anthropometaphors

translating biophilia into a love of life

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From paper to pangolins

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Awhile ago I came across this fantastic paper sculpture of a human torso, complete with removable organs, built by Horst Kiechle.  The anatomical detail is spectacular, considering Kiechle constructed the sculpture entirely from 200gms/sqm white card.  You can even build your own organs, using instructions found here.

Paper torso, by Horst Kiechle (link)

I soon found that the internet abounds with paper art crafted by science geeks, much of which is origami.  Below are some of the more interesting creations out there.

Origami is derived from the Japanese words “ori” meaning “fold” and “kami” meaning paper.  The traditional concept of origami is folding paper to create objects using only one piece of paper with no cuts or glue.

The Long-Term Effect of an MIT Education, by Brian Chan. Folded from an uncut paper square (link)

DNA (Double Helix) via Instructables (link)

And, while not officially origami (the use of two paperclips and several staples is involved), the Origami Embryo is probably the most clever tutorial on embryonic development I’ve seen.  Using three sheets of paper, Dr. Diana Darnell demonstrates how the ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm fold upon one another to create embryonic organs.  Working through this tutorial would likely help countless biology undergrads who are primarily tactile or visual learners get a better grasp (har har) on early organogenesis.

The Origami Embryo (link)

Finally, an origami post would be incomplete without at least one Eric Joisel (1956-2010) creation.  Here’s to you, beloved pangolin:

Pangolin, by Eric Joisel (link)

Gratuitous pangolin (link)

Written by morethangray

March 21, 2012 at 10:58 am

My handsome seahorse

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Short-snouted seahorse (via LTR Photography)

Let’s face it, we can never see too many stories about male animals that gestate their young and give birth. — Catherine de Lange

The handsome fellow pictured above is a short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus).  In addition to his good looks, this guy will carry and birth hundreds of babies on the behalf of his mate.

Male seahorse giving birth (via SeaPics.com)

Unfortunately, our handsome seahorse is endangered due to pollution, fishing, and use in eastern medicine.  The number of adults is dwindling, as are the number of surviving babies that once maintained the population.  H. hippocampus reproductive success is relatively low — of the 1000 young released by male seahorses, less than 0.06% survive.  Like almost all other fish species, seahorses don’t care for their young after birth.  Instead, infants are susceptible to predators or ocean currents which wash them away from feeding grounds or into temperatures too extreme for their delicate bodies.  Given the new threats the animals face, this reproductive strategy has left the short-snouted seahorse at a disadvantage.

One approach to bolster the numbers of endangered animals is captive breeding with subsequent release into the wild.  Scientists are doing just that for H. hippocampus, with some amount of success: a record-breaking 918 baby short-snouted sea horses were born at London Zoo’s Aquarium in 2010.  You can watch a video about the seahorses and the captive rearing program at New Scientist.  Next step for science: successful release of the wee-horses.

Written by morethangray

March 15, 2012 at 11:49 am

International tiger protection forum held in St. Petersberg

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The International Tiger Conservation Forum (also called the “Tiger Forum”) kicks off today!  Between 21-24 November, leaders from 13 countries will assemble in St. Petersburg to attend Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s Tiger Forum. The goal of the summit is to finalize a plan to double the wild tiger population by 2022.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and government leaders from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam will sign the St. Petersburg Declaration affirming their resolve to save wild tigers from extinction.

Held in the United Nations Year of Biodiversity and the Asian Year of the Tiger, the Forum will endorse a Global Tiger Recovery Program of urgent and comprehensive national and international actions to double the number of tigers across their range, from 3,200 today to 7,000 by 2022, the next Year of the Tiger.

Many would say it is now or never for wild tigers. In the past century, tiger numbers plummeted from 100,000 to about 3,200 and continue to fall. In an organized transnational illegal wildlife trade, criminals earn large profits feeding illicit consumer demand for tiger parts and products; they take advantage of poor people living around tiger reserves to recruit poachers. People hunt the prey tigers need to survive. Adverse human activities, including commercial agriculture and infrastructure development, have replaced vast expanses of the tiger’s habitat and threaten to take it all.

Typically in most countries, the responsibility for wildlife conservation belongs to a single ministry or agency that is often underfunded. But counteracting the diverse threats to wild tigers will take the additional participation of many others, including those devoted to finance, the criminal justice system, land-use planning, and infrastructure development. Public support for protecting tigers and their landscapes is also essential. Thus, the Forum is important because it will signal to officials that political will and commitment exists at the highest level to eliminate these threats before the wild tiger’s extinction become inevitable.

(From Global Tiger Initiative)

Written by morethangray

November 21, 2010 at 12:25 pm

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Closing a Deadly Gateway

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Tiger skin displayed and for sale at one of the many retail outlets for tiger products in Mong La, Myanmar, June 2010 – Adam Oswell/TRAFFIC

Black markets along Myanmar, Thailand and China’s shared borders play a crucial role in facilitating the deadly illicit trade in tigers and other endangered species, according to a new World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and TRAFFIC report in the lead up to the Global Tiger Forum taking place November 21-24 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The report, The Big Cat Trade in Myanmar and Thailand, documents black market sales of large wild felines. Hundreds of tiger and leopard parts, representing over 400 individual animals, were observed during nearly a decade of investigations in Myanmar and Thailand. Live big cats, including endangered tigers and a rare Asiatic lion were also observed in trade.

The report is accompanied by a short documentary, Closing a Deadly Gateway, which illustrates the illegal trade described in the report. The film features interviews with poachers as well as alarming footage of butchered tigers.

“With as few as 3,200 wild tigers worldwide, the ongoing large-scale trafficking documented in this report is having a disastrous impact on tigers and other big cats. Lack of good governance goes hand in hand with the corruption that is allowing this illegal trade gateway to act like floodgates, spilling out the lifeblood of the forest,” said Crawford Allan, director TRAFFIC North America. “Wildlife laws in Myanmar and Thailand clearly prohibit trafficking in tigers and other big cats. These areas need enforcement crackdowns to clean up this criminal mess and bring the full weight of the law to bear upon traffickers.”

Provincial markets and retail outlets located in the Myanmar towns of Mong La, near the China border, and Tachilek, on the Thai border, were found to play a pivotal role in the large scale distribution of big cat parts including whole skins, bones, paws, penises, and teeth. The products are transported by road and sea into China and Thailand, or sold to Chinese nationals who cross the Myanmar border to gamble and to consume exotic wildlife.

“The area is struggling with governance, and tigers are easy money for everyone from mafia types to anti-government opposition groups,” said TRAFFIC Southeast Asia Director, William Schaedla. “Some of these players should be countered with direct enforcement actions. Others might be receptive to work through regional agreements and international bodies in order to address the problem.”

(From Big Cat News)

To download the report visit:
http://www.divshare.com/download/13229531-db4

High-res photos from the report visit:
http://www.divshare.com/gallery/796497-3a9

Closing the Deadly Gateway on You Tube (this is the full documentary with narration and subtitles):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC9CATzZCO4

Clips from the film Closing the Deadly Gateway (this is the full documentary with no narration or subtitles, natural sound:
http://tinyurl.com/2uhcwp7

B-roll footage of tigers and tiger trade:
http://www.divshare.com/folder/666213-2bc

Written by morethangray

November 20, 2010 at 7:10 pm

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Tiger land destroyed by a bulldozer

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Illegal forest destruction endangers tigers by breaking up their natural habitat.  As a result of living in fragments of their former homeland, tigers struggle to find mates, food and shelter.

New video footage from a ‘camera trap’ in a protected forest in Sumatra lets you see illegal deforestation happening for yourselves.  A silent, two-minute video clip makes the tigers’ plight alarmingly clear.

There are only 400 tigers left in Indonesia.

To find out more how you can help these magnificent animals, please support the World Wildlife Fund and their Year of the Tiger campaign.

Written by morethangray

October 14, 2010 at 11:59 am

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Plantimals 1: A photosynthetic sea slug

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In June 2008 I wrote the following:

On the way to work this morning I drove by an expanse of iceplant (Carpobrotus edulis) – considered by some to be a barbarian of the botanical world – and had the sudden longing for chlorophyll to reside within my skin.

Two years have passed and I remain fascinated by the idea of plant-animal hybrids.  So it is with great delight that I am about to introduce two animals who use chloroplasts for energy production: a sea slug and a salamander.  While the slug, as a mollusk, is a far cry from my vision of harnessing photosynthesis for myself, the discovery of solar salamanders is downright exciting.  Salamanders, as vertebrates, are more closely related to humans and one step closer to the human branch on the taxonomic tree.

I’d intended to cover both animals in a single post, however given the length of the content, the post be split into a series.  This first post will feature the sea slug, and the second will focus on the solarmander.

Elysia chlorotica (courtesy of Mary Rumpho-Kennedy).

At first glance, the image to the left looks like a leaf, given its shape and color.  However, this is a picture of a sea slug, Elysia chlorotica, packed so full of chloroplasts it is vibrantly green.

The slug E. chlorotica acquires chloroplasts from algae it eats and stores the stolen energy-makers in the lining of it’s gut.  Afterward, a sea slug can live the remainder of it’s life without eating.   Energy generated from chloroplasts alone is not sufficient to sustain our slug, so researchers were puzzled as to how it survived without eating.

Mary Rumpho of the University of Maine, has discovered how the sea slug gets this ability: it actually photosynthesizes with genes taken from the algae it eats.

Chloroplasts only contain enough DNA to encode about 10% of the proteins needed to keep themselves running. The other necessary genes are found in the algae’s nuclear DNA. “So the question has always been, how do they continue to function in an animal cell missing all of these proteins,” says Rumpho.

In their latest experiments, Rumpho and colleagues sequenced the chloroplast genes of Vaucheria litorea, the alga that is the sea slug’s favourite snack. They confirmed that if the sea slug used the algal chloroplasts alone, it would not have all the genes needed to photosynthesise.

They then turned their attention to the sea slug’s own DNA and found one of the vital algal genes was present (PNAS November 18, 2008 vol. 105). Its sequence was identical to the algal version, indicating that the slug had probably stolen the gene from its food.

While other animals may photosynthesize after eating plants, they do so by acquiring entire plant cells.   Our sea slug is unique in that plant genes have been incorporated into the animal’s own DNA.  Such a molecular trick is crafty and streamlined, as the slug cells take both chloroplasts and the genetic instructions required to operate them while leaving the remainder of the plant cell behind.  As a result, E. chlorotica are singularly capable of both animal and plant functions: movement and photosynthesis.

Check out a short clip about these sea slugs here.

Elysia chlorotica (courtesy of PNAS)

Check back for the next post in this series about photosynthetic animals.  Next up is a solar-powered vertebrate!

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August 5, 2010 at 1:44 pm

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Another kind of animal research

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While I’m not fond of using animals as data points in a research study, research that actually benefits animals is a separate matter.

Enter Oscar, a cat who underwent a pioneering procedure when both of his hind feet were amputated. Neuro-orthopaedic surgeon Neol Fitzpatrick rebuilt Oscar’s hind feet with metal pegs and bioengineered feet.  Despite the experimental nature of the procedure, the surgery was a success.  So much so that Oscar was up and climbing around within minutes of waking from the anesthesia.

Oscar, the cat with a pair of prosthetic paws (courtesy of Neil Fitzpatrick)

Fitzpatrick’s has been dubbed the “bionic vet” as a result of work with Oscar and other animals.  He is featured in a 6-part BBC documentary (and he has a Facebook page to boot).

Here is a clip showing Oscar’s operation:

And, like most technical innovations, Oscar’s feet got an upgrade:

Written by morethangray

July 16, 2010 at 7:17 pm

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