Four shorter stories: 1

 

This blog exists as a canvas on which I paint my various musings on science and medicine (and some other things). Years of training does more than just make you able to interpret scientific findings – it makes you acutely aware of how much else there is out there to learn! But sometimes I don’t have enough to say on a particular subject to fill a full article, and that’s okay. This new feature (if it becomes a feature) is where I introduce some short stories that captured my interest, but I haven’t immediately found myself internally linking them to a wider context.

I present to you: the Amazon molly

Let’s start off this serious of short stories in the way we mean to go on, with a story about peculiar mating habits! I believe I read about this phenomenon a while ago in The Scientist magazine, and it stuck with me.

The name of the fish is a reference to the all-female Amazon warriors from Greek mythology for a reason: they reproduce by gynogenesis. This means that only the genetic material from the females of the species is incorporated into their offspring. The Amazon molly mates with a male of a fish from the same genus as itself (Poecilia), but the sperm is required only to initiate embryogenesis (the division of the egg to form a viable embryo).

Though it is interesting, this method of reproduction does limit the ability of the population to be genetically diverse. Two key sources of genetic variability in humans, for example, are from the crossing of chromosomes from two species in sexual reproduction and genetic mutations. The Amazon molly benefits only from the latter, but is able to reproduce faster. A smaller gene pool means that the Amazon molly is less able to adapt to changes in its environment such as disease or climate change.

 

Put Solar on it 

This is a project encouraging people to put solar panels on their homes, commercial building and lands to produce more renewable energy, and it had a national day in the US as a call to action.

Climate change has long been an issue for experts, scientists and politicians, but it’s time to change that. If we want to preserve out own earth we should consider making changes ourselves. Solar panels are now cheaper than ever before, and renewable energy has been proven to be a viable source for all our needs.

 

Wind farms and hurricanes

Another story from the US, and one I heard on Inquiring Minds podcast many moons ago.

Our power industry relies on the conversion of one type of energy being converted to another. Batteries are chemical energy converted to electrical energy, coal/gas are heat energy being converted to electrical energy and wind farms are kinetic energy being converted to electrical energy.

Energy is not just created, it is converted.

It therefore stands that, when we use wind power, we reduce the amount of wind evergy in the atmosphere. A study was carried out wherein it was stipulated that 78,000 turbines could have knocked down Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy. That’s a lot of free energy, and these turbines could actually save lives.

Does this change what we know about wind power? Well, no, but it might make people listen.

Is it feasible? There is no reason why not.

 

Project Steve

Finally, this is something I heard about on one of my many super fun Science Podcasts. Project Steve is a parody of the tendency of creationist organisations to list those who naysay evolution, amongst many things.

Quite simply, it is a sort of petition wherein scientists called Steve put their name down to support evolution. At the time of writing, 1389 Steves had signed – the website notes that ‘”Steves” are only about 1% of scientists’ to remind us all just how wrong the tradition is to frame certain scientific doctrines as “disputed”.

 

A note from the author: As I sometimes write on emotive subjects, comments are disabled after 14 days. This is because ongoing discussions tend to stagnate.

How anyone can be a Scientist

 

What is Citizen Science and why should I care?

Citizen science is a brand new area of scientific research that has only received proper acknowledgement in the last few decades, and it is an area in which everyone can get involved.

In particular, areas such as bird-watching (ornithology) or astronomy lend themselves to this form of work. This is both because the number of interested non-scientists far outweigh the number of scientists in these fields, and because the scientific method can be simple. The value of such research to generate big data is undeniable!

In a world where even academic research is often directed at only those projects that industry is willing to fund, it is essential that we still support the less economically viable work.

How can I be involved?

What a good question!

There are a massive amount of projects you can get involved in, and many of them are on the website Scistarter in the US, Countryside JobsCitizen Science or even on Wikipedia.

I have been involved with Sea Hero Quest, a game that aids Dementia research through assessing the spatial memory of players. This sort of data is valuable to determine a baseline for what goes wrong in Dementia. This is important because our scientific community is currently struggling to find an effective cure or even a treatment for Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and that is partially due to difficulties in early diagnosis.

If you happened to read my post from last week, you may be interested to know that there are also projects involving taking samples from volunteers. uBiome is a company that sequences Microbiome data from paying volunteers. This data could have a massive impact on our understanding of the Microbiome and its connections to human diseases.

Other projects can involve surveys, such as OPAL surveys to assess the state of our environment, bug surveys by Buglife to keep an eye on our insect populations, BirdTrack to give our airbourne friends some help, Treezilla, which is a project to record all of the country’s trees and the list goes on… I’ve just documented some of the nature-related surveys and projects in which I’ve taken part – there are hundreds of projects relating to pretty much any area of science!

 

A note from the author: As I sometimes write on emotive subjects, comments are disabled after 14 days. This is because ongoing discussions tend to stagnate.

References:

  1. BBC article on Citizen science
  2. The UK Environmental Observation Framework’s details on Citizen Science