o The Frog Blog: January 2011

Monday, 31 January 2011

Did Frogs Re-evolve Lower Teeth?

Did you know that most frogs have teeth? Seriously, the majority of frogs have a ridge of very small cone teeth around the upper edge of the jaw, called Maxillary Teeth. Frogs often also have what are called Vomerine Teeth on the roof of their mouth. The so-called "teeth" are not used for chewing but to hold the prey and keep it in place till they can get a good grip on it before squashing their eyeballs down to swallow their meal. However, only one species of frog has teeth on their lower jaws too - Gastrotheca guentheri - and new research into this unusual species now sees evolutionists reassessing the laws of nature. 

A team of researchers from Stony Brook University in New York have shown that prehistoric frogs lost their lower teeth 230 million years ago but this species of Gastrotheca (known as marsupial frogs because they carry their eggs in pouches) "re-evolved" their lower teeth 20 million years ago. The team reviewed fossil evidence and the DNA sequence of frogs during their research. The evidence seemingly goes against Dollo's Law, which states that evolution is irreversible, and the scientists suggest there may be a loophole in the law. The leader of the research team, Dr. John Weins explains
"The loss of mandibular teeth in the ancestor of modern frogs and their re-appearance in G. guentheri provides very strong evidence for the controversial idea that complex anatomical traits that are evolutionarily lost can re-evolve, even after being absent for hundreds of millions of years"
Dr. Weins suggests that because the frogs have always had teeth on their upper jaw, the "mechanisms for developing teeth" have always been present, they simply evolved lower teeth in a different manner than their ancestors. In the last decade, scientists have identified and debated several attributes that have apparently "re-evolved" over time including stick insect's wings, coiling in limpet shells, larval stages of salamanders and lost digits in lizards. 

Science Quotes - Edwin Hubble

"Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science."

"The history of astronomy is a history of receding horizons."

"Observations always involve theory."

"At the last dim horizon, we search among ghostly errors of observations for landmarks that are scarcely more substantial. The search will continue. The urge is older than history. It is not satisfied and it will not be oppressed."

Saturday, 29 January 2011

YouTube Saturday - A Day Without Chemistry

Imagine a day without cars, electric lights, TV, telephones, safe food, water, medicine, clothing, your house, and other things that make up modern life. Do it, and you are imagining a day without chemistry. This fun, short animated video shows us what would happen if our knowledge of chemistry didn't exist. Incidentally, 2011 marks the beginning of the International Year of Chemistry, so why not take some time this year to appreciate the importance of chemistry in your everyday life!

Friday, 28 January 2011

CESI Conference 2011

The Computers in Education Society of Ireland (CESI) hold their annual conference on Saturday February 5th in Portlaoise College from 9:00am to 4:30am. The CESI is an association of practicing teachers from primary, post primary and third level with the common interest of using ICT to benefit teaching and learning. The conference will see a blend of workshops and talks aimed at providing educators with additional information to help them incorporate computer technology into their teaching. Those who wish to attend are asked to register here before February 2nd. A full programme of events is available to download here and the cost of the event is just €30, which includes lunch. The conference is preceded by a CESI Meet on Friday evening in the Heritage Hotel Portlaoise (unfortunately this event is now currently booked out).

At 2:30pm on Saturday, Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones, along with St. Columba's College colleague and SCC English front-man Julian Girdham, will present a talk on "Building and Growing a Subject Blog". This 45 minute talk will look at the ways both of our subject blogs have developed and expanded over the past number of years, their benefits for students and teachers, and the extent to which they reach beyond the school to wider blogging, educational and intellectual communities. We will also discuss their use of podcasts, Twitter, self-publishing and other tools. This year's CESI Conference is sure to be a brilliant event and we look forward to meeting you all there!

Space Shuttle Challenger Remembered

Twenty five years ago today (January 28th 1986) the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart seventy three seconds into its launch, instantly killing the seven crew members on board (Astronauts Ellison Onizuka, Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, Judith Resnik, Mike Smith, Dick Scobee and Ron McNair). This was the first time the United States had lost astronauts during a flight (the crew of Apollo 1 died during a pre-flight test 44 years ago yesterday and next week will see the 8th anniversary of the Columbia disaster where all seven crew members died) and the shocking revelation still resonates throughout the world. It is believed that a seal in the rocket booster failed on launch, unable to cope with the freezing weather which preceded the flight. The faulty seal caused a release of pressurised hot gas, which resulted in the detachment of the solid rocket boosters (SRB). It was ultimately aerodynamics that caused the orbiter itself to break up. Today we remember the crew of Challenger, as well as all those who died in the pursuit of space science. Below is the horrific live video from CNN, which permanently records the Challenger disaster.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Bats Poo Boosts Pitcher Plant's Diet

Living in the dense jungles of Borneo are the pitcher plants - a group of carnivorous plants which supplement their diet with insects, frogs or sometimes even rats. But one such pitcher plant, N. rafflesiana elongata (pictured across), has been discovered by a team of researchers from the University of Brunei which is practically useless at capturing insects or other critters. However, it has developed a new means of gaining extra nutrients - by allowing bats to live within its pitcher and feeding off their poo! The strange mutually beneficial relationship sees the plant gain extra nitrogen to grow (the soil in which it lives is quite low in nutrients) while the bat benefits from having a secure roosting place that is also free of blood-sucking ectoparasites that often accumulate in bat roosts. For more information on this extremely interesting scientific study click here.

Visceral - The Living Art Experiment

The Science Gallery, one of our favourite places to visit in Dublin City, welcomes a new exhibit this Friday. VISCERAL - THE LIVING ART EXPERIMENT brings us a series of artworks, made from living tissue, to the Science Gallery. It is sure to challenge our very perception of art, make us wonder and also make us squirm a little. The exhibit is presented by SymbioticA, a leading art-science lab based in Perth at The University of Western Australia. According to their website:
VISCERAL forms a series of provocations and puzzles around the nature of the living and non-living, asking  us to consider the myriad of possible implications of our new biotechnological toolkit. VISCERAL incorporates ten years of challenging work at the frontier between fine art and biotechnology. For a whole month the entire SymbioticA laboratory will be transplanted from Perth to Dublin, allowing Science Gallery visitors to witness and participate in a series of living art experiments.
VISCERAL is guaranteed to be a huge hit for the Science Gallery, when it opens on Friday 28th January. There is a VIP preview on Thursday evening (tickets available here) and further information on VISCERAL's brilliant range of exhibits is available here. There is also a detailed brochure you can download here.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Digging Dinosaur Discovered

A two legged, one fingered digging dinosaur has been discovered by palaeontologists, including Dr David Hone from UCD's Biology and Environmental Science Department, in Northern China. The parrot sized relative of T. rex is the first dinosaur to be found with just one finger on each hand. The new species, Linhenykus monodactylus is a member of the theropod dinosaurs, the group of two-legged carnivores that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and Velociraptor. Most theropods had three fingers on each hand. It is believed that the dinosaur used its extended finger to burrow through termites nests. The new dinosaur was discovered in a fossil-rich rock formation that dates to the late Cretaceous period, between 84 and 75 million years ago. The site is near the Inner Mongolian town of Linhe, which helped inspire the new dinosaur's name. Click here to find out more about this latest dino discovery.

Monday, 24 January 2011

UCD Science Summer School

The UCD Science Summer School is an opportunity for 5th Year pupils to really experience first hand what it is like to be a scientist. If you are studying at least one laboratory science subject for your leaving cert, you can apply to take part in this exciting programme which is designed to give you an insight into life as a UCD Science student. The school is run from 10:30am to 5:00pm on June 8 2011 and will include a series of lectures and practicals in areas like Biological, Biomedical and Biomolecular Sciences, Chemistry and Chemical Sciences as well as Mathematical and Physical Sciences. Students can register their interest by sending an email to ciara.ohanlon@ucd.ie, who will send you an application form. Permission is required from a parent or guardian to attend. The one day Science Summer School costs just €25 and includes your lunch with coffee and tea on arrival. It is sure to be a great day, jam packed full of interesting activities. For more information on the UCD Science Summer School click here. Full details of UCD's science degrees can be obtained here. There is also a UCD Computer Science Summer School, which will take place later in June. For information on this event click here.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

YouTube Saturday - Is Seeing Believing?

This week's YouTube Saturday Video is taken from a BBC Horizon documentary which looks at the science of illusion and how our minds often seem like they're playing tricks on us. An absolutely brilliant documentary.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Biology 4 Kids

Rader's Biology 4 Kids is an excellent website for anyone (even big kids) who wants to find out about basic biological principles. The simple to use site contains information and clear graphics on topics like cell structure, cell function, scientific studies, plants, vertebrates, invertebrates, and other life science topics. The information is presented in a tour format, which is extremely easy to use and follow. There are also a series of quizzes to complete, to test your learning, as well as relevant links to Rader's other excellent websites including Chem 4 Kids, Physics 4 Kids & Geography 4 Kids. Go check it out!

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Resurrecting the Mammoth

The infamous Woolly Mammoth may be about to make a return, thanks to a team of researchers from Japan, Russia and the US, who plan to use cloning techniques to resurrect the species from frozen tissue obtained from a Russian Mammoth research centre. The same scientists recently perfected the isolation of DNA from frozen cells. The researchers hope to isolate the DNA from the mammoth cells, then insert it into an Elephant's egg (which has had its nucleus removed). This technique is called nuclear transfer and is similar to how scientists from the Roslin Institute in Scotland cloned Dolly the Sheep back in 1996 (Click here to see a diagram of how Dolly was cloned). If all goes well, the research team expect to resurrect the lost majestic beast within 5 years.

Slime Mould Farms Bacteria

Amoeba are some of the simplest organisms on the planet. While just a single cell, barely visible to the naked eye, these organisms still display all the characteristics of living things. Now, new research has been published in Nature which suggests that one type of singled celled Amoeba (Dictyostelium discoideum, commonly called Slime Mould) appears to "farm" bacteria for food. The researchers have shown that when the bacteria become scarce, the slime mould gathers up into a "fruiting body" and produces spores, which disperse in the wind to new areas. The scientists have discovered than one third of these spores also contain the bacteria that form the diet of the slime mould, thus allowing the new generation begin farming these bacteria for food. The team of researchers, based in Copenhagen, also discovered that the behaviour is genetically programmed, as only amoebae from "farming" parents behave in such a way. For more information on this story, click here to visit the BBC Science website.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Google Science Fair

Last week's hugely successful BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition saw over 500 projects compete for this year's young scientist crown. The eventual winner, Amexander Amini took home the €5000 prize and will now represent Ireland at the European Young Scientist in Helsinki next September. The tremendous success of events of this kind now see internet giants Google get in on the act.

Google have just launched a brand new online science project competition, Google Science Fair, for students aged 13 to 18. The global competition asks individuals or groups of up to three to complete a science project and present your methods, results and principle conclusions either in a two minute video or a twenty slide presentation. Entrants must also showcase their project on Google Site. There are some excellent prizes on offer, including a 10 day trip to the Galapagos Islandsa €50,000 scholarship and trips to CERN and Lego. For more information on this brilliant competition, tips for completing your project, full prize details and resources for teachers click here. The closing date for entries is April 4th, so you have loads of time to plan your project. 

Weird & Wonderful Animals - Aye Aye

Native to Madagascar, the Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis) is a strange animal that combines rodent-like teeth with a long, thin middle finger to fill the same ecological niche as a woodpecker. In reality, the Aye-aye is the world's largest nocturnal primate spending the entire day curled up in a ball-like nest of leaves and branches. The Aye-aye is famous for it's aforementioned thin middle finger, which it uses to great effect in its hunt for food. The Aye-aye taps on trees to find grubs, then gnaws holes in the wood and inserts its elongated middle finger to pull the grubs out. The digit is also useful for scooping the flesh out of coconuts and other fruits that supplement the animal's insect diet.

In grave danger of extinction, the Aye-aye's habitat is quickly being destroyed. The forests of Madagascar are being cleared for sugar cane and coconut plantations, leaving the Aye-aye without food or home. Many people in Madagascar see the Aye-aye as a bad omen, and many of these weird yet wonderful animals are killed on sight. The Aye-aye is now protected by law.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Haiti's Lost Frogs Rediscovered

Scientists in Haiti have found six long-lost species of frogs in the devastated country's forests, including the critically endangered La Hotte glanded frog (above), which sees the world through unusual, sapphire-colored eyes. Other unique species include a whistling frog named after composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a 'ventriloquist' frog that can throw its voice to send predators in the wrong direction. These species are amongst a half a dozen newly rediscovered Haitian species, which had not been seen for nearly two decades and occur nowhere else in the world. The team, led by Robin Moore from Conservation International, embarked on the search in order to find the elusive La Selle Grass Frog (E. glanduliferoides), unseen in over 25 years. However, they failed to find it, but uncovered tantalising glimpses of a handful of Haiti's other 48 native species of amphibians.

Science Quotes - Galileo Galilei

"Count what is countable, measure what is measurable, and what is not measurable, make measurable"

"I therefore concluded, and decided unhesitatingly, that there are three stars in the heavens moving about Jupiter, as Venus and Mercury about the Sun; which at length was established as clear as daylight by numerous other observations"

"In my studies of astronomy and philosophy I hold this opinion about the universe, that the Sun remains fixed in the centre of the circle of heavenly bodies, without changing its place; and the Earth, turning upon itself, moves round the Sun"

"Mathematics is the key and door to the sciences"

Saturday, 15 January 2011

YouTube Saturday - Science Gallery Highlights 2010

The excellent Science Gallery, found within the grounds of Trinity College Dublin, is a unique and wondrous place where art and science collide. They have a very exciting series of exhibitions scheduled for 2011, starting with Visceral - The Living Art Experiment beginning on January 28th. However, this week's YouTube Saturday looks back on the highlights of 2010 at the Science Gallery, including the Love Lab, the Hyperbolic Crochet Coral Exhibition, Biorhythm and more. It's been a busy year guys!

BT Young Scientist & Technology Winners Announced

Last night, during a glittering awards ceremony, the winner of the 47th annual BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition was announced! Fiftenn year old Alexander Amini from Castleknock College, Dublin took home the overall prize for his project entitled, “Tennis sensor data analysis”. The announcement was made by Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Ms. Mary Coughlan, T.D and Graham Sutherland, CEO, BT Ireland, at the awards ceremony held last night at the RDS in Dublin. Alexander, a 4th year student, was entered in the Technology category, Intermediate section.

Alexander was presented with a cheque for €5,000, a Waterford Crystal trophy and the opportunity to represent Ireland at the 22nd European Union Young Scientist competition taking place in Helsinki, Finland this coming September.

Further awards were presented for the Best Group Project which went to 4th year students Thomas Cronin, Dylan Cross and Jeremy Barisch-Rooney from Colaiste Muire, Crosshaven, Co Cork for their project entitled “DIY wind power – portable community generators for the Third World".

The award for individual runner-up went to 5th year student James Doyle, Presentation de la Salle College, Carlow for his project entitled “The potential of waste materials from hedgerow cuttings as a feasible biomass fuel". 17 year old James was entered in the Biological & Ecological Sciences category, Senior section.

The award for group runner-up went to Kinsale Community School, Cork 1st year students Ciara Judge, Royanne McGregor and Sophie Healy-Thow for their project entitled “A statistical analysis of public attitudes to cholesterol and its control.” The girls were entered in the Social & Behavioural Sciences, Junior section.

A sincere Frog Blog congratulations to all the winners and indeed participants. I was personally astonished by the amazing standard of projects this year. A hearty congratulations to BT also, who continue to sponsor this wonderful and unique science event after 11 years. For more information on the BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition please visit www.btyoungscientist.com or twitter.com/btyste

Friday, 14 January 2011

Dawn Running Dinosaur Discovered

Palaeontologists have unearthed a previously unknown carnivorous dinosaur in Argentina, which many now believe to be the birthplace of the dinosaur. The dog sized dino is thought to be over 230 million years old, making it the second oldest meat eating dinosaur ever discovered. It has been named "Dawn Runner" and is an ancient ancestor of the Tyrannosaurus and Allosaurus. Its discovery is sure to shed light on the evolution of early dinosaurs, particularly the theropods - large bipedal dinosaurs. However, the new species, Eodromaeus murphi, was only 1.3 meters long and would have barely reached the knees of an adult human. But this unassuming little dinosaur gave rise to the theropods, the most ferocious of all dinosaurs. For more information visit Discovery News or watch the short video below.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Vampire Flying Frog Discovered in Vietnam

A new species of frog, the Vampire Flying Frog (Rhacophorus vampyrus) has been discovered in the jungles of Vietnam. The odd amphibian earns its gruesom name from its tadpoles black fangs, the first time such a feature has been found in tadpoles. The tadpoles do not suck blood however. The frog is unable to truly fly either, as the name might suggests, but is able to glide from tree to tree using its webbed toes.

The tadpoles fangs, described as "keratinised hooks" in the journal entry on the species, may possibly be used for hunting or eating, though they seem to project too far outwards from the mouth to be much use for those activities. They could also be used as anchor points to help the tadpoles grip the sides of small ponds in tree holes where the frogs breed and live. The adult frogs (just 5cm long) spend most of their lives in trees and lay their eggs in pools of water formed within the tree structure. As mentioned before, they sport unusual amounts of webbing, thus giving them the ability to glide.

Science Week Art Competition

The above chalk sketch of the Sun, as seen by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, was produced by Luke Finnerty from Dublin (aged 11), who partook in Deirdre Kelleghan's (@skysketcher on Twitter) Rapid Rockets and Wicked Robots astronomy workshops in November. For his efforts, Luke has won the runner-up slot in our Frog Blog Science Week Art Competition. He wins a €25 iTunes Gift Voucher. Well done Luke! The winner was announced earlier this week as Rachel Rogers from St. Columba's College.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Irish Times BANG Science Monthly #3

The third edition of BANG, the excellent science monthly magazine for teens is out now and available in today's Irish Times. In this month's issue are a great range of features including a timeline of human invention, a review of the best of this year's BT Young Scientist & Technology Exhibition, the crazy world of special effects, why haven't they invented intelligent machines (from Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones), strange diets, the science of Cheryl Cole, more screen science, the science gallery and loads more. Visit the Irish Times Science website or check out today's Irish Times.

BANG are also on Twitter and Facebook!

Irish Times BANG - Bright Sparks at the BT Young Scientist Exhibition

The latest issue of the brilliant Irish Times Science Mag BANG is out today and coincides with the start of the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition. In this month's issue, John Holden meets some of the brightest sparks at this years contest and reviews some of the projects.
A phone smart enough to start your heart


Owen Killian and Lucas Grange of Belvedere College, Dublin have designed a defibrillator app for a smart phone. A defibrillator is a device capable of detecting and analysing a person’s cardiac wave forms for signs of abnormal activity. It can detect this and defibrillate the heart through a large electric shock.


Combining their interests in engineering and medicine, the two students noticed how sudden cardiac death had been a hot topic in the media of late and yet little was being done about it. Regular defibrillators are heavy, bulky and expensive.

“By integrating the device with the near-universal smart phone there would be far greater availability of defibrillators at a lower cost and increased portability,” says Owen.


In the US alone, sudden cardiac death accounts for half of all cardiac related deaths each year. The students’ invention is only at the proof of concept stage. But, as the students point out, “if it ever reaches the market it will be a huge step forward in terms of combating sudden cardiac death”.

Irish Times BANG - Intelligent Machines

INTELLIGENT MACHINES, which can learn about their surroundings, express emotion, use reason, play and think, have been the plot source for loads of science fiction movies.

In the The Matrix , humans go to war against artificially intelligent machines that are powered by the humans grown in pods. In Stanley Kubrick’s mystifying masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey (pictured above) super computer HAL has an emotional breakdown on a mission to Jupiter. In The Terminator , Arnold Schwarzenegger is an intelligent robot assassin sent from the future to destroy John Connor, the leader of the human resistance, before he is even born. And in A.I . Artificial Intelligence , Haley Joel Osment plays a robot boy, programmed to feel love, who finds it difficult to comprehend his non-human existence.

In all of these films, machines are able to think, feel, learn, predict, communicate, adapt, plan, reason and generally mimic the emotional and intellectual behaviour of humans.

Could such an intelligent machine be invented? The answer is most likely yes: intelligent computer programs are already in use every day. But creating a fully functioning artificially intelligent being is a bit more complicated.

The term artificial intelligence (or AI) was coined by American scientist John McCarthy in 1956. Back then, scientists wanted to create computer software programs that thought like humans – which could solve algebra problems, play and learn logical games like chess, solve puzzles and even engage in conversation. The focus was on creating intelligent software rather than intelligent machines and relied on the idea that humans used step-by-step deduction to solve problems. We now realise that the human thought process is a lot more complicated than that.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Science Week Art Competition Winners

We are delighted to announce the winners of last year's Frog Blog Science Week Art Competition. In first place is Rachel Rogers (Aged 16 from St. Columba's College) for her excellent painting of a Golden Eagle. In second place is Luke Finnerty (aged 11), who submitted his brilliant chalk drawing of the Sun (as seen from the Solar Dynamics Observatory) via Deirdre Kelleghan (@skysketcher) during a workshop in Lucan Library. 

Rachel will receive a €50 iTunes voucher and Luke will receive a €25 iTunes gift voucher. Well done to you both and enjoy!

First Rocky Exoplanet Discovered

Astronomers working with NASA's Kepler Space Telescope have discovered the first rocky planet outside our solar system. The planet, called Kepler 10b, has a diameter 1.4 times that of Earth, and a mass 4.6 times higher. However, because it orbits its host star so closely, the planet could not possibly harbour life. The discovery has been hailed as "among the most profound in human history". The Kepler space telescope, designed to look for the signs of far-flung planets, first spotted the planet 560 light-years away, alongside hundreds of other candidate planets. Kepler relies on the "transiting" technique, which looks for planets that pass between their host star and the Earth. A tiny fraction of the star's light is blocked periodically, giving a hint that the star has a planet orbiting it. The radius of the planet correlates to exactly how much light is blocked when it passes.

Recommended Apps - Convert Units

In science, mathematics or even everyday life, we often need to be able to convert one unit (of distance, time or energy) into another one. Now, there's an app for that! Convert Units is a simple free app, available for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad which allows you quickly and easily convert one set of units into another. The app is loaded with hundreds of units covering angles, area, data, energy, force, length, mass, power, speed, temperature, time and volume. You can also customise your own conversions (for currency exchange etc). This app is essential for any science or maths pupils and is incredibly easy to use. You can also copy your results into an email or tweet - it's just so useful.

To download Convert Units for the iPhone or iTouch click here, click here for the HD iPad version or here to find out more about the app from the manufacturer's website.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

YouTube Saturday - Ben Goldacre Talks Bad Science

Ben Goldacre, the brilliantly geeky author of Bad Science, brings us an extremely interesting and fast paced presentation on how science is so easily represented by (what he calls) "quacks". This ingeniously entertaining talk, recorded in America, sees Ben dismantle the questionable science behind an assortment of drug trials, court cases, celebrity "scientists" like Gillian McKeith and other current events in science. Ben also has a brilliant website - click here to visit.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Aflockalypse Now!

Ten mass animal deaths have now occurred across the globe since new year's eve. Over the past week 5,000 red winged blackbirds (shown above) fell dead from the sky in Arkansas; tens of thousands of dead fish were found in Chesapeake Bay; 50-100 dead birds found strewn in lawns in Sweden; 40,000 dead crabs washed up on England’s shores; 530 penguins, numerous other seabirds, five dolphins, and three giant sea turtles were all found dead in Brazil; 200 American Coots dead on a Texas bridge; hundreds of snapper fish dead in New Zealand. And the list is sure to keep growing. The strange phenomena have been collectively named the "aflockalypse", with many theories as to the apparent increase in these natural occurrences. Of course, these events happen more frequently than you might believe, with many attributing better journalistic reporting as the main reason for the apparent increase. Other reasons for the events include increased magnetism in the Earth, increased solar activity, fireworks, global warming or disease. There have also been loads of conspiracy theories on the events including secret testing of new weapons or maybe even aliens! Scientists are busy trying to figure out the real reason, but in the meantime have fun hypothesising!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Stem Cells - The Future of Medicine?

This post is designed to aid teachers and pupils in a classroom discussion on the issues around Stem Cells. This article first appeared in the January issue of Science Spin and was written by Frog Blogger Humphrey Jones.

Stem Cells – The Future of Medicine?
Your body is made up of around 100 Trillion cells. Most of these cells have a specific function – they might be skin cells, bone cells, muscle cells, nerve cells or blood cells – but some have yet to be given a specific role in the body yet. These cells are stem cells. Scientists are keen to learn about how stem cells work, especially how they can be “differentiated” (turn into specific tissues), and hope that many diseases, like diabetes or even Alzheimer’s, could be cured as a result of their research. However, there are some significant issues surrounding stem cells and the research being carried out.

Types of Tissue
Stem cells are cells in your body which have yet to be “differentiated”, that is they potentially can become any type of body tissue. The four categories of body tissues are epithelial, muscle, nervous or connective. Epithelial tissues serve as protective coverings for different parts of the body including the lining of your gut, the outer layer of cells around your organs and even the outer layers of your skin. Muscle tissue is composed of cells that can “contract”. Some of these cells form the muscles attached to your skeleton but more are found in your gut and a special type of muscle is found in your heart – this muscle never tires! Nervous tissue cells have the ability to generate and conduct electrical impulses and serve as messengers in your body while connective tissues support the various structures of your body and including tendons, ligaments, bone, cartilage and the inner layers of your skin. As mentioned before, stem cells can potentially become any of these types of cells thus could be used to repair any part of your body. For discussion: Why do scientists want to use stem cells? How could stem cells be used in the body? Where are stem cells made in your body?

Saturday, 1 January 2011

YouTube Saturday - 7 Billion

The Earth's human population is due to exceed 7 Billion by the end of 2011. Here is a brilliant short animated video highlighting the world's population explosion since the 1800's (when the population was 1 billion). The video is produced by National Geographic, which are running a special series of articles entitle "7 Billion" - click here to find out more and read their cover article from the January edition.