Archive for January, 2010

Published by Diana on 25 Jan 2010

Viruses in our DNA

“The borna virus is at once obscure and grotesque,” starts this New York Times article: Hunting Fossil Viruses in Human DNA. The article continues by describing the effects of the virus: “horses sometimes kill themselves by smashing in their skulls.”

The borna virus is only one fossil virus found in the DNA of every human. Other viruses are retroviruses, which are viruses uses RNA to make DNA, like the HIV virus.

Scientists have only begun to research these fossil viruses, buried deep in our DNA.

Published by Diana on 20 Jan 2010


A Tale of Two Flagella is written by Olivia Judson, one of the best science writers there is.

Dinoflagellates are single-celled organisms that make coral reefs possible; they have a symbiotic–mutually beneficial–relationship with corals that make corals grow faster. Corals with certain kinds of dinoflagellates can cope with warmer water better than corals without them.

But other dinoflagellates are bad news. Ciguatera, a nasty form of poison found in some fish, and parlytic shellfish poisoning, a nasty form of poison found in some shellfish, both are caused by dinoflagellates. Red tides (in which massive numbers of dinoflagellates accumulate rapidly in one area) kill many animals, including dolphins, turtles, and other endangered species.

Dinoflagellates are weird; they can photosynthesize, despite being mobile cells; they have taken over the chloroplasts (the sun-utilizing bodies within the cell) of other organisms. And their DNA is unusual too.

Read the article for more details!

Published by Rosalind on 15 Jan 2010

Earthquake in Haiti

The destructive earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12 measured 7.0 on the Richter scale. The earthquake destroyed many buildings in the big city of Port-au-Prince. There have been lots of smaller earthquakes, called aftershocks. The earthquakes are happening on the boundary between the Caribbean plate and the North American plate.

Below you’ll see a map from the United States Geological Survey. Visit Earthquakes for more information on the Haitian earthquake and worldwide earthquakes.

USGS Map of Earthquakes in Haiti over the last week (1/15/2010)

USGS Map of Earthquakes in Haiti over the last week (1/15/2010)

Published by Rosalind on 12 Jan 2010

Winter patterns

This NASA image shows the frozen Yukon River in Alaska.

This NASA image shows the frozen Yukon River in Alaska.

“Nature works in patterns, and one of those patterns is imprinted on the frozen Alaskan landscape in this true-color image from January 11, 2010. Like a winter-bare tree, a network of roots, or the veins, arteries, and capillaries that enclose an organ, the Yukon River branches across the snowy Yukon Delta to the Bering Sea.” As this NASA description says, we often see repeating patterns in nature. The bare branches of trees on a snowy winter day echo the frozen river and its tributaries…

This woodland stream still has enough open water to reflect the trees above.

An icy woodland stream still has enough open water to reflect the trees above.

Published by Rosalind on 10 Jan 2010

EPA issues new standards for Smog – will your county be affected?

Many counties nationwide will find it hard to follow the new rules issued by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Read a story about it here: New Smog Standards.

You can use the EPA website to find out lots of information about your home town or county. Visit and use the “My Environment” search to find out about the place where you live! You can find out about local ozone levels, too, and see how your home county stacks up against other counties across the United States.

Published by Diana on 06 Jan 2010

Preserving the Past

Farmers have long been breeding animals for their particular needs. Scots sheepherders bred the border collie to help them manage their flocks of sheep; duck hunters in Canada bred the Labrador retriever to swim out and bring back their ducks. The Black Angus cow was bred for good tasting beef. The Tennessee fainting goat was bred to be easy to manage on a small farm.

You’ve never heard of a Tennessee fainting goat? The New York Times describes the goat this way: “At the visitor’s approach, Chip apparently had second thoughts. His left foreleg stiffened, his brown eyes went glassy and he began to list to one side.” See this article: Rare Breeds, Frozen in Time.

Now an organization in Rhode Island, the SVF Foundation is trying to make sure that rare domestic farm breeds like the Tennessee fainting goat don’t vanish as larger and larger farms manage more and more of our food production. After all, if you want a small manageable goat for your back yard, the fainting goat would be great. After all, in Portland, OR, the locavore food movement is saying that Goats are the New Chickens.

What’s a locavore? That’s someone who tries to eat more locally produced food, to support local farmers and reduce the amount of carbon used in getting their food.