Monday, April 30, 2007

Just can't escape those darn Extremophiles

Those pesky, tough-as-nails microbes known as extremophiles have their own interactive website now. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has recently launched an information-filled, multimedia site dedicated to these amazing lifeforms. The site covers some of the standard extreme living conditions (extreme cold, extreme heat, extreme acidity, etc), but also touches upon some critters I had no idea existed - the "radiation eaters". Apparently there are some relatively newly-discovered bacteria that get there energy from the byproducts of the radioactive decay of uranium and other radioactive elements. Yup, their metabolism requires radioactive materials. Doc Brown would be so excited. They're found 2 miles or so below ground, far, far from the "life-giving" rays of the sun, much like their deep-sea hydrothermal vent brethren.

For more about the "radiation-eaters" and other extremophiles, check out the NSF's site:

X-treme Microbes

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A humongous fungus among us

In the 1850s, a very large and very weird fossil was discovered in Quebec. It was named Prototaxites because it was thought to be a type of conifer (proto means 'first'; taxites from the latin taxus meaning 'yew', a type of conifer). This organism lived between 420 and 350 million years ago and has subsequently been found worldwide. At that time, land plants had been around for about 40 million years, but none stood more than a few feet high, yet here was a 20-foot monstrosity that simply dwarfed everything around it. Over the past 150+ years since its discovery, scientists have been arguing about what exactly is Protaxites. Based on more detailed observations of the organism's anatomy, the idea that it was a tree has long been abandoned. But if it wasn't a plant what was it? An exceptional large algae? An enormous lichen? How about a humongous fungus?

New research seems to have confirmed that yes, Prototaxites, was indeed a humongous fungus. By examining the carbon isotopes in the fossils and comparing them to other organisms that lived in the same area at the same time, scientists have found that chemical signature of Prototaxites most closely resembles that of fungi.

Read more:
Prehistoric mystery organism confirmed as giant fungus

Friday, April 06, 2007

Order of the Science Scouts

I may not technically be a scientist anymore, but I am a member of the Order of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique and these are the badges I've earned.

The "I've set fire to stuff" badge (LEVEL I)
In which the recipient has set fire to stuff*, all in the name of general scientific curiosity.

Can you really be a scientist without having this one?
*paper, wood, leaves, plastics, food, hair, Pledge®, ants, my brother's Luke Skywalker X-wing Pilot figure

The "works with acids" badge.
In which the recipient has worked with acids.

Well, I have.

The "I may look like a scientist, but I'm actually also a pirate" badge.
Drinks rum. Into pillaging and stuff. Soft spot for evolutionary biology.

Yup. Sure. Absolutely. I mean..Arrrrr.

The "I've done science with no concievable practical application" badge.
There are probably more who are deserving of this badge than you would expect.

Let me count the ways (one, two, three, four...)

The "I know what a tadpole is" badge.
In which the recipient knows what a tadpole is.

And what Phylum, Class, and Order it's in.

The "experienced with electrical shock" badge (LEVEL III)
In which the recipient has had experience with the electrical shocking of himself/herself.

I was 6 (7? 10? 16?). Mr. Key meet Mr. Wall Socket. Mr. Jim meet Mr. Floor.

The "statistical linear regression" badge.
We figured that if you actually know what those three words together mean, then you deserve a badge. Statistics rock!

Bonus points for having attended the "Summer Institute for Statistical Genetics"!

The "I blog about science" badge.
In which the recipient maintains a blog where at least a quarter of the material is about science. Suffice to say, this does not include scientology.

Self-obvious, don't you think?

The "has frozen stuff just to see what happens" badge (LEVEL I)
In which the recipient has frozen something in the freezer for the sake of scientific curiosity.

Mainly insects. A few spiders.

The "has frozen stuff just to see what happens" badge (LEVEL II)
In which the recipient has frozen something in dry ice for the sake of scientific curiosity.

Again, mainly insects. A few spiders.

The "has frozen stuff just to see what happens" badge (LEVEL III)
In which the recipient has frozen something in liquid nitrogen for the sake of scientific curiosity.

Really, the list is too long. Certainly insects though. Amazingly, no spiders.

The "inordinately fond of invertebrate" badge.
In which the recipient professes an arguably unhealthy affinity for things of this category.

I bought a copy of Brusca & Brusca, "just because". First edition, of course.

The "talking science" badge.
Required for all members. Assumes the recipient conducts himself/herself in such a manner as to talk science whenever he/she gets the chance. Not easily fazed by looks of disinterest from friends or the act of "zoning out" by well intentioned loved ones.

Most of my friends don't even bother to try to listen anymore.

I'll probably have to update this as time goes on and as I earn more badges or as more badges are created.

Monday, April 02, 2007