Hangry Caterpillars

This NY Times article by Katherine J Wu discusses the monarch butterfly caterpillars’ behavior when food sources are diminished. Researchers have recently observed and studied caterpillars who, when food- stressed, use “bumping, boxing, and body-checking” to protect their food source. The caterpillar’s must consume large amounts of food before their metamorphosis transition into butterflies. This caterpillar aggression has been underappreciated and under- researched but could aid entomologists in the preservation of monarchs and milkweed plants. As milkweed plants continue to decline, this battle could be a key factor in monarch survival. Larva are born hungry and consume a significant amount of food as they grow in size. As caterpillars grew, their aggression increased, likely because food/energy consumption in these final stages before metamorphosis are especially important. Dr. Keene’s spouse observed this behavior in their backyard and Dr Keene, interested, looked for research on this but found none. He decided to fill the gaps.

This study discusses the aggression induced by limited resources in monarch caterpillars. The authors highlight the fact that food sources, like milkweed, can limit development in these species. The competition for food has shown to trigger aggressive or territorial behavior in a number of species. They found that monarch caterpillars can model resource availability and aggression interactions. The measured aggression by quantifying the number of aggressive attacks/physical contact and tracked the location and quantity of attacks throughout developmental stages. The display of these aggressive attacks or lunges become more common throughout development and peak just before metamorphosis, when demand for food is highest. These attacks also increased when food availability decreased/ was particularly low. The authors acknowledge a high level of variability between individual caterpillars.

Overall, I thought the NYTimes article did a good job of representing the scientific research. I think the purpose of the article is to share this novel behavior that has been observed in monarch caterpillars. The author acknowledges that there has been limited data surrounding this area and emphasizes the potential importance of researching this phenomenon/behavior as milkweeds (essential for monarch populations) are declining. The author also recognizes that this research has been conducted in a lab-setting which may provide different variables and circumstances and resulting behaviors in natural settings. I think these kinds of studies are important as they provide insight into how species will respond to changing environments, like reduced milkweed populations. As climate change continues to stress ecosystems around the world, I believe that an understanding and appreciation for this kind of research becomes increasingly important. (Not to mention, reading about hangry, boxing caterpillars is a nice escape from current COVID progressions/articles/stress).

Hannah Dillenbeck

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Could biomining microbes help “Martians and Moon people” mine metals?

A NYTimes article by Kenneth Chang discusses microbes that may aid in separating rare earth elements from rock. These elements have proven critical for modern technology like cell phones as they provide for advanced lasers, metallic alloys, and impressive magnets. Mining these elements on Earth without the use of microbes can be quite challenging, requiring a lot of force and creating a significant amount of toxic waste. Researchers have investigated and identified microbes that catalyze the reaction and help extract these rare elements out of the earth. Researchers then wondered if these microbes would survive and function efficiently on Mars and other planets. They found that the Sphingomonas desiccabilis species of bacteria is unaffected by the different environment and gravitational forces on mars. In their study, they launched 36 sampled to orbit with basalt. 18 of these samples contained plain basalt while the other 18 contained one of three kinds of bacteria. It was found that, of the three species, S desiccabilis was the only species that created an increase in the rare elements extracted from the basalt, even in a zero-gravity environment. Follow-up SpaceX experiments will involve pieces of meteorites and fungi, rather than basalt and bacteria.

This study, entitled BioRock  examines this relationship between microbes and mineral mining in space. The authors explain that microbes can be used for this mineral extraction, generating oxygen and food, recycling waste and enhancing soil formation for plant growth. T0 investigate how microbes behave on diverse surfaces and within space environments. They studied how Spingomonas desiccabilis, Bacillus subtilis, and Cupriavidus metalliduras behaved and interacted with minerals (like basalt) in simulated space environments with low gravity at the international space station. They chose these organisms because they have been found mineral rich environments, can survive desiccation, can be grown in standard laboratory environments, and are safe to have on board the ISS. They use miniature BMRs to test how the microbes grow and interact with the minerals.

In this article, researchers tested these microorganisms and their ability to extract elements from basalt rock (found on the moon and Mars) on the ISS to test how they behaved in microgravity and simulated earth and mars gravities. They found that Bacillus subtilis had reduced efficacy. Cupriavidus metallidurans behaved similar to non- biological controls, and S desiccabilis enhanced the concentration of elements leached in all gravity simulations. They found S desiccabilis formed more extensive biofilms on the basalt compared to the other two species. Overall, they demonstrate the possibility of biologically mining crucial elements in space and in different gravity conditions and the leaching abilities of S desiccabilis which could be used in future biomining applications.

Overall, I think the researchers did a good job in presenting this data in a clear and understandable manner. I think the purpose of this article was to shed light on new technological advancements that may aid humans in the future and offer potentials for “future colonists” living in other areas of the solar system such as on the moon or Mars. Furthermore, just as biomining rare earth elements has advanced areas of modern technology,  the ability to mine elements in space could present more opportunity for technological developments. I think an awareness of this kind of research is important as we consider that fate of our Earth (especially if Earth’s climate change continues to be ignored).

 

Hannah Dillenbeck

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How do Oxen survive the long-days and harsh nights of the Arctic?

This NY Times article by Veronique Greenwood discusses how Musk Oxen survive life in the Arctic. With the strange patterns in the arctic, these animals adopt cycles based on grazing and digesting in place of normal circadian rhythms. Researchers tracked oxen with GPS collars and monitored when the animals were eating, resting, or moving around. They analyzed if there were patterns/ rhythms in how these animals behaved and if these patterns repeated. Their findings did not align perfectly with normal circadian rhythms, implying that these animal aren’t repeating behavior every 24 hours. Rather, they foraged for periods less than 12 hours, and these rhythms appeared to change depending on the season. Researchers found that in the winter, with long nights, oxen maintained their cycles, but their  rhythms. In the long days of the summer months, when high quality food was nearby, oxen did not maintain their winter- time pattern and grazed continuously. However, in areas with low quality food, oxen maintained their patterns even in the warmer months. Researchers concluded that these cycles repeated on a scale of hours (not days) and that maintaining a rhythm may allow the oxen to maximize their energy from sparse food sources. Researchers wonder if this “free-for-all” mode in the summer-time may have a positive effect on survival and/or reproduction.

In a study  exploring how environmental conditions alter the behavior and rhythmic patterns of large arctic ruminants researchers suggest that a large number of biological rhythms, that differ from expected circadian rhythms, exist in response to environments like the arctic. They tracked artic musk oxen and modelled rhythmicity based on behavior and environmental factors. They found circadian rhythmicity throughout the year but, especially in winter months, ultradian rhythms (recurrent cycled repeated throughout the day) were more prevalent. Furthermore, this rhythm shifted with longer days in the summer depending on the resources available. With statistical analyses of their rhythmicity/ behavioral data, they concluded that these oxen use interval timers to schedule their foraging behavior when their resources are low but this timer is reduced when resources are high (and energetic reserves can be easily replenished).

Another study,  looking at circadian rhythms (measured by behaviors, heart rate, and temperatures) in reindeer, found that these animals did experience circadian rhythms, but these could be altered in changing environmental conditions. During polar nights, the rhythms were attenuated and free running but during the long days of summer, rhythms followed 24-hour cycles and shifted depending on daylight and foraging behaviors. These authors suggest that the variations in foraging behavior, metabolic activity and shifts in rhythmicity are adaptations to extreme seasonal changes and harsh conditions of the artic.

Overall, I think the NY Times article did a good job in explaining the science behind these animal’s behavioral rhythms. Greenwood described the rhythms of these animals, as compared to normal circadian rhythms, and discussed what factors may alter these patterns.  The popular article did not discuss all of the nuances and fine details of the data collected and the statistical analyses performed but, I think the purpose of this article was to discuss how these animals respond to their environment. Greenwood did a great job of synthesizing the data and making it a little more attainable and understandable for the general public to consume. This research is especially important as we continue to navigate climate change and try to predict how different species will (or won’t) be able to respond to their shifting environments.

Hannah Dillenbeck

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Spanish Club Transition

Spanish club has looked a little different this year. I wouldn’t say I am necessarily an active participant due to COVID19 complications, however, I do appreciate very much that it exists. The difficulty lies in the fact that online events are particularly boring and do not receive great turn out, but on-campus events to be too dangerous and inconveniencing. Subsequently, the club has decided to cease activity for the semester unfortunately. As an alternative, I have begun devoting time to more informal discussions about Spanish language, dialect, and its varying cultures. Multiple times a week, I make space in my schedule for talks relating to these topics with friends of mine who share similar interests. Throughout the semester, I have had many excellent meetings outdoors and through Zoom. Ideally I would be back in a club with my peers, though I feel this is a good option for the time being.

*PS, I am in the bottom right of the photo, but mostly cropped out*

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La recta final

Un peso en mi pecho ha comenzado a elevarse lentamente. Finalmente, he llegado al último semestre de mi experiencia universitaria. Ha sido un largo y arduo viaje, con muchos altibajos. Hasta tarde, he estado experimentando más bajos que altos, pero teniendo en cuenta todos los factores (escuela, trabajo, familia, la pandemia, el clima político…), estoy orgulloso de mí mismo por llegar tan lejos. Y déjame decirte, me alegro de que esta aventura casi haya llegado a su fin. Debo afrontar muchos desafíos más en este mes final, pero el peor es detrás de mí. Al menos, espero así. 

Aunque sólo recibo un diploma durante cuatro años de trabajo, esta hoja de papel simbolizará el viaje académico de toda mi vida. Mi graduación de la escuela secundaria fue divertida, segura, pero no satisfactoria. Por estos cuatro años infernales, no podía esperar a ir a la universidad y finalmente probar la libertad. Probablemente sabe algo como Smirnoff o algún otro licor barato que solo beben los universitarios pobres. Pero poco sabía que en realidad estaba experimentando más libertad en la escuela secundaria que cuando asistí a la universidad: durante mi segundo año de universidad, tuve que conseguir un trabajo. Sí, sé lo que se van a preguntar: “¿Qué clase de padres permitirían que su hijo viviera tanto tiempo sin tener que trabajar un día en su vida?”, por lo que yo diría, en su mayoría estoy de acuerdo con ustedes. En 15 años, cuando tenga hijos, me aseguraré de que tengan la capacidad de equilibrar la escuela, el trabajo y la vida con una sonrisa. Mientras tanto, terminaré mi grado limpiando las lágrimas de estrés y pereza. 

No es que no me preparé para los rigores de la universidad, pero no me di cuenta de lo desmotivado que me iba a convertir. Supongo que mi experiencia en la escuela secundaria me dio una idea de lo difícil que sería tomar varios cursos universitarios a la vez; sentí la ansiedad que insidiosamente coexiste con la educación superior. Sin embargo, no sería nada comparado con lo real. Tenía expectativas increíblemente altas de mi vida y sabía que los cimientos para esto se construirían durante mis años universitarios. Así que cuando la escuela secundaria terminó, tenía planes de comenzar inmediatamente el año siguiente en la Universidad de Oklahoma estudiando Español y Biología. Tenía metas ambiciosas de convertirme en cirujano y posiblemente trabajar para organizaciones sin fines de lucro como la Organización Mundial de la Salud, Médicos Sin Fronteras, o el Cuerpo de Paz. Grandes sueños, ¿no? No estoy seguro exactamente cuando supe que este no era el camino correcto para mí, fue más bien una transición gradual a la conciencia, me desperté lentamente. Empecé a sentirme insegura cuando empecé a tomar cursos básicos como la química y la física: parecía que no importaba lo duro que estudiaría, no importa cuántas horas pasaría en el laboratorio de aprendizaje, no estaba aprendiendo. Mirando hacia atrás, creo que esto fue porque subconcesamente sabía que no quería ser médico o tener nada que ver con el campo médico. No podía concentrarme porque odiaba el contenido que me obligaba a aprender. Obligarse a seguir una carrera sólo porque te gusta la idea del dinero y el prestigio que la acompaña, esa no es la carrera para ti. Soy afortunado de haber hecho esta realización antes de que decidiera estudiar para el MCAT. 

Cuando dejé de seguir una carrera en medicina, pensé que mi experiencia universitaria sería significativamente más fácil. Puesto que no estaría tomando esos cursos terriblemente dolorosos, tendría mucho más tiempo en mi día para no hacer trabajo escolar. Por desgracia, me equivoqué. Aunque nunca pensé que el aprendizaje de idiomas iba a ser fácil, definitivamente no me di cuenta de lo extenso y laborioso que sería este proceso. Aunque ya había tenido varios años de español en la escuela secundaria, decidí empezar desde el principio cuando empecé mi carrera universitaria porque quería asegurarme de mi comprensión básica del idioma. Aunque odiaba la idea de pagar cientos de dólares por estas clases universitarias, temía que si saltaba los fundamentos del español entonces no comprendiera realmente el idioma. Mi objetivo final era hablar español con fluidez al final de mis cuatro años de universidad. Sólo me doy cuenta ahora, con un mes, de lo imposible que era fijarme esta tarea. Durante mi segundo año de universidad tuve la increíble oportunidad de estudiar en el extranjero en México durante un semestre. Pensé que esta experiencia extranjera traería la oportunidad de avanzar en gran medida mis habilidades de habla hispana, pero desafortunadamente tenía demasiado miedo. Encontré que mi mayor dificultad en este momento fue lo aterrorizada que estaba de hablar con hablantes nativos de español. En mi cabeza, estas personas me estaban juzgando por mis errores gramaticales y mi vocabulario mínimo, así que me abstenía de conversar en español. Como antes, sentí las inseguridades de la derrota y me frustró que me dejara temer a una tarea tan simple. No fue hasta que regresé a Oklahoma cuando me di cuenta de que aprendí mucho más de lo que pensaba. El regreso a un aula con estructura después de meses de inmersión solidificó los frases y las palabras que memorizé sin mi realización y el primer día de clase, sabía que mis habilidades de hablar superan a la mayoría de los compañeros de la clase. Otra vez me sentí esperanzado de que algún día entendería la lengua española. 

Ahora que he llegado al final de mis años en la universidad, miro hacia atrás en el camino sinuoso que tomé para llegar aquí (“Alexa, jugar “Logn Way Around” por las chicas”) y me compadezco de la chica que una vez fui. Aunque todavía no tengo un camino de viaje previsto, conozco las dificultades que necesitaba experimentar para saber lo que no quiero hacer. Si fuera a viajar atrás en el tiempo y reiniciar mi viaje académico (esto suena más como una pesadilla que una hipotética), no me molestaría entrar en esta academia médica, principalmente por la practicidad. Pero sabiendo que no puedo manipular el tiempo, estoy contento con a quién me hicieron estas enseñanzas. Me he convertido en un estudiante muy completo, estudiando con vigor las diversas disciplinas como el arte y la ciencia, las matemáticas y la historia, la medicina y la cultura extranjera. 

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