Artificial Sweeteners: The Sour Alternative

Artificial sweeteners were a great idea in the fight against sugar consumption. Excessive amounts of sugar come with consequences such as obesity, inflammation, cardiovascular problems and more. Finding an alternative was a must.  Enter artificial sweeteners, also called non-nutritive sweeteners or sugar substitutes. These low and zero-calorie substitutes allowed us to keep eating sweets without having to worry about the consequences. They replaced sugar in many snacks and drinks and kept us all happy.

Originally seen as a godsend by many health-minded individuals, including doctors who recommended it for weight-loss in patients with type 2 diabetes (Suez, 2014), this seemingly healthy alternative may not be as great as the hype accompanying it. Continue reading “Artificial Sweeteners: The Sour Alternative”

Coral Reefs and Phenotypic Plasticity: Responses to a Changing Climate


Coral reefs are known as pristine locations, and the ability of the coral making them up to create environments supporting myriads of fish species is astounding. Comparisons between corals ability to create a niche for complex and diverse ecosystems has been compared to that of rain forests on land, with almost a third of marine fish being found, despite covering less than 1% of the ocean bed (Adey 1998). In fact, many of the species that live within these reefs owe survival to coral health (Komyakova et al 2013). However, the home of Nemo and Ariel has been under recent threat over the years, due to climate change and ocean acidification (Hoegh-Guldberg et a. 2007). Just this last year alone, the great barrier reef saw the worst coral bleaching, thanks to rising water temperatures (Griffith 2016).  While exploration of ways to change the impact we are having on corals, and therefore the impact on the reefs ecological webs as a whole, interest has also developed in what the corals responses to these changes in their environment have been (Putnam et al. 2016). The value of this data provides an extreme example of phenotypic plasticity, the ability of an organism to respond to its environmental conditions. Continue reading “Coral Reefs and Phenotypic Plasticity: Responses to a Changing Climate”

Attractive Dads Make Poor Parents

An overview of Alissa et al. (2017)

The debate over parental responsibility is a contentious one in our human society. Who should get parental leave? Whose responsibility is child protection and education? Such questions are often aimed at trying to get men more involved in the caring of a child or to split responsibility more evenly between two parents. Who would have thought that similar questions are being asked about spider societies?

It turns out that those intriguing 8-legged creatures that have plagued people’s nightmares and inspired fantasy from Charlotte’s Web to Harry Potter, also have very complex family dynamics. For most wild creatures the main purpose in life is to reproduce as successfully as possible. Thus, in some species, such as the harvestman spider, Serracutisoma proximum, investigated by Alissa et al. (2017), we see a trade-off between energy and time investment in mating effort and offspring care. Continue reading “Attractive Dads Make Poor Parents”

The Gut Microbiome; a Battleground Between Pathogens and the Host/Gut-Residents

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A unique and diverse array of inter-specific relationships can be found within the microbiome of the human gut. Due to the constant flow of microbe-carrying nutrients through it, the gut is subject to a high risk of foreign invaders. Fortunately the immune system, as well as the digestive tract (with the help of its residential microbes), have processes to rid themselves of the pathogenic strains (Ichinohe et al, 2011).  These bodily systems provide a unique example of positive interactions between co-existent, and co-dependent, systems. Although the body can protect itself from damage induced by invading species, certain medical diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and Crohn’s disease (CD), when combined with inflammation and intestinal distress are prone to exhibit symptoms such as “severe muscle wasting and fat loss” (Schieber et al 2015).  Although the gut biome and the immune system may not always be capable of preventing these resultant health issues on their own, in conjunction they are capable of properly defending the body from muscular wasting caused by pathogenic effects.

The intestinal tract, while utilizing physical and chemical forces to break down and absorb vital nutrients, also houses a diverse community of microorganisms, a microbiota. This microbiota, which aids in  increasing efficiency in digestion and absorption, is the product  of coevolution and tolerance within both the host (providing this environment) and the residential microorganisms (Schieber et al 2015). Continue reading “The Gut Microbiome; a Battleground Between Pathogens and the Host/Gut-Residents”

The Chronicles of Evolutionary Weight in the Fight Against Cancer


“Dad, you have to try it, don’t you?” Mary insists again.

Enrique doesn’t answer his daughter. What she’s implying will make him spend even more time in the hospital, to help someone in the distant future whom he will never meet, maybe. When he was 70, Enrique was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). As he understands it, some of his blood cells will never mature and perform the correct functions in his body. This cancer can be cured through chemotherapy in 25% of cases, but in most cases cannot be treated or reversed (Kornblau 2014). Enrique is contemplating joining a drug trial. In any given trial there is only a 10% chance that a patient will respond to the specific drug tested (Kornblau 2014). Some therapeutic drugs work for some patients, but how to match a patient to a drug is unknown; this is what the study Enrique might join is trying to figure out. Continue reading “The Chronicles of Evolutionary Weight in the Fight Against Cancer”

Lonely at the Top: isolated mountain tops served as ice age refugia

Nebria is a genus of flightless beetle found in montane alpine habitats, sometimes at altitudes over 3,000m. Nebria have special adaptations, such as anti-freeze enzymes, which allow them to thrive on snowy mountain tops where other insects could not. In fact, Nebria feed upon arthropod fallout, insects which are blown to high altitudes and become immobilized on the cold snow. These same cold-tolerant adaptations may prevent them from surviving at lower altitudes (Lohse et al. 2011). As a result, their mountain top homes act like isolated “sky islands.” Dispersing between sky islands is challenging when you can’t fly. Continue reading “Lonely at the Top: isolated mountain tops served as ice age refugia”

Evolutionary advantage of learning to cope with change


Whether migratory birds will respond successfully to rapid climate change is unclear.  Birds migrate to take advantage of seasonal peaks in resource availability: Food and habitat become abundant quickly during summer at northern latitudes, but decline quickly in the fall.  Timely arrival on the summer range is vital for many species (Alerstam and Hedenström 1998). Continue reading “Evolutionary advantage of learning to cope with change”

There are HOW many species of Giraffes?

Misha, a Rothschild Giraffe, and one of her offspring at the Perth zoo in Australia (Click picture for source).

When did you last see a giraffe? Maybe you saw one in a zoo, a photograph, on television, or roaming the plains of Africa? Giraffes with their iconic necks are a species that is easy to recognize. They are found in the savannas of central, eastern, and southern Africa. There are differences in the appearance of these giraffes, some have cream-colored socks, some have redder spots, and the size and shape of their spots varies (Fig. 2). With this large range and varied appearances, how many species of giraffes are there? Continue reading “There are HOW many species of Giraffes?”

All is fair in (insect) love and war

Let’s rock! (

Musicians alike, from Roy Orbison and Gram Parsons to Rod Stewart and classic rockers Nazareth have crooned woefully on that most powerful of feelings: Love hurts. Each of these fellas, though, had at least one thing going for him. Although they may have been jilted by former lovers, they can be thankful that none of them was a praying mantis! Scientists (and Tina Turner) may rightly question What’s love got to do with it? But there can be no doubt, mantis mating can be a very painful experience for the males involved. That’s because female predatory mantises practice sexual cannibalism, or the act of consuming a male mate before, during, or following a reproductive event. As many as one in four mantis sexual encounters may involve cannibalistic behavior. And while this bit of trivia knowledge has been known for quite some time now, two questions have continued to perplex evolutionary biologists:
How did sexual cannibalism evolve and why has it persisted in the face of natural selection? Continue reading “All is fair in (insect) love and war”

Individual Response to Drugs May Be Influenced by Your Gut Microbes

You probably know someone – or are someone – who says ‘____ drug just doesn’t work for me.’ or, ‘____ drug really messes me up’. Individual response to drug dosage is a pervasive confounding issue in health care. We know some of the pieces of the puzzle; age, metabolism, activity, and overall health are all factors contributing to individual drug response, but what if your guts have something to do with it, too? Bacteria present in the human gut make up what is called the ‘Human microbiome’, and it is the newest frontier in health research. Continue reading “Individual Response to Drugs May Be Influenced by Your Gut Microbes”