o The Frog Blog: June 2008

Thursday, 12 June 2008

The Burren Report, by Joey Miller

One of Cromwell's soldiers once said of the Burren: "Not enough water to drown a man, not enough soil in which to bury him, and nothing to do in the evening". He was absolutely right; on one occasion, Oscar Nunan once suggested, as a form of evening entertainment, going to "the field". But, then again, we didn't go to the West of Clare for its rocking night life...

The trip istelf began on a sunny June morning, the ones seemingly reserved for the opening day of the leaving certificate. But, as the respective examinees took the long walk down to the Sports Hall for the Big Summer Quiz, 50 or so 5th formers piled into a pair of coaches. Many hours, and many, many episodes of Family Guy later, and we had arrived.

The next few days have now merged into a limestone-blur of mountains, grikes, and cringingly bad jokes (courtesy, as ever, of Mr. Jones). For many, the highlight of the trip came in the form of a 3-mountain hike. I say "for many", and not "for all" because for some people the trip did not go to plan - namely a gaggle of girls who, having taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way, found themselves, bemused if pleasantly surprised, outside Father Ted's house. Go on, go on, go on....

Fanore Beach was another success, the waves more than making up for the frigid water. Our opening day walk up a hill called "Black Head" was also a popular feature of the trip... God, we even managed to fit in some time to look at a few rocks and flowers...

The hotel was surprisingly nice. Any initial fears of traditional trip accomodations were put away on arival. En suite bathrooms, goats cheese tart for dinner, and ITV4 on the box were all readily welcomed. Never mind the fact that double-beds had to be shared; who cares when "Tarrant on TV" is just a few clicks away?! (Followed, I might add, by the spectacular "Worlds Most Shocking Police Videos" - Hijack special!)

Our last day saw us visit a cave, a church, a ring fort, a portal dolmen, a "Birds of Prey" exhibition, and a McDonalds: a wide array of largely non-Biology-related events that ensured that, despite leaving the hotel at 11am, we did not arrive back at SCC until 7pm. Spending such a length of time in a coach is not adviseable under any circumstances, not least when the double-glazing acts like a magnifying glass, quietly but severley melting everyone inside. Overdosing on the marmite-esque Family Guy is also not encouraged.

Nonetheless, the hellish journey home did little to spoil what had been an enjoyable trip. Thanks to Mr. Jackson, Dr. Stone, Ms. Hennessy, and Mr. Humphrey "I'll keep trying until somebody laughs" Jones.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Lots more photos from the Burren!

A collage of pictures from the 5th Form Burren Trip 2007.

Here is but a small taster of photos from our recent 5th Form Biology Trip to the Burren in Co. Clare. Many more to follow, plus a pupil review by Joey Miller.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

A new venture!

This is the NEW Blog section to the very successful Science Department Website. While the main site will remain, it will serve as a resourse area for the pupils. It will continue to include courses notes, exams, marking schemes, puzzles and quizzes.

This new Blog will include news, photos, articles of interest, famous quotes, book reviews, teacher content and pupil work.

To put forward a piece for inclusion into the Blog, talk to you your science teacher or email: sccscience@gmail.com.

So get BLOGGING!!!
Avian Flu by Allen Crampton

Avian flu, means "flu from viruses adapted to birds“, but is sometimes mistakenly used to refer to either other flu subsets (such as H5N1 flu) or the viruses that cause them (such as H5N1).

"Bird flu" is a phrase similar to "Pig flu", "Dog flu", "Horse flu", or "Human flu" in that it refers to an illness caused by any of many different strains of flu viruses such that the strain in question has adapted to the host. "Avian flu" differs in being named after an entire vertebrate class with 8,800–10,200 species. All known avian flu viruses belong to the species of virus called Influenza A virus. All subtypes of Influenza A virus are adapted to birds, which is why for many purposes avian flu virus is the Influenza A virus.

Adaptation is sometimes partial or multiple so a flu virus strain can be partially adapted to a species or adapted to more than one species. Flu pandemic viruses are human adapted and also bird adapted. Being adapted to one species does not mean another species cannot catch it.

Genetic factors in distinguishing between human flu viruses and avian flu viruses include:

PB2:(RNA polymerase): Amino acid position 627 in the PB2 protein encoded by the PB2 RNA gene. Until H5N1, all known avian influenza viruses had a Glu at position 627, while all human influenza viruses had a lysine.

HA: (hemagglutinin): Avian influenza HA bind alpha 2-3 sialic acid receptors while human influenza HA bind alpha 2-6 sialic acid receptors. Swine influenza viruses have the ability to bind both types of sialic acid receptors.

The HA changes have not yet occurred in any sequenced H5N1 virus - even ones from humans that died from it and the PB2 changes don't stop it from being a flu virus adapted to birds.

Pandemic flu viruses have some avian flu virus genes and usually some human flu virus genes. Both the H2N2 and H3N2 pandemic strains contained genes from avian influenza viruses. The new subtypes arose in pigs coinfected with avian and human viruses and were soon transferred to humans. Swine were considered the original "intermediate host" for influenza, because they supported reassortment of divergent subtypes. However, other hosts appear capable of similar coinfection (e.g., many poultry species), and direct transmission of avian viruses to humans is possible. The Spanish flu virus strain may have been transmitted directly from birds to humans.

In spite of their pandemic connection, avian flu viruses are noninfectious for most species. When they are infectious they are usually asymptomatic, so the carrier does not have any disease from it. Thus while infected with an avian flu virus, the animal doesn't have a flu. Typically, when illness from an avian flu virus does occur, it is the result of an avian flu virus strain adapted to one species spreading to another species (usually from one bird species to another bird species).

So far as is known, the most common result of this is an illness so minor as to be not worth noticing. But with the domestication of chickens and turkeys, humans have created species subtypes (domesticated poultry) that can catch an avian flu virus adapted to waterfowl and have it rapidly mutate into a form that kills in days over 90% of an entire flock and spread to other flocks and kill 90% of them and can only be stopped by killing every domestic bird in the area.

Until H5N1 infected humans in the 1990s, this was all that was considered important about avian flu (outside of the poultry industry). Since then, avian flu viruses have been intensively studied; resulting in changes in what is believed about flu pandemics, changes in poultry farming, changes in flu vaccination research, and changes in flu pandemic planning.

H5N1 has evolved into a flu virus strain that infects more species than any previously known flu virus strain; it is deadlier than any previously known flu virus strain. It is a race between an exceptionally fast mutating virus and modern scientific research capabilities, with the winner of the race still in doubt.

The Cetacean Brain
by Lewis Matthews

For years and years it has been believed that cetaceans were incredibly smart, with intellectual abilities second only to those of humans. Dolphins in particular were branded as being the equivalent of underwater humans with abilities such as alloparental care, language and dialects, mirror self-recognition and the understanding of grammar and cultural transmission of information and many more non-scientifically tested hypotheses. Given all these features, it seems difficult to deny some form of higher intelligence, but what I want to talk to you about is a controversial study being carried out by Paul Manger of Johannesburg's University.
From his study Manger pointed out that the dolphin brain is largely made up of glia. Glia are cells that are thought to fullfill the brain’s “housekeeping” functions, such as producing heat so the brain's other main component, neurons, can work properly. Like all mammals, whales and dolphins need to maintain a body temperature of 37 degress Celsius. But in water heat is lost 90 times faster than it is on land and Manger suggests that the relatively large brains of cetaceans developed as a result of the need to maintain heat and not to produce intelligent behaviour he goes on to point out that the mammals perform tricks, such as jumping through hoops, because they are conditioned to do so for rewards, such as food. Dolphins and whales lack complexity at the neuron level and this more than anything compromises the rest of their information-processing abilities and points out that Cetaceans really may not be as intelligent as we have always thought them to be.
New Look Website

The Science Department Website has been updated recently and looks a little sharper (we think). We hope you find it easy to use. It contains new Biology and Geology notes from Dr. Stone, a new look to Mr. Jones's Biology, Agricultural Science & Junior Science pages. We're still not finished though, and further changes are on the way!

Pupils can access teacher presentations on most of their course work (in PowerPoint, Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Word format)