Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Milly: Ugly fish

Stomiid. Image: Camilla Sharkey and Julian Partridge
Milly: Ugly Fish pt 2
Milly: Ugly Fish pt 3
Milly: Ugly Fish pt 4
Milly: Ugly Fish pt 5
Milly: Ugly Fish Pt 6
Milly: Ugly Fish Pt 7

When asked about my summer holiday plans recently, I informed my friend that I would be spending a month off the coast of the UK on a months fishing trip. She laughed; I wasn't joking. Come August I'll be up to my ears in gelatinous, benthic fish brought up from thousands of meters and rather alarmingly I've been purchased full body overalls due to the "repulsive stench" of the fish that "never leaves the fabric". I'll be aboard the RSS James Cook for a month, so to stave off insanity I'm planning to blog from the ship to keeping you up to date with the latest discoveries. It seems to be a little known fact that members of the Bristol Biology department study deep sea fish and so I thought it best to bring a little of the research into the lime light.

Dr Nick Roberts, part of a team of Bristol vision scientists, has gathered together a group to investigate colour and light in nature. As part of this, a new post doc, Dr Juliette McGregor, will be looking at the effect of pressure on photoreceptors. The pressure exerted on deep sea fish is enough to alter the protein structure and this includes that of visual pigments so in August, Juliette and I will be collecting deep sea fish retinal tissue which will be used to examine their spectral properties under pressure (whilst trying not to be sick onto the specimens as we dissect stinky fish...on a rolling boat...in the dark).
Another ongoing project has been looking at the eyes of Malacosteus niger (image below) the stoplight loosejaw, a fish with red eyes, gaping mouth and a light organ underneath each eye that emits red light.
Stoplight loosejaw, Malacosteus niger
Most deep sea animals can only detect blue light (a colour common at depth as many animals produce blue bioluminescence) so by producing red light, M.niger can hunt prey or communicate with other individuals without fear of detection! Now what is particularly amazing about these creatures is what's found in their red eyes. In order to detect longwave red light, they use chlorophyll as a photosensitiser. But that's in plants I hear you shriek! Well, even stranger than that, the visual properties of the pigment is very similar to that found in small crustaceans it eats (see paper). So does M.niger use chlorophyll it obtains from its diet to alter the wavelength of light it can see?! We don't have the full story yet so watch this space...
Dolichopteryx longipes photographed from above
Another amazing discovery was made during a past research cruise by Professor Jochen Wagner (University of Tubingen), Prof. Ron Douglas (City University London) and Prof. Julian Patridge from Bristol. Whilst midwater trawling they discovered a live specimen of Dolichopteryx longipes (image right). Previously only one preserved fish was available for studying this unique species, the only vertebrate found to form images using a mirror instead of a lens which reflects light onto a second retina.

These fish appear to have four eyes and although there are just two, each is separated into two parts, one looking upwards and the other down. This allows D.longipes to detect silhouettes of animals above it, but also detect bioluminescence produced by animals below. For more info on this fascinating fish see this news article or paper.

I think that's quite enough biology for now, but I hope I leave you with a better idea of what strange things are going on in the Bristol University biological department and keep your eyes peeled for posts in August from the Porcupine Abyssal Plain, eek!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

James: Twitter; facilitating or procrastinating?

Twitter is seen by some as a half way house between the informal social network of facebook and the work dominated networking device LinkedIn. A playful mix of communication and chatter.

However, despite the power of the network for spreading the word and connecting people from all over the world is it really used to its full potential? Companies use it to 'let you know what is going on' but really just pushing their latest stuff and people just put on mindless chatter such as what they had for breakfast. I must admit I, as a twit, do exactly the same. I started twitter to plug my own blog, but it has now spiralled off to be my own microblog as they all love to call it. It's good for those moments when you think of something clever to say but there is no one around to say it to. Yet I also see it as a universal level playing field to talk to people, I've used it at times to ask for tips on science journalism from people I look up to. Whether 'science blogging' is 'science journalism' is a big question for another time, so back to twitter.

The thing that has me thinking is that if there is this level playing field what about getting answers from it? The ultimate meeting of minds. And thanks to twitter I find I am not the only one thinking this, indeed it lead me to this article . . . here.

So is it a tool who's true power we are on the verge of unlocking or will it stay as I explained it to a friend the other day as 'the best tool for procrastinating your way through the internet since stumbleupon'?

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Julio: Conference for Mathematicians.

Here's an event that will take place here in the Department of Mathematics at the University of Bristol on September 08th:

Heilbronn Annual Conference 2011.

Between 08 September 2011 to 09 September 2011 the Department of Mathematics together with the Heilbronn Institute will be hosting the 2011 Heilbronn Annual Conference. Where a series of distinguished mathematicians have been invited to present lectures on a number of research themes.

Starts: lunchtime on 08 September 2011
Finishes: 09 September 2011
Venue: School of Chemistry, Lecture Theatre 2 & East Foyer, University of Bristol.

If you have any interest in attending this event you can get more information as well as speakers and registration form at the meeting website for this event.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Milly: Waste not. Want not.

Nuclear waste. It's extremely dangerous. How do you get rid of it? Short answer is, you can't. Have you ever wondered what could happen if future generations discovered our nuclear waste? Probably not, I certainly hadn't until I watched this documentary, 'Into Eternity'. Imagine that in thousands of years, we no longer understand the dangers of nuclear waste, or even what it is. Imagine that we discover the place where it is hidden. How do we emphasise how catastrophic exposing nuclear waste could be for humans and all life on earth? Do we even speak the same language and do symbols still have the same meaning? This stunning and thought-provoking film is definitely worth a watch if not only to marvel at the magnitude of Onkalo, Finland's nuclear waste repository. Pretty scary stuff.

See James' post for info on nuclear radiation.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Angel: Bridgebook

Such a great idea!!! The Mexican people's used to read 2.7 books per year. Then one day, the biggest bookshop in Mexico (Gandhi bookshop) took on the challenge of making people read "The Bridge" written by Franz Kafka while riding by subway. The implementation of this brilliant idea made that 600,000 people could read the full short story. 

The Bridge was cut in 13 excerpts, one per each station that conforms the yellow line of Mexico City's underground. Then, each part was used to cover only one ad board located in a strategic place along the platform. So that every time the subway train stopped, people inside the carriage wrapped in yellow could read each fragment. Leaflets were handed out for people that didn't ride the entire line.
I think, in days like these where marketing campaigns are designed to create some pointless necessities around people, projects like this are highly remarkable. I agree with the idea that reading or getting close to culture are not going to magically pop up the solution for injustices, corruption, sadness, wars, and society at large. Nevertheless, it's a good start to address problems, to come up with questions, to get criteria about what is good and what is not for ourselves, to dream and to build bridges...

Check out the video to get a better picture about the project!

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Beautiful data

A lovely article over at Wired today:
That science has benefited immensely from technological advances in the last few decades, or even the last century, is a fact. But one research tool that many scientists would argue need not be improved is the handwritten field notebook.
Go over there to see the stunning artwork >>