Infographic: Growing Human Organs in a Pig

There’s still a great demand for human organs all the world. And there aren’t enough donors to meet that demand. That’s why scientists are working hard to alternatives to meet the demand and even spare individuals for giving up their own to save another life.

One such research is led by Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte from the Salk Institute, which had made progress in growing human organs in pigs. The process is explained in the nifty infographic below:

grow human organs in pig

If you’re squeamish, you’d never look at pork chops the same way again. Still, it’s a fascinating way of growing organs. There are other ideas being researched on, like growing organs in the lab, or even using 3D printers which have been a trend of late. How it all turns out, the future has good promise for those who are or would need a new organ.

Source: Scientific American

Want to become an Astronaut? Learn Russian

Just like any kid of my generation, one of the answers I gave to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is that I want to become an astronaut.

Back then, I was around 7 or 8 years of age and I had absolutely no idea of exactly how one becomes an astronaut. Later on, I found out that most astronauts came from the US Air Force or the Navy and had degrees in engineering, biological science, physics or mathematics. Basically you need to be certified geek with an excellent vision, military-grade health and thousands of hours of flight experience in jet-powered aircraft.

Seemed doable and attainable given that I took up a course in Human Biology, and that’s just about it. Forget about my vision, my health status and even the number of flight hours I have under my belt. It would take some miracle for me to become an astronaut.

And recently, it has been made even a lot more difficult as NASA has added a new essential requirement for one to become an astronaut: having a high proficiency in speaking and writing Russian. No, this is not a joke. Read below an excerpt from Fox News Online:

The rules are plain and simple: If you flunk the foreign language requirement, you can’t go into space.
A handful of NASA astronauts have taken Russian language training since the U.S. and the Soviet Union began work on the Mir space station in the ’80s, Duane Ross, manager for astronaut candidate training, told FoxNews.com. But in 2009, the space agency revamped its rules — and now all U.S. astronauts will have to learn Russian.

“English is the agreed-to language in space,” Ross explained. But due to the close collaboration with the Russian space agency, it’s now mandatory for America’s astronauts to speak Russian, he said.

NASA retired its fleet of space shuttles in July, leaving Russia’s Soyuz rockets as the sole means of transporting astronauts to and from the International Space Station, a sign to many that the Russians have “won” the space race.

It’s no longer fiction pulled from Transformers 3, continuing the space program has really become a lot more expensive for the United States so they have made dramatic budget cuts which has greatly diminished the capabilities of NASA.

Now, US astronauts hitch-hike to outer space on board Russian rockets and spaceships for a fee. Though on one hand it’s a perfect opportunity to further strengthen the partnership between the two former Cold War rivals and it also opens the opportunity for other countries to band together and conduct their own space programs as well.

But of course it does hurt the ego of America, once the sole leader when it comes to space exploration. With Astronauts required to be proficient in Russian, Hollywood would have to train its stars to speak the language as well if they’re going portray astronauts with an updated sense of realism.

A step towards creating renewable petroleum

In the vampire vs werewolves sci-fi movie Underworld, vampires have developed the technology to create artificial blood, thus eliminated or minimized their need to go after humans whenever they needed to feed.

Humans and vampires had managed to live in a peaceful co-existence. Or so it appeared.

The same thing could arise once the US has fully developed the technology to create artificial petroleum. Such a technology has now taken root from the study of researchers from the University of Minnesota in the US, led by graduate student Janice Frias whose team has just figured out how to create ketones using bacteria, sunlight and carbon dioxide.

The U of M team is using Synechococcus, a bacterium that fixes carbon dioxide in sunlight and converts CO2 to sugars. Next, they feed the sugars to Shewanella, a bacterium that produces hydrocarbons. This turns CO2, a greenhouse gas produced by combustion of fossil fuel petroleum, into hydrocarbons.

Their study funded by the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-energy will appear in the April 1 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

And even as this news is spread in print and on the Internet, the University of Minnesota is filing patents on the process.

If the study would progress as it is envisioned, perhaps within a decade or two, the US would now have a technology to produce its own petroleum thanks, again, to bacteria, sunlight and CO2.

Perhaps by then, the American thirst for oil would be tamed. This would then minimize the need for their active involvement in the Middle East, assuming by that time that the region’s oil reserves have not yet run dry.

Though I am uncertain how OPEC members would react to such a situation that the US with its artificial petroleum technology would become one of their competitors. I am also uncertain as to whether the US would be willing to share such a technology (wishful thinking, I know) with the rest of the world but since a patent for it has already been filed, then it would become another way for them to maintain their global economic dominance.

Nevertheless, it’s still good news that renewable petroleum is much closer to becoming a reality than fiction. As more sources of alternative energy become available, the more chances we have of saving our plant from destruction while we continue on with our civilization.

What happens when a human drinks seawater?

Lost at Sea
Seawater all around, but none for drinking. Image by egroj.
If you’ve seen the various survival shows on the Discovery Channel, you already know the answer to this question. From the various how-to-survive shows like Man vs Wild, Survivor Man to the ones that retell the tales of those who survived disasters at sea one thing has been taught to us all: seawater is not safe for human consumption.

The taste of seawater is a dead giveaway: too much salt can damage the human body.

Remember that seawater is 3.5% or (35 g/L, or 599 mM) salt or dissolved minerals ((salinity measurement is a total of all the salts that are dissolved in the water. Although 35 parts per thousand is not very concentrated (the same as 3.5 parts per hundred, o/o, or percent) the water in the oceans tastes very salty.Source)). If you drink seawater in a desperate attempt to survive out in the ocean you would just do more harm to your body and increase your chances of dying instead of living long enough until rescue arrives.

This would lead to Hypernatremia (hyper= too much + natr= sodium + emia=in the blood) a condition of having too much salt and too little water in your body ((This water loss can occur from illnesses with vomiting or diarrhea, excessive sweating from exercise or fever, or from drinking fluid that has too high concentrations of salt. Source.)). Simply because your body will work extra hard to get rid of the increased excess salt. This process requires water and since your body is the only source of water with lower salt concentrations, you would actually need more water to survive. It would make your situation much worse than before.

Dehydration would worsen and your chances of making it out alive is greatly decreased. That’s one of the perils of being lost at sea, you’re surrounded by water and yet not a single drop is readily safe for drinking.

Image by egroj

Plasma jets are the future, Dental drills are history

Plasma jetIn my two decades of living on this planet, I’ve only visited the dentist just two years ago to have my teeth thoroughly cleaned and the cavities filled up. It’s almost everyone’s nightmare, going to the dentist and having all sorts of tools, pastes and tubes stuck in your mouth and who knows how painful it could be.

Fortunately, science is going to make things better by making a trip to the dentist in three to five years’ time a much pleasant experience.

Researchers recently demonstrated that a small, blowtorch-like device emitting a relatively cool beam of purple plasma can eliminate oral bacteria in cavities, leaving more tooth structure intact than a drill does.

Yep, the stuff that makes up the sun itself, is going to help us get rid of those cavity-inducing bacteria without the pain, invasive and even destructive effects the age-old dentist’s drill which have been around since 1887!

Recalling your physics class in high school, plasma is the fourth state of matter after solid, liquid and gas. It is an ionized gas which behaves almost like gas, having no definite shape nor definite volume but it can be manipulated using magnetic fields. Common samples are lightning, the sun and some flames.

We don’t have to fear about being fried by plasma, because the specific type that’s being developed for dentistry is a “cold plasma” having a temperature of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). It’s made in the lab by partially ionizing helium gas with pulses of microwaves lasting just millionths of a second.

The cold plasma works far better than drilling off parts of the teeth that have been invaded by bacteria by having a direct effect on the germs itself. Just 12-18 seconds of exposure, the plasma kills off the bacteria by charging oxygen gas in the surrounding air, giving rise to highly reactive molecules which break down the bacteria’s defenses and punch holes in its cell wall causing its death.

Scientists reckon that in three to five years, the plasma jet would be ready for commercial use and would soon be used by dentists world wide. Come to think of it, it’s like cleaning your teeth with a lightsaber the size of a toothpick!

Via LiveScience

E. coli strain engineered to produce biodiesel directly from biomass

We commonly know the E. coli (Escherichia coli) as the bacteria that can cause serious food poisonings and a PR and marketing disaster for food manufacturers. But this only caused by a strain of E. coli called O157:H7, the rest of other strains are harmless and in fact have been living inside the intestines of warm-blooded organisms like cattle and humans.

Just recently, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) have engineered a strain of E. coli to produce bio diesel fuel directly from biomass without the aid of additional chemical modifications.

“Biosynthesis of microbial fatty acids produces fatty acids bound to a carrier protein, the accumulation of which inhibits the making of additional fatty acids,” Steen says. “Normally E. coli doesn’t waste energy making excess fat, but by cleaving fatty acids from their carrier proteins, we’re able to unlock the natural regulation and make an abundance of fatty acids that can be converted into a number of valuable products. Further, we engineered our E. coli to no longer eat fatty acids or use them for energy.”

After successfully diverting fatty acid metabolism toward the production of fuels and other chemicals from glucose, the JBEI researchers engineered their new strain of E. coli to produce hemicellulases — enzymes that are able to ferment hemicellulose, the complex sugars that are a major constituent of cellulosic biomass and a prime repository for the energy locked within plant cell walls.

Plant waste, such as those from the food industry can now be a source of bio diesel fuel thanks to this engineered strain of E. coli. Another use would be to directly farm plant matter, the kind that we humans don’t use for food, and we have ourselves a source of bio diesel that is renewable, sustainable and potentially cheaper.

Hopefully, this would not lead into a genetic nightmare or be used by the West to retain control over the fuel-producing industry. Then again this might be just another exercise in wishful thinking.

Jeans protect you from snake bites

It’s hard to tell whether a snake has a poisonous bite or not and the scary part is you’d only get to find out once it has bitten you.

Farmers may have known this for years because jeans are part of the standard attire when working in the fields, especially in places where the grass and brush is thick, and it’s in this places where you’d most likely find a snake. So besides being able to stand the wear and tear of farm work, the tough and heavy cloth of jeans provide some protection from snake bites.

This has been confirmed by scientists in California as reported in Reuters:

Drs. Shelton S. Herbert and William K. Hayes used latex gloves filled with saline to simulate a human appendage, then exposed the gloves to bites from small and large southern Pacific rattlesnakes. Some of the latex “limbs” were covered in a layer of denim.

The researchers found that compared with the jeans-less gloves, those covered in denim absorbed about two-thirds less venom from the rattlesnake bites. Instead, a high proportion of the venom “spilled harmlessly” onto the denim, the researchers report in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.

Now those who are feeling a bit more adventurous now better hold for a second before strutting your tight-fitting skinny jeans and heading out into the bush. You’d get more protection from loose-fitting, baggy jeans because they provide more space between your legs and the snake as compared to a pair of jeans that highlight your, ehem, assets.

But the problem now is, you’d be hard pressed to find baggy jeans as the skinny ones are the type in fashion. Perhaps mom or dad has kept some of their old pair in the closet?

Another thing I wonder about is, if jeans provide a layer of protection from snake bites, how come most wildlife shows still wear the khaki jeans or shorts?

Raptorex – T. Rex’s ancestor in ‘Mini-Me’ size

Artists conception of how T. Rex appeared in relation to its small-scale ancestor, Raptorex. Drawing by Todd Marshall
Artist's conception of how T. Rex appeared in relation to its small-scale ancestor, Raptorex. Drawing by Todd Marshall
We all know how massive and gigantic the Tyrannosaurus Rex is, but I bet many would be surprised to know that it’s ancestor was 100 times smaller than the alleged ‘King of Dinosaurs’.
T. Rex was about 40 feet long, 20 feet tall and weighing around 7 tons and lived some 90 million years ago. At that time, it was one of the largest meat-eating dinosaurs that walked the planet.

ScienceDaily reported that scientists have announced just recently, their discovery of a fossil that belonged to the ancestor of T. Rex that had all its defining anatomical features but in a much smaller scale.

Raptorex displays all the hallmarks of its famous descendant, Tyrannosaurus rex, including a large head compared to its torso, tiny arms and lanky feet well-suited for running. The Raptorex brain cast also displayed enlarged olfactory bulbs—as in T. rex—indicating a highly developed sense of smell.

Scientists marvel at how scalable the body design of T. Rex was and perhaps it could’ve taken up new dimensions if it weren’t for that cataclysmic event that wiped out the dinosaurs took place around 65 millions years ago.

I’m not that surprised as evolutionary biology has taught me that large-sized organisms usually evolved from a smaller ancestor because at that time they weren’t the among the dominant species in their niche. One example would whales, they’re the largest living organisms ever in the history of earth yet they evolved from deer-like mammals presumed to be either Pakicetids or Indohyus.

But can you imagine seeing a Raptorex standing next to its descendant the T. Rex? It’s really a case of seeing Dr. Evil and his scaled-down clone, Mini-Me.

*Raptorex will appear in the world premiere special BIZARRE DINOS, on the National Geographic Channel at 8 p.m. ET/PT Sunday, Oct. 11.

Scientific Names of Vegetables in the folksong Bahay Kubo

For our homework in Biology class (yes, I’m taking up my last Bio class for the rest of my college life) we were asked to look for the scientific names of the plants/vegetables mentioned in the folksong “Bahay Kubo” (Nipa Hut).

It’s been years since I last heard of or even sang the song so I consulted Google for the entire lyrics. And here it is:

Bahay kubo, kahit munti

ang halaman doon ay sari-sari

Singkamas at talong

Sigarilyas at mani

Sitaw, bataw, patani

Kundol, patola, upo’t kalabasa

At saka meron pang

Labanos, mustasa

Sibuyas, kamatis

Bawang at luya

Sa paligid ligid

Ay maraming linga

So now, the next step is to look up for the English names of the vegetables mentioned in the song. Some would just directly query Google by typing “scientific name [Tagalog name of vegetable]” and click on the first few links displayed.

I didn’t do that because it will be a “hit and miss, then try again” exercise because sadly, there aren’t that many websites that readily provide scientific information about vegetables in their Filipino/Tagalog names.

Besides, knowing the English names of those vegetables would be a fun exercise in my translation skills and an opportunity to learn a new thing or two. Like, I never knew that the English name of “singkamas” was Mexican turnip and that “winged beans” are what we call “sigarilyas” in Tagalog. If only more students used the internet more intelligently, then our teachers would not discourage us in using it as sources for our school works. But that’s a whole story for another time.

Going back, after obtaining the English names of those vegetables, it was only a matter of feeding those names into Google would their respective scientific names be readily available.

So here they are, in a neat tabular form for easy digestion.

Filipino/Tagalog Name English Name Scientific Name
Singkamas Mexican turnip Pachyrhizus erosus
Talong Eggplant Solanum melongena
Sigarilyas Winged beans Psophocarpus tetragonolobus
Mani Peanuts Arachis hypogaea
Sitaw String beans Phaseolus vulgaris
Bataw Hyacinth bean Lablab purpureus
Patani Lima beans Phaseolus lunatus
Kundol Winter melon Benincasa hispida
Patola Sponge gourd, vegetable gourd Cucunis acutangulus
Upo Bottle gourd Lagenaria siceraria
Kalabasa Squash Cucurbita maxima
Labanos White radish Raphanus sativus
Mustasa Mustard Brassica integrifolia
Sibuyas Onion Allium cepa
Kamatis Tomato Solanum lycopersicum
Bawang Garlic Allium sativum
Luya Ginger Zingiber officinale
Linga Sesame Sesamum indicum

A few things to remember when writing scientific names.

The genus or the first name is written with its first letter in the uppercase while the specific epithet or the second name is written with its first letter in the lowercase.

Underline each part of the scientific name separately.

Homo sapiens

If you’re not going to underline the scientific name, write it in Italicized form.

Homo sapiens

Why the strict rules? Well that would be discussed on the second part of this post along with the history of the scientific name. Happy learning everyone!

The Stages of Mitosis

One of the most basic cycles every student of Biology must know is mitosis. It is the process in which a eukaryotic cell separates the chromosomes in its cell nucleus into two identical sets in two daughter nuclei. (Rubenstein & Wick, 2008) It is generally followed immediately by cytokinesis, which divides the nuclei, cytoplasm, organelles and cell membrane into two daughter cells containing roughly equal shares of these cellular components. (Wikipedia)

Stages of Mitosis
Stages of Mitosis

It has four stages: Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase & Telophase. Other books or sources would give additional stages like Pre-prophase, interanaphase, etc. but I’ll be focusing on the basic stages for now.

Prophase

Replicated DNA condense into dark and dense bodies called chromosomes (chromo = colored, soma = body). Each chromosome is actually a pair of chromatids held together by a centromere. Then the centrioles separate from each other and move towards the poles of the cell. They then spin mitotic spindles as they move. These spindles will provide “scaffolding support” for the attachment and movement of the chromatids during the later stages of mitosis. At the end of prophase, the nuclear membrane and nucleolus have disappeared.

Metaphase

This is short stage wherein the chromosomes cluster together and align at the middle of the mitotic spindle so that a straight line of chromosomes can be seen.

Anaphase

During this stage, the centromeres that have held together the pair of chromatids detach and separate from each other. The chromatids, now called chromosomes again, move apart from each other and towards the end of each pole. When the chromosomes reach the poles of the cell, anaphase is over.

Telophase

At this stage, the chromosomes have reached the poles completely and begin to uncoil to become chromatid threads again. The nuclear membrane begins to reform and surround each of the new nucleus. The spindle breaks down and the rest of the cell splits in two via cytokinesis which forms two identical daughter cells.

To wrap up, here’s a video of the mitotic cycle to help you review.

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References:

Mitosis. (2009, June 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 01:23, June 30, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mitosis&oldid=299423834

Rubenstein, Irwin, and Susan M. Wick. “Cell.” World Book Online Reference Center. 2008. 12 January 2008, from http://www.worldbookonline.com/wb/Article?id=ar102240

Video created by MsStokesBio