Thursday, July 22, 2010

I'm Sorry, Patches

Patches was born a couple of years back to Hannah's cat Germany. This particular litter was plagued with problems. Of the five kittens born, one died for unknown reasons, one had to be euthanized due to problems, one had to have a leg amputated, one was perfectly healthy, and Patches - the fifth - had a hernia protruding from her abdomen. We thought Patches would also have to be euthanized, but they fixed her hernia and she healed up perfectly.

Over the two years, we never got Patches spayed - partially because of lack of funds, and partially due to ignorance and laziness about the number of homeless or abandoned pets. Once we learned that it is imperative to spay and neuter your companion animals, we began neutering and spaying all of our cats. However, throughout this two years, Patches had two litters of kittens. The first litter all found good homes. The second litter was peculiar, as she only had two kittens, and had them more than 24 hours apart. These two kittens now live with our dear friends Crystal and Dawson, and one of the kittens, Callie, looks just like her mother - it's uncanny; the other kitten, Tessie, looks just like a kitten (pictured below) from Patches' first litter.

We finally had the money to spay Patches, and we set an appointment with No More Homeless Pets for this morning (July 22, 2010). Paige got up early, took her in at 7am, went back and picked her up at 2pm, and immediately realized something was wrong. Patches was abnormally lethargic, and her eyes seemed to be glazed over. Paige called the vet, and they said this is normal for some cats. However, at approximately 8:30pm, my sister Bekka told me that Patches - who was sleeping in Bekka's room - was wheezing when she breathed. I went in and checked on her a couple of minutes after that, and she was no longer breathing or moving, her eyes were open, she had left us.

I have so many mixed emotions, partially because Patches was so amazing, partially because she did absolutely nothing wrong - we chose to take her to the vet and have her spayed, and partially because it was so unexpected. I cannot say much more about how I feel right now, besides that I feel how anybody would feel after losing a very close friend. If you don't know me well, you should know that I spend more time with my cats, and consider them better friends, than most any other human beings. I bond with cats much quicker and easier than I do with humans, and it pains me to know that this was our fault, and not hers.

All I can say is this: Patches, I love you, I miss you, and I am so, so sorry this happened. You were the best mother of any of the cats we've ever had the pleasure of knowing. And you were never happier than when you were raising your kittens. (I hope the picture below catches that fact well.) We buried you next to Mick in the backyard, I hope you may rest in peace.

Patches with her son (from the first litter). We love you. RIP

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thought of the Day: An Inward Universe

String theory predicts (in a crude sense) that the entire universe is made up of vibrating filaments of energy - called "strings". These "strings" are supposed to be 10^-33 cm in size. To put that into perspective, the difference in the size of our entire solar system to the size of a the tree that sits outside of Utah Valley University, is not as great as the difference between the size of a single atom to one of these "strings". This means that when scientists tell you that, our solar system is so vast, there probabilistically must be life (probably sentient life) out there, we could also probabilistically presume that there must be life (probably sentient life) *in here* - here being anywhere, for example, a single cell which makes up a small portion of your cornea.

So, my thought of the day is really this: don't underestimate the small-in-size. Since, after all, "small" is a relative term. It's true that there are somewhere around 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, but there are also roughly 100 billion neurons in our 3-pound brain - and the potential connections of those neurons are greater in number than the atoms in the universe. And if each of those 100 billion neurons is made up of innumerable "strings" - which are about as far distant from those neurons as the neurons are from the size of our galaxy, who knows wherein sentient life may lie...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Interesting (although I disagree w/ the Animal Testing): Researchers Select for 'Lesbian' Mice


Researchers create 'lesbian' mice by deleting a single gene

Category: Neuroscience
Posted on: July 15, 2010 8:55 AM, by Mo

DELETION of a single gene switches the sexual orientation of female mice, causing them to engage in sexual behaviour that is typical of males. Korean researchers found that deleting the appropriately named FucM gene, which encodes an enzyme called fucose mutarotase, causes masculinization of the mouse brain, so that female mice lacking the gene avoid the advances of males and try to mate with other females instead. The findings probably have little relavence to human sexual orientation, however.

FucM is one of a family of enzymes involved in rearranging the atoms in small sugar molecules called monosaccharrides. In 2007, Chankyu Park of the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology and his colleagues reported that these rearrangements facilitate the incorporation of the monosaccharide fucose into cellular proteins. This process is one of numerous chemical modifications that are well known to regulate the function of proteins, but the biological significance of FucM function in mammals was until now unclear.

Park and his colleagues therefore created genetically engineered ("knock-out") mice lacking the FucM gene. Apart from a slight reduction in body weight, the mice seemed perfectly healthy and were no different in appearance from their normal littermates. But the researchers noticed something unusual when they put the mutant females into mating cages with normal, sexually vigorous males. Typically, the stud will approach a female, touch her body and then sniff her anal-genital region. If the female is receptive, she will invite the male to mount her, by arching her back and raising her hind quarters. But the mutant females actively avoided the advances of the males, suggesting that deletion of the FucM gene had somehow interefered with their sexual and reproductive behaviour.

In mice, sexual behaviour is mediated largely by pheromones secreted in the urine. These chemicals carry sexual signals - they enable the animals to recognize, and motivate them to approach, members of the opposite sex. Normally, females prefer the smell of male urine and vice versa, but females lacking the FucM gene were found to prefer the urine of other females to that of males, spending more time sniffing it when simultaneously presented with both. Their sexual behaviour was similar to that of males, too: they not only rejected the advances of males, but also attempted to mount and mate with other females. Nevertheless, they remained fertile - most became pregnant when forced to mate with a sexually experienced male, and the way they subsequently behaved towards their offspring was no different from normal females.

When the researchers examined the brains of the mutant females, they observed a reduction in the number of dopamine-producing cells in the anteroventral periventricular nucleus (AVPv), a part of the hypothalamus which regulates the release of hormones required for ovulation. The AVPv is known to differ in size between males and females - it is between two to four times larger in females, and contains more cells. It is smaller in females missing the FucM gene, and thus closely resembles that of normal males. The researchers therefore hypothesized that deleting the gene causes changes in brain development that masculinize the brains of the females.

They also speculated that the observed changes occur because deleting the FucM gene perturbs the function of alpha-fetoprotein (AFP). AFP normally protects the female mouse brain from masculinization, by binding to and sequestering the hormone oestrogen during development, and its function is thought to be regulated by the addition and removal of fucose molecules. To test this prediction, the researchers analyzed expression levels of AFP in the mutant females, and the chemical composition of the protein circulating in their bloodstream. This revealed that AFP was present at normal levels, but that there was a significant reduction in the number of AFP molecules that had fucose attached to them.

Other researchers have shown that the neural circuits underlying male behaviours are likely to exist in the normal female mouse brain, and the reverse is probably true. It is also likely that the embryonic human brain has the capacity to differentiate along both the male and female pathways, depending upon exposure to sex hormones during the early stages of development.

These new findings show that FucM is critical for steering the developing mouse brain towards female diffrentiation. But they probably have limited relavence to human sexuality, because although FucM probably plays the same role in humans, it is progesterone, and not oestrogen, that masculinizes the developing human brain. There has been much talk of a "gay gene" in recent years, but no such gene has been discovered, It is, however, only a matter of time before the genes governing human sexual orientation are found.

Park, D., et al. (2010). Male-like sexual behavior of female mouse lacking fucose mutarotase. BMC Genetics 11 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-2156-11-62.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The film 'Inception' has got me thinking...

Isn't it interesting that when our brains are at their most creative also happens to be when we have the least control over our thoughts? While dreaming, our brains create and experience simultaneously - i.e. every instant of the dream is fabricated completely anew from moment to moment, without any external stimuli. However, the majority of us recognize that we are not in control of what we dream per se - e.g. most of us do not want to be held accountable for what we dream, due to this lack of control. So I find it interesting, then, that when our brains are literally creating a world around us, from scratch (or memory), moment-to-moment, also happens to be the time when we almost completely lack control over our mental processes. How could it be, then, that we become our most creative only after losing control of the organ that does the creating (so to speak)? And what might this mean for our intuitions about how we "create" decisions in our day-to-day lives?

Think about it, we hold very strong intuitions that we make decisions freely because we feel like we are making them, but our brain can create dream world (seemingly) against our will, and yet we will as if we have control and also feel like we're not the one's creating each moment. The brain-mind is amazing, but very deceptive - so it seems.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Reposted from Earlier: Some Statistics about Animals

Breakdown of Animals Killed and Tortured

Animals Killed in USA for Food:
Yearly: 10,000,000,000 (10 billion)
Monthly: 833,333,333 (833 million)
Weekly: 192,307,692 (192 million)
Daily: 27,397,260 (27 million)
Hourly: 1,141,552 (1 million)
Minute: 19,025 (19 thousand)
Second: 317 (3 hundred)

This is for food only and in the USA only!

Animals Experimented on in USA (Dogs only) [Cats only] {with pain & suffering, without anesthesia} NOTE--THESE NUMBERS DO NOT INCLUDE RATS, MICE, BIRDS, ETC. (WHICH ARE THE MOST POPULAR TEST SUBJECTS):
Yearly: 1,416,643 (69,516) [25,560] {104,202}
Monthly: 118,053 (5,793) [2,130] {8,683}
Weekly: 27,243 (1,336) [491] {2,003}
Daily: 3,881 (190) [70] {285}
Hourly: 161 (8) [3] {12}
Minute: 2.7 (.11) () {.2}

Most are euthanized after experimentation.
A dog is killed in the USA every 2 hours with pain, without anesthesia.
6 cats are killed every day in the USA with pain, without anesthesia.
Every 5 minutes in the USA an animal is experimented on with pain, without anesthesia.

Animals Experimented on WORLDWIDE:
Yearly: 115,000,000 (115 million)
Monthly: 9,583,333 (9.5 million)
Weekly: 2,211,538 (2 million)
Daily: 315,068 (315 thousand)
Hourly: 13,127 (13 thousand)
Minute: 218 (2 hundred)
Second: 4

4 animals per second, meaning every 4 seconds one is tortured w/ pain, w/o anesthesia.
Includes about same stats as in USA (using cats, dogs, etc., with over 7% of testing being performed with pain, without anesthesia.

Dr Hadwen Trust and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection

Friday, July 9, 2010

It's About Time

Given my interest in the philosophy of time, the following strikes me as especially intriguing.

Previous to 1883, almost every city (and even some villages) had no standardized time of which to go off, so those traveling across the country by train would have to reset their watches to the local time as many as 200 times on a single trip, in order to keep up with schedules. However, on November 18, 1883, the Railroad imposed a uniform time to which all stations must adhere. These were the four standardized time-zones that we still have today. Not soon after, the rest of the world followed suit and 24 time-zones in all were imposed, separating the different regions on the Earth. Until then, time - in its most elementary, and commonsense notion - was relative.

And the recent earthquake (2010) in Chile has reminded us once again about the relativity of time. The quake was so powerful, in fact, that it altered the Earth's axis - only to a miniscule degree, but nonetheless, enough that it shorted the Earth's days by a measurable amount (about 1.26 nanoseconds). See that story HERE.

Nevertheless, we are reminded just how dependent our conception of time is on the surrounding (albeit expansive) environment. Indeed, the Mayans had a different notion of time than we have - a much more complex notion at that. The commonsense view perceives time as linear, one dimensional, and asymmetrical. The scientific view holds that time is meshed with space, inseparable, and in some aspects probably not as asymmetrical as our simple minds comprehend it to be.

Needless to say, I find the concept of 'time' to be very fascinating. And I wonder if better understanding the nature of the universe will force us to eliminate time (and space) from our ontology altogether.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Neuroscience and Moral Responsibility

Interesting read (or listen): click HERE!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Engaged, Studying for the GRE, & (hopefully) Grad School

This is my first post (barring the preceding post) in a while.

I've not too much to say other than what seems to consume the majority of my life right now, which is: (i) my brand new engagement to the lovely Paige Hamblin; (ii) studying for the GRE; and (iii) preparing for graduate school.

To briefly recap - in order to (hopefully) put me back in blogging mode:

I returned from Philadelphia on June 19 - after spending two weeks at UPenn's summer workshop in Cognitive (Neuro)Science - and Paige, in her very nervous and cute nature, proposed marriage. And yes, I accepted her proposal. We tentatively (but more likely than not) plan to be married on June 24, 2011. It will be very low-key and awesome.

I've especially not much to say about the GRE - other than it consumes me (currently). I spend 4-6 hours a day studying for this piece of garbage, which most assuredly does not project any real propensity for one's ability to succeed in graduate school. But, nonetheless, I play the game. I am progressing rather slowly, and have set the bar rather high. I've scheduled to take the test on July 26th (three weeks from today), and my goal is to hit a score of 1450 (or at least hit 700 in each of the two major sections). This probably will *not* be the case, however, and I'm sure - if I am still blogging in the future - I will express frustration about my less-than-goal-oriented-score, and plan to retake this horrid exam. Regardless, for now, I stay optimistic in my time-wasting studies.

Grad school is (hopefully) approaching - I will send out applications this December. Details on that remain forthcoming.

On Blogging

The following seem true to me (at least to some capacity):

i. I do quite poorly at keeping up with my blog.
ii. I really like reading past blogs - especially posts from two or more years ago.
iii. Blogs seem to portray a sort of evolution through life.
iv. I feel like blogging, to a certain extent, helps me to think things through in a less passive manner.


v. I should (and probably will) start blogging on a semi-regular basis, once again.

I cannot promise I will keep up with it, although that is my wish, so without further ado... see the above post.