Archive for August, 2010

Moooooving Day!

Moving house again. Excuse the lack of posts!

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And AGAIN another reason to educate the general public about the realities of biomedical research involving animals – the Vancouver Sun now reports that animal rights activists are getting more curious about the animal-based research at UBC and affiliated hospitals.

I had heard news of this through the grapevine a few weeks ago actually and I’m not surprised it broke popular media. Science does a very poor job of explaining why animals need to be used in research. Often, the only time it gets publicity is when bad things happen. Couple this with the extreme lack of education provided to many animal handlers, the fact that many studies actually shouldn’t be or don’t need to be using animals, and the lack of public education on the issue… you have a bad situation all around.

Part of me is sympathetic. There are a lot of things I don’t agree with when it comes to animal research in Vancouver. When I worked in the field, there were things that definitely should not have happened. And those need to be fixed, without a doubt. Certainly those aspects of research played a big part in my decision to change careers. But at the same time, I understand the reasons for using animals in certain types of research when used correctly and ethically. The sad part is when this does not happen 😦

Photo by Dale Tidy

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The oceans often don’t get enough consideration when it comes to sexy environmental efforts. Sure, there’s the dolphins and the whales, et al. but what about the water itself?

The Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium reported earlier this month of a hypoxic, or low oxygen, zone the size of New Jersey in the Northern Gulf of Mexico. Much of this is due to the addition of nitrogen and phosphorus, delivered by rivers which empty into the ocean after collecting toxic amounts of chemicals from . Nitrogen and phosphorus contribute to rapid algae growth, which may be eaten by predators or may die and settle on the ocean floor. And at this point, it is the bacterial decomposition of algae and predator by-products which depletes dissolved oxygen.

This is bad news for oxygen-sensitive species which includes many types of commercial fish, shrimp and crab. As the oxygen levels decline, many species die off or leave the area in search of better habitats, resulting in a biological dead zone.

It’s not just oxygen depletion that oceans have to worry about – there’s also the incredible influx of carbon dioxide. Carl Zimmer wrote earlier this year on the effects fossil fuel consumption on ocean acidification. It’s even attracted the attention of popular media outlets such as The Economist.

In a nutshell, the oceans have become 30% more acidic since the Industrial Revolution. Scary! For animals with calcified shells, an increase in acidity can be lethal as their shells become more brittle and thin, through the process of dissolution.

Unfortunately, like many of the world’s problems, the best ways to fix the problem is to cut back on consumption and to exercise more restraint in usage. Chemical fertilizers are a big source of nitrogen and phosphate, though they can also come from industrial wastes. And fossil fuels… well. Consider it another (in a long list of) reasons to leave the car at home!

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Science outreach is, in my opinion, one of the most important parts of a scientist’s career. Thankfully, other people think so too!

New from the AAAS: the Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science. It recognizes early-career scientists who are involved with engaging the public in science, through education, media or other communication.

Apply by October 15th!

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