Archive for: April, 2011

Friday Weird Science: Player Chickens

Apr 29 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science

In the animal kingdom, we often don't tend to think too much about male mate choice, the choice that the males have over the females they mate with. This is mostly because...well we basically think that males will hump anything that looks vaguely like a female. Or even that DOESN'T look vaguely like a female. Case in point:


...maybe it's just turtles?

But it turns out that males may in fact exercise a little more choice than we give them credit for. When the odds of finding a female are low (poor turtles), it's every male for himself, but when there are plenty of females around, the females have very different reproductive capacities, or the males themselves have to give up a lot to mate successfully, choice will happen. Male animals discriminate between females based on things like body size and mass, previous fertility, and of course, ornamentation.

But the amount of choice the male makes can vary a lot depending on things like the social status of the males or environmental context. So the hypothesis is that males (especially males who have the opportunity to mate a LOT) will adjust, not who they mate with, but the quality of their ejaculate. By adjusting the quality of their ejaculate, males could maybe decide where to blow their wad, so to speak (yeah, I went there), and also put the best ejaculate where they need to compete against other males.

But how do we TEST the things which might make a male change the quality of his ejaculate? For this we need a REAL MALE. A titan. A marvel of virility and a masculine inspiration for men everywhere!

(What, you were expecting a tiger or something? Via Wikpedia)

Cornwallis and Birkhead. "Changes in Sperm Quality and Numbers in Response to Experimental Manipulation of Male Social Status and Female Attractiveness." The American Naturalist, 2007.
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13 responses so far

Experimental Biology Blogging: Ask both what your Society does for you, and what you do for your Society

So this will hopefully be one of the last of Sci's Experimental Biology Blogging posts. It's been a great experience, but OH MAN has it been tiring. But this will be the last, I think.

Sci got into blogging Experimental Biology through the interest and very kind advocacy of the communications officer of the American Physiological Society, Donna Krupa. Not only was she wonderful about getting me all the information I needed and getting me in touch with some really cool people (WOO!!! SCIENCE!!!), she also gave me access to the press room, which is a lovely little haven of glory, power outlets, and wireless. I only discovered it toward the end, but I definitely hammered out more than one of the Experimental Biology posts there.

And while I was in there powering up my laptop(s) (yup), and blogging away, I got to meet several of the people from the various societies represented at Experimental Biology: the American Society of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET), the American Association of Anatomists (AAA), the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), the American Physiological Society (APS), the American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP), and the American Society for Nutrition (ASN).

And when I met them, I realized...I had no idea what they DID. I mean, organize the meeting, sure...but, what else?! I don't know about other grad students/post-docs/hey, maybe you're TT by now, but societies have always been just...things. You know. Those THINGS you should be in because everyone tells you that you should, and it looks good on your CV and funding people like it and then of course you get discounts for meetings. You know, just BECAUSE.

But it's really far more than that. I dug around a little, and then got a chance to sit around and shoot the breeze with two lovely members of ASBMB, Ben Corb (director of public affairs), and Angela Hopp (communicator for ASBMB and managing editor for special projects at the Journal of Biological Chemistry). (For the record, you can follow them both on Twitter, Ben at @bwcorb and Angela at @angelahopp.) We had a great conversation about what it is that they do and, more importantly, what scientists can, and should, be doing through their societies, and I've got some of my impressions below the fold.

But first off, what do these societies DO?

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2 responses so far

Guest Post at Science of Blogging: On Blogging Conferences

Apr 26 2011 Published by under Experimental Biology Blogging 2011

Sci is guest posting over at Science of Blogging today, where I will be talking about my recent blogging of the Experimental Biology 2011 Conference and offer my perspective (and some tips, though you by no means need to take them) on blogging a conference as a scientist. If you're interested in blogging a conference at some point, and want to see how Sci does her magic (cause I'm so magical, you guys, like Peeps are magical), go check it out!! 🙂

One response so far

Magazines, Media, and Teen Body Image

Apr 25 2011 Published by under Neuroscience, Uncategorized

There's no question that the opinions of society play a very large role in how we perceive ourselves, particularly in terms of physical attractiveness. For example, in our society (Western/USian), women are judged heavily on their body weight. Men get flak for not being muscular enough (though not half as much as women). We all get a lot of pressure to conform to a certain body type. And we get it through many different types of media: TV, the internet, books, radio, magazines. But how much of a role does each type of media really play? Are there some types of, say, magazines, that are worse than others?

We've got a study for that.

Renee Botta. "For Your Health? The Relationship Between Magazine Reading and Adolescents’ Body Image and Eating Disturbances" Sex Roles, 2003.

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14 responses so far

On Experimental Karma

Apr 23 2011 Published by under Synaptic Misfires

Scientists are skeptics. At least, most of us are. But we’re also, for better or worse, only human. And this means that we are…superstitious. At least, I am.

Perhaps Sci is moreso than most. After all, Sci was raised something of a theater brat, and there is no group on earth more superstitious than a good troupe of actors. They all had their lucky items. Lucky pens for marking a script. Lucky jeans for the backstage people. Lucky socks for the actors. Lucky underwear (hey, when your costume is not your own, it comes down to the lucky underwear). Many actors (and singers, and musicians) have rituals they pursue on the evening of a performance with fanatical precision. Many will eat or drink only specific items the night of a performance. Some prepare for the stage in a specific order. Heck some BATHE (or not) in a specific order. When they are about to go on, some actors will say their favorite monologue over again a certain numbers of times. Some go through stretches. Some say nonsense words. Yup, backstage at a performance can get REALLY weird.

Sci had her own set of rituals when she was performing (they did not involve socks or underwear, but did involve certain kinds of tea). And I’ve noticed. I have rituals now. Little science rituals. The ones that you KNOW will make the experiment work. Maybe it involves just practicing your telepathy (“please please PLEASE work this time!!! PLEASE!!!!”), or maybe it involves specific pipette rituals (I definitely know people with lucky pipettes). I’ve seen scientists with little shrines of lucky items on top of their highly expensive equipment. I’ve seen others place their coffee in the exact “lucky place” on the podium before giving a talk. My favorite was the guy who thought his electrophysiology results on one day were determined by his poker score the previous night. Bad poker night? Why try?

And hey, you KNOW the little ritual doesn’t mean anything. Listening to that special song while you prep may do nothing but help your mood. But I’d like to think my little rituals help me out. Maybe they make me slow down, be a little more careful, or maybe they just put a smile on my face. When I give a talk, having a special piece of jewelery makes me feel more competent. I’ll take all the help I can get.

My current ritual is of the smiling kind. When I’m wrapping up my samples to take them across campus to the Core Facility, I write little notes to myself. At first, the note was simple “NO FAIL”. “FAIL NOT ALLOWED”. Then I got desperate “PLEASE FSM NO F**KING FAIL”. And then I invoked the power of higher beings “AND

Do they work? Meh. Probably I’m just getting better at the current technique. But am I going to stop? HECK NO. That ritual might be saving my cells!!

So I want to know. Do I just work with weird people? What little rituals do you have? Do you have special lucky items? We might be some hardcore critical thinkers, but it takes more than that to get the superstition out of the human.

12 responses so far

Friday Weird Science: Masturbation and Restless Leg Syndrome

Apr 22 2011 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

You know, I tried SO hard to come up with a good rhyme..."When your legs give a yank, turn to your spank bank?" "Are your legs restless? Masturbate to redress!" "If your legs still shake, yank or your trouser snake?"

I got nothin'. Rhyming has failed me here. But the weird science, it NEVER fails me!

Ah, masturbation. Many people talk about various things being a miracle cure or a miracle drug (like, I dunno, things like olive oil, people were all excited about resveratrol in red wine for a while, you know…). But nothing seems to titillate as a miracle cure quite like orgasm. It reduces stress, increases feelings of wellbeing, sometimes cures headaches (though it sometimes causes them), and might even help your nasal congestion. And now? Restless leg syndrome!

Marin et al. "Sexual intercourse and masturbation: Potential relief factors for restless legs syndrome?" Sleep Medicine Letter to the Editor, 2011

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22 responses so far

Scicurious GUEST POST: An Optic Cup in a DISH

Apr 20 2011 Published by under Natural Sciences, Physiology/Pharmacology

Today, Sci would like to welcome back to the blog Ambivalent Academic!!! Everyone give her a big hand. 🙂 We were chatting recently about a cool new paper that came out in Nature on corneal formation in a dish, and she said she'd give it a go on my blog!!! So please welcome Ambivalent Academic and her highly awesome post on corneal a DISH.

Eiraku et al. "Self-organizing optic-cup morphogenesis in three-dimensional culture." Nature. 2011

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16 responses so far

A big hello and welcome to the NCCU Eagles RISE blog!!

Apr 19 2011 Published by under Academia

Head over and welcome the latest blog to Scientopia, the Research Initiative for Science Enhancement (RISE) blog from North Carolina Central University! We are so proud to be able to interact with aspiring young scientists via their new blog, and to be able to give them a place to put their bloggy home. The blog will showcase their new learning initiatives and hearing more about the NCCU RISE students! Go on over and say hello!!

One response so far

Experimental Biology Blogging: Getting Scientists to Speak Up in the Animal Research Debate

Sci has, of course, returned from #EB2011 (that's Experimental Biology 2011 for those not on Twitter).  She is still in the later stages of recovery.  I don't know about you guys, but conferences always end up with me being ill from something or other. Be that as it may, Experimental Biology Blogging CONTINUES. Though I've covered all of the straight up science, now I'll be going through some of the other sessions I went to, sessions on outreach and funding, from the NIH director Francis Collins to sessions on grad students and outreach.

So far, the sessions I went to can be summed up easily in one sentence: SCIENTISTS NEED TO SPEAK UP. But for many scientists, it's not quite that simple.

The first session I went to was a session on Saturday afternoon called "Science, Scientist, Advocate: Making the Case for Increased Funding for Biomedical Research" sponsored by the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. The panel featured several speakers talking about aspects of federal research funding, and what we need to do to increase it (the answer: speak up). But what caught my attention was two of the speakers speaking on animal research, namely the sessions "Legislative issues and advocacy: use of animals in biomedical research" by M. R. Bailey of the National Association for Biomedical Research and "Advocating for animal research – what's a grad student to do?" by E. J. Burnett, one of the current Hayre Fellows for Public Outreach with Americans for Medical Progress. I found both of these sessions to be incredibly informative (the first kind of the depressing, the second uplifting), and had the luck to be able to sit down with the Hayre Fellow and the Vice President for Americans for Medical Progress, Kristen Bocanegra, where we talked a little more about the situation with Animal Research Activism, and what scientists can do to promote their work and the ethical use of animals in research.

The following is a summary of our conversation (being a not real reporter, I has no tape recorder), and some of my thoughts. So I guess it's kind of an editorial? Anyway.

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15 responses so far

To Blog, or Not to Blog, That is the Question

Apr 15 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

To blog, or not to blog: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous commenters,
Or to take arms against a sea of trolls,
And by opposing end them? To blog: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That the web is heir to, 'tis a comment thread
Devoutly to be wish'd. To sleep, to think;
To think: perchance to blog: ay, there's the rub;
For in that post of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this moderated coil,
Must give us pause.

To sleep. Sci's BACK from Experimental Biology, where I think it's fair to say I blew my blogging wad.  I'm off to nurse a conference hangover, and I'll see you on Monday.  To sleep, perchance to BLOG.

4 responses so far

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