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Improving Undergraduate STEM Education: Pathways into Geoscience | Government Grants

The NSF-wide IUSE initiative acknowledges the variety of discipline-specific challenges and opportunities facing STEM faculty as they strive to incorporate results from educational research into classroom practice and work with education research colleagues and social science learning scholars to advance our understanding of effective teaching and learning.

Back by popular demand: the Venezuelan poodle moth [Life Lines]


It is hard to believe that I have been sharing my passion for comparative physiology and its application to human and animal health with you for over 7 years now! In reminiscing over the last 7 years, I thought it would be fun to look back at the most popular posts. So, here goes…

The most popular blog post since 2010 featured the adorable Venezuelan poodle moth…


Posted August 29, 2012:

I was browsing through The Scientist and came across this image of a Venezuelan poodle moth that I could not resist sharing:

Image by: Arthur Anker on flickr. What is interesting about this particular moth is that scientists are trying to figure out what type of moth it is (its phylogeny).

The flickr website by Dr. Arthur Anker, a Zoologist, contains photos of numerous other beautiful butterflies and moths.

My other favorites on his website:

Leucanella maasseni, which looks like it could be related to batman (from this view at least):

Lymantria alexandrae (Lymantriidae), just look at those antennae:

My new favorite though, is the chicken worm caterpillar:

Image result for chicken worm caterpillar anker flickr

Chicken worm (caterpillar of Megalopyge sp, Megalopygidae) by Arthur Anker, via Flickr

Chicken worm (caterpillar of Megalopyge sp, Megalopygidae) | by Arthur Anker

#4: Komodo Dragons have antibacterial blood [Life Lines]


Here is the 4th most popular post so far this year:

Varanus komodoensis6.jpg

Picture of a komodo dragon by CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Researchers studying komodo dragons (Varanus komodoensis) at George Mason University discovered 48 previously unknown peptides in their blood that might have antimicrobial properties. Their findings were published in the Journal of Proteome Research. For the largest lizard, these peptides may help prevent the animals from getting infections from their own saliva, which is host to at least 57 species of bacteria. With this number of bacteria, it is easy to understand why they evolved so many defense mechanisms to prevent infections from their own saliva as well as bite injuries during fights with other dragons.

The researchers isolated and synthesized 8 of the peptides and tested their ability to fight infections. Seven of the peptides were found to have antimicrobial activity against Pseudomonas aeruginosa as well as Staphylococcus aureus whereas the 8th peptide showed antimicrobial activity only towards P. aeruginosa. Thus, for humans these proteins may pave the way for the development of new treatments for antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains.


BM Bishop, ML Juba, PS Russo, M Devine, SM Barksdale, S Scott, R Settlage, P Michalak, K Gupta, K Vliet, JM Schnur, ML van Hoek. Discovery of Novel Antimicrobial Peptides from Varanus komodoensis (Komodo Dragon) by Large-Scale Analyses and De-Novo-Assisted Sequencing Using Electron-Transfer Dissociation Mass Spectrometry. Journal of Proteome Research. In Press. doi: 10.1021/acs.jproteome.6b00857

Pollution: not “an unavoidable consequence” of development [The Pump Handle]


The headlines are grabbing people’s attention:

CBC News: “Pollution causing more deaths worldwide than war or smoking“; CNN: “Pollution linked to 9 million deaths worldwide in 2015, study says“; BBC: “Pollution linked to one in six deaths“;  Associated Press: “Pollution killing more people every year than wars, disaster and hunger, study says“;  The Independent: “Pollution is killing millions of people a year and the world is reaching ‘crisis point’, experts warn.“

News outlets are referring to a report released yesterday by The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health. The report’s authors—an international team of nearly 50 public health scientists—spent nearly two years synthesizing data on the human health effects and economic costs of toxic substances in the air, soil, and water.

Their definition of pollution comes from the European Union:

“unwanted, often dangerous, material that is introduced into the Earth’s environment as the result of human activity, that threatens human health, and that harms ecosystems.”

The headlines whet my appetite for more of the numbers and the report delivers. For example, the committee’s analysis indicates:

An estimated 9 million deaths in 2015 can be attributed to air, water, and soil pollution. This compares to an estimated 4 million deaths from obesity, 2.3 million from alcohol, and 1.4 million on roadways.
Pollution related deaths are responsible for three times as many deaths from AIDs, TB, and malaria combined.
Pollution related deaths are responsible for nearly 15 times as many deaths as those from wars and all forms of violence.

The report, however, goes much deeper than calculations and point estimates. Laced throughout the report—explicit and implicit—is a message that governments, foundations, medical societies, and research institutions pay too little attention to the impact of pollution on health. The authors call out political actors, international development and health organizations for ignoring pollution in their agendas. The authors write:

“Although more than 70% of the diseases caused by pollution are non-communicable diseases, interventions against pollution are barely mentioned in the [World Health Organization’s] Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases.”

The identify several factors for the neglect:

“… A persistent impediment has been the flawed conventional wisdom that pollution and disease are the unavoidable consequences of economic development, the so-called ‘environmental Kuznets hypothesis.’ This Commission vigorously challenges that claim as a flawed and obsolete notion formulated decades ago when populations and urban centres were much smaller than they are today, the nature, sources, and health effects of pollution were very different, and cleaner fuels and modern production technologies were not yet available.

The authors do not shy away from articulating a path forward to address pollution. I agree with their assessment that sustainable long-term solutions will require a fundamental economic shift. We must move away from the “resource-intensive, and inherently wasteful, linear take-make-use-dispose economic paradigm.” (It’s a mouthful but sums it up well.) We must embrace and adopt a new economic system that the authors describe as one in which:

“pollution is reduced through the creation of durable, long-lasting products, the reduction of waste by large-scale recycling, reuse, and repair, the removal of distorting subsidies, the replacement of hazardous materials with safer alternatives, and strict enforcement of pollution taxes.  …[An economy that] conserves and increases resources, rather than taking and depleting them.”

The Lancet Commission’s report generated some eye catching headlines. I’m glad I took the time to read it. I hope many others do too.

#3: Zebra Finches Reward Themselves for singing well [Life Lines]


The #3 post so far this year explored how zebra finches reward themselves for singing well:


Dopamine is an important hormone released from neurons involved in reward pathways. Researchers at Cornell University wanted to know if dopamine signaling was involved in how birds learn songs. Their findings, recently published in Science, present evidence that neurons in the brain of zebra finches do in fact decrease dopamine signals when the birds hear an error in their song in comparison to when they sing ‘correctly’. The researchers also found that dopamine signaling was enhanced  when the birds corrected a mistake made during a prior attempt.  


V. Gadagkar, P.A. Puzerey, R. Chen, E. Baird-Daniel, A.R. Farhang, J.H. Goldberg. Dopamine neurons encode performance error in singing birds. Science, 354:1278-82, 2016.

The Scientist

Video from YouTube