Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hair today-gone tommorow

Below is a lift-off from an abstract from Behavioural Brain Research Journal, except of course for my enthusiastic cheering in blue.


Group-housed laboratory mice are frequently found with their whiskers and facial hair removed. It has been proposed that dominant mice are responsible for barbering the hair of the recipient and early studies suggest that the hair is removed by nibbling.

In the present study, pairs of mice, composed of a barber and recipient, were separated to allow hair to regrow. The animals were then placed together in an observation box and their social behavior was videorecorded.

During grooming, one member of a mouse pair removed the vibrissae of the conspecific and did so by grasping individual whiskers with the incisors and plucking them out.

ouch ouch ouch

Although plucking appeared ‘painful’, recipients were passive in accepting barbering, and even pursued conspecifics for further grooming.

Pluck me baby one more time

Other measures indicated that barbers were heavier than recipients and brain weights were not different.

Like you need brains to do that

The results are discussed in relation to the hypothesis that barbering is an expression of social dominance, the origins of the barbering behavior, and the consequences of barbering on brain function.

Thats a post-doc option- Effect of barbering on brain function.

Reading this abstract I was reminded by the salon my sister goes to get her eyebrows plucked by a fat auntie....ummm ...why...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Scientist finds hunger strike effective

In an example of reverse technology transfer, a leading stem cell researcher from MIT has used our very own indigenous techinque of hunger strike to further his own cause. Experts from India point out that this technique, when used in right concentration and with close physiological monitoring could be a sure shot success.

They also caution that it could cause serious adverse health effects in case of prolonged exposure. Many activist protest that an governmental ethics committe has to be formed to regulate and restrict these activities. Experts in the field say that this move is radical and is a double-edged sword (experts are not very creative and tend to use cliches a lot).
This scientist is suspected to have collaborative links with Trimul congress, which might have trained scientists in kundalini yoga, gemology and breath control technique, all very potent weapons for aural MRI, astral urology and to cure all cancers and the burning sensation one gets the morning after a very spicy meal.
Below is an article from
An African-American associate professor of Biological Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has vowed to go on hunger strike if he does not receive tenure, alleging that it was denied because of his race.
James Sherley has been appealing the school's decision for nearly two years, and plans to camp outside the Provost's office starting on February 5 until he receives tenure.
"I will die defiantly," he said in an Email to colleagues, when asked about his plans if his protest becomes futile.
This is the first ever hunger strike in a tenure controversy.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Do you drive a big car ?

Advertised with spray cans on abandoned buildings and government property is the wisdom that larger the car one owns the small is their reproductive organ. Initially intended to scare people off buying fuel guzzling SUVs by environmentalists (it used to be the best way until Bush fucked up Iraq, now they must be printing anti-SUV posters with massacred Iraqi children) this catchy has Darwinian undertones and supports an sperm competition theory.

All one has to do is make a small assumption that cars are analogous to horns on the head of the beetles, as in they serve the purpose of attracting mates. I don’t think this is such a great stretch. But just for skeptics, I would like to point to prevailing wisdom that the men with successful career get to mate more than unsuccessful ones, and a killer cars costs more which only successful men can afford. Also since in our society one can’t know a person if someone is actually successful by looking at his bank balance (OK. lets be materialist for a while, its easier to defend in evolutionary theory) one has to look at ‘markers’ for success. And that would be a fancy car or Armani suits. So these objects can be ‘weapons’ that help in attracting mates and securing a mating session.

Evolutionary theory predicts that organisms have limited resources that they can decide to use between having betters weapons of mate attraction and having better testis size. This was experimentally proved by group of scientists working on a genus of horned beetle. By cauterizing a group of cells in the larval stage, which would later become horns, they engineered beetles without horns. They found that they cauterized males has disproportionately large testes.

It doesn’t sound very intuitive to think that resources that can be used to further the genetic cause (sperm production) are diverted to make better weapons, which are for attracting mates. But one can argue that attracting a mate is the logical first step in furthering ones genes, but why does it have to be done at the expense of all important sperm production?

To think of this in terms of probabilities, what is the probability that an organism will be able to have an offspring with average attracting capabilities and very large amount of ejaculate? Is this probability lower than the probability of having offspring when an organism has lower sperm count and very large attraction capabilities?May be the weapons can influence the frequency of mating encounters and make up for the lower sperm count from lower resource allocation for testis. We dont know for sure if having bigger horns is better or bigger testis is.

The resource allocation conundrum that these organisms face seem to be a developmental phenomenon, where body parts that were closer in the larval stage have more competition for the same resources and resulting trade-off in their morphology. According to this theory the authors have predicted that the trade off effect would be more pronounced in species that have horns from their thorax rather than the head, as its farther way in the developing tissue.

But surveying the natural population of 25 species for this trade off between horns and testes, the authors did not find any significant relationship between the two. But other observations like evolution of an extra thoracic horn in species, which have less mating competition show that sperm competition constrains origin of new horns.

This paper gives a fascinating insight into development of secondary sexual characters and the important role it plays in sperm competition and evolutionary success. Also the perplexing thought that evolution has to choose between male investment in gaining matings and fertilizations.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Got Milk? They make good fire bombs.

Mystery of the exploding custard factories explained.
Science experiments in school have always been boring. Uninspiring teachers and rude attenders make it real hell. I have always felt lost, bored, clueless, an intense desire to burn the place down etc etc...But in a quest to make experiments a little entertaining in school, a teacher demonstrated the hidden explosive power of innocuous looking milk powder(see pics in link). He sprinkled milk power on an open flame which made the powder explode into a big fireball several meters high.
Apart from the entertainment value and the noble agenda of attracting bright kids into science, this demonstration also explains the risk of storing of powdered material in large scale and the fact that reactivity of materials is related to its surface area. Milk (custard powder also) is not combustible in liquid form, but when dried and powdered more of its area is exposed to air making it combustible.
See the explosive experiment in the series of pics in this link

Monday, October 16, 2006

Vervet monkey and George Bush

An eariler post discussed the intricacies of the blue-balls of vervet monkeys. These monkeys have a lot more in common with humans; hypertension, anxiety and alchoholism. Their alcoholic behavior has a startling parallels to human behaviour and is being studied as an animal model for alcoholism. Some of the similarities are....

1. They don’t have to be trained to drink alcohol.

2. They drink only alcohol when they have access and won’t stop till they have are intoxicated or in comatose state.

3. When a social drinker they prefer their drink with sweetened liquid.

4. Once heavy drinkers they prefer to drink with water and drink more during the day.

5. After a period of alcohol deprivation, they come back to the bottle with a vengeance and drink in 4 hours what they drink in 24 hours.

6. They drink local rum without any pairing or with sweet taste (yeah cocktails are for wussies).

7. They prefer to drink between 4 PM to 8 AM.

8. They drink to the point of heart, liver and intestinal damage.

Watch this clip, its pretty funny.

Fold me baby one more time

I washed and hung my full-sleeved shirt to dry. The toughest part of washing ones clothes is to get them folded after the afternoon sun crisps them. I labor at it every week to get those unwieldy clothes into order, but I never get better at it. That’s when I realized that I have a folding problem.

It turns out that it’s not that uncommon at all. Proteins that run the cellular household have to be folded into intricate shape to make them active.. If they aren’t folded properly the result can be disease like Alzheimers. Likewise DNA has to be folded into a helix, so folding is that trivial afterall.

In everyday life, airbags have to be folded, large lenses have to be folded, fit into spacecrafts and sent to space. Stents have to folded and sent into arteries and unfolded at the right places to remove a clot. Parachutes have to be folded. Basically these are design problems; things have to be folded into smaller dimensions.

This is what the ancient Japanese time pass, origami does. I used to think it was a useless pursuit folding neat sheets of papers into shapes, but one physicist, Robert J. Lang formerly with Caltech has made Origami into a precise science. He has written a program, which will generate complex folding patterns and give the exact location of the folds on paper. His work puts mathematical foundations to origami, in the patterns and locations of folds, spawning new disciplines like Computational origami and Origami mathematics. His algorithm gives efficient and the best way to fold complicated shapes like a dinasaur.

Now he is a full time origami artist and also works as a consultant for many companies and research organizations on their folding problem.

Check out his website
Now I have to go and fold my starched white full sleeve monster.