Monday, October 30, 2006

From EarthWatch Radio: Too Far to Swim

by Bradford Lystra
"Polar bears are great swimmers, and part of their typical routine involves swimming between land and ice that's floating on the Arctic Ocean. The ice cover in the Arctic is shrinking as temperatures rise, and polar bears in some places are at the limits of their ability to swim long distances. A scientist with the U.S. government recently reported on four bears that drowned. It was the first time he'd seen that in 20 years of Arctic research." More at EarthWatch Radio.
Based on Charles Monnett's research, published in Polar Biology, and available on the OhioLINK Electronic Journal Center:
Monnett, Charles. 2006. Observations of mortality associated with extended open-water swimming by polar bears in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea.
Polar Biology, vol. 29, no. 8 (July 2006): 681-687.
The World of the Polar Bear, by Robert Nosing, is a beautiful pictorial work with text and bibliography, now on the new book shelf. [photo of mom and cub is from Nosing's book]

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Scientists Use Bee Genes to Understand Behavior

From National Public Radio: Joe Palca's story on the honeybee genome, reporting on research published in Science and Nature:

"Now that scientists have determined the complete genetic sequence of the honeybee, researchers are probing some mysteries of the bee's existence, such as how a bee's genes control its behavior." Joe Palca talks with Kim Worley, Baylor College of Medicine, a leader in the Honeybee Genome Sequencing Consortium. Palco also interviewed consortium project co-leader Gene Robinson, along with his co-author Charles Whitfield, for an understanding of why scientisits are interestd in the genome sequence in honeybees. [More from NPR]

Read the research:
Insights into social insects from the genome of the honeybee Apis mellifera.
The Honeybee Genome Sequencing Consortium. Nature 443: 931 - 949 (26 Oct 2006)

. Charles W. Whitfield, Anne-Marie Cziko, and Gene E. Robinson Science 302: 296-299 (10 October 2003)

Living on Earth, an independent media program carried on many NPR stations, offered a longer conversation between Jeff Young and Dr. Robinson during last week's show. Dr. Robinson discussed the relevance of understanding the complete honeybee genome for research aimed at strengthening bee populations. [Read the transcript or download the MP3 file]

Photo credit: Scott Bauer, USDA/ARS. From the Living of Earth Web site.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Global Warming Will Alter Character of the Northeast

From the Union of Concerned Scientists

U.S. Northeast faces a hotter future

Global warming may dramatically alter the Northeast’s temperatures, precipitation, droughts, sea level, and seasons, according to a new study by independent experts in collaboration with UCS. From extreme heat to reduced snow cover to more extreme weather, the emission choices we make today can have significant consequences for the nine Northeast states. So concludes the first study released October 4 by the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment (NECIA), a collaboration between the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and a team of independent scientists from universities across the Northeast and the nation. To read the full report, visit

Friday, October 20, 2006

Pollination Crisis Predicted for North America

Honeybee photograph by P.O Gustafson

From Science online, ecology news of the week, by Constance Holden:

"Honeybees (Apis mellifera) are in trouble, according to a report on North American pollinators unveiled this week by a committee of the National Research Council. The committee calls for better long-term monitoring of all pollinators, noting that few records exist for species other than honeybees." (Read more.)

Honeybee decline in California, where important cash crops such as almonds are heavily dependent on honeybees for pollination, is largely due to viral diseases compounded by the presence of the ectoparasitic mite Varroa destructor. A search in Biological Abstracts on "varroa destructor and apis" yeilded 163 records, including this study implicating reproductive behavior as a mode of transmission:

Yue, Constanze; Schroeder, Marion; Bienefeld, Kaspar; Genersch, Elke. “Detection of viral sequences in semen of honeybees (Apis mellifera): Evidence for vertical transmission of viruses through drones.” Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, v. 92 issue 2, 2006, p. 105-108. [available on the OhioLINK Electronic Journal Center]

Read Thomas D. Seeley's Honeybee ecology for an excellent introduction to the subject.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Warmer Winter Predicted

Did you come to college in Ohio expecting long, cold winters? According to the National Weather Service, you can anticipate a milder winter than typical for the region. The Cleveleand Plain Dealer for Oct. 10 gave front page coverage to the news, focusing on the impact on utility bills and energy required for heating.

What about the ecological impact of many warmer winters to come? The website Imacts of Climate Change in the United States gives a thorough assessment of that future impact, through dozens of reports, including:
Critical Findings for the Great Lakes Region from the First National Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change -- An Overview prepared by Peter Sousounis, Ph.D. (University of Michigan) and Patty Glick (National Wildlife Federation).

Image : A female duck on Sanctuary Marsh at North Chagrin Reservation Monday, October 9, 2006. by Gus Chan of the Plain Dealer.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Global Warming: Explore More Sources

As you contemplate this week's talks by Elizabeth Kolbert and Patrick Michaels, take a look at books received yesterday and now on the new book shelf:

Global warming in the 21st century / Bruce E. Johansen. This three-volume set includes 100 pages of bibliographic references and devotes an entire volume to melting ice and warming seas, phenomena that are readily observed and measurable in the upper latitudes of both hemispheres.

Kolbert's book is also in the library, as is Al Gore's (both currently checked out, but more copies of Kolbert's book are on the way). Note that an author search in OBIS on Gore, Al 1948-
results in 62 items, including the 1993 Climate Change Action Plan by President Clinton and Vice President Gore.

Clicking on one of the subject headings (Global Warming - Government Policy - United States) for that report leads to a host of other items, including hearings before congress and status reports on the Kyoto Protocol.

Also useful is a search of Patrick J. Michaels as a cited author in Science Citation Index. See what other scientists write in reference to his publications. As with any controversial topic, explore a variety of sources to get the information you need to assess the validity of competing claims and hypotheses.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Roger Kornberg Wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Image from the cover of Science, 8 June 2001.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Roger D. Kornberg, Stanford University, CA, USA for his studies of the molecular basis of eukaryotic transcription.

From the Nobel Prize web site, October 4, 2006:

"Transcription is the process of copying information that is stored in the genes and transferring that code to outer parts of the cell. There it is used as an instruction for protein production. Roger Kornberg was the first to create an actual picture of how transcription works at a molecular level in eukaryotes (organisms whose cells have a well-defined nucleus).

"Transcription is necessary for all life. If transcription stops, genetic information is no longer trans­ferred into the different parts of the body. Since these are then no longer renewed, the organism dies within a few days. This is what happens in cases of poisoning by certain toadstools, since the toxin stops the transcription process. Understanding of how transcription works also has a fundamental medical importance. Disturbances in the transcription process are involved in many human illnesses such as cancer, heart disease and various kinds of inflammation."

Roger Kornberg has published well over 200 research papers, including at least 70 that include transcription in the article title (Science Citation Index, search kornberg rd as author and transcription as topic, limited to title). His papers include many published in Nature, Science, Cell, PNAS, Biochemistry, and dozens of other prestigious journals. All together, his articles have been cited by thousands of other researchers. See these records in SCI, for example:

Cramer P, Bushnell DA, Kornberg RD
Structural basis of transcription: RNA polymerase II at 2.8 angstrom ngstrom resolution.
SCIENCE 292 (5523): 1863-1876 JUN 8 2001

Gnatt AL, Cramer P, Fu JH, et al.
Structural basis of transcription: An RNA polymerase II elongation complex at 3.3 angstrom resolution,
SCIENCE 292 (5523): 1876-1882 JUN 8 2001
An image from the paper co-authored with Gnatt, et al., was adapted for the cover of that issue of Science (shown above).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Physics Nobel Prize for Cosmology Based on COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer)

From the Nobel Prize Web site:

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded the 2006 Nobel Prize in Physics jointly to John C. Mather, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, USA, and George F. Smoot, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA, for their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation.

Image: NASA (

"Their work looks back into the infancy of the Universe and attempts to gain some understanding of the origin of galaxies and stars. It is based on measurements made with the help of the COBE satellite launched by NASA in 1989.

"The COBE results provided increased support for the Big Bang scenario for the origin of the Universe, as this is the only scenario that predicts the kind of cosmic microwave background radiation measured by COBE. These measurements also marked the inception of cosmology as a precise science."

An author search on Mather JC and Smoot GF in Science Citation Index (SCI) results in 17 papers, including Scientific results from the cosmic background explorer (COBE), co-authored with 11 others and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 90 (11): 4766-4773 JUN 1 1993.

A later paper, Measurement of the cosmic microwave background spectrum by the COBE FIRAS instrument, coauthored with 21 others and cited 282 times, was published in Astrophysical Journal 420 (2): 439-444 Part 1, JAN 10 1994. It is available in the science library journal stacks.

For a brief introduction to COBE measurements, consult A century of physics by D. Allan Bromley, pp. 103-104. John D. Barrow's book, A history of the universe, provides a more indepth discussion of COBE and the big bang theory.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Andrew Fire and Craig Mello Win Nobel for RNA Interference Discovery

AP Photo/Michael Probst

From National Public Radio:
Americans Win Nobel for Work in Genetic Therapy
This year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine goes to two American researchers, Andrew Fire of Stanford University and Craig Mello of the University of Massachusetts. The pair discovered how to selectively silence genes that cause disease.
Their work was published in Nature in 1998:
Potent and specific genetic interference by double-stranded RNA in Caenorhabditis elegans, by Fire A, Xu SQ, Montgomery MK, Kostas SA, Driver SE, Mello CC. NATURE 391 (6669): 806-811 FEB 19 1998

As of October 2, 2006, this paper has been cited at least 2,503 times, as per Science Citation Index (SCI). A quick search on "rna interference" or rnai resulted in 7,591 records in SCI and 8,428 records in PubMed.

A more recent paper by Mello coauthored with G. Hutvagner and others [Sequence-specific inhibition of small RNA function] appeared in the open access journal PLoS Biology (Public Library of Science) in 2004. It has already been cited at least 72 times.

A search on "rna interference" in the Encyclopedia of Life Sciences online for background information, especially Gregory J. Hannon's article on RNA Interference (RNAi) and MicroRNAs. There are many books related to the subject accessible through the OhioLINK Library Catalog: do a subject search on RNA and limit your search to items published after 2000 for recent titles.