Toucan Play That Game

A blog about life...literally

Walking on Water IS Possible

Water Strider, Rush River, Wisconsin
A Water Strider utilizes the high surface tension of water to stay afloat.
Image from Wikimedia Commons

There are over 1,200 animal species that are able to walk on water, ranging from small insects to large reptiles and birds. These water-walkers have been divided into two groups: slappers and gliders. Through the course of evolution, individual species have developed varying techniques to walk on water, which allows each of their unique anatomical makeups to execute the same talent.

To begin, walking on water is possible because of surface tension. Surface tension is the property of a liquid that allows it to withstand an external force due to cohesive forces between its molecules. Water has strong cohesive properties because water molecules are polar, and therefore attracted to each other. This polarity comes from hydrogen bonding between the oxygen and hydrogen atoms in a water molecule. Because oxygen is a larger atom than hydrogen, it has a stronger electron affinity and therefore draws the hydrogen’s electrons closer to itself. This results in weak hydrogen bonds where the oxygen has a slightly negative charge and the hydrogens have slight positive charges. Water molecules make thousands of hydrogen bonds between each other, giving water molecules strong cohesive forces. Although, because water molecules on the surface of water only have bonds with their neighboring molecules and not the air above them, those neighboring bonds are especially strong and create water’s high surface tension.

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Written by Courtney K.| Tagged | Leave a Comment

The Future of Antivenom

Snakes are scary. They move quickly, they don’t have limbs, and oh yeah they have fangs. Each year, there are over 2 million snake bites that are life threatening. That sounds terrifying, but most people in the world do not have a reason to fear snake bites. The two main places that are affected by deadly snake bites are India and southern Africa. These areas have the king of snakes, cobras (found in India) and black mambas (found in southern Africa). Part of the reason that snake bites are deadly in these areas is because they have many rural communities where hospitals are hours away. Even if there was a hospital nearby, antivenoms are expensive, hard to distribute as they need to be refrigerated, and are difficult to administer. For extremely venomous snakes, antivenom won’t work until the tenth time it’s administered. Luckily, many doctors and scientists are fed up with this problem. They’re trying to find multiple ways to make antivenom cheaper, attainable, and effective.

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Written by Hannah D.| Tagged | Leave a Comment

Must-Have Love on The Brain

Cynics and scientists alike can tell you that the experience of romantic love, as it occurs in your mind and body, is not a sudden alignment of personalities, running through an airport, or a plan written out in the stars. Love is, in part, chemistry—the periodic table kind. There are three phases, all with their unique cocktail of hormones and evolutionary reasons. Hormonal proteins, as we learned in chapter five, regulate the functions of the human body. And some hormones are more versatile than you may think. Oxytocin, the hormone associated with attachment and bonding could aid your love life, but a team of researchers in Japan have shown it may improve your chances against cognitive deterioration as well.

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Written by Cass B.| Tagged | Leave a Comment

Indirect Killers of Coral

Bleached colony of Acropora coral
Photo of bleached coral
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Coral reefs around the world are great international attractions. Tourists can scuba dive and see the great biodiversity that these reefs house up close. But as many of you may know, these environments are in danger. The major causes for these dangers are created by humans, including overfishing, pollution, and global warming. If humans want to continue their way of life, these marine habitats must be preserved and protected.

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Written by Phillip Z.| Tagged | Leave a Comment

Classes Collide

With only a couple weeks into school, two of my classes are already intersecting heavily with each other: AP Biology and AP Psychology. There are seven modern approaches to psychology that allow psychologists to examine different ways that the behavior and mental processes of humans develop and are influenced. Two of those seven connect closely to AP Biology: the biological approach and the evolutionary approach. Looking specifically at the evolutionary approach, it is fascinating to see the way that biology meets psychology in the development of emotions such as aggression.

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Californian Fires Affecting Natural Selection More Than Ever Before

The recent wildfires in California have now been flaming for over three weeks. They have ruined 135,974 acres of land thus far and are only at 15 percent containment across the lengthy state. Mountains usually seen from miles and miles away are now only barely seen up close. The Californian fires, increasing in numbers and extent every year due to climate change, are a prevalent subject because they affect species’ lives as they have to evacuate or hide.

Being the worst fire season ever recorded in California, the Bobcat Fire has had the perfect storm. This is caused first by the steep terrain. Fire burns faster as it climbs uphill. This is because the vegetation (such as trees, grass, sticks, bushes, etc.), also known as fuel in this situation, is reached more easily than if the fire was on a level plain. The fuel on a hill is preheated as the radiant heat from the fire burns and extends upwards. The increasing speed of the fire burning up a mountain allows the flames to become more intense and thus hotter. This works in an exponential way as the fire moves quicker and quicker up the mountains of California.

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Mammal Monday – “That’s One Fat Squirrel!”

Beaver lake
American Beaver (Castor canadensis)
Image from Wikimedia Commons

My daughter and I were tagging monarch butterflies one Fall when she spotted what she thought was a squirrel. As we moved in for a closer look, we realized we were actually looking at a very different animal. As I reached for my phone to snap a quick picture, we heard a loud “plop” and realized that a beaver had just slipped back into the creek. Oh well, the picture above is a much better one that I would have been able to obtain with my phone.

Written by Mr. Mohn| Tagged | Leave a Comment

Printable Parts – Customizable 3D Printed Organs

Image from Unsplash

Statistically speaking, one person dies every 30 minutes because they did not have a viable organ donor. 3D printed organs are a new advancement in human biology that can make organ donation obsolete.

The use of 3D printers in the medical field is not new, in 2014 a group of doctors in Holland used a plastic 3D printed skull and performed a successful transplant. However, printing living organs is slightly harder. The kidney for example is an organ that commonly needs replacing. The kidney’s job is to filter the body of waist and toxic substances, they also return vitamins, hormones, amino acids, and other vital substances into the bloodstream. As helpful and vital as kidneys are they are also the number one transplant organ in the United States. Because of failing kidneys, 600,000 people are on dialysis each year and 100,000 people are on the waiting list for a kidney transplant, however only 16,000 transplants get done each year. So why is this life saving surgery only done for 15% of the people who need it?

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Written by Regan P.| Tagged | Leave a Comment

GMOs? Good? Bad?

Many people go about their day to day lives consuming all sorts of different plant products, ranging from buying whole produce such as apples and onions, to the salmon people buy on a daily basis. Surprisingly, many of these products have been genetically modified in many ways to allow for mass consumption. Today I will be talking about what GMOs are, how plants and animals are genetically modified, and the positive and negative effects it has on people’s lives.

Topic 1. GMOs in general(like what they are, how they function

So, what are GMOs anyway? According to the official FDA website, “The FDA regulates human and animal foods derived from plants including those that have been developed using genetic engineering or genome editing techniques, commonly referred to as “GMOs”. To put it simply, any produce or organism that is either eaten directly or fed to organisms that have had its genes changed are considered to be GMOs. According to the FDAs official list of GMOs, some examples of genetically modified produce include: apples, canola(used in canola oil), and potatoes. Not only that, but some animals that are also genetically modified are: goats, sheep, pigs, and salmon.

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Written by Max X.| Tagged | Leave a Comment

Recent Developments in dCas9-XTEN-APOBEC1 Based Single Base Editors May Open the Door for Correction of Diseases Caused by Point Mutation and Greater Developments in Genome Modification

Sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis are both abnormalities caused by a single incorrect nitrogenous base within the DNA of human beings. Through this seemingly minor error within this chain of nucleotides, an entire disorder is born. Such is the nature of genetics: the information stored within our genetic code is essential to the function of our bodies and the consequences of a single base error can be life changing. A portion of the human population is forced to deal with a number of abnormalities due to the change of a single base within their DNA. Additionally, despite the deadly conditions these genetic disorders can potentially cause, technology regarding genetic manipulation in order to fix these errors has seemed nearly impossible for most of medical history. However within recent years, breakthroughs in technology regarding the CRISPR-Cas systems and the manipulation of nucleic acids have been setting a path towards eventually curing and preventing these genetic disorders, which previously were incurable and unpreventable. With current research, the use of single base editing through the use of CRISPR-Cas and APOBEC3 proteins has clearly proven to be much more reliable than methods used previously. This post will both summarize the origins of CRISPR-Cas as a technology as well as the mechanisms behind the specificity and deamination process of the APOBEC3 proteins/nucleic editing proteins which allow for the change of a single cytosine base to a uracil base. Additionally, after describing the prerequisite topics, we will cover the recent use of a nucleic editing protein in conjunction with a modified Cas9 in order to facilitate a single base editing method that doesn’t use dsDNA (double stranded DNA) cleavage.

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Written by Daniel M.| Tagged | Leave a Comment

Winged Wednesday – Hawkeye

Did you know?

The shriek of the red-tailed hawk is often heard in movies, TV shows, and commercials whenever the sound effect artist wants to convey the idea that someone is lost in nature.

You’ll recognize the sound once you hear it:

Written by Mr. Mohn| Tagged | Leave a Comment

Biosignature Gas Discovered on Venus

Picture this: a Soviet spacecraft named Venera 13 lands on a planet and succeeds in capturing a few images of the surface before it disintegrates. It sure sounds hospitable, right? Twenty years earlier, the first ever mission to a planet visited Venus. The clouds seemed a shroud over a potential promised land of life, the “sister” planet to Earth. As time progressed, researchers’ optimism dwindled, allowing it to become overlooked. Now, with the discovery of phosphine in the atmosphere, new mission proposals have rapidly increased.

Venus was named after the Roman goddess of beauty, yet the surface appears more hellish with volcanic plains. Temperatures reach over 800 degrees fahrenheit while atmospheric pressure exceeds 100 pounds per square inch, 90 times more than Earth’s at sea level. A sulfuric acid haze envelops Venus, posing a major obstacle to exploration due to metal corrosion. Currently, a solitary probe, Japan’s Akatsuki, orbits the overlooked planet.

One researcher who first detected the phosphine reported surprise and even initially thought it was an error. They switched from the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii to the more powerful Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array Telescope in Chile, which corroborated the results. The process for this type of identification consists of looking for a dip in the light spectrum at 1.12 millimeters, the wavelength at which the molecule absorbs light.

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Written by Ryan M.| Tagged | Leave a Comment

Slowing the Decline of Bee Populations

With the end of winter comes the arrival of spring, marked by warmer weather and budding plants, both of which foster the emergence of bees. However, bee populations are on the decline. Rising temperatures have created environments that are simply too hot for bees to survive while habitat destruction, invasive species, and the widespread use of toxic pesticides also threaten bees. Many types of bees are now endangered, making the extinction of bees a very real possibility. The severity of the situation has many scientists working to slow the decline of bee populations and create environments more conducive to bee survival.

Recently, a team of researchers from the University of Göttingen, the Julius Kühn Institute, and the Thuenen Institute in Braunschweig found that bumblebees benefit from the planting of faba bean crops while other bee species thrive in semi-natural habitats. The team conducted their study in multiple German farming areas. Half of the landscapes contained cultivated faba beans while the other half did not contain any faba bean crops. Typically, only bumblebees and other large bees, having long tongues, are able to access the nectar of faba beans, but the researchers wanted to explore whether or not smaller types of wild bees would benefit from access to faba bean plants. By the end of the study, there were nearly two times as many bumblebees in the areas with faba beans than in the areas without them, although the faba beans did not impact the other bee species. Instead, the other wild bees prospered in semi-natural habitats.

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Written by Abby H.| Tagged | Leave a Comment