LEARN #5 – Week 119 of PhD *Late

On no! So many late LEARN posts! Better to start..


What a better way to start a week than a quiz? So.. What is man’s best friend? Ok, when you learn where I want to go with this, I will sound so pathetic.. but when my friend offered to me the molecule model pictured in the header, I found it hilarious to discover that the dog-shaped molecule made from my brand new kit of uSnatoms is indeed ethanol – there goes the lame and pathetic pun – real man’s best friend!


Spiders’ nets almost made it to the police department for illegal substances exams. Despite everyone seems to know about the “spiders on drugs experiment“, I discovered about it just recently. And I also found an interesting blog post about it, that it did answer the 2 questions the immediately crossed my mind when I was informed about the whole thing:

1) why in the world a scientist decide to study spiders on drugs? I have never heard of spiders as biology models.. so why? Was it a crazy experiment bet? Was there a more important reason I cannot think of because of my ignorance?

2) what conclusions did they -really- drag?

As for the first, as it happens often.. it was an happy accident! The scientist was a zoologist, hoping that giving drugs to the spiders would let them lose track of time and would give him beautiful pictures of webs without having to incur in sleep deprivation (the article implies we all know that spiders like to build their webs at night). While the poor zoologist must have spent the next day in bed tired from a night of shooting bad pictures, his friend P. Witt, a.k.a. spiders’ favourite pusher, was highly interested in the ugly webs that resulted from the drugs. He was so interested in the subject, that he dreamed of a brave new world where police departments and hospitals would feed inmate’s/patients’ blood to spiders and then would carefully examine the dusty corners in search for drugs patterns in the night-left webs.

So what did we learn? Well, much less than the urban legend would tell. In fact, despite what you could find on the internet, scientists cannot say that a substance is more dangerous just by looking at how the web is messed up, nor caffeine (caffeine wed pictured) is worse than very addictive drugs. But.. (likely in the name of science there is a ‘but’) it is still quite an interesting topic. I never thought that spiders would never learn how to make web from their parents, and still they are pretty good at it. And this is not well understood yet, and the effect of drugs and more importantly, the reproducibility of the effects, could still hide some message for entomologists that are willing to listen to it. Plus, we all know now that it is better to stay away from the crack cocaine spiders.


Because of a sequence of link clicking I cannot really recall, I ended up on a images gallery listing the oldest tree on earth, position number 1, Old Tjikko, aged 9558 years. As it happens too often with the facts found on the internet, it wasn’t accurate! I guess it sounds better than other old trees because it is named after the late dog of the discoverer: who does not find this fact very sympathetic? Most likely, the editors of the gallery just simply didn’t check their sources. In fact, not only Old Tjikko is not a tree, but a clonal tree, but also it is not even the oldest of its kind! (The oldest tree known, 5066 years old, doesn’t have a name yet… can you suggest some?)

A Clonal tree is a type of clonal colony, a group of identical individuals, all with the same genetics, that sprout from a single ancestor. For trees, it means that what looks like a forest sometimes can be a single organism, a single plant with just one set of roots that emerges multiple times from the underground. Pando (pictured), with its roots’ estimate age of >80000 years, is the oldest known clonal tree. Aside from having an awesome name (Pando in latin means ‘I spread’), it also maintains other world’s records, as being the heaviest organism known.


My cat makes me smile! He is clumsy and cute, and he often does stupid funny things! But since I cannot share with you picture of my cat on a regular base, not to mention that you might be sick of the internet of cats, here is an alternative for a laugh: The Comedy Life Photography Awards (one of the finalist photo pictured)! The event is a clever way to, using the organisers’ words, promote ‘Conservation through Competition’ . The amazing people behind it come from The Born Free Foundation , a charity that collect funding to protect endangered wild species. If the gallery put a smile on your face, share it with friends! It would help to advertise the foundation, eventually helping their cause.


I know by first hand experience the advantages and the possible implications of optical manipulation in vivo. I spend a lot of my time using optical tweezers inside chicken embryo and, being so accustomed to the practice, I sometime forget how amazing and relevant is what I am doing. To remind me, once in while, there is some cool paper in literature. The open access manuscript describe a series of cool experiments conduced by optical tweezers inside a living zebrafish (pictured). Once they have proved the trapping to work, they have given space to fantasy, trying anything that could be easily found/injected in the poor fish blood vessel. From nanoparticles over cells to live bacteria. They justified the importance of studying any of the trapped objects with reasonable arguments and, despite the forces have not been measured, the results are quite impressive. Not to forget that just proving that it can be done is an information of not little importance.

It is always inspiring to realize that other scientists, that are probably struggling with the same problems and issues I encounter on a daily base, believe in optical manipulation in vivo and are sharing great results within the community!

And with this, I leave you.. and go back to work to get out other delayed LEARN issues!

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