That Nobel Glow, Biology of Ideology, Wasp Faces - Friend or Foe, Hubble and Trouble


 

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That Nobel Glow


gfpbeach.jpg A beach scene created with glowing bacteria, created in the Tsien Lab, from Wikimediea Commons

The Nobel prizes were awarded this week, and the prize in Chemistry was awarded to Dr. Osamu Shimomura, Dr. Martin Chalfie, and Dr. Roger Y. Tsien, for, according to the Nobel committee, "the discovery and development of the green fluorescent protein." What these scientists did, in fact, was literally shed light on biology. The glowing protein was discovered in jellyfish by Dr. Shimomura, but Dr. Chalfie, the Chair of Biological Sciences at Columbia University found a way to graft the gene into bacteria, and onto individual genes in other organisms, so that the action of these genes could be traced by their glow. Since then Dr. Tsien and others have found and developed similar marker proteins in all the colours of the rainbow, creating valuable tools for studying the biology of living organisms in action.


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The Biology of Ideology


vote.jpg Vote DNA! From Wikimedia Commons

In Canada, politics are premised on freedom of choice: whether to vote or not; who you choose to vote for; and the choices you make in establishing your own political views. Some researchers, however, argue that our political choices are, to some extent, influenced by something other than conscious choice - our biology. Dr. James Fowler, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego, is one of several researchers looking at the influence of genetics on our political choices. Dr. Fowler has found that the likelihood that someone will vote is a highly heritable. He also discusses some of the evidence that certain gene-environment interaction are predictive of people's political leanings but he's quick to point out that this doesn't mean voters can't exercise free will. Dr. Fowler's work is just some of the evidence that our political choices are the end result of a complex interaction between our genes and environment. He argues that the genes underlying our modern political behaviour likely arose early on in our evolution in order to help us survive as a cooperative social creature.


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Wasp Faces - Friend or Foe


wasp_faces.jpg Credit: Michael Sheehan

You might think that all wasps look alike -- yellow and black and nasty. But if you take a closer look, you'll notice that, like us, every wasp looks a little different. Dr. Elizabeth Tibbetts is an Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Michigan who studies facial recognition in wasps. She's found that they're able to recognize one another based solely on facial differences. In the past, Dr. Tibbetts has tested this by changing wasp's facial patterns by carefully applying the insect equivalent of theater make up. Made-up wasps were attacked by their hive mates because they weren't recognized. In her most recent study, Dr. Tibbetts wanted to know if, in addition to recognizing one another, wasps could form long-term memories of one another. And, it turns out, they can. In fact, the wasps Dr. Tibbetts studied were able to recognize 15 other wasps for at least a week.


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Hubble and Trouble


hubbletrubble.jpg Hubble telescope as seen from Space Shuttle Discovery

For the past fifteen years the Hubble Space Telescope has provided some of the most spectacular and valuable images of the universe that astronomers have ever seen. From its vantage point above the interfering atmosphere, it can see things no ground based telescope can see. Hubble, however, is on its last legs. The fifth and final mission to repair and refurbish the telescope will happen in the next few months. The telescope will then last as long as those final repairs keep it running, and then be retired. We look back on the somtimes troubled, but ultimately triumphant history of the Hubble with three guests today: Robert Zimmerman is a writer and space historian and author of The Universe in a Mirror: the Saga of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Visionaries Who Built It. Dr. Edward Weiler is the Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, and has been involved with, or in charge of the Hubble Telescope program at NASA since 1979. Dr. Howard McCurdy is a historian of the space program and Professor of Public Affairs at Washington University.


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Theme music bed copyright Raphaël Gluckstein. Creative Commons License by-nc-nd-2.0