Saturday, 1 August 2015

Flight of the Ants

Yesterday, sitting at the train station, I noticed that I was being attacked by a barrage of winged critters. Looking on the floor I saw they were winged ants. Now, I've seen winged ants before, however the sheer enormity of their number was something!! I don't know whether what I was wearing was attracting them, or the perfume I had on, but within 5 minutes of sitting on the bench I felt like a beacon attracting them. This is when I thought, why is it only on 1 day do these ants take flight?

So Flying Ant Day (as it has been colloquially termed) is actually the nuptial flight of an ant, and it is very important in the reproductive life cycle of the colony. A colony of ants will produce winged ants of both genders, male and female (queen). These winged 6-legged critters stay within the colony until the external conditions are optimal (generally a clear day with no rain). Interestingly, colonies in the same area synchronise the release of their winged queens and males, to coincide, in order to avoid inbreeding of the colony.
 A female winged Carpenter Ant

So when queens and males from the same colony leave, they scatter to ensure outbreeding will occur as much as possible. Like bees, ants release pheromones and the queens release this potent chemical scent to attract a mate.

Once mating has occurred the queen ant will land and remove her wings, and attempt to create her own colony. Although this process appears to be relatively a simple procedure, the actual chances of a successful colony being created is very low. The ants have to outcompete a number of factors to survive, which can act as a selection pressure. These factors could be the climate, predators, environmental occurrences and the raising of infant ants (larvae) into workers to name a few. Thus when a queen is successful in establishing a new colony, she is passing advantageous genes onto her offspring, making stronger and fitter ants in the next generation.
A winged male Carpenter ant

So the next time you witness flying ant day, don't swat away the little bugs, leave them to find their true mate and create a new colony of ants, who will be ready to take flight in the following season.

Explorer Fact: Termites and some bee species take part in a nuptial flight and their flight will often coincide with with the flight of the ants, often to confuse predators and ensure a greater chance of success.


Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Jack of all trades, Master of Biochemistry

2 weeks ago, I made the momentous decision to change my course title. This has not been the first time I've done this. I switched from regular biochemistry to biochemistry with industrial placement, and now onto biochemistry MBiol. 

I was in a quandary for approximately 75 minutes as I weighed up the pros and cons for taking my place. In all reality the only con was that I'd be seeing all my friends graduate when I would still have another year to plough through, whereas the pros were bountiful. An extra year of study, more lab experience, another large project to go to town on, a chance to push myself, learning new things and techniques and a chance to hone into my specific area of interest, plus it is an extra qualification after all....how could I say no?

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The Theory of Everything

i bought the DVD of The Theory of Everything, the film about Steven Hawking. Although, this film is based on his life, some parts were obviously dramatised to make it more cinematic. However, I cannot praise this film enough.

Now, when you look at Professor  Hawking, I couldn't imagine his life before his motor neuron disease took hold. I didn't realise that as he was suffering through a diagnosis and a rapid decline in health he battled to gain his doctorate from Cambridge, which started him on the road to decipher the enigmatic concept of time. 

Although this film, was sad in some parts, it was not a tragedy, nor was it a celebration of life, it was a delve deeper into the mind and drive behind Hawking, and a peek at his personal life, which was notoriously hidden from the limelight. 

I'm not a fan of physics, I was good at it, but biology was more my calling, and yet I felt an urge to start looking at physics again in my spare time. Moreover, it has really helped to solidfy my want to do a PhD. Seeing a passion like Stephen's is contagious, I want that level of knowledge and understanding and love of a particular subject area. I want that..

'Science is not only a discipline of reason but also one of romance and passion'  

It's a bumpy ride along the road to discovery!

We always hear of the accidental scientific breakthroughs, take for instance Alexander Flemming and penicillin. This for one has always struck me as being extremely lucky, I always thought that if such a vital drug could be found in such a lackadaisical manner,it makes sense that if you work really hard for a long period of time on one subject, then you are bound to see a new finding on the horizon.

I was wrong.

Very wrong.

Time is a concept which science does not abide by.

I've been working on a singular protein for almost a year now and there hasn't been any glimmers of hope. No eureka moments and no definite answers. It's not to say that I have completely abandoned hope. But I've realised now that science is not just a straight path to the answer, in fact it is a winding one. One that moves you one step forward and three steps back. Nevertheless I think persistence is key.

(I'm still awaiting my eureka moment!)

Friday, 2 January 2015

And a clutch of tadpoles.

It's a new year! Happy 2015, and what could be more joyful than little babies....well in this case, little tadpoles.

It has been realised that the Limnonectes larvaepartus (fanged frog), gives birth to live tadpoles rather than lay unfertilized eggs for a male frog to fertilise. The Limnonectes larvaepartus is a species of fanged frog found in Indonesia.A study in Plos One, has described this phenomenon.

The reason why this method of producing offspring was so shocking to the zoologists is because the vast majority of the frog population-nearly 6.000 frogs-all reproduce externally. The fanged frog is only one of 10-12 species of frog which gives birth to tadpoles rather than baby frogs (froglets) or spawn. It is still unclear as to how the male frog is able to fertilise the eggs which the female produces internally, however I'm sure that as further studies into this species is developed, then the more will be known about the fanged frogs method of reproduction.