Roaming through the web, I found great stuff this week that shows the value of an ‘Open’ attitude in science.
“…a worldwide public domain effort to provide a computational framework for understanding human and other eukaryotic physiology.”
Peter Hunter is the Director of the Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland, a great model of what can be done in science in New Zealand when great thinkers are given the opportunity to build upon great ideas. You can read more about Peter Hunter’s award here and here.
A great article “Open Source Science: A revolution from within” written by Vivian Wagner was published in Linux Insider:
“Just as open source software allows programmers to access the code in order to create new and improved versions of software, open source science gives the scientific community open and easy access to fundamental experiments, methods and data in order to facilitate more research. The goal, ultimately, is better science.”
This type of approach to science is becoming a successful alternative and perhaps one that will be more successful in a world where scientific funding is continuously on the decline. (via @plos on twitter)
Ed Yong from Not Exactly Rocket Science has a wonderful post on the energetic problem that comes with having a large brain, and the genetic changes that may be a tell-tale of the evolution of brain size. And if you are at all interested in the evolution of brain size, Mark Changizi has started an incredibly interesting discussion on the topic. Both the post and the comments make for a great read. (I also like that he opened this discussion up and did not restrict it to academic circles.)
A great video from National Geographic shows the “supercrocs” in action:
“Paul Sereno, Paleontologist, University of Chicago: These stubby teeth didnt even touch each other to snare a fish, no, they were hook-like, strong cylinders to grab onto a dinosaurs limb or neck and pull it into the water. We began to understand this animal as a hidden predator of the dinosaurs.”
And related to this a great tweet from @carlzimmer linking to a dinosaur story on 60 minutes.
Ten summer fellowships were awarded to students to take part in the Tamaki Transformation project, and Wednesday marked the celebration of the beginning of what we hope will be a great collaboration between the University of Auckland and the community. I am part of one of these teams with a project that will be led by Fraser Peat, a Med Student at the University of Auckland, wher we will be looking at issues surrounding science and health related education and literacy in the community. The results of the summer work will be shared with the community in March next year.
If there is a physical property in the world that provides useful information, chances are that at least some animals will have evolved a sensory system to exploit it. The Earth’s magnetic field is no exception: it provides useful and reliable information to navigate the globe. There has been extensive research into whether and how animals may use the magnetic field for navigation, and although most agree that it is being used, the nature of how this information is processed can still be a matter of heated debate.
Thorup and Holland in a recent commentary on animal navigation in Journal of Experimental Biology state that:
[…] there are more reviews published on the subject than there are experiments providing evidence for the hypothesis at present
One more study by Zapka and collaborators has now been added to the mix, published in Nature last week. Here, they looked at the neural basis of the magnetic-based orienting behaviour in migratory European robins.
For birds, there are two theories of how magnetic information may be detected (magnetoreception), and data in favour and against each are not scant.
One theory proposes that there are specialized structures in the upper bill of the bird that can detect magnetic information, which is then carried to the brain through a branch of the trigeminal nerve. The other theory says that magnetic information is sensed through specialized molecules in the back of the eye, and that the information is processed by the visual system.
Several lines of evidence support the first theory. First, you can find magnetite in the upper bill of pigeons, in structures that appear to be contacted by the trigeminal nerve. Second, cutting the trigeminal nerve prevents pigeons from learning to behaviourally discriminate between the presence or absence of a magnetic anomaly.
The second theory proposes that light sensitive molecules known as cryptochromes in the eye are sensitive to magnetic fields. A molecular transformation sensitive to magnetic fields is then transmitted to a specialized visual area in the forebrain called Cluster N.
To distinguish between these two alternatives, Zapka and the group studied how the European robins performed a compass orientation behaviour when either the trigeminal or the visual ‘magnetic’ pathway (Cluster N) was destroyed. What they found was quite straightforward. Cutting the connections of the trigeminal nerve between the beak and the brain, did not have any effect in the behaviour. But when they destroyed Cluster N, then the birds were no longer able to show magnetic compass orientation. This rules out the need to use the trigeminal pathway for this orienting behaviour, and instead suggests that the responsibility of the neural processing is on the visual pathway. (Although it would be nice to see some electrophysiology to rule out this is not just a result of the lesion itself that may not be specific to cluster N).
So how can this be reconciled with the trigeminal data?
It comes down to what question the experiment is actually asking. This particular study looks at a very simple question: do the birds use one or the other system to do “compass orientation”. The studies in pigeons asked “is the trigeminal system necessary to learn a magnetic discrimination task”. They are not incompatible results (even less when you think they are different types of birds).
The magnetic vector provides a compass; magnetic intensity and/or inclination play a role as a component of the navigational map.
The question that still remains to be answered is whether pigeons use the trigeminal system to navigate. Although pigeons follow magnetic contours as they home, cutting the trigeminal nerve does not prevent them from homing. This means that the trigeminal system may not be necessary for that aspect of navigation per se, and perhaps (as the Mora and collaborator’s paper suggests) it may be involved in some aspect of learning associated with magnetic fields. Hopefully, more funding will be available to these groups so they can sort this one out.
Zapka M, Heyers D, Hein CM, Engels S, Schneider NL, Hans J, Weiler S, Dreyer D, Kishkinev D, Wild JM, & Mouritsen H (2009). Visual but not trigeminal mediation of magnetic compass information in a migratory bird. Nature, 461 (7268), 1274-7 PMID: 19865170doi:10.1038/nature08528.
- Wolfgang Wiltschko and Roswitha Wiltschko. Magnetorececption in birds: two receptors for two different tasks. Journal of Ornithilogy 148:S61-S76 (2007)
- Cordula V Mora, Michael Davison, J Martin Wild and Michael M Walker. Magnetoreception and its trigeminal mediation in the homing pigeon. Nature 432, 508-511 (25 November 2004)
- A Gagliardo, P Ioale, M Savini and JM Wild. Having the nerve to home: trigeminal magnetoreceptor versus olfactory mediation of homing in pigeons. The Journal of Experimental Biology 209, 2888-2892 (2006)
- Miriam Liedvogel, Kiinori Maeda, Erik Schleicher, Thomas Simon, Christiane R Timmel, PJ Hore and Henrik Mouritsen. Chemical magnetoreception: Bird Crytochorome 1a is excited by blue light and forms long-lived radical-pairs. PLoS One 2(10) e1106 [Open Access]
- Dominik Heyers, Martina Manns, Harald Luksch, Onur Gunturkin, Henrik Mouritsen. A visual pathway links brain structures active during magnetic compass orientation in migratory birds. PLoS One 2(9) e937.[Open Access]
- Kasper Thorup and Richard A. Holland. The bird GPS – long-range navigation in migrants Journal of Experimental Biology 212, 3597-3604 (2009) doi: 10.1242/jeb.021238
Disclaimer: Martin Wild, an author on the recent Nature study is my collaborator and my Head of Department. Some of his work on this area was funded by the Marsden Fund.
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This week has been like an episode of “Antiques Roadshow” for science geeks, with ‘old’ stuff popping all over the place. There were news from a feathered dino-bird from China (you can see a picture of it here), a study of old lizards and T rex ‘avian’ disease in PLoS One (the latter also has a nice story in Wired), lots of dinosaur eggs were found in India, and 11 articles were published in Science describing our new ancestor, Ardipithecus ramidus (or Ardi for short). The coverage of this last story was intense, and I think these 3 do a great job: (more…)
When I started teaching a few years ago, a colleague of mine suggested I should steer away from mentioning evolution in my lectures. So it was with great delight to see that the Liggin’s Institute had organized a series of lectures on Darwin’s Legacy to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the “On the Origin of Species”. Last night, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman gave a lecture on “Darwin and Medicine”. (more…)