Long ago, 375 million years to be exact, there swam a small fish swam in a large body of water. This was no ordinary fish, even by the standards of 375 million years ago. This fish had rudimentary wrists.
Now, you may be thinking to yourself, what is so special about a fish with a wrist? Understandable considering that most people, myself included, are not experts on fish anatomy. The bones in a fish’s fin do not make up a wrist. What makes this discovery so important? This fish, the Tiktaalik is currently the biggest link between oceanic life and the first animals to walk on land.
Tiktaalik had a flat head similar to alligators as well as a neck. Fish have a more rounded head and do not have a neck because their vertebrae connect their heads and their spines. This anatomical difference was probably the first tip off to archaeologists that this was no ordinary fossil. They were even more excited when they analyzed it further in the laboratory. There they discovered the rudimentary wrist. Having a wrist allowed this fish to be able to push off of surfaces, most likely near the bottom of a shallow area of water. In other words, this fish had the ability to crawl. Although this fish had no lungs, it was still possibly capable of crawling above water, even if it couldn’t survive up there yet. This fish is almost certainly an ancestor of the first beings to crawl out of the water.
In the past week, I have managed to conduct an interview with Dr. Ralston, who was kind enough to recount some of her previous research. Dr. Ralston conducted a study on osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), which is Developmental Orthopedic Disease that causes horses’ bones to be weak. Her team gathered a large sample size of very similar horses (both in genetics and how they were brought up). The only difference was that of the mothers, one mother would have OCD and the other would not. They took blood samples of the horses, and found interesting results.
To obtain this data, Dr. Ralston and her team used a process called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). NMR is an analytical process that used different cells
magnetic fields. When introduced to NMR’s own magnetic fields, it creates a spectrum that can be measured.
The first result is that the data differed in a month period, which gave evidence that glucose levels were affected by the season/monthly period. The second of which was even more interesting; horses with OCD tended to have higher amounts of essential amino acids than nonessential amino acids. Normally, the horses would turn their essential amino acids into nonessential amino acids via a metabolic pathway. Since the levels of essential amino acids were so high, Dr. Ralston deduced that pathway that caused essential amino acids to turn into nonessential amino acids was probably malfunctioning in horses with OCD, which may be a reason why OCD exists.
Another interesting bit of research that Dr. Ralston has worked on deals with Diabetes. Insulin abnormalities are common in young horses, so it has been proposed that horses could make an apt model for the benefit of humans suffering from type 2 diabetes. Although more research needs to be done, the possibility is still there.
Animal studies have always felt more personal than other forms of studies. Geography, chemistry, and physics are all well an good, but ecology will always be this writer’s personal favorite.
This sentiment is shared be Dr. Sarah Ralston, a current professor at Rutgers University. Specifically, her interest and research subject revolves around equines. Her work with horses has gotten her a lot of attention and two awards/honors, as well as allowing her the opportunity to take part in many national equine and veterinary committees. The two committees she is currently apart of are the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Education Contract Program Advisory Committee and the National Association of Equine Affiliated Academics: working group for development of NAEAA ‘alumni’ survey tool.
Dr. Ralston got her bachelors, doctorate, and her veterinary license (School of Veterinary Medicine) at the University of Pennsylvania. Other forms of education include her Masters gotten from Colorado State University in Fort Collins and her Board Certification at the American College of Veterinary Nutrition.
One study she has taken a part in was her research on glucose/insulin metabolism and growth in horses. A link was found between a high-grain (high carbohydrate) diet and to developmental orthopedic diseases in young horses. For older horses, this kind of diet has also been linked with a disease known as laminitis. Due to this link, their is research studying metabolic alterations between different diet: one high in carbohydrates and one low in carbohydrates. To do this, they use a process known as nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) to better collect data.
Global warming is a pretty big issue. People know of it, but less people know exactly what is the main issue behind global warming: carbon dioxide. There are other big gases like methane, but carbon dioxide has some other nasty side effects.
There are still some people who, regrettably, don’t believe in the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Luckily some evidence exists to prove otherwise. The chart above is a very famous chart known as The Keeling Curve. He started his experiment way back in 1956 to measure the concentration of carbon dioxide in parts per million at a certain points (namely the Mauna Loa Observation in Hawaii, but various other places are included as well) in the world over the next few years to see the effects that time and place had on carbon dioxide concentration. The “next few years” plan changed when the shocking results were revealed, and it has been recording ever since. With increased carbon dioxide comes increased temperatures. This curve has been used as evidence that global warming is not just a future problem, but a current problem.
The temperature increase caused by carbon dioxide affects not only humans, but other creatures as well. Considering the fact that a polar bear hanging on to a small patch of ice is one of the first things people think about when they think of the effect global warming, and therefore the increasing carbon dioxide concentration, has on animals, this is by no means a groundbreaking fact. People are well aware of the fact that many animals are much worse for wear thanks to rising temperatures. Whether it be for actual living conditions, such as the polar bear, or whether it affects the behavioral patterns, such as the case of certain migratory birds, or even the effects of plant boundaries, the effects of these raised temperatures have certainly left their mark.
Temperature increasing isn’t the only threat increased carbon dioxide poses. When carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, it turns into an acid. So, because of how much extra carbon dioxide is in the atmosphere, the ocean is slowly becoming more acidic. Even a small difference in acidity can have a big impact on animals. To give an example on what effect acidification has on marine environments, volcanic vents near Ischia, Italy spew out only carbon dioxide. and it has a devastating affect on wildlife. Very few animals can live in the acidic waters close to the vents, and the few that do brave these acidic waters tend to have holes in their shells from the acid constantly gnawing at them. Imagine this happening to the world’s oceans. Oh, what a world.
Some exciting news is being shared for all those interested in physics. In an effort to recreate and study the effects of The Big Bang, scientists from the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y have discovered a liquid with extremely high vorticity, or the tendency of a fluid particle to circulate at a certain point.
This liquid, known as quark-gluon plasma, was created when scientists forced gold ions to smash into each other at high speeds, with their velocity almost approaching the speed of light. This liquid is dense and extremely hot. Its temperature is in the trillions of degrees Celsius, which is much, much hotter than the core of the sun, making it the hottest fluid ever to be made by humans. This liquid also has another interesting quality; in this liquid, quarks and gluons, substances that make up protons and neutrons, float freely in the liquid, hence its name, quark-gluon plasma.
Not only that, but the quark-gluon plasma has been found to have an average vorticity around ω≈(9±1)×10^21 s^−1 (9 billion trillion radians per second). As this probably doesn’t mean much to anyone not studying physics, to give a sense of scale, the Earth rotates at a vorticity of 7.27×10^-6 radians per second. This means that the quark-gluon plasma is, without a doubt, the fastest rotating fluid to ever be found, surpassing the fluid Gomez et al, with a vorticity of 10^7 s−1.
Nothing about this liquid could be considered part of the ordinary, and studying it could yield very interesting results for science and physics!