biology (the study of life) and geology (the study of the Earth). We are studying things which were once alive, but we get all our information from the rock record, where it is buried. As a result, paleontologists may be part of biology or geology departments at universities, and have degrees relating to either discipline, or to both (I have one zoology degree and two geology degrees). There are no paleontology degrees. For prospective university students interested in becoming a paleontologists, I recommend double majoring.

I am a vertebrate paleontologist, which means I work on animals with backbones; th . . . More
Author: Jeffrey Martz | Views: 8340 | Comments: 9
Last by Alchemystress on Jun 01, 2011, 11:48am
Sorry for the long delay since my last post; I've been hella busy. This post is going to be a long one.

I promised that we would talk about phylogenetic systematics (the method that most modern paleontologists use to determine the evolutionary relationships of organisms, as well as name groups of species). However, phylogenetic systematics is structured around evolution and common descent (unlike Linnean taxonomy, which was invented by a creationist, even though it illustrates evolution quite nicely; we’ll get back to that later). Therefore, it makes sense to talk about evolution before getting into phylogenetic systematics.

This first blog in the evolution series is really about creationism, and SOME of the reasons why the vast majority of paleontologists and biologists do not consider it a viable alternative to evolution as a way of explaining life in the modern world and the fossil record…or even a type of science. Other aspects of the scientific rejection of creationism are discussed in great detail by AronRa in his marvelous series of YouTube videos on “the Foundational Fal . . . More
Author: Dangerous Experiments | Views: 2461 | Comments: 2
Last by Alchemystress on Jul 10, 2011, 11:06am
This week's guest blogger is Ryan Renslow. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Washington State University in the Gene and Linda Voiland School of Chemical Engineering and Bioengineering (say that five times fast!). You can follow him on twitter (@BiofilmResearch) to learn all about biofilms and his research!


Until recently, most of the general public has never heard of or used the word "biofilm". Thanks to Listerine, and their "biofilm fighting" mouthwash, this is no longer true. Listerine commercials, featuring their new antiseptic product, have indoctrinated our culture to believe that "biofilm" is merely 2011-speak for plaque. However, biofilm is not simply a new advertising buzzword, but rather it has actually been used in the scientific research community since the late 70's and refers to much more than simple oral plaque. To be clear, plaque is known as a biofilm in dental and oral science literature, so Listerine is correct, but biofilms are much more than what the commercials depict.

Bacteria live in two primary modes of life: the planktonic form and the biofilm form. The planktonic form refers to free floating cell . . . More
Author: genegeek | Views: 725 | Comments: 3
Last by genegeek on Sep 03, 2010, 8:26pm
Have you heard of Terry Fox? He is a Canadian hero and 30 years ago today (Sept. 1), he had to stop his Marathon of Hope due to a return of his cancer.

I was 10 when Terry Fox started his Marathon of Hope. I had been in hospital a lot and thought it was pretty cool that a sick guy from around Vancouver was out there doing stuff (yeah, that's the kid lens). As I got older, I got a better appreciation for the determination, courage and idealism that he possessed.

“I'm not a dreamer, and I'm not saying this will initiate any kind of definitive answer or cure to cancer, but I believe in miracles. I have to.” Terry Fox

Terry Fox lost his leg due to osteosarcoma in 1977. Three years later, at the age of 21, he started a cross-Canada run to raise money and awareness for cancer research. He ran a marathon every day! He rested (didn't run) on only 4 of 143 days.

Let's think about this - a marathon every day? If I count up my running mileage, I run a marathon every 2 weeks. So, I'm taking up a new challenge and I invite you to join me. I'm going to run at least 6 days per week until I run 1961 miles. Note: may have to have a few walking days until my mileage incre . . . More
Author: Angry Scientist | Views: 5032 | Comments: 6
Last by JanedeLartigue on Oct 15, 2010, 12:42pm
24hrs or less to live. Gotta make the most of it!

. . . More
Author: Angry Scientist | Views: 3696 | Comments: 4
Last by Will on Oct 28, 2010, 5:09pm
I've had this one floating around in the back of my mind for a while.

. . . More
Author: David Manly | Views: 421 | Comments: 6
Last by Dr. Girlfriend on Feb 27, 2011, 10:25am
It all began with an email from my thesis supervisor at my undergraduate university advising me on a job posting she saw recently.

The email contained an attachment with lots of details about the job, which did indeed sound perfect for me. It involved travel to exotic locals, adventurous situations and lots and lots of animals. Not only would you be a host of the television show, but you would also interact with the animals and inform the public about the dangers of invasive species!

Naturally, this was right up my alley.

There was one caveat: You needed to make an audition video featuring you and an exotic species. Naturally, I have handled tons of exotic species, from snakes and snapping turtles to tarantuals and chinchilla's. However, I didn't actually have any on me.

I contacted my friends, who were of no help. So, I contacted some pet shops and thankfully, the reptile and amphibian pet store Reptilia, agreed to help and provide me with some animals to use in the audition video. Sadly, they could not let me handle the big animals (despite the fact I was trained, just not by them), as I had hoped to use a crocodile.

But, they agreed to let me use a ball python (as well as a Burmese python, whic . . . More
Author: Brian Krueger, PhD | Views: 15454 | Comments: 0

Image courtesy of Shutterstock
If you’re an avid follower of popular science in today’s news media, you might have noticed a recurring theme. Genomics is everywhere. On an almost weekly basis, the New York Times, the New Yorker, Forbes and a myriad of other outlets are publishing stories with overly optimistic ledes about doctors and gene sequencers being replaced by apps and iPhone accessories. You would be forgiven if you thought genomics was “solved” and we’re 5 years out from creating a Star Trek inspired “tricorder” that near instantly sequences your genome and tells you, without equivocation, what malady is afflicting you and how exactly to overcome said disorder. The fact of the matter is that we’re not there yet, not by a long shot.

. . . More
Author: Brian Krueger, PhD | Views: 6152 | Comments: 1
Last by Evie on Dec 18, 2010, 11:17am
Yesterday there was some buzz over at Huffington Post about a stem cell cure for HIV. I first ran across the article via a link a friend of mine had posted on Facebook. The HuffPo piece is scant on details, so I’ll provide a quick run down on what’s going on here. But first, a lesson in HIV virology…

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) was first discovered in the 1980’s when gay men and IV drug users started turning up in hospitals with very odd opportunistic infections like Kaposi’s Sarcoma Herpes virus. These individuals had severely compromised immune systems and the original name given to the condition was gay related immunodeficiency disorder (GRID). The discovery of a viral cause of the disease came in 1983 from the labs of Luc Montagnier (recently won the Nobel Prize for this work) and Robert Gallo (recently didn’t win the Nobel Prize and is kind of pissed about it).

Genetic tests have shown that HIV originated in African monkeys and is related to a similar condition in monkeys called Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV). It is thought that the virus was passed on to humans through the consumption of “bush meat” in sub-saharan . . . More
Author: Jeffrey Martz | Views: 12732 | Comments: 5
Last by Bill Rabara on Nov 13, 2012, 9:35am
In the last blog, I discussed the Law of Superposition. Layers of sedimentary rocks, or strata, are stacked in vertical sequences, with the oldest layers being on the bottom, and getting younger as we go up through the layers. Remember that the study of the sequence of layers of strata is called lithostratigraphy, and the study of the sequence of fossils in these same layers is called biostratigraphy. Both of these studies were pioneered in the early 19th century by a British geologist named William Smith, who was one of the very first to figure out that you could identify the same sequences of rocks and fossils in different parts of England (an excellent book about Smith and his life is The Map That Changed the World by Simon Winchester). Smith was primarily interested in the economic benefits of these observations, and was able to use his knowledge of the sequence of rocks and fossils, and how they were distributed across England, to inform land owners whether or not they could find coal or building stone on their property. What Smith did not fully appreciate during his lifetime was that he had also figured out the primary methods that . . . More
Author: Angry Scientist | Views: 6034 | Comments: 12
Last by Carniwhore_hater on Apr 02, 2013, 4:11pm
Vegans, please STFU. I'm sick of you preaching to me about what I should and should not eat. I evolved canines for a reason and will eat anything that I damn well please.

. . . More
Author: David Manly | Views: 2573 | Comments: 7
Last by Sharmaine Hansen on Dec 07, 2012, 11:26pm
The BP oil spill in the Gulf has been going on for approximately 70 days, and it shows no sign of slowing down. I am sure I am not the only one who has noticed a decrease in the amount of news coverage surrounding the spill in recent days, and I am not surprised. The public tends to get tired of the same stories re-told over and over, which is why I am going to discuss something that has not been widely discussed.

How exactly does oil affect animal life?

One of the best ways to describe the effects of oil on animals is to discuss some of the most documented casualties, which are birds and mammals.

Birds are some of the best known casualties of an oil spill, and I am sure we have all seen the pictures and videos of the oil soaked pelican struggling to remove itself from a pile of oil.

Through contact with the oil, birds and mammals will lose the insulation provided by the air pockets beneath their feathers or fur. This can result in them dying from hypothermia, or even weigh the animals down so much that they cannot remain buoyant in the water and drown.

When birds and mammals get covered in oil, they will try to clean it off, which causes them to ingest and/or inhale oil and coat their throats and sinuses. This alone can kill them, but . . . More
Author: David Manly | Views: 985 | Comments: 8
Last by Suzy on Mar 09, 2011, 12:07am
Biology was always my “thing.”

Starting from a young age, I was always interested in the natural world, why things happen the way they do, and (of course) animals. For some reason, animals always fascinated me with their endless varieties and their amazing adaptations. I could learn everything possible about a particular species, and yet still want more.

I was obsessed with knowledge.

This fascination with animals didn’t start when I was in university, or even high school. No, I’ve been learning everything I could about animals since I was a little kid.

My parents still tell the story of when they signed me and my twin brother up for pee-wee soccer as children. Apparently, I could not have cared less about the ball, the score or the teams. All I cared about was sitting down on the grass and watching the ants crawling along, going about their daily routine, completely unaware of the giants lurking around them.

So, suffice to say, my parents were not in the least surprised when I showed an aptitude for biology.

But, what if I didn’t go into biology/zoology?

I expected to grapple with this question for this theme post for a while, and went through all the different branches of science that I would consider goin . . . More
Author: David Manly | Views: 5809 | Comments: 2
Last by Suzy on May 08, 2011, 9:33pm

Today, the second Sunday on May, is Mother’s Day. Right now, as you are reading this, families all over the world are celebrating this holiday in a multitude of ways. Kids that are all grown up may be celebrating with a dinner or breakfast, while new mothers might just be treated to a breakfast in bed (where it Is the thought that counts, not the actual food).

We owe our mother’s a lot of thanks, whether they are our biological ones or not. They raised us, cared for us, nurtured our growth and supported us throughout our lives. One day of thanks is not that hard to do, is it?

(That is not to say Father’s Day isn’t just as important, but that’s a post for the future).

My mom has been a constant source of motivation and support, considering the stories she and my father tell about my twin brother and I as kids. They usually will speak in a hushed tone, and almost marvel at the fact that they actually survived.

But, with all that our respective parents have done, there is one mother that does a lot more – The Pacific Giant Octopus.

Like most octopuses (the accepted plural form, along with octopi and octopodes … see the video here for the explanati . . . More
Author: Jordan Gaines | Views: 7379 | Comments: 0
A teacher calls on you when your hand isn't raised, and you feel the familiar sensation as your classmate's eyes immediately dart toward you. Mrs. So-and-So watches expectantly, smirking. A surge of blood races from your gut to your head and your cheeks become warm. Hot. A sheepish smile involuntarily follows. You know you're bright red, and that embarrasses you even more.

Everyone knows what it feels like to blush—whether from embarrassment, emotional stress, or even just receiving a compliment. Perhaps worse than the act itself is knowing that everyone else can see the physical manifestation of your discomfort, which inconveniently functions to further redden your face.

But for 5-7% of the population, blushing is a chronic problem—happening both more frequently and with greater magnitude than the average person. Physically, it's rather harmless—but psychologically, it can be devastating.

In late May, Brandon Thomas, a 20-year-old University of Washington student, committed suicide by jumping from his 11-story dorm. "I am tired of blushing," read his suicide note. "It is exha . . . More
Author: Jeffrey Martz | Views: 8089 | Comments: 4
Last by Alchemystress on Feb 26, 2011, 6:57pm
Tom Holtz, a well-known expert on tyrannosaurs, recently posted a blog entitled "What Should Everyone Know About Paleontology?" It is worth checking out.

The next few posts will discuss the subjects of taxonomy and systematics. In biology and paleontology, the word “taxonomy” refers to a system of naming living organisms, and (more importantly for this discussion), figuring out how to classify them (group them together). “Systematics” is a broader subject which includes taxonomy, but also considers the evolutionary relationships and history of organisms.

The word “species” refers to one of the most fundamental groups of living things. Intuitively, it isn’t hard to grasp more or less what a species is: a group of living things that are the exact same “kind” of thing. Apples are one species, oranges are another. Humans are one species, chimpanzees are a different species. However, saying that all humans are the same “kind” of thing is a little vague; what exactly does that mean?

There are several different definitions which have been proposed for species, but I’ll just mention a couple here. The “biological s . . . More
Author: Jeffrey Martz | Views: 2534 | Comments: 5
Last by yannisguerra on Jan 21, 2011, 5:04pm
Sorry about the delay since my last post. I've got a series of blogs about the evolution of dinosaurs and closely related reptiles that I want to do, but as I started writing it, I realized that I ought to do a series of blogs giving a little background into how paleontologists know what they know about the history of life first, and also about what exactly dinosaurs are and how they fit into the big picture of life. So, first things first. Also, I AM paying attention to questions that people ask in the comments section, and will try to cover them (eventually).

This first blog is about how we put events in the history of life in order. Imagine a novel being written in collaboration by a bunch of different authors. Some of them are writing about characters, some about settings, some about specific events which occur in the plot...but they are writing in isolation, and no one has any idea how these people, settings, and events are ordered. What happened first? Did the characters go to Paris after their trip to Mars, or before? Did the schizophrenic dog kill his owner before or after his affair with the monkey? This stuff is important. Everyone is just writing their own pages, but until someone takes all the pages and put them in order, there is no story.

Fo . . . More
Author: David Manly | Views: 6625 | Comments: 4
Last by Alchemystress on Jul 10, 2011, 10:52am
Parents screamed, children cried and I looked on in horror at the scene unraveling around me in the Shamu tank at the San Diego Sea World in February 2010.

Death was up to his usual tricks.

The stadium was packed and the trainers were putting the whales through their paces. Birds circled above, eyeing the fish the trainers were using as rewards for Shamu and his pals performing their tricks

But then, a lone brown pelican, about the size of a poodle, landed on the far side of the tank to take advantage of the bounty.

The trainers didn’t notice. But Shamu did.

In an instant, Shamu dove under the water, swam up under the bird, opened his mouth and, with a splash, dragged it down. The trainers realized what happened when the carcass floated to the surface and the whales began fighting over the prize. They immediately stopped the show.

Instinct had trumped training, and Shamu was sent for the killer whale equivalent of a time-out.

A week later at Sea World in Florida, instinct won over conditioning yet again. Only this time, the victim was a female trainer. According to news sources, while the trainer lay down in a shallow area leading into the tank, her ponytail was floating and attracted the whale’s attenti . . . More
Author: Thomas Joseph | Views: 506 | Comments: 7
Last by Evie on Dec 13, 2010, 5:20am
So, this press release that I forwarded to some people at work today generated some interesting email discussion. Me and my colleagues do a fair amount of work on animal waste and their byproducts, and when I say "waste" I mean it literally ... poop and pee, on a massive scale. We do a lot of work with CAFO's (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), so there are lots of animals (thousands if not tens of thousands) in a small area. If the waste is not handled or treated properly, it can have some dire environmental -- as well as animal and human health -- impacts. So, my job (and the job of my colleagues) is to find ways to improve on current waste treatment systems, which often leads us to cooperate with municipalities (and nations) to draw from their own applications (with reciprocation when they draw from us as well).

However that is really just a tangent to what we discusses this morning over a few emails. You see, the press release talks about a group of organisms called the PVC (Planctomycetes, Verrucomicrobiae, and Chlamydiae) which this research consortium have call "the missing link" between microbial life . . . More
Author: Jeffrey Martz | Views: 9257 | Comments: 7
Last by duasatu on Feb 26, 2013, 11:05am
A genus is a group of very similar species (the plural is genera). The practice of naming genera and species is called alpha taxonomy. When we name a species, we say both the genus and species names together. For Tyrannosaurus rex, “rex” is the actual species. “Tyrannosaurus” is a genus (notice that both words are italicized; genera and species names can also be underlined). This means that you could have a bunch of closely related species which are all grouped under Tyrannosaurus. In fact, there is a form from Mongolia called Tarbosaurus bataar, which lived just a few million years before Tyrannosaurus rex, and which is almost identical to it. Some paleontologists think should be considered a species of Tyrannosaurus: Tyrannosaurus bataar. It is acceptable to give the genus name as just the first letter followed by a period, for example T. rex (but not as T-rex, T-Rex, as it is sometimes given). So, we could say that there are two species of Tyrannosaurus: T. rex and T. bataar.

Unfortunately, we are even vaguer on how to recognize a genus as how to recognize a species. As with the morphological species concept, it is pretty much based on similarity. But how similar? The genus Tyrannosaurus belongs to a group of theropods (meat-eating dinosaurs) called tyrannosaur . . . More