Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Connor Barrett
AP Bio
Current Event 9

Fackler, Martin. "Space’s Trash Collector? A Japanese Entrepreneur Wants the Job." The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Nov. 2016. Web. 29 Nov. 2016.

Martin Fackler’s article in the New York Times, titled "Space’s Trash Collector? A Japanese Entrepreneur Wants the Job” discusses how a Japanese company named Astroscale is pushing to be the first waste management company in space. Astroscale, headed by Mitsunobu Okada, was launched three years ago to get working on a problem he believed could be tackled better by a small company than the national space organizations of the world. “Let’s face it, waste management isn’t sexy enough for a space agency to convince taxpayers to allocate money,” Mr. Okada said. Space is growing ever more dangerous as debris from discarded equipment is distributed by the minute. In the ever so calculated world as rocket science every small detail matters and costly damage can be done by small fragments of debris. As more companies move to space and low orbit becomes more crowded chain reactions could cause massive destruction and render low orbits unusable. Okada plans to profit from his debris clean up by first collecting valuable data on debris density and selling it. The actual debris clean up will come later in the form of satellites that collect debris then fall out of orbit - burning themselves and the debris in the process. Eventually they will target their client’s specific debris and make money that way.
As space travel becomes more and more popular it is important that these less glamorous but just as important issues are solved. Okada’s startup is a smart company at the forefront of a up and coming private field with an extremely specialized and critical role. Because of their headstart in this niche of the industry they are sure to grow as long as they can accomplish what they say. While we think of space as a vast open space a large portion of satellites and other spacecraft are located in the same or similar orbits. This vastly narrows down the size of the space that engineers and planners have to work with and makes it ever so important that it remains clear of debris. In addition, as we develop our space technology we will come to rely on it more and more - raising the stakes if an accident were to ever occur.

I found the article to be fascinating and informative. The way in which the author presented the piece was well done.  It would have been nice to hear if the company has any competitors or what a critic of Mr. Okada’s company had to say on the matter because there was no opposing viewpoint given. Overall the author did a great job introducing a new subset of a growing field.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Connor Barrett
Current Event

Hoffman, Jan. "Learning From Dogs as They Sniff Out Their World." The New York Times. N.p., 10 Oct. 2016. Web.

This article describes reasearch done at Barnard College and elsewhere in the sensory systems of dogs and how they influence their behavior. It turns out that most of a dog’s familiar behavior, like licking, sneezing, and tail wagging, are tied to their olfactory senses. Where humans have about 6 million olfactory receptors, dogs have 300 million, and where humans sniff about once per second, dogs sniff five to ten times. Not only this but the physical way that they exhale out the sides of their noses draws in air through the front, creating a continuous view of the world through smell. Licking is also related to smell in that dogs have a very sensitive vomeronasal organ (VNO) in the roof of their mouth that can pick up the smell of molecules that physically touch it. This means that when dogs lick something they are actually smelling it. In addition, there seems to be no noxious scent for dogs and when they find a very potent smell it signals the motor cortex and makes them lean into the smell. The result is that dogs love rolling around in things that smell bad to humans. Since dogs are so good at smelling it is another way for them to interact with each other. Dogs release scents that give other dogs insight to their mood through anal glands and they wag their tail in order to spread them. While it is healthy for dogs to act this way they are often discouraged from doing so by their owners and come to rely more on visual cues than olfactory ones. Humans can also strengthen their olfactory capabilities by doing what dogs do and taking deliberate sniffs of the world around them.
While the topic of this article will not have a profound affect on the human race, it still is interesting to dog owners and lovers and gives insight into the behaviour of another species, while also teaching us about humans. By understanding why dogs do what they do the connection between dog and owner can be strengthened and enhanced. This information could also help improve the smelling abilities of working dogs.
This article was fun and interesting to read and gave me insight into why my own dog behaves the way he does. The article has several strong points, it relays interesting information in a fun and easy to understand way. A weakness of it, however, could be its lack of more scientific information regarding the findings of the studies and how the studies were conducted. Because of this I would suggest an added paragraph about how the studies were conducted.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Connor Barrett
AP Bio
Current Event
Miles of Algae and a Multitude of Hazards

Neuhaus, Les. "Miles of Algae and a Multitude of Hazards." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 July 2016. Web. 07 Sept. 2016.

This article explains that apparent rising issue of algal blooms in North America, their effects on organisms and human life, and the ways in which they are prevented and dealt with. Algal blooms have been occurring for centuries - Native Americans learned not to go into bioluminescent waters because of their toxicity - but now they are starting to increase in frequency and size causing issues for many forms of life. The main impacts that humans have on algal blooms are still being quantified, but what seems to be clear is that they are heavily related to runoff from farms, feedlots, and municipal sewage systems. Algal bloom itself is cause by an over enrichment of lake water, which essentially means the algae is given so much nutrients it grows past a healthy amount. The effects of climate change, like warmer waters and more light penetration, are also to blame for the increase in the growth of algae. The reason these blooms cause so many issues is they contaminate the water they occur in. Specific types of algae produce toxins and, when consumed, can harm species in an ecosystem. Due to biomagnification this especially affects species near the top of the food chain. Not to mention it can turn a source of water for humans into one that has to be avoided. In order to stop the algal blooms effort has to be directed at both sides of the problem. We need to stop providing the algae with excess nutrients and we also need to develop systems to direct the algae into waterways that can safely handle and remove the large amount of algae. The first issue can be handled by producers and consumers - detergent companies removed phosphorus from their laundry detergents because it is a nutrient for algae. The second has to be tackled by government, which, when it comes to environmental protection, can be slow at best, but it essential to the livelihood of thousands of humans. The smell of decaying algae from algal blooms forced business in some areas of Florida to close during their busiest season and crab and clam fisheries were closed due to toxicity for more than four months on the West Coast, both of these issues causing serious trouble to people who rely on these businesses for income. While the exact cause and the exact solution to the algal blooms is not readily available, we still understand the basics of what we have to do in order to further prevent them, the only issue is organizing ourselves to do so.
Algal blooming has created severe issues for many people by limiting the waterways that they can use for various activities. A 33-square-mile algal bloom that originated in Lake Okeechobee, Florida crept down into the everglades eventually forcing waterside businesses to close due to the scent of decaying algae. More tropical climates are not the only ones affected either, a bloom of blue-green algae covered a 636 mile stretch of the Ohio river last year. Algal bloom even forced 400,000 residents of Toledo, Ohio to stop drinking tap water due to toxic algae. Algal bloom has serious costs to the areas it affects including damage to industries that rely on water in some way. In order to stop algal bloom we may have to start using different products that won’t contribute as much of the nutrients that algae feed off of, but it is a small price to pay in comparison to the issues caused by algal bloom.
The article was written very well, it presented facts directly, but also had examples of the damage algal bloom has caused. It also gave the scientific reason behind the increase in algal bloom and ways in which it can be prevented. The one area I wish the article did better in was explaining the specific processes involved with removing algae and preventing it instead of just naming the process and giving a brief description. Overall it was a well written article that thoroughly informed me about a topic I previously had not heard about.