Toucan Play That Game

A blog about life...literally

Winged Wednesday – A New Tuxedo for Penguins

Everyone is familiar with the typical penguins with their black feathers with predominantly black beaks; however, recently, a penguin has been spotted with whitish-yellow feathers with a white beak. In 2019, Photographer Yves Adams went on a two-month expedition to the islands of South Georgia in order to take photos of wildlife. While he saw 120,000 king penguins in this island, one stood out prominently with its yellow feathers.

Image from Yves Adams (Used by permission)

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Pigs Save Lives! Solving the Human Organ Transplant Crisis with Gene-Edited Pigs

Over 107,000 adults and children are on the national transplant waiting list as of February 2021 according to the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), and tragically, around 17 people die each day waiting for a transplant. The demand for organ transplants has increased rapidly over the past decade. And while there has been much greater success in these operations than in the past, there are more people on the waiting list than there are organs that are available to be transplanted, thus resulting in a major organ shortage crisis. Currently, doctors rely primarily on human parts for transplants, especially with regards to life-or-death organs such as the heart or liver. However, new research is leading us closer to being able to solve the transplant crisis through gene-edited pigs.

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Scaled, Armored or Naked: How Does the Skin of Fish Evolve?

The first vertebrates on the planet were most likely fish, appearing on earth million and millions of years ago. Over this vast period of time all the way to represent day they have changed drastically, whether that be externally or internally. If you have ever gone fishing or held a fish in your hands you know that they have a unique skin texture. Recently attention has been brought up about the 3 main different skin textures seen in fish and how they have evolved and changed over time through the gradual family tree of fish.

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Human Impact on Biodiversity

Extinction has occured since life first evolved, but the high rate at which it is occurring now is causing great concern. Human activities have created a biological diversity crisis on Earth. There are three levels of biodiversity including genetic, species, and ecosystem diversity. Genetic diversity consists of individual genetic variation in a population and between populations that is related to adaptations to local conditions. Species diversity is what most people focus on when discussing the biodiversity crisis. Species diversity is the variety of species in an ecosystem that decreases from extinction. It is important to note that extinction ranges from local to global. Global extinction means that the specific species has been lost from every ecosystem it had lived in. Furthermore, ecosystem diversity is the variety of the biosphere’s ecosystems. As interactions happen between populations of different species in an ecosystem, the local extinction of one species can negatively impact another species in the ecosystem.

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Is There Life on Maaaaars?

The lack of life on Mars has remained a huge obstacle in the hopes for astronaut missions on Mars, but scientists have cultivated cyanobacteria that may change the way we look at potential life on the Red Planet. On February 16th, Researchers in Germany published a journal article describing the development of a new bioreactor capable of growing Anabaena cyanobacteria using only water, gases and nutrients available on Mars. Cyanobacteria is a microorganism that is related to bacteria and is capable of photosynthesis; they also are among the earlier life forms on Earth. This means that potentially astronauts would be able to use organisms that feed off of this bacteria and would be able to cultivate it with the naturally occurring resources on Mars. This would free up space on the spacecraft and also minimize cost and preparation time. However, the Martian atmosphere poses a major obstacle because it is extremely different from life on earth and this means the cyanobacteria must be tested for durability. Atmospheric pressure on Mars is less than 1% of Earth’s, this means that it is too low for liquid water to exist. Also the partial pressure of nitrogen gas—0.2 to 0.3 hPa—is too low for fixation. Due to this, the gears have shifted to trying not to recreate an earth-like, but martian atmosphere for the research towards supporting life on Mars. Cyanobacteria marks itself as an ideal candidate because of its ability for photosynthesis. Some cyanobacteria can even create nutrients from atmospheric nitrogen, a process called nitrogen fixation (when bacteria convert free nitrogen to ammonia). This would be extremely useful in ensuring a stable environment for the bacteria.

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Frog Friday – Silence Is Golden

Sadly, this amazing creature is thought to be extinct. It has not been seen since 1989.

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Trust Your Gut

The human gut contains a microbiome full of diverse bacteria that are essential to the digestive process. While it is not surprising that the gut and brain send signals back and forth regarding digestion, studies have shown that this may not be the only thing they talk about. The communication between the gut and its microbiome and the brain is called the gut-brain axis. A study done on rats using a neuron-loving virus to map the nerve connections between the brain and the small intestine showed a much more complicated relationship than previously thought. Rather than simply connecting to the brainstem and hindbrain regions involved in sensory and organ control, the virus moved into cognitive, emotional, and learning centers of the brain. Additionally, the study showed that signals did not in fact travel unidirectionally, with one set of neurons sending information to the brain while the other set sent instructions back to the gut, but that signals could travel bidirectionally. About half of the neurons could participate in “cross-talk” between the brain and the small intestine.

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The Role of Proteins in Cellular Strength

Proteins are a crucial and complex facet of many organisms. The sequences of amino acids have the power to determine the function of a protein and what area of an organism it will go towards supporting. By studying in further detail the bonds proteins make with each other both inside and outside the cell, scientists are able to expand their knowledge on how proteins gather strength.

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Winged Wednesday – 270° Neck Turn?

Have you ever wondered why owls are able to twist their head almost all the way around? Or why they can see nocturnally? Well, owls are fascinating animals that clock out when the sun comes up. They hunt small throughout the night, occasionally hooting at their fellow owls. Although, they are birds of prey that are more closely related to mousebirds and kingfishers than birds like eagles, hawks or falcons. In order to stay at the top of the food chain, these amazing creatures have evolved in many ways that allow them to do what most animals aren’t able to do.


The most fascinating feature in an owls mystique is in their eyes. That is because owls don’t have eyeballs! Instead, their tube-shaped eyes are completely immobile. These tubes are held rigidly in place by sclerotic rings. Because owls can’t roll their eyes, they have to move their entire head to get a good view at something. To expand their field of view, they twist their head and “bob and weave.” This allows them to twist their necks about 270° in either direction as well as 90° up and down.

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