The first eyes were not as we know them today, they were very simple and could only really distinguish between light and dark. This evolution took place around 500 million years ago in an era known as the ‘Cambrian Explosion’, so named due to the explosion in the number of species which evolved in the Cambrian era.
There is little to say about Marie Curie that hasn’t already been said but it is important we remember her and her remarkable contribution to science. Marie, born in 1867, worked together with her husband investigating radioactivity and in doing so discovered two new chemical elements, polonium and radium. In 1903 they were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this.
After her husbands death in 1906, Marie continued their research and ended up receiving a second Nobel prize in 1911. The research conducted was critical for the development of x-rays and she was therefore made the head of the International Red Cross’ radiological service where she trained doctors in new radiological techniques. Her research meant she was exposed to high levels of radiation throughout her life and developed leukaemia, passing away in 1934. She left behind a legacy which is still discussed widely today and makes her an ideal woman to remember this Wednesday.
In 1939 WW2 struck the nation. What followed was a series of extreme decisions, the kind necessary to ensure survival through the war that threatened to destroy life as it was known: children were evacuated, ration cards handed out and bomb shelters erected in back gardens.
Undoubtedly, if these steps hadn’t been taken our great nation would be a little different today. However, what’s troubling is why was this a national emergency that required such rapid and extreme responses, yet the current threats to our survival are greeted with nothing but passive hand gestures from those at the top of the tallest ivory towers?
Several weeks ago the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, or the IPCC, released a report which elegantly informed us that if we do not do something now our planet will become too warm to sustain the life we, and our relatives on every continent, have come to be in awe of.
The earth has existed for 4.5 billion years. 4.5 Billion. Since human civilisation as we know it began some 6,000 years ago, we have managed to irrefutably damage the very core constituents that enable our existence.
Plants evolved a process that provides us oxygen so we may breath, and we cut them down. The oceans provided us with food so we wouldn’t starve, and we filled it with plastic. The atmosphere protected us from the villainous UV-rays of the sun, and we poked a hole in it.
It’s as if we are determined to push the planet to the very edge as some form of test; how much damage can we do before it’s too late? The situation is of course getting worse and now, according to the IPCC, we have 12 years to prevent further damage. Why is that not a national crisis?
Last week microplastic has reportedly been found in human faeces. For anyone who has not yet put two and two together, this means plastic has infiltrated our food chain. We are now consuming a product that is derived from crude oil, the same substance used to power jet engines, cars and BBQs. It’s a product with the potential to supress our immune systems and aid in the transmission of viruses and toxins harmful to our health. Why is this not a national crisis?
The governments most recent ban on single use plastics is a step in the right direction, but that’s all it is, a step. It could be argued that this step is actually a distraction, a way to keep the liberalists of society quiet for a time, while allowing the transnational corporations of the world to continue to profit from our earth’s impending peril.
News outlets across the globe from The Times to The Sun, from Forbes to the BBC, are all converging on one message- we must do something drastic now to save the planet or face the consequences. However this message is met with denial from society and passive hand gestures are now coupled with eye rolls. Why is this not a global crisis?
The purpose of a government is to safeguard the society they are responsible for which they cannot do if they aren’t spending time implementing ways to save the planet. We can’t recycle our way out of the problem, or plant trees out of it.
We have to make immeasurable lifestyle changes which will not occur without those with influence abseiling from their ivory towers and taking real action. No more baby steps, no more distractions, it’s time for law changes and collaboration across nations, it’s time for a WW3 style response to another WW2 problem.
This week we’re honouring the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Gerty Theresa Cori. The prize, awarded in 1947, was for the discovery of the cyclic process that describes how cells take food and convert it into energy. Not only was Theresa the first woman to win the prize for Physiology or Medicine, but she was also the first American woman to win a Nobel prize and the third woman ever! Congratulations Gerty!
Take a moment to imagine you have wings, no doubt it would be an odd sensation. Now imagine your ears are on your wings- that’s even more odd isn’t it? However, to the Satyrini butterflies this is the reality of their bodily structure.
It has been known to entomologists- those who study insects- for at least a century, that insects have evolved a diverse range of organs crucial for detecting sound and the Satyrini butterflies are no different. They have an ear-like structure located at the base of their forewing. Whilst this itself may seem particularly unusual to us it is the conspicuously swollen vein situated next to the ear-like structure that has been perplexing scientists.
Entomologists have been puzzled by the purpose of this vein, but a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto in collaboration with those at Carleton University has shown this unusual structure may aid in the butterfly’s ability to hear.
Using 30 specimens of butterfly the researchers began examining the ear membrane and wing vein structures and testing their responses to various frequencies of sound to better understand the purpose of the wing vein.
What they found has taken us one step closer to understanding the complexity of insect’s sensory organs. The inflated vein at the base of the wing is directly connected to the butterfly’s ears and therefore contributes to its ability to hear low frequency sounds. These are sounds of less than 5kHz, if you want to hear exactly what 5kHz sounds like follow the link at the end of this article, but it is within the range of human hearing as we hear from 2-5kHz.
The evidence collected suggests that this enhances the butterfly’s ability to detect sounds of the predators they would most likely encounter during the day, such as birds in flight and predator vocalisations that overlap into the hearing range of these butterflies.
As many small insects face the physical challenges associated with hearing at low frequencies, and due to the benefits to survival it so clearly presents, it is likely that these vein inflations occur in other smaller species of butterfly, something which researchers needs now explore.
Chien-Shiung Wu is the feature of this weeks Women Wednesday! She was a Chinese-American physicist who worked on the Manhattan project, a project where she helped determine the process for separating uranium metal into two isotopes, uranium-235 and uranium-238. For anyone who’s not aware, isotopes are simply different forms of the same element which have a slightly different mass due to the differing numbers of particles present in the element. Churn-Shiung Will had an undeniable contribution to the field of nuclear physics and that’s why she’s this Wednesdays featured woman!
It’s no secret that we’re losing ice across the planet but have you ever wondered just how much ice? Data from NASA has shown that on average Greenland has lost 281 billion
tons of ice every year between 1993-2016. At the same time Antarctica has lost 119 billion tons per year. This means that from Antarctica and Greenland alone 5,200 billion tons of ice has been lost over a 13 year period! I don’t know about you but that’s pretty incomprehendable to me..
Winning the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine in 1986 it’s no wonder Rita, an Italian Neurophysiologist, is considered to be a phenomenal example for those wishing to enter into the world of science.
Her nobel prize, which she shared with biochemist named Stanley Cohen, was for the discovery of nerve growth factor. This is a protein that stimulates nerve tissue surrounding cells causing the cells to grow.
In 2002, Rita founded the European Brain Research Institute which is still completing cutting edge research today!
From the tallest giraffe to the smallest bumble bee, there is an awe-inspiring spectrum of coat colour and pattern across the animal kingdom. However, it can be easy to think of a species, like the zebra for example, to be simply striped and each one look almost the same. What we fail to see without close inspection is the huge complexity and variability in these coat patterns.
This variation has been thought to play a major role in an animals’ chances of survival. It allows the avoidance of predators and parasites, regulation of body temperature and even allows individuals of the same species to recognise each other and therefore communicate. Despite it’s importance to the study of evolution little is known about the impacts of coat colouration on individual survival and species survival as a whole.
However, a recent study on Masai giraffes conducted by Dr Derek E. Lee and his team at the Wild Nature Institute, USA, has shed some light on this subject. The Masai giraffe is the tallest giraffe in the world, with adult males reaching up to 19.5 feet and females reaching 18 feet – or about 2.5 times the height of Michael Jordan. These giraffes are unique in that their coat pattern completely covers their limbs, unlike other species of giraffe which do not have patches on the legs.
Within each giraffe there is a high degree of variation in terms of colour and shape with patches ranging from those which are almost round with very smooth edges to those which are far less round with various indents.
In 1968 Anne Innis Dagg presented evidence that the shape, number, area and colour of spots on a giraffe’s coat could be passed on to offspring. These traits may have evolved because they possess the potential to camouflage offspring and therefore present a survival advantage.
Dr Lee and his team sampled wild Masai giraffes in northern Tanzania, East Africa to see if there was a correlation between coat pattern and survival rate of offspring. Their findings were consistent with the idea that both the size and shape of spots was relevant to the survival of the offspring, with the highest calf survival resulting from those with large spots that were either circular or irregular.
This is best explained by the theory of ‘enhanced background matching’ which suggests that the patterns on the offspring allow them to better match their surroundings. In the case of the giraffe, the dappled patterns on their coat match the patterns produced by light passing through the trees. This is where the offspring spend most of their time. The overall effect makes them less visible to predators and therefore less vulnerable to predation and increases chances of survival.
There is however some evidence that the spots could be linked to other survival-enhancing factors including visual communication with family members and other individuals or temperature regulation. Therefore it cannot be said with absolute certainty that camouflage thanks to their spot patterns is solely responsible for increased survival.
This unique research conducted by Dr Lee and his team is leading the way for other scientists to use the same tools used here to measure mammal coat patterns. This will only serve to enhance our understanding of the evolutionary advantages of coat pattern.