Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"No good fish goes anywhere without a porpoise"...

... But I bet Lewis Carroll didn't have these zany creatures in mind when he said this. This month, we have not one but two freaky new fish facts.

Up first is the recently discovered four-eyed spookfish. Despite the name and its appearance, this fish only really has two eyes, but each one has two parts (an upwards-looking one and a downwards-facing one). It uses a lens to focus light (from the sun) coming in from the 'top eyes' and a mirror to focus light (from bioluminescence of other sea creatures) coming to the 'bottom eyes'. This means it can focus images from above and below simultaneously!

Up next are the wacky Tapetail/Whalefish/Bignose fishes. The shallow-water tapetail has a long streamery tail. The deep-water whalefish has no scales but huge jaws. And the Bignose, which also lives in the deep sea, unsurprisingly has a large 'nose' and immobile jaws. They couldn't possibly be related, right?

Wrong! New mtDNA analyses have shown that these are in fact different stages in the life cycle of the same fish family (Cetomimidae). After museum specimens of the fish were reexamined, the researchers have also found intermediate forms of each stage, showing that a tapetail larva grows into a whalefish female or a bignose male.

“This is an incredibly significant and exciting finding,” says Dr. David Johnson, an author on the paper. “For decades scientists have wondered why all tapetails were sexually immature, all bignose fishes were males and all whalefishes were females and had no known larval stages. The answer to part of that question was right under our noses all along—the specimens of tapetails and bignose fishes that were used to describe their original families included transitional forms—we just needed to study them more carefully.”


Friday, February 20, 2009

Bake-off for the bushfires

Big props to the postgrads who baked and sold cupcakes, cookies, rocky road, muffins and mars bar slice on Thursday to raise money for wildlife injured in the Victorian bushfires. We raised over $300, which will go to Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary to help with animal care and recovery. Who would have thunk postgrads were such great bakers?!
Further donations to Healesville can be made here. Thanks again everyone!
by Hannah Siddle


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Write or Die!!!!

Stuck with your writing? Forget nailing your feet to the floor or bribing yourself with chocolate, Dr Wicked has a better idea. Why not replace your fear of writing with a fear of not writing?! Write or Die- Putting the 'prod' back in productivity!

The concept is fairly simple- you go to the website and set yourself a time and a word count as goals, and then you start writing. But the moment your mind starts to wander or you start checking your emails/the cricket score/your rsvp.com profile, beware... if you wait too long, the screen starts to go red, and then Dr Wicked is going to start playing you some seriously nasty sounds to remind you that you're supposed to be writing... think car horns, crying babies, and even the dreaded Hanson!!!! The only way you can get it to stop is to keep writing. You can even try Kamikaze mode, which actually starts deleting the words you've written if you wait too long!

And believe me, it's annoying. I used it to write this blog entry and I think most of the postgrads in this room now want to kill me- which was actually good incentive to keep those words coming! The nice bit is that when you reach your goals you get some nice sound effects (a fanfare from Star Wars) and even a little icon that you can download and put on your blog (maybe even your thesis if you are so inclined?) (see pic). Expect prolific writing on this blog from now on as the Editors take advantage of this new tool!

Give it a try and we'd love to hear if you found it useful! Just don't forget to copy and paste your text into a word file when you're done (the website does this automatically too but it's better to be safe!). Thanks to Peta for tipping us off about this one.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Parasitic males and fish tails

I caught a glimpse of one of those countdown shows last week about weird animals and I thought I’ll share with you their number one wackiest animal ever (!). And it is the deep sea anglerfish. This animal has a face which would easily scare a child...

(Much of this article comes from http://waynesword.palomar.edu/ww0701.htm#Angler)

The deep sea anglerfish has huge jaws which are well adapted to snatch any prey unfortunate to come into range. It lives in total darkness and because of the sparseness of life in these waters some species of the female deep sea anglerfish carries a stalked, luminous bait above her. The bioluminescent of the stalk is used to attract curious fish towards that mouth.

But it is possible that the weirdest aspect of these creatures is their mating habits. Males of the species are discovered by deep sea anglers who discovered that small "growths" on the female are actually males. In fact, when a tiny male meets a female he bits into her flesh and literally fuses with her body. They share blood supplies so the male obtains nutrients and oxygen from the female. Without any need for most of his organ systems, such as eyes and digestive organs, the male's body degenerates into essentially a pair of sperm-producing testicles. Thus the female essentially becomes a hermaphrodite with up to six or more of these tiny male parasites attached to various parts of her body. Although functionally bisexual, the eggs and sperm come from genetically distinct parents, thus providing vital genetic variability through meiosis and genetic recombination. As a functional hermaphrodite she can have sex any time or place, without worrying about meeting a male in the dark abyss of the ocean. Clinging to her body like minute, blood-sucking parasites, the males have little interaction with the female, except to fertilize her eggs with sperm.

by Emily Wong

Monday, February 2, 2009

Gen Y Science: Jo's Guide To Podcasts

If ever you catch me walking in the corridors of power, ahem, the McMaster, across the quad, or Gunn, you will see usually see me plugged into my ipod. Now you might be thinking I’m listening to music, but actually I’m “doing my reading” or at least that’s what I tell my supervisors. It is partially true. I am listening to podcasts and many of them are science based. This means I have large amounts of trivia left in my brain to regale you with at Bakeoff or Flodge Friday but just sometimes it gets me thinking about other types of science, and I guess that’s better than listening to Britney.

So I thought I’d enlighten some of you about podcasting and point you towards some of my favourite podcast.

Podcasting, for those of you who have been under a log/doing a PhD, is a form of audio broadcasting on the internet, or simply put, it’s radio downloaded from the net.

To subscribe to podcasts you need to use a program to download them to your mp3 player. The program subscribes to them and then downloads them when there is a new episode. This is very easy to use with itunes, or if you are not that way inclined, you can use “Juice” which is a freeware program which does the same thing.

I’m assuming you can get podcasts onto your mp3 player… if this is still a challenge, then collar me some time and I can show you.

I listen to a broad range of podcasts and it makes lab work so much more fun. To find any of these you can search for them in itunes, or find their homepages and click on the feed (again, if you have problems, ask me to show you).

Here are some of them:

Science: Let’s start with science, because, well that’s what we are supposed to be doing.

The Science Show from ABC Radio National
Ok, I know Kao finds Robin Williams boring but I’ve grown up with the Science show and I love listening to it. This is a one hour digest of what is new in science together with interviews with leading scientists. Robin Williams does not dumb things down, but just offers explanations. This is the most popular podcast on the ABC, which is good news!

The Nature Podcast
Nature does a podcast highlighting what is new in Nature. It’s a well thought out and slickly produced podcast. How else would I know the story behind the mammoth hair being bought on Ebay.

The Naked Scientists
Dr Chris Smith and a team of other scientists (well everyone seems to have a PhD so there is hope for us yet) answer questions from listeners around the world, and bring up to the date info on what is hot in science. This is lighter than The Nature Podcast.


The Health Report from ABC Radio National
This is a great one for discussions of some of the latest medical research. Of course it is based on people, but we can always extrapolate to our species of interest. Norman Swan has been presenting this for my entire life as well, so it takes me back…

All in the Mind from ABC Radio National
I just love this one. It is up there as one of my very favourites. Everything mind brain and mental is explored in this podcast, from autism, to brain surgery, to economic psychology. If you are interested in psychology or anything to do with thinking you’ve got to listen to this one.

Nothing to do with science or medicine
Sometimes I don’t listen to science stuff, but don’t tell the supes!

Hindsight from ABC Radio National
Ok so you are picking up a theme here and I think it must just be because I’m ancient now and have to listen to radio national or I’ll expire. Hindsight is the ABC’s history program. It mainly deals with Australian history. Recently there have been programs on the social history of the word “Cooee”, Captain Cook’s voyages to Antarctica, and changing attitudes to death and burial through time. See, nothing to do with science. It’s great.

The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe
A panel of skeptics headed by Dr Steve Novello, president of the New England Skeptical Society, take on all that is questionable in this world. The podcast has a number of sections: news – in which the panel dissects the latest news (for example recent studies in alternative medicine, Tom Cruise’s latest scientology escapades, psychic phenomona), an interview with a prominent skeptic, and finally Science or Fiction (a game). This is pretty hard core scepticism, but it makes me laugh. If you are a fan of alternative things you might not like this. If you are interested in learning to think critically, this is a useful podcast regardless of your background.

This American Life
I think this is probably my most favourite podcast. This American Life is a public radio show in Chicago, with something like 300,000 podcast listeners. The show is around an hour long and is presented in 3-4 acts. It usually has a theme (for example, poultry, the economic crisis, breaking up) and the acts are short essays, interviews or plays from some extremely funny and inciteful people (for example David Sedaris). Listen to it, you won’t be disappointed.

From Our Own Correspondent
Dispatches from BBC foreign correspondents around the world. Get transported from your lab bench to a Russian sauna for a good beating with a birch branch, go trekking on a yak through Nepal, head into Zimbabwe under cover... it’s all there.

I’ve got oodles more that I won’t review but for your information here are more if you just can’t get enough:
Background Briefing
BBC History Magazine
Correspondents Report (ABC)
Digital Planet
Documentaries (BBC)
Dr Karl and the Naked Scientists
Dr Karl on triplej
File on 4
Friday Night Comedy from BBC
In Conversation
Lonely Planet Podcasts
Ockham’s Razor
Pods and Blogs
Radio 4 Choice
Science Talk (Scientific American)
Street Stories
Triple J Hack

By Jo Griffith