Susan B. Anchovy: the story of a whitefish

When you study fish in Alaska, you may find yourself covered in slime. During one slime-intensive day, Duncan Green and his field assistant were wading in knee-deep ocean 200 feet offshore. They looked back to see a polar bear perched on the bed of the truck, sniffing around for helpless terrestrial mammals covered in delicious fish goo. In reality, the bear was probably just checking out the truck, but Duncan had to call for someone to drive out and scare the bear away before they could head back in. Just another day in the life of Duncan Green, fish biologist!

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At the end of an exciting 2017 field season, 220 fish, including the illustrious Susan B. Anchovy and Edgar Allen Cod, were live-shipped on ice from the North Slope to the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. Duncan studies broad whitefish (Coregonus nasus), an Arctic Alaskan species that is an important subsistence food for coastal villages like Kaktovik, Nuiqsut, and Utqiaġvik. Although it is well known that the Arctic is warming faster than other parts of the planet, it is not well understood how ecosystems will respond to this change. To add one small piece to this big puzzle, Duncan is investigating how warming waters may influence whitefish growth rates. Will Susan and Edgar grow big and healthy in warmer waters? Or might they be stressed by an environment that’s just too hot, inhibiting growth? Time, and the data, will tell.

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Duncan is a well-rounded man. Beyond his identity as an aspiring fishy scientist, he is also a fat-tire biker (completed the White Mountains 100, a human-powered race through Alaska’s Interior), makes a mean pizza cake (fourteen layers of frozen pizza and pizza rolls, baked all together and topped with cream cheese frosting), and also ice fishes for fish for food. Itching to hear a classic cinematic monologue? Duncan delivers a moving recitation of Quint’s “Indianapolis” speech from the 1975 film Jaws. In short, Duncan is a most colorful person and adds a lot of life to any potluck, field expedition, or fish-naming production.

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Telomeres are the new cholesterol

Telomeres are the caps at the end of your chromosomes. When they degrade beyond a certain point, the cells start kicking the bucket. It’s a natural part of aging (like the grey hairs I’m getting, and my eye sight going). So I laughed, loudly, when I read this:

““I am a bit concerned about your telomeres,” the doctor told me, evenly.

Raffaele hadn’t literally seen those telomeres of mine. What he’d seen were the results of blood work carried out by a lab called Repeat Diagnostics, in Vancouver, British Columbia, which has become a leader in the burgeoning field of telomere diagnostics. Burgeoning because, as Raffaele posits, “telomeres are the new cholesterol”—by which he means they are (A) something measurable and understood to have explanatory powers and (B) something Big Pharma can aim at in the hope of finding the equivalent of a statin to make them more robust.”

This is crazy to me, and I look forward to seeing how it goes! Note, one way cancer gets around cell death after too many duplications is to elongate telomeres. Not to be paranoid, but I’ve got to think that this is not a good long term solution.

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The Virus Hunter of a bygone Era

Clarence James Peters (knowns as CJ (great name if you ask me)) was a virus hunter. Back in his time, that mean spending time in the field, in remote parts of South America. Virus hunting today has changed. There is still adventure to be had, but there are more rules, and they are enforced more strictly.

Want to hear CJ Peters story, and worry about viruses in the world around us?

Read about it here!

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Algae as people food?

When maintaining the delightful snails, Potamopyrgus antipodarum, in captivity (say in the lab, prior to infecting them with all sorts of trematodes), we feed them a micro algae called spirulina.

You might have heard of it. It has become popular in super food drinks and smoothies. If you see a green smoothy, it likely has this little micro algae. Additionally, many people have touted to me the great health benefits, and the anti-oxidants.

But I resisted. Because spirulina is not people food. It’s snail food.

But now, algae might infiltrate our food supply on a more permanent basis. Read about it here!

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Are Rats Innocent of Spreading the Black Plague?

A new study suggests that human parasites—like fleas and lice—and not rats, may be responsible for spreading the Black Death that killed millions of people in Medieval Europe.

A personal favorite infectious disease of mine is the plague, what a perfect confluence of infection agent (the bacteria Yersinia pestis), susceptible population (do you know what passed as cleanliness standards in medieval Europe?), and good environmental factors (over crowding).

But it turns out that rats, previously thought to be the main culprits of spreading the plague, may not be responsible for spreading the Black Death (also, GREAT name).

Want to know more? Read about it here!