Beyond Biology

Three disparate things that I read recently made me sit up and take another look at the threat that biotechnology poses to the future of humankind. The first was an announcement made by scientists of the J Craig Venter Institute on their work on genome transplantation that enabled them to transform one kind of bacteria to another type. This is the first time in history that a completely synthetic organism has been created. The second was a declaration made by Sir Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and former President of British Association for the Advancement of Science – considered to be one of the most eminent scientists of today. He states “I have staked one thousand dollars on a bet: That by the year 2020, an instance of bio-error or bio-terror will have killed one million people.” The third was that scientists at the Shanghai Second Medical University have created the first human/animal Chimera (animal containing genetic material from parents of two or more distinctly different species) fusing together cells from humans and rats.

The first piece of information shows that biotechnology is racing ahead at breakneck speed and has the ability to change things in a fundamental way. This ability has already been translated into the development of drugs and other products – biotechnology now produces 40 per cent of the drugs that the US Food and Drug Administration approves of every year.

The second indicates that scientists of the calibre of Sir Martin Rees believe that it is likely that this ability could be used with malicious intent. Bio-weapons are the ideal weapons for terrorist and/or anarchists. The cost of setting up a laboratory for biotech research is significantly smaller than that of developing nuclear or chemical weapons. The manufacture of lethal toxins requires modest equipment, essentially the same as is needed for medical or agricultural programmes: the technology is “dual use”.

Research teams have been able to reconstitute the polio virus, as well as the 1918 pandemic influenza virus (that killed somewhere between 20 to 40 million people) using only published DNA information and raw material from mail order services. This knowledge and technology is already dispersed among hospital staff, academic research institutes and factories. Bioterrorism is thus a real possibility in the next decade with the invention of ways of killing that had previously existed only in the realm of science fiction.

Sir Martin Rees also mentions the possibility of error on the part of otherwise responsible laboratories and agencies. Ed Hammond of the Sunshine Project in Texas that monitors the use of biological agents says that lab accidents happen a lot more frequently than the public knows. In recent years, the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease in the UK (2007), the death of a lab worker at Texas A&M ( 2006) due to brucellosis after cleaning a high containment container, the exposure of 3 researchers at Boston University Medical Centre (2004) to tularaemia or rabbit fever have occurred.. All these laboratories are well run and subject to many regulations. The same cannot be said for other laboratories in different parts of the world. Perhaps the worst bio-error took place in 1979 in the former Soviet Union when weapons-grade anthrax escaped from a facility in Sverdlovsk, now known as Yekaterinburg, killing 68 people. The accident was covered up by the authorities and came to light only in 1998.

If there is a major outbreak in the future, there may be severe clamping down by governmental authorities on the kind of research and agents that can be used in experimentation. This however would not have impact on research in rouge laboratories or by anti-social elements.

The Human Chimera experiment in China is one that could not have been able to be carried out in any other country in the world. Most do not, at least at present, have the scientific capability. Those that do, such as the US and Western Europe have strict codes of ethics and regulations in place that expressly forbid such experimentation. Even between the US and Europe however, there is a vast difference in the regulatory framework. In the US, products of biotechnology have been extensively tested and marketed. In the EU, few biotechnology products have received regulatory approval while most have faced a de facto moratorium.

Many countries do not have any kind of regulatory framework relating to biotechnology or restrictions on the kind of research that can be carried out. Frightening experiments could be conducted, without the knowledge of the rest of the world, or authorities within the countries themselves. These could even attract groups to set up research facilities in the future- the same principle that attracts groups and individuals to tax havens such as Barbados, St Kitts, Canary Islands etc.

The advancements made in the field of biotechnology have the potential to change the life of humankind for the better by impacting health, eradicating disease and creating miracle drugs. But we need to also ponder seriously on what we need to do to prevent Sir Martin Rees’ wager coming true.

Biology – Why Are Penguins Birds If They Can’t Fly?

Everyone knows what a bird is, right? If I ask my seven-year-old son what a bird is, he’ll respond with something like “a bird is an animal that has a spine, wings, two feet, hollow bones, and can fly.” Or, if her remembers the little military chant his dad made for him, he might say, “hollow bones and scaly feet, feathered wings and goes tweet tweet.”

Well, penguins can’t fly. They have wings, feathers, two feet, and a spine, and they swim well but they cannot fly. Ostriches can’t fly either, but both penguins and ostriches are considered birds. How is that possible? What’s the deal?

It’s all in the definition

There’s a difference between the common usage of the word “bird” and the scientific use of the word. The common definition is based on features of the animal you can see with your eyes and discern with your other senses like feathers, wings, number of legs, and being warm-blooded. My seven-year-old son knows the common definition of the word “bird.”

Scientists use a slightly different definition.

Evolutionary birds

The scientific taxonomy of birds is a bit different than common usage. The scientific groups are made based on fossil evidence and other biological evidence such as DNA and mitochondrial DNA when the DNA can be obtained. Birds are in the Domain Eukaryotes, the Phylum Chordata meaning vertebrates, and the Class Avians. Avians have descended from theropod dinosaurs. More specifically, birds have descended from Archaeopteryx, which existed in the late Jurassic period.

Many scientists think of birds as the only type of dinosaur that didn’t go extinct 65 million years ago. In fact, my daughter who is obsessed with dinosaurs, calls birds “tiny dinosaurs.”

Scientifically, birds today are descended from dinosaurs, have feathers, a beak with no teeth, and they lay eggs with hard shells. Birds have a high metabolic rate, meaning they need to eat a lot to maintain their body temperature. (Some refer to them as warm blooded.) They have a four-chambered heart (like mammals), and they have lightweight, strong skeletons. Most birds can fly, but flying isn’t a requirement to be a bird.

And that’s the crux of it. The scientific definition of “bird” does not require the ability to fly.

How Teachers Influence The Performance Of Biology In High Schools

Biology plays a key role in industrialization and other sectors of the economy. Biology is a practical subject, which equips students with concepts and skills that are useful in solving the day-today problems of life. The study of biology aims at providing the learner with the necessary knowledge with which to control or change the environment for the benefit of an individual, family or community.

In general, the importance of biology to humanity can be outlined as follows:

(i) The learning of biology helps us to know how to use natural resources more efficiently in industry e.g. in bio-technology, food production, building and textile and paper industries.

(ii) The learning of biology helps us to understand changes in the environment and the factors affecting these changes, in order to know how human needs are influenced.

(iii) The learning of biology is important in helping mankind to find effective ways of preventing, treating and curing diseases and home management techniques e.g. better methods of food preservation, efficient food preparation and care of the family

(iv) The learning of biology is important in helping the improvement of agricultural yields through scientific research.

There has been public outcry and concern by parents, teachers, educationists in Kenya about poor performance in science subjects and mathematics in national examinations.

But do you know the biology teacher has a role to play in this poor performance?

Biology as a science subject requires an integration of both theoretical and practical work to make it easily understood by the students. The largest proportion of teachers still use the conventional lecture method while teaching biology.

Teacher expectations have a bearing on the attitude and science anxiety levels of the learners particularly when the learners are aware of the level of expectation the teacher has of them.

In relation to the teaching and learning of biology, attitudes begin to develop on the first encounter between the teacher and the learner, once formed they play a key role in determining students’ learning and performance in biology.

Authoritarian and impersonal teacher- student interaction in class could be the major factor that contributes to negative attitude of the students towards learning biology. On the other hand, democratic and personal teacher-student interaction in class elicits positive attitude towards learning biology

The teaching approach, methodology and how the professional skills and practices of the teacher are displayed may be dependent on the level of science anxiety the biology teacher has.

A teacher who suffers from career dissatisfaction is likely to contribute negatively in terms of performance of the learners in biology; this is because the teacher will have lower self-efficacy and high levels of anxiety. This kind of teacher is likely to develop negative attitude towards the students and his/her interaction with the students will be negative and this may contribute to a negative attitude of the students towards biology with the likelihood of the students developing high levels of anxiety towards the subject.

Therefore, teacher perceptions, teaching methods applied, the type of teacher -pupil classroom interactions, teacher expectations of students in terms of performance and science anxiety levels of the teachers- partly contributed by lack of job dissatisfaction or satisfaction are the key factors that influence performance in biology in Kenyan secondary schools.

How to Maximize Learning Biology With Your Own Biological Microscopes

So you are a sophomore or a junior in high school or probably you are a Biology major in the university? And you have a few or more biology subjects requiring the use of biological microscopes. Imagine all of the self-study and experiments you can finish faster if you just had one at your disposal.

Microscope and the Layman

What are biological microscopes? A microscope is a scientific instrument used to see objects too minute for the naked eye to see without any help. It comes from the Greek word “mikros” meaning small and “skopein” meaning to look or see. The study of investigating small objects or life forms using such an instrument is called microscopy.

Biological microscopes are microscopes specifically dedicated for the study of tiny “microscopic” organisms and or parts of plants or animals like tissue samples or blood samples. These microscopes are not only used for biology classes and studies but also the science in general.

Maximizing the Benefits of Your Own Biological Microscopes

Why spend long and tiring hours doing your experiments and making your science homeworks using your school’s microscope? Well not anymore. Biological microscopes come in many shapes, sizes, forms and models. The most important things to remember when you wish to purchase such an item are two things: how much do they cost and how often will you be using it for your school work? If you have this tool readily available you can do your homework or experiments anytime, anywhere you want. However, remember these devices are not really cheap so when you do succumb to the idea of buying one, you really really must need it or you could split the costs with your classmates.

To maximize the benefits for your biological microscopes, you should make sure that your school’s courseworks, whether it be homeworks or science experiments, are plentiful and that in most of them, that you can work on. If it is not enough, you can just probably resort to renting it. But if you do have that much science school work to do, it would be prudent to have such instrument lying just around to use at your own time and volition.

These microscopes are not only used for testing or examining animal or plant tissue samples. It is also basically useful for other science experiments and tests such as examining grains of sand or rocks or soil. It can also be used to examine different kinds of seeds and cross-sections of plant leaves or stems.

All in all, there are different applications of the uses of microscopes in your courseworks at school. The whole idea behind buying or renting one is to rid the dependency to go to back to your schools or universities science labs just to use their equipment. There isn’t also enough of them to go around for all the students. So make your choice. Dependence on what the school has? Or independence and finish all your school work way before the deadline arrives?

CanScope – complete solution for all your microscopy needs.
Contact: 1-877-56SCOPE(72673) or [email protected]