A-well, a bird, bird, bird, bird is a word

birthday greetingsRebecca Calisi produced a must-see video (below) explaining the importance of bird research for understanding the brain. Please share it widely, because despite the obvious importance of bird research, there are still many who don’t get it, and  misunderstandings and assumptions about bird researchers are rampant. As you will see, the video is geared toward those who are completely in the dark about bird research and those who conduct bird research.

We share so much in common with birds (ahem, evolution), and so our understanding of the brain, and especially hormone-brain interactions, has been shaped by bird biologists. Here are just a few examples…

  1. The first evidence for hormone effects on brain and behavior were performed by Berthold in the 1800s; he studied roosters. He didn’t call the secretions hormones, but his work marks the beginning of endocrinology (the study of hormones, like those that control puberty, sexual desire, and the hormones in oral contraceptives and cancer treatments) and neuroendocrinology (the study of how hormones affect the brain and nerves in the body).
  2. In the 1920’s Rowan discovered that day length (number of hours of light in a day) stimulates the reproductive hormones and behavior in dark-eyed juncos. This work initiated the field of seasonal biology and the effects of light and dark on mood, learning, depression, reproduction, and adaptation to seasons.
  3. In the 1960’s Hinde and Lehrman opened an entire field of research based on their evidence that hormone-behavior relations are reciprocal, that is, hormones affect behavior, but changes in behavior affect hormone secretion. This research was on ring doves and canaries, and lead to the study of how our behavior and cues from our peers influences our own internal secretions (such as testosterone, serotonin, and dopamine).
  4. Nottebohm and Konishi and their academic offspring made pivotal contributions to understanding how changes in brain cells (neurons) allow birds to learn songs of their own species, songs that they use to hold territories and compete for mating partners. This work with song birds is key to understanding how the brain learns and changes with experience including experiences with our sexual partners, experiences with stress and trauma (PTSD), and experiences with nurturing kindness from our caregivers.
  5. Schlinger and Brenowitz discovered that rapid changes in the brain and behavior involved the enzyme, aromatase, in specific parts of the brain. This work with zebra finches and other species, is important for understanding the underlying cellular mechanisms involved when hormones have rapid effects on behavior, and when the behaviors of one individual affect the behaviors of another. It’s also important for understanding how brain cells survive trauma.

Again, these are just a few examples of why bird is the word.

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Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More! NSF Drops the Preproposal. Upcoming Changes to Proposal Review by IOS Core Program

Starting in 2018, NSF’s IOS will no longer require a preliminary proposal prior to invitation to submit a full proposal. Hallelujah! Instead, later in the year, they’ll release a solicitation for full proposals. Get this, there will be NO DEADLINE. Sounds like they’ll be rewarding the nonprocrastinators? For some of us, this a welcome return to the olden ways of yor. No more wasting time with that one proposal per year system.

Source: Upcoming Changes to Proposal Review by IOS Core Programs

Let’s celebrate with the Allman Brothers…

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Revolution: Congrats to all my co-Science Marchers and Especially Meghan Duffy (please check out her blog post on preparing her speech at the march)!

So much love to the Meghan and the other scientists who take a moment out of their busy lives to help others understand how all of our work is part of the big picture required for wise application of data to medicine and technology. Dare we think that the march influenced the decisions this week to forego the planned cut in the NIH budget?

I spoke on the main stage of the March for Science in DC on April 22. Last week, I gave the text of my talk. This post talks about how I prepared for the talk. Tomorrow, I’ll have a post with more on the day of the march. tl;dr for this post: it takes a […]

via How I prepared for my March for Science talk — Dynamic Ecology

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You Don’t Know What You’ve Got

Every day my mind is blown by live broadcasts of astounding, weird creatures from our deepest oceans. I’ve posted a taste of this live stream video and photography extravaganza.

In the past, it’s been almost impossible to study life in the deepest oceans. Why? Because it’s freakin’ freezing (sometimes just above zero degrees centigrade (C) or 32oF by your U.S. thermometer), or boiling hot (60 to 464 °C), and the hydrostatic pressure is enormous, almost beyond comprehension. A fish, worm, or crab living down at the bottom of the sea is experiencing literally tons of pressure per square inch, like the weight of an elephant or an SUV compared to the 14.5 pounds per square inch you are probably experiencing right now. And yet, as we speak, heroic explorers are sending live stream video directly to you. And WOW! What they are seeing is beautiful and bizarre!

My colleague from the Lehigh University Department of Biological Sciences, Santiago Herrera, is the lead biologist on an expedition to the American Samoas to some of the deepest parts of the ocean, 3,000-5,000 meters, that is, about 2 miles under the sea. He’s now aboard the Okeanos Explorer, an impressive vessel equipped with high-tech lights, cameras, robot arms and scoops, and lasers that are sent to the sea floor and manipulated by the crew with precision. They broadcast live every day from their American Samoa Expedition.

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NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer docked at the pier at the Port of Pago Pago in American Samoa. Significant outreach was conducted prior to commencing the expedition. Interviews were conducted with media, and ship tours were held for local elementary through college students, local partners, and government and agency representatives. Image courtesy of the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, 2017 American Samoa.

Alien life on Our Own Plant

Just this week, the Okeanos Explorer crew sent these videos of Dr. Seuss-like creatures that you might think were discovered in outer space. What’s incredible is that these creatures’ habitat is actually the most common habitat on our planet. Santiago tells us that most of our planet consists of deep oceans (about 72%), and yet we know very little about what lives there.

Sex and Food Under the Sea

The other day, as I watched the Okeanos team zoom in on some rare sponges, sea anemones, and a type of deep water clam never-before-seen alive, Santiago explained that another extreme feature of the deep sea environment is very low fuel and nutrient availability. Most animals down there depend on a small, slow trickle of organic matter that floats down from shallow parts of the ocean. The link between food and sex holds up in these alien environments. Deep sea creatures must conserve energy and nutrients by maturing very slowly. In comparison to the willy nilly reproduction that’s going on up here, deep sea creatures engage in the energetically-expensive process of reproduction only rarely.

There are many other fascinating adaptations to the extreme deep sea environment. Cell walls and nuclear membranes of deep sea creatures are made to withstand enormous hydrostatic pressure, and therefore, if they are brought up from their deep sea habitat into lower pressures, they literally fall to bits. Many of these creatures are a deep red color, owing to high levels of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the thing in your red blood cells that makes them red, and the thing that transports oxygen to your various organs. Extra hemoglobin helps deep sea organisms survive in their low-oxygen environment. So, in the Okeanos Explorer videos, you will often see bright red shrimp, psychedelic ctenophores (comb jellies), and fiery-colored fish in the deepest waters. Here are some screen shots from their gorgeous website.

Kiss it Goodbye

Now that you’re amazed by and bonded to these fascinating friends, let me crush your soul. Climate change will have a devastating impact on our deep sea organisms, and this is related to the food-sex connection and the reality of trickle-down economics. The slow trickle of energy-yielding food to the lower depths has led to the evolution of animals that are now adapted to living on very little food and oxygen. They have survived and spread their traits to each generation because they have an innate tendency to grow and mature very slowly, and reproduce infrequently. Their habitat has been very stable for long periods of time, and once disturbed, they don’t appear to have innate mechanisms to make a comeback. Their rates of reproduction are too slow, and when they experience changes in the acidity, levels of oxygen, or temperature, their populations might not  recover. Climate change, global warming, whatever you want to call it, will cause these devastating changes that disturb the deep sea conditions. Scientists from Scripps Institute of Oceanography have published a study indicating that the food supply to some areas of the earth’s deep oceans will decline by up to one half by the year 2100.

It doesn’t appear that we can count on the United States to delay the onset of climate change. Think about it. Why do we need the governments to make us install solar, purchase electric vehicles, and recycle? When you are planning your own survival and that of your children and grandchildren, think of these deep sea organisms, and our native American friends at Standing Rock, and let them inspire you.

Please let me leave you with something better than a sad Joni Mitchell lyric (“You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone”). Keep learning, dig, dig, dig deeper than your initial shallow understanding. Acquiring knowledge is not elitist; it’s freedom and it’s fun. In the words of the B52s, There Goes a Sea Robin!

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Idioteque (this is really happening)

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I Would Die 4 U (and my genetic contribution to future generations)

We knew that praying mantis females often cannibalize their mates after sex, and we suspected that there was some benefit to the male that would outweigh the cost, but why not just take the female out for an expensive dinner? Now we have some evidence. These  clever experiments show that cannibalized males make a greater somatic investment in their offspring leading to higher fecundity in the female. Check out their hot experimental methods for determining male investment in offspring bodies.

Males that are cannibalized after mating make a larger somatic investment in the offspring with a resulting increase in egg production.

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This post is dedicated to our beloved formerly alive One 

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best, me: Remembering Tim Bartness

Timothy J. Bartness died on September 24, this year (2015), and the progress of research on obesity will halt in its tracks, or so I feared until I started reading what his students are posting.

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 1.10.06 PMIf you didn’t have the good fortune to know him, Tim Bartness was brilliant, hilarious, and intense. He did innovative work on many frontiers. He elucidated how day length controls body fat loss and gain. He showed how chemical messengers in the brain affect hunger. When he studied food intake, he didn’t limit his observations to eating. He also studied food hoarding, or as he called it, “shopping for food.” Tim was on the verge of understanding how adipose tissue talks and listens to the brain.

If you didn’t know that your fat sends and receives neural input and output, then you weren’t up-to-date on the frontiers of obesity research. Tim had recently been appointed to head an obesity institute at Georgia State University. In his short life, he published more than 200 papers that received almost 10,000 citations, and almost 4,000 of these citations occurred since 2010. He had an important impact on his field of research, and had he chosen to study rats or mice instead of hamsters, more of my fellow neuroendocrinologists would recognize and make use of his foundational, inspired research. He would have loved that I said that.

Moreover, Tim Bartness was my science big brother– not the Orwellian big brother-is-watching-you kind, but the “I’ve-always-got-your-back-but-you’ll-never-be-as-great-as-I-am” kind of older sibling. Tim and I shared two of the same academic parents and grandparents (George Wade and Irv Zucker) (Tim’s full academic lineage appears on Neurotree), and so Tim and I learned, lived by, and then handed down the same set of advice, tricks, and scientific standards. Our loyalty to each other was not nepotistic, but based on our shared ideas about what constitutes hard evidence. We were writing a “how-to” manual for survival in our crazy academic science jobs.

I’ve lost a big brother, and the weight of this emptiness has left me weirdly paralyzed with confusion, heart-broken, and deeply sad. It feels almost wrong to think there might be something to be gained.

Of course we have gained from his life, and thanks to the internet, much of what we have gained is all around me and right in my face…in my Facebook to be more exact. On Facebook, I see not only his picture but hear Tim’s voice.

Tim’s voice is clearly living and breathing in the minds of his students and colleagues. What’s more, these voices are versions of George’s and Irv’s teachings, living on, even in these ridiculously young students.

Here are just a small sampling of quotes from Tim’s students and colleagues:Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 1.10.37 PM

Laura Been: … We are all better scientists (and better people) for having Tim as a mentor and a friend. I can’t write anything without hearing his voice in my head (While vs. Whereas; Since vs. Because; never starting a sentence with an adverb). He will be very missed!!

Nicole Victoria: I refer to a Tim Bartness teaching almost on a daily basis and have passed them on to grad students, post-docs, my post-doc advisor and other colleagues (e.g. Presentations: Question, picture, answer. Only use ‘Since’ when referring to time. Hypotheses are present tense statements that answer your experimental question, whereas predictions are future tense statements using ‘if, then’. Use ‘In addition’ and never ‘Additionally’ to start a sentence…). I started talking about Strong Inference and alternative hypothesis testing at a job interview with the FDA the other day. They loved it; I thought of Tim and sent him a mental thank you. He had a dramatic impact on the GSU biology, psychology and neuroscience groups. Clearly he is going to live on in us all and our interactions with others. So sad to hear that Tim has passed. He was an amazing scientist, mentor and teacher.

Joe Normandin: His door was always open to all of us grad students. I remember stopping by his office many times to run experiments by him (and find out what I was doing wrong).

Pam Patterson: Just heard the incredibly sad news that one of my dissertation committee members, Timothy Bartness, has passed away. I am heartbroken by the news. He has influenced, and will continue to influence, every experiment I design (strong inference!!), every paper/grant I write (the art of if/then statements), and every presentation I give (EVERY line on a graph should have a purpose). I would not be the same scientist I am today without his mentorship, and I know I am not alone. Rest in peace, TJB. I know all of my fellow GSU neuro-peeps would agree: he will be missed.

The high standards to which he held himself had an amazing motivational effect on so many of us. Turned us all into little Bartnessites.

Amy Ross: So very true. I still ask myself quite often, “What would TJB do?”

Kyle Frantz: 1. Funnel from broad to narrow focus in the introduction; from narrow to broad in the discussion. So simple. 2. When colleagues acted up in faculty meetings, he’d comment “no GABA today, eh?”. Just two nuggets from Tim.

Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 1.11.44 PMAres Patrulis: Tim was truly one-of-a-kind scientist. He prized thinking outside of the box but in a supremely rigorous way. He believed in the question and not scientific fads and went after all of it with passion and verve. Absolutely fearless. He always had, and will continue to have, my full respect. I miss his voice terribly. This is true loss for neuroscience. I could say much more, but this will suffice.

Stephanie Josephine: My heart is heavy over this news. Tim played a huge role in my decision to attend GSU. I owe him a massive amount of gratitude for his willingness to serve on my committees, for giving constant feedback, and his overall incredible scientific inspiration. I have a lot of days where I question some of my career decisions or feel a semblance of bitterness for being overworked and underpaid (“the students don’t care,” I say! Yes, I know, “these kids today….” I say, as more and more of my hairs turn gray). At my dissertation defense, Tim asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I answered that I wanted to have a positive influence on undergraduate education, but I didn’t quite know how I was going to do that (I felt, at the time, like that was a terrible answer since I didn’t have a clear trajectory at the time.). I have to say looking at the beautiful memories people are sharing tonight about Tim as an educator and a person reminds me of why we do what we do. Students do care. We’ve all been positively influenced as scientists and people by Tim and it’s quite clear we’re all continuing to share his legacy. RIP TJB.

Dayne Loyd Averett: This is devastating news. I’ve read all of your comments and they are all so touching and funny, and anyone who worked will Tim can relate to each of your wonderful comments. I have never written a grant without hearing Tims voice critiquing the organization and writing. All my grants have the Bartness stamp, bolding, underlining and italicizing, all of it lol. It is obvious he has left a legacy in his alum.

From me (Jill Schneider): This is so bitter sweet to see the hard evidence of your goodness and how you have honored your teachers and blessed your students. They will surely carry on your legacy to places we can’t even imagine. Love you, my brother.

Best, me

(Tim also played the sax, and I think he would have liked you to hear this!)

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