Field of Science

Blogging with substance - the AbC edition

 Lab Rat tagged me with the "blogging with substance" meme, which I think constitutes a tagging FAIL since I would hesitate to use the term substance as a descriptor for many of my posts. Nonetheless, when one of the collective tags you, it is considered poor taste not to play.
So the meme has 2 requirements:

1. Sum up your blogging motivation, philosophy and experience in exactly 10 words.
Sharing opinions, Learning something, Teaching, Sparing my family said opinions.

There. That took care of the motivation aspect. Experience: still gaining it. Philosophy: I think therefore I am.

2. Pass it on to 10 other blogs with substance.
OK, this is the easy one.

A. Dispatches from the Culture Wars Get your law, rational politics, and biology all in one. No Really Get It NOW!!!
B. Evolving Thoughts A great resource for biological philosophy  (and he has the best freaking named blog)
C. The Renaissance Mathematicus History, Biology, Philosophy all in one...not necessarily concomitant
D. Sandwalk Warning: Curmudeoningly Evolutionary Biologist
E. Adventures in Ethics and Science Ethics with a side of biology
F. Why Evolution Is True because selling books isn't enough
G. C6-H12-O6 Ignoring superscripts, a great member of the collective 
H. Epiphenom The science of religion....what's not to like!?!
I. Study Abroad in Venezuela A shout out to a new student blog 
J. Small Things Considered Read this! You will learn something

Bride of the Educating at the High School:College Interface

Having returned from the Great White North (which was beautifully green) and gotten back to my general level of being behind, I thought it was time to fulfill my promise.

First, my goal of discussing the nature of science was an abject failure. Actually it was a failure to launch as opposed to a failure in practice. In large part this is because I didn't have the time to carefully put together this component, since the students are spending ~ 2 hours setting up an experiment and   analyzing the results, I have less than 2 hours to do any additional instruction (factor in the time that I give the students and myself a break about halfway through to enjoy some great snacks put out by the cooks). I also have to make sure I cover the material included on the exam (not that it matters a whole lot in my experience). So there really is limited time to deal with such a broad topic/issue unless its tied well into one of the former aspects of the class. Since I didn't take a great deal of time trying to do this, clearly I was unable to incorporate this discussion.

Second, one thing I did for most of the sessions was write the words "skepticism" and "trust" on the board before the students arrived. Once class began I asked whether each term had positive connotations or negative connotations. In the four or five sessions I did this, only one group thought "skepticism" was a positive term (although my skepticism leads me to consider that they figured out the "right" answer and may have been sucking up). All the others gave me the answer of "skepticism" is a negative thing and "trust" is a positive thing.

Think about that for a couple of minutes....

This actually depresses the shit out of me.

When looking at 60 of the most intelligent and educationally advanced individuals (from their peer group of high school students using some admittedly subjective criteria), almost all of them lack an appreciation for one of the greatest tools in their intellectual toolbox. I have heard many people stress the importance of teaching/training our students to be critical thinkers. If this cohort of students lack an understanding of the importance of skepticism, then what about those students not going on the college?

I see results like this and have a hard time not wallowing in the sense that our society is fucked. Maybe the gloom-and-doom is overstated and things aren't any worse than they were 100 years ago, hell maybe things are much better since we teach much more information in K-12 compared to 100 years ago. But I would argue that the forces arrayed against the individual are much worse now than ever before. Two words: Fox News. Media no longer provides information, media now basically tell us what to think (its the modern version of the church). Media today is like the automobile of the 1950s, it is an integral part of our lives that we have become dependent upon.

How does one survive in the echo-chamber that represents modern media if we are trained to cherish the trusting side of our nature and disparage the skeptical side?

Ultimate Death Match: Fungus vs Worm

As the newest penultimate addition to the FoS collective (should any group of bloggers ever use the term collective?), I thought I should introduce myself to the other bloggers here at FoS.

Hi, I'm Lorax. Nice to meet you.

Clearly, I am joining a great group of scientists and am happy to add my ramblings here. However, I am also a competitive jerk. So when I read this cool post over at Skeptic Wonder, where Psi Wavefunction waxes poetic about Theratromyxa, I felt a rush of testosterone course through my veins. Amoeba, like Theratromyxa, are basically just free living macrophage *yawn*. Theratromyxa crawls to their prey (nematodes, which are microscopic worms), engulfs it, and then proceeds to eat the nematode. On the plus side Theratromyxa has two things going for it: 1. A single celled organism eating a multicellular organism is inherently cool, 2. Theratromyxa belongs to a group called the Vampyrellid, I mean that is awesomely cool.
However, if you want a truly amazing nematode hunter, let me introduce you to Drechslerella (previously called Arthrobotrys), a group of filamentous fungi that do something truly amazing! Drechslerella species grow as hyphae (the long spaghetti looking things) and can make spores (there's a collection of 5 cells that formed spores just North of center in the picture). OK, I'll admit that they are not much to look at. And unlike the amoeba, Drechslerella is non-motile, so it needs its food to come to it. If you are hunting prey that moves, but you do not, then you have a problem. Drechslerella deals with this problem in a way analogous to how we catch mice while we sleep, it traps it.

And this is where Drechslerella completely outcools Theratromyxa. I'll let the picture speak for me.
N. Allin and G.L. Barron
The above nematode has crawled into the fungal trap at two points. Along the hypha, a ring is formed by 3 cells. When a nematode enters the ring, these cells rapidly expand (~1/10th of a second) trapping the worm (see below, left and right top two pics). This effectively traps/crushes the worm, think about the last time you stuck your arm in a blood pressure sphygmomanometer (yes that's what those things are called). At this point, cells germinate, sending invasive hyphae into the worm which eats the worm from the inside (see below, right bottom two pics)
This leads to some pretty interesting biological questions. For example, fungal cells are surrounded by a cell wall, how does this expansion occur so quickly? How is the worm detected, are there touch sensors (yes) and do they act like touch sensors in our cells? Are these "trap" cell structures made all the time or only when worms are around? With organisms like this, what does it mean to be multicellular? a differentiated tissue? etc.

Now I should point out that many nematodes are detrimental to plants and biocontrols are sometimes used, including the use of Arthrobotrys (commercially still using the old name).

To conclude: Drechslerella >> Theratromyxa >> Nematodes

UPDATE: Checkout the noob, who bumped me for newest addition. You can learn all kinds of cool things about how the environment affects physiology!