Planetary Predictions, Fearless Iguanas, Barnyard Pharmaceuticals, Homing in on Higgs, Katydid's Hit the High Note, Question of the Week: Runner's Stitch

 

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Planetary Predictions

planet3.jpg Earth in 250 million years - Courtesy, C. R. Scotese, PALEOMAP Project

We live on a planet that's constantly changing. Wait long enough and Australia will have made its way north, possibly crashing into China. In fact, when two hundred and fifty million years have gone by, all the land will probably be formed into one giant continent. It's all thanks to plate tectonics, the movement of large portions of the earth's surface. But while geologists agree that this will inevitably happen, the details vary depending on whom you ask. Some say the Pacific Ocean will disappear as North America bumps up against Asia. Others think it'll be a reuniting of the Americas and Europe. Dr. Stephen Johnston, a tectonics researcher at the University of Victoria, and Dr. Brendan Murphy, a geologist from St. Francis Xavier University, have both pondered the question of forecasting future plate movement. They think both planetary futures are possible, and debate the pros and cons of each situation.

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Fearless Iguanas

iguana.jpg Dr. Romero and a Marine Iguana.

The marine iguanas of the Galapagos islands have lived undisturbed by predators for millions of years. This peaceful existence may ultimately lead to their demise. Dr. Michael Romero from the Department of Biology at Tufts University and his colleagues have found that these animals have lost a critical stress response that would normally cause them to flee predators. The iguanas essentially have become largely fearless and as a result are suffering terribly from new predators that are being introduced into the Galapagos islands.


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Barnyard Pharmaceuticals

Pharma chicken.jpg One of the transgenic hens.

Could an egg a day keep cancer away? Well, at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh - the same place that produced Dolly the cloned sheep - a group of researchers, led by principal investigator Dr. Helen Sang, have bred a flock of hens that might just be laying such a golden egg. The hens are transgenic - they carry a human gene in their DNA. And they are part of a new and growing field of research into what you might call barnyard pharmaceuticals - using farm animals for the mass production of certain kinds of drugs, particularly protein-based drugs like Insulin and many types of cancer drugs. These drugs are based on proteins that the human body already produces. And growing these proteins in test tubes is labour intensive and expensive. So if scientists can get common farm animals to produce the protein for us, in a way that they can easily harvest, such as in their eggs or milk, the hope is that the drugs can be produced in greater quantities and at less cost. So far the method for introducing the gene and making the hens express the protein in their eggs looks to be very efficient and safe for the chicken, but the work to turn the protein into drugs is ongoing and hasn't been tested in humans yet.

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Homing in on Higgs

lhc.jpg A giant tube, part of the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, where the Higgs boson may be revealed - Courtesy, CERN

The Higgs boson is probably the most sought-after particle in the world of physics. It's never been seen, it's almost impossible to detect directly, and yet it's key to understanding the world around us. The Higgs boson is predicted to be the key component in understanding why all the other subatomic particles have mass. Researchers have come closer to finding this particle, thanks to work done at the Fermilab near Chicago. By studying other subatomic particles, they've figured out roughly how much the Higgs boson is supposed to weigh. That means they can design better experiments to try and detect the particle. Dr. William Trischuk, a professor of physics at the University of Toronto, has been central to the exploration. He thinks we may nail down the Higgs particle within the next few years.


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Katydid's Hit the High Note

katydid.jpg A related species of ultrasonic katydid.

Dr. Glenn Morris, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Zoology at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, thought his equipment was broken. The katydid he'd recently found in the jungles of Colombia was singing, which wasn't unusual. What was unusual was that it was singing at a pitch higher than any insect had been found to do before. In order to do this, he and his colleagues have discovered that the animal has found a new variation in technique to make sound with its wings.

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Question of the Week: Runner's Stitch

This week, Dr. Katie McAleer from Vancouver sent us this query: Why, when I'm running, do I sometimes get a stitch in my side? What exactly is it and what can I do to prevent it?

For the answer, we ran right out and found Dr. Tish Doyle-Baker, associate professor of exercise physiology at the University of Calgary.

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