The Conscientious Biologist

The Conscientious Biologist

Free lessons on YouTube from an experienced teacher, plus amazing infographics here and on Instagram.

Operating as usual

14/02/2023

😄🥰
Love Nathan W. Pyles take on romance; very biological 😆

It's also always struck me as comical that we traditionally give the reproductive organs of plants as a sign of love 🌹🌺🌼

Yep, romance is alive and kicking in the Gallagher household 😍😁

Happy Valentines Day ❤



14/02/2023

Happy Valentines Day, you beautiful biologists! ❤️💙💚

May your hypothalamus be flooded with oxytocin, and your nucleus accumbens be heartily stimulated (yes, I know, I’m such an old romantic). 🥰
Whilst oxytocin and vasopressin seem most directly responsible for love, there are actually many hormones and neurotransmitters that play a role. Even testosterone and oestrogen play their part, mediating the central dopamine pathways towards specific partner preferences.

Aiding our ability to remain bonded and in love (and hence protect and nurture each other for longer), are the reward centres in the brain, which release dopamine whenever we see or think of our loved ones. Dopamine is the main “happy hormone“, which we crave, thereby unconsciously reinforcing our bonds of love. 💗🧠
Oxytocin has been proposed as a possible treatment for social phobia, postpartum depression, and even autism, helping people to build bonds and social relationships.

12/02/2023

Happy Charles Darwin Day!!! 🥳🐒🦋🦖
(celebrated on 12th February - his birthday)

Darwin's extensive research and development of his theories of evolution by natural selection provide the basis for our modern understanding of life and it's origins, but not without taking it's toll on the man himself. He suffered from a variety of ailments and struggled with his health for much of his life, but none the less worked conscientiously right up until his death in on April 19, 1882. He was buried at Westminster Abbey, in honour of his tremendous contributions to science. 🧬

I absolutely love this quote, found in one of his many diaries......makes me feel so reassured in myself to know that even my heroes had their down days but still came though triumphant.

11/02/2023

Third up in my Legends of Biology tributes on The International Day of Women and Girls in Science: Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin

Along with her Nobel prize, Dorothy received many other distinguished awards, including the Order of Merit from the Queen, and the prestigious Copley Medal. There is even an asteroid named "Hodgkin" in her honour.
She lived from 1910-1994.

As a final curiosity, one of her students whilst teaching at Oxford was former British Prime Minister, Baroness Margaret Thatcher. Such was the powerful impact of her tutor, that Thatcher respectfully hung a portrait of Hodgkin in her office at Downing Street, despite Hodgkin being a staunch Labour supporter.

11/02/2023

My second legend of biology on International Day of Women and Girls in Science, I give you the heroic and pioneering Jane Cook Wright

Born in 1919, she initially had a very different direction, gaining an art degree from Smith College in 1942, before turning her attention towards medicine.
Chemotherapy was seen as a very last resort and was highly experimental when she first entered the field. Her work has been of vital importance in the fight against cancer and in the modern day, more people now survive cancer than die from it.

During her career, she helped to found the American Society of Clinical Oncology, and was the first woman elected president of the New York Cancer Society. US President Lyndon Johnson also appointed her to the National Cancer Advisory Board, and the President's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer, and Stroke. In the late 50s and 60s, she spent time in Ghana in and Kenya treating cancer patients and improving facilities and methods, serving as vice president of the African Research and Medical Foundation.

She died in 2013.

11/02/2023

Feb 11th is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Here is the first of my “Legends of Biology” infographics for the day: Martha Cowles Chase.

Martha lived from 1927-2003, conducted the famous Hershey-Chase experiments in 1952, and won her Nobel prize in 1969.
DNA was actually first discovered by the Swiss physician Friedrich Miescher, in 1869. James Watson and Francis Crick are commonly misquoted as the discoverers of DNA, when in actually their work in 1953 deduced it’s structure (though that was still a massive achievement in itself). The early 50s were a big time for DNA!

With knowledge and education so freely accessible in todays society, it is sometimes easy to forget that all the facts that we now take for granted, had to be worked out and deduced through painstaking dedication and experimentation. A modern teenager has far more biological knowledge than the greatest minds of 100 years ago, but it’s important that we remember those pioneers, and that new discovery and insight is borne of curiosity and endeavour.

08/02/2023

Happy Wednesday! Have a fruity mid-week offering of curiosity. 🍎🖤

05/02/2023

The research team from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania was led by Taku Kambayashi, MD, PhD, and Ruth Choa, PhD.
Kambayashi said “We believe that we are the first group to show a non-hormonal way to induce this process, highlighting an unexpected role for the body’s immune system.” This is a massive revelation and Kambayashi went on to suggest that their findings support the possibility that increasing sebum production via the immune system could be a strategy for treating obesity in people……as long as you don’t mind being super greasy!! (that last bit was me, not him).

24/01/2023

On the UN International Day of Education, here's another reminder of brilliantly simple (yet so true) Dunning-Kruger effect – When a person doesn’t know how much they don’t know, so assumes they know it all if they have learnt more than the majority….and are often quite vocal about it!
I’d say we all know a fair few of those 🤔

It is also why experts are often plagued by doubt and can change their mind when/adapt their conclusions when new evidence presents.

This is probably best summarized by the wonderful Bill Murray: “It’s hard to win an argument with a smart person, but it’s damn near impossible to win and argument with a stupid person.” 😄✅

Increasing education brings more balance and wisdom, leading to (hopefully) better decisions and kinder actions. 🧠👍

I also stumbled across a great new word the other day: AGNORANCE. When someone is ignorant but arrogant at the same time 🤦‍♂️😆

22/01/2023

With the freezing fog having hit my part of the world, this infographic feels incredibly appropriate today!! 🥶

The genetic signals controlling this “freeze/thaw” mechanism are not yet clear, but increased knowledge could assist with cryopreservation, improving organ transplant availability and success. ❤🐸❄️

31/12/2022

A very happy and healthy 2023 to all of you. 🥰🥳🎉

Our beautiful Earth has completed yet another lap around the sun! 🌍☀️

What better way to celebrate our home planets achievement than by treating her with the respect and love that she deserves. 💚💙❤️

All the very best for the year ahead,
Ben x

28/12/2022

In this mysterious time between Christmas and New Year (when days become meaningless, people flit in an out, and altogether too much cheese is eaten), it would not surprise me if a real dragon popped in for a left over pig in blanket. 🤔🐉

Whist I very much doubt the red-eyed crocodile skink was ever actually genuinely mistaken for a baby dragon, it is still a beautiful and fearsome little beast, that will “roar” (well…vocalise) aggressively if threatened. Commonly growing to around 20cms in length, these crepuscular (active mostly at dawn and dusk) reptiles are relatively commonly kept as exotic pets in both the UK and USA.

25/12/2022

Merry Christmas, you brilliant bunch of biological boffins!! 🥳🎅🌲🎉

Wishing you all love, peace and huge festive dollops of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin to bring you happiness and joy. 🧠😁🥰

24/12/2022

😄🎅🎶🧬

23/12/2022

Last warning to make sure you thoroughly cook that Christmas turkey this Sunday!! 🦃🍗

Salmonella is passed on through faecal matter 💩 which is why hand hygiene is so important when preparing food. High temperatures destroy the bacteria which is why it is essential to ensure cooked it properly cooked all the way through. 🌡 Meat thermometers are really useful for this but also ensuring the oven is the correct temperature and that appropriate cooking times are adhered to.

If enough bacteria survive through the stomach acid to establish themselves in the gastrointestinal tract, then a salmonellosis infection (and its unpleasant symptoms) can last for up to a week! 🤢

Salmonella was named after an American veterinary surgeon called Daniel Elmer Salmon (1850–1914)…..an interesting claim to fame.

21/12/2022

Happy Winter Solstice!!! 🥳🥶🌲

Celebrated and understood for many thousands of years, this day marks the midpoint of winter with the days now becoming longer as we head towards Summer.☀️😎

The evergreen nature of plants like Holly and ivy served for centuries as a symbol of life being able to sustain through the cold and dark, to return strongly in the Spring. It is thought that the midwinter festival was incredibly important to many cultures long before Christianity linked it to the birth of Jesus.

The Romans associated holly with Saturn, the god of agriculture and harvest. They decked the halls with its boughs during the festival of Saturnalia. When Christianity was adopted by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century A.D., Saturnalia gave way to Christmas.

Heading back to biology….. the leaves of a few holly species are used by some cultures to make tea, though most species contain toxins that cause nausea and diarrhea and a handful of berries could even be fatal to a small child.

18/12/2022

Making the situation worse, is the fact that a standard Christmas dinner also contains high levels of carbohydrates/sugars. These trigger a significant insulin response which in turn further increases the concentration of tryptophan in the blood. This heightened concentration in the blood increases the speed by which tryptophan can cross the blood-brain barrier, resulting in an even stronger urge towards napping.
So just give in to it, and enjoy your Christmas afternoon postprandial somnolence.

16/12/2022

Mistletoe successfully parasitises more than 200 tree and shrub species, and is widespread through the UK and Europe. All parts of the plant contain toxins, though it is particularly concentrated in the leaves and berries, and can cause blurred vision, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. Though less common, accidental ingestion may also lead to seizures, hypertension, and even cardiac arrest. 😬🤢🚑

So before you accept a kiss under the mistletoe……be wary of toxic parasites with dubious motives. 🤔💋

14/12/2022

Reindeer (also known as caribou) live in herds on the arctic tundra (vast flat, treeless land often covered in snow). They may migrate thousands of miles each year, heading South in the cold winter, and North again for the Summer months.

As reindeer calves need to fatten up quickly in the cold, the mothers milk is incredibly rich, containing almost five times the fat percentage that is found is cows milk! If Santa is drinking that with his cookies, it’s no wonder he has that belly, which jiggles around like a bowl full of jelly. 🎅

Photos from The Conscientious Biologist's post 11/12/2022

Walking in a Winter Wonderland 🥰❄️🍂🌲

I am a man of simple pleasures....... and frost covered nature in crisp clean air ranks highly among the things that ignite the poet in my old soul and fill my heart with joy.
(and yes, I am very aware that my beard is looking distinctly frost tinged these days as well). 🥶😄

There are many adders that live on this heathland, but like many creatures they hibernate through the colder months (usually from October to March), lowering their body temperature, heart rate and breathing rate, maintaining just enough cellular metabolism to sustain life until they awaken in the Spring, ready to mate. 🐍

10/12/2022

Just as a warning, if you are planning on roasting chestnuts at home, please remember to score or pierce the skin/husk, or they may explode in the oven….or in your face as you remove them.

In Hungary, cooked chestnuts are puréed, mixed with sugar and rum, then topped with whipped cream to make a dessert called gesztenyepüré. This may well be making an appearance in my house this year!

Chestnut wood is also a useful source of natural tannin so was used historically for tanning leather.

07/12/2022

Temperatures in the UK are set to plummet from tonight 🥶 so let’s kick off the Christmas infographic series with something warming 🍷

Mulled wine, Nordic glögg, German glühwein, Brazilian vinho quente or Serbian kuhano vino…..it’s all pretty much amounts to a cup of the same spicily steaming festive deliciousness ☺️

01/12/2022

December 1st is Worlds AIDS day

Since its identification in 1984, more than 35 million people have died from AIDS.
There are an estimated 38 million people currently living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) worldwide and it is thought that at least 1 in 5 of those people may not even know they have it.
It is a deep tragedy that a lack of education on the cause of this infection, how it spreads, and what precautions to take to stop the spread of this sexually/blood transmitted disease, coupled with scarcity of availability of antiviral drug in many parts of the world, mean that many thousands die every year, from a disease for which humanity has already developed controls for.


27/11/2022

Having watched my beloved Wales cruelly defeated (again) by Australia in the rugby yesterday, I thought I'd extend the olive branch of peace and good sportsmanship by posting about one of my all-time favourite antipodean creatures; the incredible and surprisingly nippy wombat 🌏🏉❤️🇦🇺🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

23/11/2022

Pigeons (in the family Columbidae) can boast an impressive number of species and varieties, but our most commonly seen one is known as the feral pigeon (though occasionally called the woodpigeon or rock dove, which a very slight variants).
The numerical success of pigeons is down to them being able to reproduce from just 6 months, and that they breed all year round (though most often in Spring and Summer).

Pigeons are also real high flyers, often reaching altitudes up to and beyond 6000 feet, and flying at an average speed of 77.6 mph.

20/11/2022

Cryptococcus neoformans was first described in the 1890s, though it was the discovery of it growing in the highly radiated environment of the Chernobyl power plant back in 1991 (just 5 years after the meltdown) that really sparked interest in the species and what it may be capable of.

The Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York have lead much of the research into the radiation absorbing properties of this melanised fungus, and how it uses metabolic pathways to convert the radiation into useful chemical energy, which feeds the fungus and may in turn act as a base for food chains. The implications of this are huge, and it has also been discovered to grow in nutrient-poor, high-altitude areas which are exposed to high levels of ultraviolet radiation, where few other plants and food sources are available. It has been shown that the radiosynthesis metabolic pathway is so efficient that fungal growth is 3 times that of the normal rate when given radiation as an energy source.

However, it’s not all good news, as Cryptococcus neoformans is also known to be pathogenic to humans, resulting in an infection known as cryptococcosis.

19/11/2022

Today (19th November) is International Men's day 🎉

The proposed objectives of the day include a focus on men’s and boy’s health, improving gender relations, promoting gender equality, and highlighting positive male role models. 👨‍💼👨‍🌾🧑🏼‍⚕️🧑🏾‍🔧

According to the most recent UK figures, su***de among men continues to be roughly triple the rate of women, and it remains the number 1 killer in men below the age of 45.

However, male su***de is at its lowest rate since 1981 as things are improving, with it being increasingly recognised that having and expressing emotions is a sign of strength and not weakness. As a father of 2 wonderful boys, I hope this trend continues and the future gets brighter and brighter. ❤💙💚💜

This cartoon is from my absolute favourite illustrator. Just beautiful, wonderful, thoughtful stuff 🥰
Lunarbaboon ❤️

***de ***deprevention ***deawareness

13/11/2022

The pentadactyl limb is just one of thousands of examples of homologous structures, found in distantly related and diverse organisms. It is one of the strongest pieces of evidence that organisms evolved and diversified from common ancestors, through speciation and divergent evolution under different selective pressures and environments.

Just as a curious point, the leg of a horse has specialised its pentadactyl limb by de-evolving the outer fingers and toes, and thickening the nail on the middle digit, into a hoof. So effectively, horses run on the nail of just their middle finger!

EkoGeeko - YouTube 12/11/2022

May I present for your enjoyment and education, the Eco Geeko!! 🤩🥰🌳🌲🧬

This is a new YouTube channel from an old friend, ex-colleague and all round thoroughly excellent human, Jon Newell. Jon is just as passionate as I am about biology, and has a particular fascination for ecology and environmentalism. 🌍💚

His first set of short videos cover the trees of the UK, perfect to help identification on Autumnal walks. 🍂🍁

Enjoy.

EkoGeeko - YouTube Learn interesting facts about Trees of the British landscape, Ecology, Biology and more!

Photos from The Conscientious Biologist's post 09/11/2022

Having posted a few days ago about the Autumn leaves changing colour, I thought I'd re-share these pictures of some naturally curiously coloured leaves 🥰🌱

Variegated leaves are very common in gardens (all of these photos were taken within 2 minutes of my house).🍃🌱🌿
The white patches are due to a lack of the essential photosynthetic pigment, chlorophyl, which means that those parts of the leaf serve no energy harvesting function……so why have them and what causes it?

The purpose is not fully clear but variegated leaves are generally only found in the wild on low growing plants on forest floors, where it is thought that the variegation provides some camouflage (like a tigers stripes), or that it makes the plant look diseased. Either way, it decreases the chance of herbivores eating it.

As to the cause, there are 4 main actions:

Genetic - very stable and reliably inherited

Chimeric - unstable and often undergoes reversal if the plant is in shade, so requires as much chlorophyl as it can fit into a leaf

Reflective – not actually different colours but an optical trick caused by different parts of the leaf reflecting light in different ways

Viral – infection/disease which decolourises infected cells


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