Schrodinger’s Amoeba — Well Schrodinger’s Cat

Have you heard of Schrödinger’s cat? Possibly on a funny shirt or a internet cartoon that you didn’t understand?

It’s a quantum mechanics thing, but basically it involves a kitty in a box with some radioactive material and poison gas. It’s just a  thought experiment–no one’s actually putting cats in boxes with such things–but it basically shows that if you put the cat in a box it is both alive and dead at the same time.  As long as you never look in the box to know, it will always exist in both states: as both happy, living kitty playing in a box and as dead, poisoned, radioactive kitty.

My wife is carrying Schrödinger’s Amoeba.

Well, it’s my Amoeba, but in the way we’re doing our pregnancy, it could be called Schrödinger’s Amoeba. Mrs AmoebaMike and I are not finding out the biological sex of AmoebaJr before delivery.  Friends and relatives find this highly annoying. They want to know.

Of course, they all have their suspicions/predictions as well.

But there’s no way for them to know. We don’t know. Not even our doctor knows!

So until AmoebaJr arrives next month, AmoebaJr is both a boy and a girl at the same time. It is only by observing its sex that we force the universe into a single answer.

Schrodinger's Amoeba

PCR Shirt

This is a microblog post. Otherwise known as a tweet (because my tweetdeck is all kinds of messed up lately.) ;-)

I wore my RUN PCR shirt the other day. A dentist saw it and was intrigued. I explained (or jogged his memory) what PCR is and he loved it. haha (I think he may have also been a Run DMC fan.)

Oooo! When I went to grab that link I saw white shirts are 50% off right now (’til Sunday using code HOLIDAYSSALE ). So hey, get your RUN PCR shirt at half price and impress your friends, coworkers, and random dentists!

Energy!

This post has the most monstrous image I’ve made to date.  I hope it will become more popular and useful than my current heavy hitters the cell and even Louis Pasteur’s experiment of spontaneous generation, which I’ve seen make the top ranks of both Google and Bing image search!

In this image, I’ve covered energy as it passes from the sun in the form of light to the chloroplast of plants. In the chloroplasts, there are structures called thylakoids where the magic happens. This is where photosynthesis takes place in two parts, 1) light-dependent reactions and, 2) Calvin Cycle.

The waste products here are eliminated and the useful products are then sent to the mitochondria.  The first step is 1) glycolysis, followed then by 2) the Krebs cycle (also called the Citric Acid Cycle) under aerobic conditions OR, 2) fermentation (under anaerobic conditions)

There’s a LOT of stuff that happens here. These are the basics.  This stuff can get extraordinarily complicated–the guy the Krebs cycle is named for won a Nobel prize for his work!

I’ve never, personally seen an image that attempted to go from the sun to photosynthesis to cellular respiration but I tried to keep it as simple as possible. That said, if you feel something’s missing, its probably because it is. Some steps weren’t explicitly mentioned for simplicity’s sake.

One final note: ATP gives you a burst of energy. If you need energy to do anything for longer than about a minute and a half, you want sugar. Sugars provide longer-lasting energy.  ATP (which makes up about a half-pound of your total body weight) doesn’t store, in other words, it gets used shortly after it’s made. ATP actually gets recycled over 1,000 times a day by humans!

Energy path thumb

Click for full size

But AmoebaMike, what else do I need to know about taxonomy and evolution?

In order to standardize names of organisms, back in the the 1700s, a Swedish botanist named Carl Linnaeus developed a two-name system. Referred to as, binomial nomenclature, it is the system with which we use–even still today–for naming organisms.

Carl von Linné, Alexander Roslin, 1775.
Scientific Hottie
Carl Linneaus,
Image via Wikipedia

The word binomial means “two names.” So it is by using two names that we fully name each organism, in the same way that you have both a first and a last name. In binomial nomenclature, the first of the two names indicates the genus name. A genus is a group of closely related species. The second name is the species name; often it is a Latinized version of a word that describes a trait of the species, a location where the species can be found, or even an influential person in the discovery or science of that particular species. See the accompanying image.

Click for full size

Finally, you need to know how organisms are classified. Scientists try to make maps, or trees, called cladograms to show the relationship between different species. It used to be that organisms that were organized in cladograms based on physical similarities the species shared with one another. For example, as the name implies, the horseshoe crab looks like a crab.  In fact, it’s actually more related to spiders than it is to crabs!

Now that science has advanced greatly in the past half-century or so, cladograms are built using information scientists gather from DNA and RNA sequencing.  We’re finding out that like the horseshoe crab, some things we thought were related aren’t really all that close!  Have you ever heard of a panda or a koala being referred to as panda bear or koala bear?

Bears are members of the family Ursidae.  The bears you think of when you hear the term “bear”, like the grizzly bear and the polar bear are in genus Ursus.  Ursus is one of the genera of family Ursidae. Pandas are members of family Ursidae, but their genus is Ailuropoda. So they’re technically bears!

Koalas share the same class as the bears, Mammalia.  That’s as close as they’re related.  Koalas aren’t bears any more than dogs or whales are bears.

One last note: as you see in the image, the proper way to discuss a species is using the full name and italicizing it. The genus name gets capitalized, but can also be abbreviated by the first initial. For example, koalas would be Phascolarctos cinereus or P. cinereus and pandas would be Ailuropoda melanoleuca or A. melanoleuca.

Scientists finish a 53-year-old classic experiment on the origins of life

Harold Urey, circa 1963

Urey, circa 1963. Image via Wikipedia

Sometimes an article is so well written that you can do nothing to better it.  Ed Yong is the type of writer to consistently put out articles of that quality-level.

And so all I can do is send you to his blog, for you to read for yourself.

It concerns the Urey experiment on possible origins of life, meticulous science, and more than 50 years of advances around undisturbed samples.

Read all about it here.

Science Cards – Two Great Women

After a slew of business trips and a broken piece of software, I’ve finally got the latest–and last*???–science cards for you!

First up is Marie Curie, the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes!  Best known for her work as a pioneer in radioactivity, Curie had a distinguished career that included isolating radioactive isotopes, discovering two chemical elements (she even had one named after her!) and working to cure cancer with radiation. Continue reading

Science Cards – No Catchy Subtitle This Time

I spent 8 out of 9 days on the road since the last time I posted a science card.  So you’ll have to give me a bit of a break on the lack of a catchy subtitle.  Feel free to come up with one of your own and make me feel bad for how easy it was for you to think of.

(If this is your first experience with my science cards, here’s the brief synopsis: cards that include a “legend” are made up by me.  In most cases, the current scientists are providing their own info to me.  When reading a star rating, 1 star is indicative of the level in which normal mortals reside.) Continue reading

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