As Many Exceptions As Rules

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Exceptions to natural and biological rules are used to increase interest in biology. Recent studies, and not so recent studies, are described in order to demonstrate amazing organisms and practices. Core concepts of biology are emphasized, with side trips into the research of topics that give insight into the evolution and interelatedness of all life.

Mark Lasbury
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  • August 24, 2016
  • 03:05 AM

Keeping Your “Ion” The Ball – Salts and Life

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Lost at sea is no way to go to your everlasting reward. Sit in the sunshine too long and you lose your salts and all your functions go bonkers. Drink seawater and you end up with too much sodium and potassium and go nuts. Either way your dead, and it all has to do with your body’s tipping point and the kidney’s function in maintaining an osmotic potential. What is weirder - licorice can cause just about the same problem. ... Read more »

Räikkönen, K., Seckl, J., Heinonen, K., Pyhälä, R., Feldt, K., Jones, A., Pesonen, A., Phillips, D., Lahti, J., Järvenpää, A.... (2010) Maternal prenatal licorice consumption alters hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenocortical axis function in children. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 35(10), 1587-1593. DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2010.04.010  

  • August 18, 2016
  • 08:00 AM

Sorry, I Don't Drink

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Koalas don’t drink a lot of water, but the spinifex hopping mouse and kangaroo rat put him to shame. They never drink. What water they need they get from the seeds they eat and from the fact that they conserve water amazingly well – including the water that they produce during metabolism. Adult mayflies don’t drink either – they don’t have working mouthparts! Of course, some only live a few minutes as adults, so it may not be that big a deal.... Read more »

  • August 10, 2016
  • 08:55 AM

Gimme Some Dihydrogen Monoxide

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

One cannot over estimate the ways that water affects life on Earth. Beyond its chemical properties, some animals have evolved to substitute water for a rigid skeleton. Hydrostatic skeletons can be used for support, but also as water vascular systems that provide pressure for vascular transport and respiration. A recent review by William H. Kier sheds light on the interactions of different fibers and tissues in water based skeletons. Yet some plants can withstand a loss of 60% of their water, whe........ Read more »

Kier, W. (2012) The diversity of hydrostatic skeletons. Journal of Experimental Biology, 215(8), 1247-1257. DOI: 10.1242/jeb.056549  

  • July 27, 2016
  • 07:20 AM

The Nature of Science of Nature

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

One the tenets of science is that hypotheses can't be proved, only disproved. But medical journals do not publish negative data, even though this is often helpful to scientists and physicians. A recent TED Talk by Ben Goldacre illustrates this point in the context of drug studies. In a bigger sense – is this really the only way to do science; to follow this one scientific method?... Read more »

Ben Goldacre. (2012) What doctors don't know about the drugs they prescribe. TED MED. info:/

  • July 20, 2016
  • 06:50 AM

Take Off Your Coat And Stay Awhile

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

The naked mole rat is quite naked, but a lack of hair does help it move around in its environment. Other mammals that are supposedly hairless aren’t really, even dolphins have a few hairs. Of course, some humans and other mammals can have autoimmune disease mutations that make them completely hairless. For the naked mole rat it was a strange adaptation with strange results – it has become the only cold-blooded (ectothermic) mammal!... Read more »

  • July 13, 2016
  • 08:45 AM

The Perils of Plant Monogamy

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

The philodendron that raises its temperature to attract a certain beetle is an exception. Most plants invite many different pollinators, but a few have only a single pollinator species. This leads to some interesting adaptations and some even funkier smells.... Read more »

  • July 6, 2016
  • 08:45 AM

Is It Hot In Here Or Is It Just My Philodendron?

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

It is usually animals that are referred to as endotherms or ectotherms – plants can’t regulate their temperature, right? Don’t tell that to a certain philodendron that can spike the temperature of its flowers to more than 113˚F on two nights of the year, just to attract the beetles that will pollinate it.... Read more »

  • June 15, 2016
  • 08:05 AM

Tricky Little Buggers

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Evolution brings wisdom with age – and bacteria are ancient. Bacteria have evolved defenses ranging from evasion or inhibition of immune systems to protecting crucial functions from environmental injury. New studies have identified spring-loaded spikes that can be assembled and disassembled for puncturing other bacteria and delivering toxins, while other work is focused on using those same toxins to kill antibiotic resistant organisms, with E. coli have been engineered to produce toxins ag........ Read more »

Basler, M., Pilhofer, M., Henderson, G., Jensen, G., & Mekalanos, J. (2012) Type VI secretion requires a dynamic contractile phage tail-like structure. Nature, 483(7388), 182-186. DOI: 10.1038/nature10846  

Saeidi, N., Wong, C., Lo, T., Nguyen, H., Ling, H., Leong, S., Poh, C., & Chang, M. (2011) Engineering microbes to sense and eradicate Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a human pathogen. Molecular Systems Biology. DOI: 10.1038/msb.2011.55  

  • June 8, 2016
  • 09:25 AM

Immune To Evolution

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Recent studies show that plant immune reactions include responses that are adaptive. Even more amazing, these responses include the recruitment of parasitic wasps to combat some herbivorous invaders. In addition, several plant chemicals that prime the immune responses have been identified, leading to a sort of immune memory. Plants do all this without a classical immune system. Once again, plants show us that in many ways, they are more complex than mammals.... Read more »

Fatouros, N., Lucas-Barbosa, D., Weldegergis, B., Pashalidou, F., van Loon, J., Dicke, M., Harvey, J., Gols, R., & Huigens, M. (2012) Plant Volatiles Induced by Herbivore Egg Deposition Affect Insects of Different Trophic Levels. PLoS ONE, 7(8). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043607  

Yun, B., Feechan, A., Yin, M., Saidi, N., Le Bihan, T., Yu, M., Moore, J., Kang, J., Kwon, E., Spoel, S.... (2011) S-nitrosylation of NADPH oxidase regulates cell death in plant immunity. Nature, 264-268. DOI: 10.1038/nature10427  

  • June 1, 2016
  • 08:10 AM

The Dirt On Staying Healthy

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Triclosan is the active ingredient in many anti-bacterial products, but does it make our environment too clean? The hygiene hypothesis states that early childhood exposure to certain antigens can help to balance and control the immune system, and therefore result in lower levels of food and seasonal allergies. One particularly important antigen seems to be arabinogalactan, a fiber/sugar molecule found on farms – maybe that’s why farmers’ kids have lower levels of food and other........ Read more »

Gennady Cherednichenkoa, Rui Zhanga, Roger A. Bannisterb,Valeriy Timofeyevc, Ning Lic, Erika B. Fritscha, Wei Fenga, Genaro C. Barrientosa, Nils H. Schebbd, Bruce D. Hammockd, Kurt G. Beame, Nipavan Chiamvimonvatc, and Isaac N. Pessaha. (2012) Triclosan impairs excitation–contraction coupling and Ca2 dynamics in striated muscle. PNAS. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1211314109  

  • May 25, 2016
  • 07:45 AM

Don't Be So Sensitive

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Just like some people have a tendency to go overboard, so do some immune systems. Here’s all the ways that your immune system can get it wrong and leave you with allergies – and how some allergies can save your life.... Read more »

Calboli FC, Cox DG, Buring JE, Gaziano JM, Ma J, Stampfer M, Willett WC, Tworoger SS, Hunter DJ, Camargo CA Jr, Michaud DS. (2011) Prediagnostic plasma IgE levels and risk of adult glioma in four prospective cohort studies. J Natl Cancer Inst. . DOI: 10.1093/jnci/djr361  

  • May 18, 2016
  • 09:15 AM

Ironing Out The Black Death

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

The black plague has taken the lives of millions over the centuries. Recent evidence shows that a small number of genetic changes were required to allow Y. pestis to use fleas as a vector. This increased Y. pestis virulence in humans, and might have wiped us out if it weren't for a genetic disease called hereditary hemochromatosis.... Read more »

  • May 11, 2016
  • 06:50 AM

Viva La Evolution

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

In our continuing story of how being sick can save you, how about three genetic diseases and a genetic condition that can save you from malaria. The genetic diseases might kill you, but usually after you procreate, and that is better for the species than being killed by malaria as a child. Evolution is an emotionless mistress.... Read more »

  • May 6, 2016
  • 08:55 AM

Feelin' Hot Hot Hot!

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Can you believe that having one disease will protect against another? Yes? Well, OK, but did you know that sometimes doctor’s give you one disease to help cure you of something worse? Like how people have been given malaria to kill off syphilis, or how the guy who invented the Heimlich maneuver wants to give people malaria to get rid of HIV. Weird.... Read more »

C. Gilks. (2001) Man, monkeys, and malaria. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci . DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2001.0880  

  • April 27, 2016
  • 08:35 AM

Your Body Has A Photographic Memory

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

For the first time anywhere - an easy explanation of your immune system in 1500 words! For the low, low price of zero dollars you can find out how your body protects you better the second time you are exposed to a disease. Special bonus offer – we’ll throw in how vaccines work and why you need one every year for the flu, although your old flu vaccines might still be helping you. ... Read more »

  • April 20, 2016
  • 09:30 AM

Lucky For Me, I'm Diseased

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

When people are sick we isolate, we feel sorry for them, we avoid them. But we don’t think about the many times that being sick is actually good for your health. One example – vaccines. Many vaccines give you disease to prevent disease. Unfortunately, too many people are foregoing vaccination for their children based on fraudulent data. Think anti-vaxxers don’t affect you because you and your kids are vaccinated? Read on and learn better.... Read more »

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2012) Pertussis epidemic - washington, 2012. MMWR. Morbidity and mortality weekly report, 517-22. PMID: 22810264  

  • April 13, 2016
  • 07:10 AM

Ivy League Climber

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

English ivy doesn’t send out entwining tendrils, it doesn’t burrow into cracks as an anchor. It doesn’t have hooked thorns like a climbing rose – no, English ivy can grow up the side of Wrigley Field because its millions of adventitious roots secrete the strongest glue in the world. However, it doesn’t work like most glues – it works like a gecko’s feet. Oh, and it will help protect you from skin cancer too!... Read more »

  • April 6, 2016
  • 09:00 AM

I’ll Fly Home—Or Not

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Why do some birds migrate and others don’t? It’s not that simple. The reason isn’t genetics, it isn’t necessarily food or weather either. There are birds that can allow their feet to go to one degree above freezing while keeping the rest of the body toasty – so they don’t need to migrate, yet other birds that are close to them genetically will fly thousands of miles. Other birds species only have a few of the adults migrate – who decides which ones make ........ Read more »

  • March 30, 2016
  • 08:30 AM

Lions And Tigers and Ligers, Oh My!

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

Thankfully, “stick to your own kind” is not something that animals always consider. Ligers, tigons, even wolphins (false killer whales mate with a dolphin) are all amazing exceptions. These example aren’t new species because they are often sterile of the wrong size- ligers are often too big to deliver. However, there are rare times when a new species can emerge from hybridizations. The Lornicera fly was a wild hybrid between the snowberry bush and blueberry bush flies, but sinc........ Read more »

Jesús Mavárez1, Camilo A. Salazar, Eldredge Bermingham1, Christian Salcedo, Chris D. Jiggins . (2006) Speciation by hybridization in Heliconius butterflies. Nature, 868-871. DOI: 10.1038/nature04738  

  • March 23, 2016
  • 07:25 AM

Leaves Suck!

by Mark Lasbury in As Many Exceptions As Rules

People need the power of an elevator or our legs to rise high in a building, so how does water get from the roots of a tree to the very top leaves? Hint, it isn’t capillary action – even capillary tubes can move water only a few centimeters. The key is evaporation. But if water evaporates off plants, how do they survive during droughts? They have tricks to retain water, including developing big leaves and little leaves. Look carefully at some trees, you’ll find that they have t........ Read more »

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