Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Roche xCelligence

In the realm of please-buy-our-expensive-stuff, here's another creative commercial.

SNP Guru

From the people who brought you the "Its Called epMotion" video.

Ghost Ball

After reading the Down Low story a friend of mine sent me this link. Its a blurb in a journal that you have to see to believe. It is titled "The case of the haunted scrotum."

“A 45-year-old man was referred for investigation of an undescended right testis by computed tomography (CT). An ultra-sound scan showed a normal testis and epididymis on the left side. The right testis was not visualized in the scrotal sac or in the right inguinal region. On CT scanning of the abdomen and pelvis, the right testis was not identified but the left side of the scrotum seemed to be occupied by a screaming ghost-like apparition (Figure 1). By chance, the distribution of normal anatomical structures within the left side of the scrotum had combined to produce this image. What of the undescended right testis? None was found. If you were a right testis, would you want to share the scrotum with that?”

Check it out:

Supernova 3D!

Astronomers have imaged a supernova (Cassiopeia A) using light echoes, light from the supernova that bounces off the surrounding intersteller dust. Using these light echoes has allowed the scientists to reconstruct the explosion of the star in three dimensions. This 3D imaging has revealed that some regions of the supernova blast traveled 15 million kilometers per hour faster than others, giving it an uneven appearance.

The story link:

Greased Lightning

A briefing by the American Chemical Society featured a new energy-saving technology, a roofing materials coating that reflects heat in the summertime and absorbs sun ray's in the winter time. It effectively goes under a phase change at certain temperatures that reverses its optical properties; Usually materials just reflect the sun light. This coating reduces rooftop temperature by 50-80% in warm weather and increases it by about 80% in the winter. So far, I'm impressed, what about you?

So what is this magic substance?

Its recycled waste cooking oils. Yeah, you read that right, deep fryer grease. It is sprayed on to asphalt shingles or other roofing materials. No studies have been published on this amazing phase changing grease coating and so it is unknown how this alternation occurs, likely through an additive of some sort probably a type of cellulose. If it works it could be a huge advance in energy smart technologies.

My only question: Will my house smell like french fries?

Read more here:
(image from

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Symphony of Science

Want more? Go to their website at

Pac Man Moon

I'm one of those people who is fascinated by astronomy but who never actually looks through a telescope at the sky above. But I do read the occasional astronomy news blog or two. One I like to scroll through on occasion is Universe Today, where I found this one.

I'll bet you didn't know that the Death Star is located in orbit around Saturn. Yeah, alright, so its just the moon Mimas, but it is down right weird how much it looks like the Death Star. The small moon has a giant crater (the Herschel Crater) that gives it that uniquely Death Star quality.

A recently flyby of Cassini of the moon Mimas generated some new temperature maps of its surface. These temperature maps reveal curious hot regions in/on the moon - hot regions that look just like Pac Man eating the Herschel Crater. These hot regions average around 92 Kelvin (-294 degrees Fahrenheit) as opposed to the cooler regions that are about 77 Kelvin (-320 degrees Fahrenheit). Cassini scientists believe that these temperature regions may be related to the differences in surface textures and how those textures retain or lose heat. It could also be due to ice (and its evaporative and reflective properties) spread across the surface upon the formation of the Herschel Crater. Alternatively, it could be due to how the moon ages and the accumulation of minerals and various particles.

As with most of the cool things in science, more study is needed.

Check out the story here:
and some really neat images of this discovery here:

The Memory of a Fly

I'm making an effort to write about more molecular stories, even though I have to read them several times to really get it, and so when I came across this one I thought it was just the ticket. While 'flipping through' PNAS recently I came across an article titled "PI3 kinase signaling is involved in Aβ-induced memory loss in Drosophila." Admittedly, I usually flip right past an article like this and go for one about ecosystem function, a new species find, or some new theory about food chains or something. But, remembering my new effort, I decided to read the abstract and then the article. Good thing I did because this is actually a pretty interesting story, once you get past all the genetics and molecular jargon.

The authors of the study conducted an experiment using fruit flies who suffered from brain issues similar to those seen in Alzheimer's patients. PI3 kinase is thought to protect an organism against the disease, and β-amyloid peptides are known to alter signaling proteins like PI3. The flies in the experiment were engineered to produce human β-amyloid which, in turn, caused them to develop Alzheimer's symptoms (memory loss, neurodegeneration, plaque accumulation). In their experiment, the researchers blocked the signaling pathway associated with these components.

A condition called long-term depression (LTD), where nerve signals get repressed for long periods of time, is known to be enhanced when β-amyloid is in the brain. The researchers found that this condition is worsened in flies that produce β-amyloid because of the related increase in PI3. Injections of PI3 kinase blocking drugs or by switching off the PI3 kinase gene restored nerve signals. The results suggest that this signal blockage lessened memory loss and decreased plaque buildup. That is a very short summary to say the least and so if you have access to the article (reference link below) I suggest taking a read.

So, once again, hooray for the fruit fly. Perhaps someone should send the article to Sarah Palin.

The study can be found here: (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0909314107)

(image from

Maths and Water

Make sure you have your copy book as you'll be asked to take notes throughout the programs.

p.s. Is that Simon Pegg (of Shaun of the Dead fame) at time 6:56 in the Maths video?

Driving Green

A new zero emission car from Nissan. Intriguing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Aahhhh...Kelly Clarkson!!!!

Swearing is everywhere. People use it in everyday speech, when someone %#@$%*^ ticks them off, or when they drop the @#$%*^& hammer on their toe. When we are in pain, especially, we tend to utter those naughty words and phrases. Why do we do it? I mean, we could say virtually anything but we choose to bleep. Does it alter our perception of the pain? Possibly. In a wonderful, if slightly dated, article I stumbled across in NeuroReport, suggests that swearing increases pain tolerance.

Originally, author Richard Stephens and his colleagues set out to prove the opposite, that swearing decreases pain tolerance and increases pain perception (as per the accepted hypotheses at the time).

The scientists recruited 67 undergraduate volunteers for their experiment (I'm sure money or free pizza was promised). They sat the students down individually and asked them to make two lists. List #1 consisted of words they might use after they had hit themselves on the thumb with a hammer. List #2 consisted of words they might use to describe a table. Next they needed a baseline or starting point, so they put one of the student's hands into room temperature water for 3 minutes. After that the hand went into cold water. The student was asked to keep their hand in the cold water for as long as they could. In some instances the student was asked to repeat a swear word from List #1, and in others they were asked to repeat a table word from List #2. All the while, the student's heart rate was recorded and they were asked to rate the amount of pain they felt.

Unexpectedly, the researchers found that the students who sweared while in the cold water had increased heart rates, reported less pain, and kept their hands in the water longer. And apparently swearing worked better for females than for males. Yeah!

What the study doesn't clear up is why swearing has such an effect. The authors suggest that it induces negative emotions and triggers fight or flight responses.

I don't know, maybe it just feels good to be bad.

p.s. Anyone a little disappointed they didn't ask the students to actually hit their thumbs with hammers? Seems like a more realistic response to me. Guess they would have had to promise more free food for that one.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Something's Fishy

Humans have introduced non-native animal and plant species into aquatic and terrestrial habitats around the world at an unprecedented rate. Fish have been accidentally or intentionally introduced into river systems for over 150 years. Introduced fish are known to modify average body sizes in habitats around the world. A new study in the journal Ecology Letters reports that non-native fish are, on average, 12 cm larger than native species. This change in body size can, in many situations, greatly modify aquatic ecosystems.

After cross-referencing freshwater fish data from 1,058 river basins worldwide, the authors found that introduced fish are, on average 12 cm larger than native species. Overall, this increases the average body size of fish in a given assemblage by 2 cm. Remember back in the story about shrinking songbirds when I defined Bergmann's Rule? Its the warmer climates have larger critters rule. The authors here are suggesting that the change in fish body size affects Bergmann's Rule. Additionally, the non-natives alter the functioning of the ecosystem, whether they be predators, herbivores, or detritovores. This alteration of the food chain affects other species within the change as well as the cycling of organic matter within the system. The changes in body size worldwide are likely part of this change.

As you can probably tell there is more to the story. You can find more details in the article itself here: (DOI: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2009.01432.x)

(image from


The zebrafish (Danio rerio) belongs to the minnow family (Cyprinidae) and is an important model organism in scientific research, particularly in the areas of vertebrate development and gene function. More information can be found at the Zebrafish Information Network (ZFIN) which is an online database of housing genetic, genomic, developmental information, and data sets.

Did you know? Zebrafish have an incredible ability - you can chop of a chunk of their heart and they not only stay alive but they have only a few days of slow swimming before they once again appear completely normal. Crazy!

A paper published in the most recent issue of Nature contained a study in which researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the Center of Regenerative Medicine in Barcelona (CMRB) identified the heart cell populations that allow the fish to have this amazing healing ability. My first thought was that it must be stem cell related. Not so. Rather it is cardiomyocytes a.k.a. muscle cells that contract the heart.

So how did they figure out that it was cardiomyocytes and not stem cells that accomplished the deed? First they inserted a tracer gene into all of the heart cells that made the cells glow green. Next they "injured" the heart by excising 20% of each ventricle (Basic Anatomy 101...those are the bottom chambers of the heart). Then they waited for a few weeks, waiting for the regeneration to complete, and then they took a look at the fish hearts again. Because only cardiomyocytes were made to glow green, if the whole heart was green then they were the ones to heal the injury, if not then something else was responsible.

The result: A glowing green fish heart. Neat.

How did the cells do it? The cardiomyocytes produced proteins associated with cell proliferation (factors you only see in immature progenitors). These proteins regressed the cells to a "youthfull" state, then they started dividing to fill in the missing area, and once again matured into new heart muscle.

They're fish, so why is this study important? Human heart muscle cannot regenerate after it is damaged (as with a heart attack), instead it produces un-contractable scar tissue. However, they do have the ability to enter a "hibernation" stage where they stop contracting in order to survive. This hibernation is similar to what the researchers saw in the regenerating zebrafish hearts. Forcing certain cell cycle regulators in mammalian cardiomyocytes to make these cells hibernate and regress could be the next direction to go in in heart regeneration research. What are these regulators? The search is on!

The Nature article is here:
and here's a write-up:

(image from

The Geek Diagram

Finally, the nerd/dork/geek/dweeb controversy has been solved in one simple Venn diagram:

(image from

Soil Flux

An article in Nature analysed 439 studies and found that soils around the globe have increased their carbon dioxide emissions over the last few decades. Researchers found that, over the last decades, soil respiration increased by approximately 0.1% per year between 1989 and 2008, a global total of 98 billion tons (10x more than human induced atmospheric CO2). The additional flux could result from two sources - microbes and plants. Increasing soil temperature causes microbes to increase their rates of decomposition, likely tapping into long term stored carbon sources. Living plants could both emit and consume carbon dioxide - emit through roots, consume through photosynthesis - resulting in a 0 net increase. This is a huge, complex study that sheds light on how soil respiration is important when looking at the results of climate change.

The study:
The story:

Friday, March 26, 2010


Behold the BioBus!

Primordial Soup with Julia Child

Julia Child cooks up the recipe for life.

G'day New Dino

An ancestor of Tyrannosaurus rex (known as NMV P186069 for now) has been found at Dinosaur Cove in Victoria, Australia. A 110 million year old, 30 cm pubis bone was found and is distictively tyrannosaur because of its unique shape - rod shaped with two expanded ends, one of the ends flattened and the other boot shaped. The dinosaur would have been approximately 3 meters long and about 176 lbs with a large head and the small arms typical of a tyrannosaur. The large size of the T. rex is thought to have evolved later (about 40 million years later). This is the first ever evidence of tyrannosaur dinosaurs in the southern continents. The 110 million year old date of this fossil puts it somewhere in the middle of the continental breakup (from supercontinent to present day continental positions), suggesting that there may be more large predators yet to be discovered on the southern continents - the diversity of the tyrannosaur group isn't still fully understood.

Read more here:
and here:

(image from

Casual Facebooking

In another piece of strange science news: Facebook is being linked to a rise in syphilis cases, especially among young women. Brings an entirely new meaning to poking your friends doesn't it?

Apparently cases of syphilis in Durham, Sunderland, and Teesside, all areas of Britain where the social networking site is the most popular, have increased fourfold.

Syphilis is caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum which is usually spread by sexual contact. The disease can be very serious, starting in the genital area, mouth, or other body parts, and can lead to major damage in the heart and brain and can even result in death. Having this disease can also make people more vulnerable to HIV. However, if caught early, it can be cured with antibiotics.

So why is the Internet and social media in particular to blame? Social networking sites, as their name suggests, make it easier for people to meet up for casual sex.

As the linked Telegraph article reports, a Facebook spokesman said: “The assertion that Facebook is responsible for the transmission of syphilis is ridiculous. Facebook is no more responsible for STD transmission than newspapers responsible for bad vision. Today’s reports exaggerate the comments made by the professor, and ignore the difference between correlation and causation. As Facebook’s more than 400 million users know, our website is not a place to meet people for casual sex – it’s a place for friends, family and co-workers to connect and share.”

In my opinion, the Facebook guy kinda has a point. I mean, there is a huge difference between correlation and causation. Does social media make it easier to meet people? Sure. But those who are looking for casual sex are still going to find a partner regardless of their Internet connectivity right?

Here's the story link:

(image from

Thursday, March 25, 2010

DNA Fingerprinting

A potentially new species of hominid has been discovered based on the DNA from a 40,000 year old finger bone. The bone belonged to a 5-6 year old child and was found at the Denisova archaeological site, a southern Siberian cave, by Russian researchers in 2008. The finger bone yielded some mitochondrial DNA (maternally inherited, non-nuclear DNA) which is being used to identify evolutionary lineage. Neanderthal mtDNA differs from modern human (Homo sapiens) at 202 nucleotide positions on average; The new mtDNA differs at 385 positions on average. This suggests that this new specimen was unrelated to Neanderthals and also unrelated to modern humans- it diverged from these two species approximately 1 million years ago.

Also, the mtDNA suggests that this species of hominid coexisted with both humans and Neanderthals. In the future, the researchers are hoping to extract some chromosomal DNA to compare with that of humans and Neanderthals. Should this analysis find similar results it will be the first time that an extinct human relative has been identified using DNA.

This new hominid species appears to be closer related to humans than apes and to have walked upright. Along with the bones the scientists found bracelets and other decorations similar to those typically found with prehistoric humans. Although paleoanthropologists are applying caution in assigning these objects to this species.

Read many many more details in this Nature News article:
The report in USA:

(image from

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spiders on Drugs

I consider this one of my classic videos. I laugh every time I watch it.

Nature by Numbers

This one kind of speaks for itself. Enjoy!

LHC on Speed

CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has been in the news for some time - mainly because of its technical difficulties. But now that its up and functional it has been colliding particles at faster and faster speeds. And now the LHC is going to try to collide particles at the highest energy level so far in the attempt to recreate Big Bang conditions. Twin beams, which accelerate through a 16.78 mile circular underground tunnel, are currently at 3.5 tera-electron volts (TeV) and will be traveling at 7 TeV on March 30th. Of course, lining the beams up and getting particles to collide is a challenge, but once they start seeing results the plan is to run continuously for 18-24 months. That's a lot of data!

Dark matter, Higgs boson, and the birth of the universe...oh my!

Read more here:

(image from

Can You Skype Me Now?

In the techie news (not that I'm a techie, but sometimes I like to pretend I am) it has been somewhat controversial that Verizon and Skype partner up. At the Mobile World Congress last month the announcement was made regarding this pairing and the tech world was a tad split on how good this would be for the industry. On one hand, Skype is a very inexpensive phone/video service available to almost anyone. On the other hand, Skype is a very inexpensive phone/video service available to almost anyone. Starting this week, the service will be available on 9 different smartphones. This is going to be fantastic for anyone - individual or business - who runs on a budget.

So I know that there is a Skype app for iPhones, but let's do a little comparison to see the differences between the Skypes.

The iPhone Skype application:
- you can't run other programs while using the app
- the app works over the Wi-Fi network (for now at least)

The Verizon Skype Mobile service:
- will be of the "always on" variety (your contacts will be able to see your presence and call you or IM you through the Skype service)
- routes calls over the Verizon 3G network (a network built for voice and call volume)
- does not impact available minutes on either calling/data plan

The Skype service, in general, has always been great for international calls. It is extremely cost-effective in that regard. That particular perk remains the same. The Skype Mobile service will allow international calls with a lower per-minute charge than you would normally incur on your cell phone.

My opinion (assuming you want it)? Good all around.

The story:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Caught by Cultures

Dusting for fingerprints is soooo last century. Alright, so maybe not. But there is a new technique for catching the bad guys. Bacterial fingerprinting - using the collections of bacteria that criminals leave behind on the objects with which they come into contact. Since the human body is a veritable cornucopia of bacterial diversity, even after a scrubbing, it isn't surprising that we leave some of the little critters in our wakes. A recent article in PNAS described how this bacteria could be used forensically. University of Boulder Colorado scientist Noah Fierer and his colleagues took swabs from computer mice and keyboards and produced genetic profiles of the bacteria present. From these data the researchers were able to pick, out of more than 250 possible pairs of hands, the owner of a particular computer. Of course, more research needs to be done before it is ready for the courtroom, but I predict you'll see it inaccurately portrayed on CSI soon.

(image from


Entomologists have discovered 12 species of moths whose caterpillars can survive both in the water and on land. Most insects pick either one or the other, which makes these caterpillars truly unique. Daniel Rubinoff, an entomologist from University of Hawaii, Honolulu focuses his research on the moth genus Hyposmocoma, a genus he previously thought to have purely terrestrial larva. Needless to say, he was a bit surprised to find out they were more versatile than he expected. These species appear to breathe through their skin, rather than gills (as seen in other aquatic species), while anchored to submerged rocks. Laboratory tests reveal that the caterpillars can live successfully when submerged for weeks or vise versa.

This PNAS story was reported in ScienceNOW:

It's Called epMotion

"Pipetting all those well plates, baby, puts your thumbs into overdrive..."

On the theme of great musical commercials, here's another classic.

Scientists for Better PCR

If you're a scientist and haven't seen this yet then shame on you - we need to fix how you spend your time procrastinating.

"Its amazing what heating and cooling and heating will do...."

Sunday, March 21, 2010



Copy Cat

While I was looking for the butterfly story (below) I stumbled across this gem. Anyone who's been a student, TA, or professor might not find this all that surprising.

Apparently unnoticed student cheating is a significant cause of college course failure. A study in Physical Review Special Topics: Physics Education Research by researchers from the University of Kansas and MIT took on the task of 'copying in college' (kinda sounds like a t-shirt or something). The MIT professor, Young-Jin Lee, spent four years cataloging all of the instances of copied answers in his Mastering Physics class. The homework for this class is administered via a web-based tutor and so the professor could monitor all of the students' homework activities. Here's a don't-get-caught tip: A difficult physics problem is not typically solved in under a minute. Students were also given an anonymous survey about their homework copying habits.

The researchers were able to conclude that (1) students who procrastinated copied more often, (2) students are more likely to copy written homework than online homework, (3) students are more likely to copy late in the semester versus earlier (probably because work loads are higher later), and (4) students who do homework have more success on exams. And because students don't learn anything when they copy they find themselves in a whole mess of trouble when topics get more difficult. A big, fat downward spiral so to speak. Possible solutions to this could include smaller class sizes, more interaction between professor and student, and alternative grading systems.

Find more details here:

This is your wake up call

A study to be published in Biology Letters out of the University of Melbourne reports that the mean emergence date for adult Common Brown Butterflies (Heteronympha merope) has shifted 1.6 days earlier per decade. That means that over the course of this 65 year study the emergence date is over 10 days earlier. This shift in date was found to be simulaneous to the increase in air temperatures around Melbourne (about 0.14°C per decade).

Now this might not sound like a huge deal. I mean, its only 10 days. Well, can you go 2 weeks without food? In a story like this one you always have to think about what else is affected. Here, the shift in dates potentially alters things such as food (the butterflies eatting and being eaten) and competition.

Additionally, the researchers raised caterpillars of the Common Brown Butterfly in the lab. In this setting they were able to control for the various environmental factors (such as temperature) and measure the impact on the butterflies' rate of development. Then they modeled the results to observe the effect of historical climate trents on the rate of development. With this model they were also able to use global climate model outputs for Melbourne over the time period of the study to test whether what they were observing in the field was due to human influence on climate or natural temperature variations. The work was able to very strongly tie the date shift to temperature increases that, in turn, were tied to human-caused greenhouse gas increases.

Here's the article:
and here's a write-up in Science Daily:

(image from

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The newest trend...ridiculous

A 265-ton glacier was imported from northern Sweden and whittled down to a 28 foot tall frozen landscape. The event? Karl Lagerfeld's inspiration for the Chanel Fall/Winter 2010 show.


Here's the story:

A new hot ball of gas

It hasn't been until recently that astronomers have made great strides in locating planets outside our own solar system -- called exoplanets. The first exoplanets weren't found around normal stars but rather around pulsars (the remnants of dead massive stars). And that was in 1991! Since then astronomers have located hundreds of exoplanets - around 400 actually. A couple of techniques are considered common practice for locating exoplanets.

The Doppler shift technique looks at slight variations in the motions of stars - you can detect a planet tugging on its star or star wobble. A useful, if not very direct, technique. Another technique is to look for planetary transits. In this case the light of the star gets fainter (or is blocked/eclipsed) as the planet crosses in front of it (for more go to From these techniques you can get planetary characteristics such as size, mass, and orbit. Additionally, planetary spectroscopy (measuring the wavelengths of light passing through the atmosphere of a planet) can be used to identify various atmospheric attributes. Most of the planets that have been found so far fall within the "hot Jupiter" class. These are enormous gas giants - in many cases, several times the size of Jupiter - that orbit very close to their parent stars - at, or usually closer than, the orbit of Mercury. Needless to say these are very, very hot places.

Now the news: The discovery of another exoplanet has been reported in this week's edition of the journal Nature. This planet can be found in the CoRoT satellite, approximately 1,500 light years from Earth towards the constellation Serpens. The new planet was named Corot-9b (unofficial name Carrot Nimby....give me a second to giggle at that one). This planet regularly passes in front of its star - every 95 days. As with many others, this new exoplanet is a gas giant, it has a radius that is approximately 1.05 times that of Jupiter but is only 84% of its mass. Unlike others, it could have temperatures cool enough to host liquid water, lying between -23°C and 157°C. The planet orbits a sun-like star (similar but slightly cooler) at a distance similar to that of Mercury. It is suggested that the interior of this planet is close to that of Jupiter and Saturn, composed primarily of hydrogen and helium, but which may also contain up to 20 Earth masses of other elements such as water and rock.

Here's a couple of story links:

Manakin Moonwalk

Another oldie but goodie. This is the manakin moonwalk video. Most people have seen the last minute of this video (which is the most entertaining), but here's the whole thing.

Frog Fail

Its just funny.

Friday, March 19, 2010

An exquisitus find

A brand new raptor species - of the dinosaur, not the bird, variety - has been found in the Inner Mongolia, China (insert appropriate Jurassic Park movie music here). The new dino, named Linheraptor exquisitus, was found in near-perfect condition and is an almost complete skeleton. L. exquisitus belongs to the Dromaeosauridae family of dinosaurs which is made up of theropods (such as velociraptor and T. rex) that lived during the Late Cretaceous period. It is approximately 2.5 meters long and would have weighed around 25 kilograms.

Read lots more about this discovery here:

Sperm Wars

There are as many types of insect mating systems as there are insects themselves, but they can be generalized in a few ways. In terms of mating strategies, or pre-copulatory traits or behaviors, many insects use displays to entice a mate. Such displays may include body size or color comparisons, dances, or fights. Other indicators of suitability may include territory or food with some species offering up nuptial gifts (the quality of which is what is judged).

Just because a mate is selected, does not mean they are the sole contributor of gametes. Terrestrial insects (males) transfer spermatophores, packets of sperm, to the female. Depending on the species, the spermatophore may be alone, in pairs, in groups, stored for a long time, ejected, or mixed. As such, males have their own methods to make sure theirs is the sperm used to fertilize the eggs. Such methods may include mate guarding, extended copulation, flushing/clearing out other sperm, and/or genital plugging. Should rival males each contribute, and those contributions allowed to make a mad dash for the egg, it is straight up sperm competition that takes over - the fastest, strongest swimmers win! Again, these are generalizations and there are oh-so-many variations on these strategies.

Two new studies take a look at the perilous life of sperm. The studies detail sperm competition and how the female can manipulate the situtation to her own ends.

In this corner!!... a population of genetically engineered fruit flies from the U.S.!!

...and in this corner!!... ants and bees from Denmark and Australia!!...

Ok, a little dramatic, I know. So let's get down to business. The fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) were engineered to produce fluorescent sperm of different colors. Besides the obvious humor of glowing sperm, the little guys could be seen as they jostled for position inside the female reproductive tract. Typically, the most recent male to mate with the female has the most success in fertilization (80%), but until now it was not known why. A female fruit fly only keeps about 500/1400 sperm from each male she has mated with. After mating with a male, the female transfers this subset of sperm to one of 3 blind-ended tubes branching off of her reproductive tract. Just as a second mating begins she releases sperm from the first mating. Essentially, the sperm from male #2 flushes out the sperm from male #1.

The second study looked at honeybees and leafcutter and army ants, known for their large, complex societies. In these social insects, a single member of the society is responsible for reproduction (the queen) and must have a large supply of sperm to fertilize her eggs. We're talking storing multi-millions of sperm over a long period of time (years or even decades!) and producing millions of offspring in a single lifetime. That storage time creates a lot of opportunity for sperm competition. In these insects, it was shown that the chemicals in seminal fluid aids a male's own sperm but attacks that of his rivals. However, this chemical warfare is only seen in insects where the sperm is held together - in bumblebees, for example, the sperm of different males never meets and so you don't see the presence such chemicals. Although, the study also found that some queens (leafcutter ants) have the ability to suppress the competition - the ring leader so to speak - because large long-term supplies are precious.

So why all the fuss? Mating with multiple males ensures diversity in the offspring. Additionally, the fittest males (and their fit sperm) win out and end up fathering the most offspring. And diversity plus fitness equals good.

Here's the write up in Nature:

The fruit fly paper:

The ant/bee paper:

(images from pnas,, and Science mag via Nature mag)

Tree Octopus

Save The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus!

This is a website that I've known about for a while, but it is fun to check back with on occasion. If you've never seen it before, its entertaining.

Its a parody site but on the left-hand side of the screen there is some cephalopod news (which includes the last story I blogged) and a link to the Cephaloblog.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Octo HD

Class Cephalopoda are a group of mollusks that include octopuses (or octopi), squid, cuttlefish and nautiluses and can be found in all the oceans of the world. They are known for their high intelligence, ability to change color and texture rapidly, advanced eyes/eyesight, defensive ink clouds and jet powered locomotion. One of the characteristic traits of mollusks is a hard, protective external shell, and although the nautilus has an external shell, most other cephalopods do not (they are either greatly reduced or internalized). In the past, cephalopods were one of the dominant forms of ocean life; today, however, we see approximately 800 species.

Octopuses, in particular, are known for their intelligence. Several studies have shown that octopuses also have a large capacity for learning. A classic experiment illustrating this is one octopus learning from another how to open a jar to get the crustacean reward inside. And aquarium owners are well aware of the great lengths that octopuses go to in order to rearrange their tanks or even escape!

A recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology tested octopus behavior in a new way. Since many cephalopods use visual signals to interact with conspecifics, predators and prey, images can be used to gain insight into behavior. The researchers (Pronk, Wilson, and Harcourt) were working with the Gloomy Octopus (for real), Octopus tetricus, a native of the Sydney Harbor. They set up high definition televisions next to octopus tanks and showed them images of crabs and other octopuses. They then evaluated the octopuses response (excitable, aggressive, etc).

It isn't that this TV method hasn't been tried in the past, it has and it failed. The cause is likely the fault of the TV and not the octopus. Remember my mention of the sophisticated eyesight characteristic of cephalopods? Well, those sophisticated eyes looked at that old 26 frames per second TV and made no sense out of it. But high def TVs that run at 50 frames per second? Oh yeah!

When the octopuses were shown images of their favorite food (and one of mine), crabs, they rushed towards the TV and tried to attack it. When shown images of other octopuses they retreated to the back of their aquarium to hide. After several weeks of repeating the experiment the researchers got a good picture of the octopuses' "mood swings." Individual octopus tended to react in a consistent way to these stimuli within the same day, but within a week their behavior could be very different. The octopuses were also given images of items they had never seen before, such as a jar. Sometimes they would be bothered by the jar and other times they would be curious and go take a look at it. Overall, the authors concluded that the "gloomy octopus show temporal discontinuities, and hence display episodic personality." Basically, they are moody little things.

So now there is an excuse to buy fancy new tech -- to play with octopuses! I test octopus behavior and intelligence.

The paper abstract:

(image from

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Baby Mama

Pipefish belong to the family Syngnathidae, the same family as seahorses and seadragons (of the leafy and weedy varieties). There are approximately 200 known species of pipefish and they are very popular in the aquarium trade. They are small fish with slim, straight bodies that are typically under 20cm. The species in the family Syngnathidae are well known for their unique reproductive strategy - every jaded female worth her salt has heard of them. The females deposit their eggs in a chest pouch (or on the body surface) on the male. The male then fertilizes the eggs and carries them until they hatch. Yep, pregnant males.

A new study in the journal Nature has shown that pregnant males give birth to a larger number of young from attractive females than from unattractive ones. As males tend to be a prized commodity, you see competition and courting behavior among females for mates. The chosen female then engages in a dance with the male during which she deposits the eggs in his brood pouch to be fertilized and carried. The pouch seals itself shut until the eggs hatch, and after hatching the male is ready to be impregnated again in under an hour!

However, the study found that the male pipefish doesn't treat all eggs equally. Males allocate more care (oxygen, nutrients) to eggs from larger (= more attractive)females. In general, males prefer to mate with larger females and these larger females transfer more eggs (relatively more young survive). Additionally, secondary, smaller females just never seem to measure up to the ex-girlfriend. Males that have a large female as a first mate have less egg survival the second time around with a smaller girl.

...pretty much its the don't put all your eggs in one basket routine. Unless that basket was mothered by the large, skinny, beautiful girl. After all, there are only so many resources to go around.

But wait! There's more!

The study also showed that the male pipefish absorbs some of the developing young - mostly those from the unattractive mate. Yeah, dissolving basically equates to eating in this context. Lovely. Its that whole resource allocation thing again - all about costs and benefits.

Computer models show that it is beneficial for males to mate with smaller females and raise at least some of their brood. Mainly because males are picky and large females are in short supply. While the male is pregnant with the less desirable eggs he can look for a more desirable mate. Way to multitask.

In other species, you typically see such judgements before mating (think frog calls, bird plumage, etc.) or after mating (voluntary aborting, flushing sperm, etc.). In the case of pipefish, you see both, a strategy that is relatively rare.

Here's the link:

(images from and

Down Low

Here's another story for the guys. Because, you know you've wondered about it.

An older (2008), but still noteworthy study examined the question "Why do the testes hang at different levels?" Ok so actually the title of the paper was Swinging high and low: Why do the testes hang at different levels? A theory on surface area and thermoregulation, which, you gotta admit, is a pretty great title.

I normally give a little background at the beginning of an article but here's hoping I won't have to. The basics? Guys, you have 2. They can either be symmetrical/equal, right high, or left high. This paper addresses - why the unevenness? Could it be due to development, evolution, or vascularization? Maybe. But the authors here (Kumar and Kumara) suggest it has to do with temperature.

Now we've all heard the "Well, its cold out here!" (or in a pool, ocean, etc) line in relation to "shrinkage." And we've known for a long time that the reason they are outside to begin with is not just to show off, get in the way, or for public adjustment purposes. Rather it is because sperm development is temperature sensitive.

Sure, that explains the overall location but the fact that one is lower than the other...mweh. However, the authors are still suggesting that temperature is the reason. If they are equal then more of their medial surface is in contact with each other and the more heat there is. On the other hand (or ball, as it were), if one is lower there is less surface area in contact and more area exposed to the cooler, and I'm arguing more refreshing, air. In otherwords, its the Goldilocks Hypothesis - not too hot, not too cold - for the doodleberries. You get the idea.

Now, keep in mind that this was published in the journal Medical Hypotheses and so none of this stuff has actually been tested (to my knowledge at least). However, when hypothetical becomes experimental expect commentary, especially on the materials and methods section. Although, explaining it past just the temperature hypothesis into an evolutionary one would also be interesting.

Article on PubMed:

(image from Armani ad)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shrimp on Ice

What happens when you drill an 8 inch hole into the Antarctic ice, stick a camera down 600 feet, and then start filming? Well, if you are a NASA research team hoping to observe the undersides of an ice sheet it means you see a really cool shrimp instead. The team found that when they pulled their camera tether up there was a long tentacle, maybe from a jellyfish, stuck to it and a shrimp-like creature swam into view.


Here's the Washington Post article:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

London Bridge is falling down...because of the flash flood

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is the UK's independent regulator of advertising (on TV, Internet, etc). Their job it to "ensure ads are legal, decent, honest and truthful by applying the Advertising Codes."

The UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) launched a media campaign last year describing the potential consequences of climate change, and since then has received numerous complaints. The ASA recently ruled the advertisements about climate change that were based on children's rhymes were exaggerated in that they went beyond mainstream scientific consensus. Additionally, it noted that the references to climate change failed to reflect the "involved uncertainties" of the predictions made by the IPCC.

Example One:

“Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.
There was none as extreme weather due to climate change had caused a drought.”

Captioned: “Extreme weather conditions such as flooding, heat waves and storms will become more frequent and intense.”

Example Two:

"Rub a dub dub, three men in a tub —
a necessary course of action due to flash flooding caused by climate change.”

Captioned: “Climate change is happening. Temperature and sea levels are rising. Extreme weather events such as storms, floods and heat waves will become more frequent and intense. If we carry on at this rate, life in 25 years could be very different.”

However, other elements of the media campaign, such as the TV/theater ad that showed a father reading to his daughter a nightmarish bedtime story about a climate change ravaged planet, did not cross any ASA guidelines.

Read more about it here:

(image from

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Zipped In

So what happens when your Mini-Me experiences a Something About Mary moment? There's an app for that! Ok not really, but there is an article because it can be "a painful predicament that can be made worse by overzealous intervention." Apparently mineral oil can be your best friend, fellas. Failing that there are 2 different zipper cutting methods. The fastest of which is the "cutting the closed teeth of the zipper" method, which will save you approximately 65.3 seconds of pain.

I love science :-)

Here's the journal article:

and since you can't read much of it at all, here's the summary:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Titanic Layers

In 1655 Christian Huygens, back in 1655 discovered Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. Not long after, Giovanni Cassini discovered the next moons, Tethys, Dione and Iapetus. Now you know where the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft got its name. However,John Herschel was the person who actually named Saturn's moons in 1847. Herschel named the seven moons that were known at that time after the Greek Titans. He thought it made sense that the brothers of Cronus (the Roman name for the Greek god Saturn) should be included as the names of the moons. Since that time many other moons have been found hiding amongst the rings of Saturn; They're up into the mid-fifties now.

Titan is the biggest of Saturn's moons and one of the largest moons in the solar system - bigger than the planet Mercury! Its a moon that actually has an atmosphere - a really thick one. This atmosphere is about 98% nitrogen, the only other nitrogen-rich atmosphere in the solar system, and the remaining gases are composed primarily of methane and other hydrocarbons. Titan's atmosphere is a Hadley cell, meaning warm air at the equator rises, flows at high altitudes to the poles, and then descends again, and then moves along the surface. The result of this is extremely dry equatorial regions and "wet" polar regions. Its also extremely cold, around -180 Celsius (-290 degrees Fahrenheit). The mixture of this Hadley cell and the extremely cold temperatures allows methane to rain down in the polar regions.

The evolution of Titan is thought to be different than that of the inner planets or the Jovian moons (which are of a similar size and density), both of which have interiors that have split into distinctive layers.

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft arrived to study the Saturn system in 2004, and has since made some amazing discoveries. In today's issue of Science, two articles revealed more interesting details about Saturn's largest moon. The Sohl article, on page 1338, revealed details about the moon's interior, also referring to a second study about the Titan's gravitational field. On page 1367 of the issue, Iess et al. presented evidence on the gravitational field of Titan, revealing that the interior of the moon was much colder than previously thought. Why is that important? Well, it informs us about how the internal materials are distributed; this extreme cold impeded the melting and subsequent separations of the primordial ice-rock mixture during moon formation. Only about the first 300 miles deep of Titan's icy surface is rock free, below that you see this ice-rock mixture. This information suggests that Titan more similar to Jupiter's moon Callisto, which is believed to have a similar interior, even though these moons have radically different histories.

Read the story here:
and the original Science articles here:

(top image from

Shrinking Songbirds

A recent study, published in the journal Oikos, conducted by Dr Josh Van Buskirk of the University of Zurich, Switzerland and colleagues Mr Robert Mulvihill and Mr Robert Leberman of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Rector, Pennsylvania, US, looked at 486,000 birds, belonging to 102 species.

The study evaluated the sizes of those birds that passed through the Carnegie Museum's Powdermill ringing station between the years 1961-2007. Each bird was weighed and wing length was measured (wing cord length). The study concluded that many of these birds/species were becoming lighter in weight and exhibiting shorter wing lengths.

More specifically: 83 species were caught during spring migration, 60 of which have shown a decrease in size over the course of the study, weighing less and having shorter wings. Of the 75 measured autumn migrators, 66 had become smaller. 51 of the 65 summer breeding species and 20 of the 26 overwintering species also had a reduction in size.

However, it is important to note that there was no observation of a decline in population size.

Quickly, let's review some common ecological "rules".

Bergmann's Rule - Animals tend to be larger in cold areas compared to those in tropical/warm areas - even within the same species. Think surface area on this one. The larger the body size, the less its surface area is to its total volume, allowing it to conserve more heat. Wolves are a good example of this one.

Allen's Rule - The extremities of animals (ears, legs, etc.) are shorter in cold areas compared to those in warms areas. A good example of this is comparing hares/rabbits - snowshoe hare vs. jackrabbit.

Gloger's Rule - Dark pigments increase in races of animals in warm and humid habitats.

So, this story looks to be a good example of Bergmann's Rule -- Although, I could argue the shorter wings Allen's rule angle. As this change in size and weight has occurred only within the last 50 years, it is thought to be an evolutionary change in response to warmer temperatures. Keep in mind that 50 years is not long to us but in bird-terms we're talking at least 20 generations - a good example of rapid, contemporary evolution.

But once we start talking evolution you know the term "fitness" is going to pop up. In terms of NA birds, they may be finding an optimal body size but it is yet unclear as to the overall fitness of many species in these changing climatic conditions. Evidence from other studies suggests that some species will benefit while others will decline.

Additionally, this change in body size might not actually be due to temperature at all but rather to variables that correlate with temperature, such as food availability and/or metabolic rate.

As with most other interesting science --- more study is needed.

(image from

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The LHC Rap

The LHC is super-fly.

Wrapped in Gold

This is a bit of an old story, but as this is a new blog I'm going to go ahead and forgive myself.

You've likely seen a caddisfly on a hike or while fishing, you just never knew what they were before now. Caddisflies belong to the order Trichoptera, a small order of holometabolous insects which includes approximately 10,000 species worldwide. The adults resemble small moths with large wings that fold over their backs while at rest. Most species are small (1/4" or less), dull in color, have long, thin antennae, and are active during dusk and night hours.

The larvae and pupae are primarily aquatic and can be found in many freshwater habitats and even some salty. These immature stages resemble grubs or caterpillars. Many species produce silk to construct cases of plant material, small twigs, sand, small rocks and debris. These cases, or cocoons, are used for protection, breathing purposes, and feeding.

Know you know a bit of the taxonomy and life history, check this out:

French artist Herbert Duprat took caddisfly larvae and put them tanks filled with gold and precious gems. The larvae, looking for materials to build their cases, used the glittery, expensive items for their construction, binding it together with silk.

Here's the link:

(images from and

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

R.I.P. Awesome Robot

Ok, who let the undergrad pilot the awesome-bot?

The Autonomous Benthic Explorer, nicknamed ABE (but sounds kinda like Autobot), was a truely independent research sub operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Meaning? Well, it was unmanned and un-tethered to its launching ship, meaning it could explore the ocean all on its own.

ABE was on its 222nd dive, exploring the Chile Triple junction, on Friday and was lost. Oh yeah, its the 'one last job' cliche. And so poor ABE lies in a watery tomb somewhere off of the Chilean coast.

Here's the story link:

Blown Away

Wesley Fleming is a glass sculptor who specializes in making flameworked glass insects, birds, and fantastical creatures.

Very cool.
(Tiger Beetle Cicindela sp.)

Check out his website:

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Big Badda-Boom

(images from,,,

To get the gist of this next story a short history of your planet-moon system is in order.

During our solar system's formation it was a violent place. Everything running into everything else. Planets sucking up material and clearing out their orbits. During this time moons were forming around planets and planets were capturing objects and making them moons. Not so with the Earth's moon. The current, accepted theory is that a Mars-sized object collided with the Earth knocking off a massive amount of material. This material stayed in orbit around the planet (think big cloud then ring), eventually collapsing together and cooling to form our Moon. Samples brought back from Moon missions were chemically analysed and found to be very similar to mineral concentrations and isotopes found on Earth, strengthening this theory.

A recent study of the Moon has showed that an asteroid hit the southern hemisphere of the Moon. An enormous crater, approximately 1,500 miles across and five miles deep, resulted from the impact - the biggest, deepest crater on the Moon, the South Pole-Aitken basin.

So why, with all of the craters on the Moon, is this so important? Well, the asteroid impact punched through many layers of the Moon's crust, scattering it across the Moon and even into space. A 300 mile diameter crater - the Apollo Basin - on the edge of this basin provides a cross-sectional view of the lunar crust. It is rare that such glimpses into the surface of planets/moons occur. These deep views of the surface can provide much information about early lunar history.

Results from this study show that as you go deeper into the Moon, the crust contains larger amounts of iron. Think back to the story above and what you know of the concentrations of minerals on and inside the Earth. When the Moon was first forming it was largely molten - big collisions cause big amounts of heat. This fluid-like state allowed heavier elements (such as iron) to sink towards the core, leaving light elements (silicon, potassium, sodium, etc) to 'float' near the surface. So it makes sense that deeper impact craters expose more of these heavier elements, and that is what the researchers are finding.

Additionally, these craters are relatively old. How do you know if a crater is young or old? As time passes and the surface continues to get hit my objects, old craters get covered up by new craters. This provides a relative age. And although the Earth and the Moon were formed from the same pool of materials, you do not see the same cratering on the Earth that you see on the Moon. Why? It isn't that the Earth hasn't been impacted, it has and repeatedly. Its just that on the Earth the crust is constantly recycled by plate tectonics and worn away by weathering events. So the old, deep craters on the Moon actually give us a window into not only the Moon's history but the Earth's as well.

Read more by following this link:
Update as of 03-10-10: Just published in Nature, a story about the Moon origin theory:

Worm News

Everyone loves a good bit of worm news. Even if they think they don't, they do.

Researcher Pierre De Wit, at the Department of Zoology of the University of Gothenburg, has been analysing the species belonging to the genus Grania, part of the annelid worm class Clitellata. These worms can be found in marine sand habitats ranging from tidal zones to the deep ocean. They are typically around two centimeters in length and white in color.

Much of this research has been in Australia's Great Barrier Reef. De Wit and his colleagues have found four new species of Grania worm - one a beautiful green-colored worm named Grania colorata. The research team has also described a species of Grania worm in Scandinavia (Grania occulta), only distinguishable by DNA. Surprisingly enough the DNA evidence points to an entirely separate evolutionary history, linking the worm to a species that looks completely different.

Yet another story about how looks don't matter, only DNA.

Here's the story link:

Monday, March 8, 2010

vin de perte de poids

A new study by U.S. experts at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston concluded that women who drink a couple of glasses of red wine per day gain less weight than those who do not (compared with water and sodas). Of course, not all spirits are created equal. Beer and alcohol are much less forgiving to the waistline than wine. The authors speculated that the beneficial effects of regularly consuming red wine are manifested in the liver which develops an alternative method of breaking down the alcohol. Rather than turning the alcohol into fat it is instead converted to heat.

There are also more well-known health benefits of drinking red wine such as increasing 'good cholesterol' (HDL) levels, preventing the formation of blood clots, lowering the risk of heart disease, and even extending life expectancy. Other studies have found that people score better on mensoakedtal arithmetic tests, have wider blood vessels, and show better blood flow to the brain after being given resveratrol, an ingredient in red wine.

Bottoms up!!

Here's the story link:


Introducing the VW Carpuccino! A 1988 Volkswagen Scirocco modified to run on ground coffee. Nope, this is not just a big pun but an actual car that is scheduled to will drive between Manchester and London, England in the next few weeks. It is estimated that the 210 mile (337 km) trip will require approximately 150 lbs (68 kg) of ground coffee and will take as long as 10 hours to complete - the car has stop to clean out its coffee filters after all. The car can reach speeds of 62 mph (100 kph).

There's a great "How It Works" diagram in the original story found at:


Forget carrying around so many keys that you look like a high school janitor. Apple, the seemingly unstoppable computer juggernaut, is developing technology named the "iKey". This technology will allow owners to use a single electronic device to open doors of all types - cars, homes, offices, etc. Just enter your pin code and wave around the iKey in front of your computer controlled door lock. There is speculation that this technology will be available on the next iPhone, but considering Apple's recent decision to not link the iPhone and iPad we might just have to wait and see on that one.

I'm sensing new Facebook groups: "I dropped my iKey and am locked out of everything I own" -or- "My iKey was hacked and now all my stuff is gone". You get the point.

Just think about all the things that happen to keys - dropping, losing, washing, breaking, etc - be prepared Apple! Hmmm...I wonder if there will be an app for that?

Read the entire story at:

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Killing Fertility

If someone on the street came up to you and asked "How does a the birth control pill work?" what would be your answer? Hopefully better than some of these guys:

As funny as that video is, the sad part is that these are real people giving honest answers on a pretty important topic. To offer a little clarity, and since I try to be informative, even if it is in a mildly inarticulate and slightly awkward way, here are some general descriptions on how a few of the major forms of womens birth control actually work.

The pill - Also known as oral contraceptives. The pill contains hormones that suppress ovulation. You remember that from biology class, right? A mature egg is released from the ovary when the surrounding follicle breaks open in response to a hormonal signal as part of the menstrual cycle. No egg, no fertilization, no pregnancy. Additionally, the pill thickens the cervical mucus to block sperm and keep it from reaching an egg. The pill typically contains progestin and/or estrogen. Progestin keeps the sperm from reaching the egg and prevents implantation, and estrogen stops ovulation.

The morning after pill - This is widely considered as a form of emergency birth control to be used to prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex. Conception rarely occurs immediately after sex but rather after ovulation, which can be days later. During the intervening time, the sperm travel to the fallopian tube(s), where they hope an egg will be traveling on its way from the ovary to the uterus. The hormones in the morning after pill are similar to those in regular birth control pills, only there is more of them. The objective being to prevent fertilization of the egg. Depending on the type you are talking about, they either contain levonorestrel or a combination of progestin and estrogen.

The patch - This is a small patch that sticks to the skin and releases hormones to prevent pregnancy. These hormones are the same as in the birth control pill (progestin and estrogen), and as with the pill they prevent ovulation and thicken cervical mucus.

The NuvaRing - This is a relatively new player in the birth control game. It is a small, flexible ring that contains the same hormones as the pill and is inserted manually into the vagina where it releases a continuous, low dose of these hormones. It is left there for three weeks and then removed for one week for the period.

The diaphragm - A birth control device (no hormones this time) that is made of rubber and is shaped like a dome. It fits inside the vagina and covers the cervix to block sperm from entering the uterus (and beyond) and fertilizing an egg (often used with spermicide).

The intrauterine device (IUD) - This is a small implantable device that is shaped like a "T" that goes into the uterus. There are two types: (1) the copper IUD (ParaGard) which releases a small amount of copper into the uterus that prevents the sperm from reaching the egg and prevents egg implantation into the uterine wall and (2) the hormonal IUD (Mirena) which releases progestin into the uterus that keeps the overies from releasing an egg and causes the cervical mucus to thicken so sperm can't reach the egg. Both types of IUD's can stay implanted for up to or at least 5 years.

Here are a few reliable sources for information about human reproduction and birth control (including many of the methods that I did not list here).

A lecture course from the University of Utah on Human Reproduction
Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health Reproductive Anatomy and Physiology
Office on Women's Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
NIH Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Planned Parenthood's Birth Control Page

I would advise anyone to look into the topic before forming an opinion -- Make sure you are reading scientifically reliable sources!

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