Toucan Play That Game

A blog about life...literally

Three Essential Terms for Understanding Evolution

Evolution is a broad topic; therefore, it is hard to decide on just three terms that are necessary for understanding the process of organisms development. These are the three that I believe are most essential in order to be able to interpret and apply evolution to different scenarios.

Sexual Selection with Peafowl

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Feeling Sad Because of SAD

Have you noticed yourself feeling very sad and lonely lately? Maybe you have felt anxious or moody? Or maybe you have just felt very fatigued and depressed? If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms they could be suffering from seasonal affective disorder, SAD.

Seasonal affective disorder is a real thing and there are more than three million cases per year. It is a self-treatable mood disorder that occurs at the same time every year. SAD usually starts in the fall and continues into the winter months. This mood disorder is known to predominantly affect people ages 14-60+. It is diagnosed more often in women than in men and occurs more frequently in younger adults than older adults.

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DNA Is So Retro

In the mid-2000s, scientist David Markovitz studied the blood of people infected with HIV (human immunodeficiency viruses) that weakens the immune system. HIV essentially allows the organism infected to become more susceptible to various pathogens. Though it was not surprising to find viruses in the blood, it was shocking to find that some of the viruses had come from the patients’ own DNA.

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Humans vs. Primates: Ready, Set, Go

In biology class recently, we have began discussing the mysteries and intricacies of evolution. However, in order to fully understand human evolution, we must understand why we are different than the other nonhuman primates around us. What in our brain allows us to behave, think, and act the way we do that distinguishes us? Luckily, researchers from the Salk Institute in California and the anthropology department at UC San Diego have found compelling evidence as to why we are more “human” than our other genetically similar primates.

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Mammal Monday – Walking Whale

Ambulocetus SIZE
Walking Whale (Ambulocetus natans)
Images from Wikimedia Commons

Ambulocetus is one of the hypothetical terrestrial ancestors of modern whales. Below is a video that gives a clear picture of what life was like when Ambulocetus walked the earth:

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The Price of Cuteness

In this increasingly human-dominated world, the traits that people favor are often even more important to a species’ survival than the traits needed in nature. Modern dogs have come a long way from their adept wolf ancestors, and humans have played an essential role in this evolutionary process.

Natural selection is how species adapt to their environment. There is a degree of genetic variability in each population, and certain traits can give organisms an advantage in the wild. These individuals are then able to survive and reproduce more often, thus passing on their genes to their offspring and increasing the proportion of the advantageous traits in the population over time. Gradually, a species take on traits that suit them to their particular environment.

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It’s in the Genes

Alzheimer’s Disease is a chronic neurodegenerative disease that causes problems in memory, thinking, and behavior. In most cases, symptoms usually develop slowly and worsen over time, ultimately causing interference with daily tasks. As of today, Alzheimer’s has no cure, but treatments for symptoms are available as research moves forward.

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KSU Lectures in Veterinary Medicine


K-State Olathe hosts lectures in Veterinary Medicine every other Wednesday at their campus. Students who are interested in animals or medicine would enjoy learning more about the broad variety of topics. The focus is on “Careers and Cases” of each topic. The lectures are intended to be engaging and informative, yet not over the students’ heads.

To make it convenient for Blue Valley students, CAPS is a remote hosting site. If you are interested, the lectures begin promptly at 3:30 in the CAPS Room 333 and last for exactly 1 hour. Students can participate in the lecture, just as they would if they were in the audience at the K-State Olathe Innovation campus. You will even have the opportunity to ask the speaker questions at the conclusion of the presentation.

The topics are fantastic! More information can be found on this website.

If you attend one of these lectures, take notes and have them signed by the facilitator. Your signed notes will count for 50 points extra credit in the “Class Work” category. This represents another option for those who cannot attend the Saturday STEM Seminars.

For the lectures being hosted remotely at CAPS, students do not need to let anyone know they are coming – just show up! If you plan to attend the lectures at the KSU-OLATHE campus, you must register before you attend.

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Saturday STEM Seminars

Image from Science Pioneers

Each year, a Kansas City-based organization called Science Pioneers holds a series of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) seminars for high school students. You have four opportunities this semester to attend one of these seminars and expand your biological knowledge. Best of all, you can earn extra credit for your attendance!

Who: Students, grades 7-12, their parents and teachers, and the public

What: Career scientists, engineers and technologists present these seminars on hot topics in science. Presenters hold a Q&A session after each seminar. These seminars are free and no registration is required.


02/23/19 3D Printing is Architecture and Engineering
3D printing is an exciting, cutting-edge technology used in fields as diverse as architecture, medicine, art and consumer product design. It all starts with a digital picture created using modeling software or photogrammerty, and ends with a physical product made of anything from concrete to plastic to gold to biomedical material! Look at interesting applications of 3D printing and discuss how to get started using it!

Speaker: Lydia Sloan Cline, Author & Drafting Professor, Johnson County Community College
03/02/19 Super Bugs: The Emerging Threat of Antibiotic Resistance and the Future of Treating Infections
Everyone has probably had strep throat at some point in their lives, but what if our strongest antibiotic didn’t help at all? Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest issues facing the medical field right now, and developing new therapies to fight these infections is paramount to the survival of our species. Hear about the exciting possibility of using a virus to treat resistant infections and how tihs idea has already been working in Europe for decades.
Speaker: Justin Mehojah, Microbiologist, Great Plains Analytical Laboratory
04/13/19 The Engineering Principles Key to Designing a Water Park
Before anyone can enjoy the “thrills and spills” of a water park, detailed calculations, planning and evaluations are required. Learn about the many scientific and engineering principles that are required to successfully design and safely construct these exciting recreational amenities.
Speaker: Kyle McCawley, PE Senior Project Manager, Larkin Aquatics
04/20/19 Adventures in Engineering
Aerospace engineers are all around us, sometimes working in areas we maybe don’t expect them. We will discuss the various fields of work an aerospace engineer coudl pursue, as well one engineer’s work that took her all the way to the South Pole.
Speaker: Emily Arnold, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Aerospace Engineering, University of Kansas

When: Saturdays, September 2018 to April 2019, 9:00 am – 10:00 am

Where: Union Station Extreme Screen

Why: Students will…

  • Learn about real KC science firsthand from those involved
  • Hear what scientists do on the job
  • Receive actual career education
  • Supplement/compliment the AP Biology curriculum
  • Visit with scientists afterwards
  • Earn 50 extra credit points for AP Biology! (Once per semester.)

Just make sure to take detailed notes during the seminar and get them stamped before you leave. When you turn in your notes, you’ll earn 50 extra credit points in the Class Work category of your grade. It’s as simple as that.

Who knows? You might just learn something.

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Cancer-Fighting Cancer Cells?

Since the discovery of DNA as genetic material, scientists have taken aim at developing and using different DNA tools to manipulate genes of organism for several beneficial and practical purposes. We’ve learned about the different mechanisms that play into this manipulation for the purpose of research such as the use of plasmids for cloning purposes and the polymerase chain reaction to make multiple copies of certain segments of DNA that can be easily observed and experimented on.

Genome editing consists of a collection of technology that aids in DNA manipulation as well. CRISPR-Cas9 is an approach to genome editing that has been recently developed and experimented with in many ways, the most popular being regarding the case in Hong Kong where a researcher used CRISPR-Cas9 to delete a region of a receptor on white blood cells making harder for HIV to develop in two embryos. Although this researcher received backlash for the alteration he made, one can’t help but to think what else could altering certain genes do for humanity and other seemingly incurable sicknesses?

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DNA Solves Crimes

You see it on television shows all the time. Someone commits a crime, such as murder or kidnapping, and the police use their DNA to solve the case. Except, this isn’t always the case. Most times, the police hit a wall in an investigation because their databases don’t contain the DNA of every person. For this reason, many cases have been closed and continue to remain unsolved. Actually, DNA was not a very popular option until after 9/11. Before then, police and FBI investigators used fingerprinting in order to solve crimes. DNA has played a vital role in criminal investigations because not matter where someone goes, they leave a trace of themselves. A single strand of hair, a drop of blood, or even a speck of a dead skin cell can identify you. How does this work? How does hair, blood, and skin trace back to a single person? The answers are found in DNA.

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Using Protein Regulation and Enhancement to Treat Diseases

From infections to brain trauma, to strokes, brain diseases claim the lives of people all across the world due to their often unnoticed side effects with sudden lethality combined with the limited, difficult, and costly treatment options. Strokes alone kill over 140,000 people in America every year, which translates to being 5% of all deaths in America. Brain diseases are also more likely to have a long term effect on a person’s health than any other disease, from reduced mobility from nerve damage to even a disability to remember what happened the day before in the form of Alzheimer disease. These diseases have also been the hardest to combat due to the region in which they resign; even a single mistake while operating on the brain could be fatal and seeing as the brain is extremely sensitive to most treatments, this leaves patients in a rather hopeless situation. But recently scientists have been taking a new angle at fighting brain diseases. At Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, Tom Lloyd and his team of neurologists have actually been using drugs to target “protein jams” that ultimately lead to the death of neurons in the affected areas.

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