Archive for: February, 2011

hibernation is cool

Feb 27 2011 Published by under research blogging

Well, that sucked! Last week was totes crazy. There was much writing and knashing of teeth, but very little sleep. But everything worked out, considering. I have promised myself that I will never again cut deadlines so close. (Alas, it is not the first time I have made such a pronouncement).

Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, so I don't have a surprise to announce this week. You all will have to wait until I get another try. It is sort of like a space shuttle launch, except not.

Anyway, when I was digging out from underneath the disaster which is my desk, I ran across this paper:
Tøien Ø, Blake J, Edgar DM, Grahn DA, Heller HC, & Barnes BM (2011). Hibernation in black bears: independence of metabolic suppression from body temperature. Science (New York, N.Y.), 331 (6019), 906-9 PMID: 21330544

Since I thought it was so cool when I read it the first time I figured I'd blog it. Bear hibernation isn't really my field, and this is my first try at the Research Blogging. So let's see how this goes!

Ever since we learned that animals could hibernate, people have wanted to know about how that works. When a mammal is hibernating, its metabolism is really slow (some small mammals can have metabolic rates 90% lower than normal!). And they get cold. Really, really cold. But the cold doesn't kill them. In fact, hibernating mammals are resistant to a whole host of injuries and infections. In hibernation, some small mammals can breath less than 1 time/min, and heart rate can drop to 1-2 beats/min. But these animals don't have massive tissue damage from ischemia and no sign of reperfusion injury? How do they do it? If you could make a person hibernate "on demand" could we keep people from dying when they had a heart attack (or other ischemic damage)?

holy crap! (says the 13-lined ground squirrel)

But, back to the bear paper. Bears don't hibernate exactly the same as their small mammalian cousins. For instance, it has been known that core body temp of hibernating bears doesn't ever drop so low as it does in little ground squirrels. It is pretty hard to study the bears, though. For some reason, it seems graduate students are not lining up to volunteer to go measure the core body temperature of a bear when it is hiding in a small cave.

you want to do what?

The authors of this paper didn't try to go out and find bears when they were hibernating. Instead, they had the bears come to their place for the winter. The black bears were relocated from places where they were a "nuisance" and moved to the Institute for Arctic Biology. When they were moved, the scientists were able to implant little devices that would allow them to remotely measure the core body temperature, muscle activity and heart beat. then they let the bears out into the yard where they had set up several hibernacula-boxes that a bear would find cozy for hibernation and they could measure oxygen consumption, ambient temperature, etc. The hibernacula were also equipped with a web-cam, so the scientists could check in on the animals.

Sure enough, the bears curled up in the cozy hibernacula and settled in for the winter. There were 4 bears, but one was pregnant, which makes it hard to compare to the others. The scientists saw a lot of what you would expect: hibernating bears curled up and didn't move very much. The core body temperature and metabolism dropped. One interesting observation is that the animals didn't let core body temp fall below about 30C (6C or so below summer-time core body temps). Instead, when core temps dropped to around 31 the bear would shiver and breathing and heart rate would increase momentarily.  So, even though the bear wasn't regulating temperature "normally" there was still obviously some monitoring and temperature regulation going on.

The most exciting result from this work, though, is that metabolic rate changes independently of core body temperature. It is generally believed, based on studies from those small critters, that metabolic depression during hibernation results mostly from just getting cold. It's called the Q10 effect, which has been described for (in vitro) enzyme activities: for every 10C decrease in temperature, reaction rate slows down 2x. The idea is that if core body temperature drops 10C, then metabolic rate will decrease 2x. The measurements on bears suggest, however, that changes in core body temperature are not driving decreased metabolic rate. Here are the data:

Fig 3: the data money shot

See where I drew that dark black verticle line? That is when you can start to see (approximately) an increase in the core body temperature of the bears (bottom graph). But, at this time the metabolic rate is still low (top graph). By the time the bears emerge - the dashed verticle line drawn by the authors- the core body temp is almost up to normal. But the metabolic rate still has two weeks to ramp back up to normal.

Now, I'm not sure that you can't argue that there are SOME changes in metabolic rate that are happening in between those lines that could be driving the change in body temperature. I, for one, have no idea how much energy is actually required to maintain core temp in a bear. And it would have been super if they measured CO2 output, so that we could have a sense of the respiratory quotient. But the data do show that core body temp makes it back to normal before the metabolism. And that is cool!

some selected references
Metabolic rate depression: the biochemistry of mammalian hibernation
Regulation of body temperature and energy requirements of hibernating alpine marmots (Marmota marmota)
Metabolic Rate and Body Temperature Reduction During Hibernation and Daily Torpor

15 responses so far

it's not you, it's me...

Feb 22 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I have been a little distant, I know. It's not because I don't want to be here more. I swear! It's just that, see, I thought I had another week to finish these 2 grants (stupid calendar lied to me, that bastard). So I have been a little k3rn3d these past few days while I try to get these damn things off my desk. But go out they will. I have also, in the midst of my frenzied typing, been generating a list of new posts that I think could be really interesting (or not, but whatever. I'm really sleepy right now).

But stay tuned, because on Friday I may have a little surprise for you all... 🙂

In the mean time, here is a little something to keep you amused:

scene: I'm sitting in my office, typing furiously and then immediately deleting ~80% of words on screen (this cycle repeats ad nauseum). Music is blasting (Girl Talk...thanks to @kzelnio -I think- for introducing me*). It randomly occurs to me that the music blasting from my office is somewhat explicit, and I wonder whether I should make sure that this is not offensive to the lab peeps. Because I really don't want my lab to be an uncomfortable place to work. And also I don't want to have to sit through sensitivity training or something. But I digress. The All Day track ends, so I activate the Pandora. Fairly mainstream stuff, but whatever. It works to keep me repeating the typing/deleting cycle. My timer starts beeping, so I jump out of my chair and run into the lab to dice the garlic for later roasting. After 2 min I'm headed back to the office. On the way by, I casually check in to make sure my lab peep isn't feeling awkward as a result of my tunes. Here is the dialogue, more or less:

GZ: hey, is my music bothering you?
stu: no, why?
GZ: well, I realized that it was kinda explicit. If that bothers you in any way I have absolutely no problem changing to something else.
stu: haha. Yeah, it's not a problem
GZ: well, I won't be upset, so if the music ever offend you, just let me know, OK?
stu: *laughs* well, this is kind of offensive
GZ:.........(at which point I realize that Soul Sister, by Train is playing)...
GZ: point taken

OH, I actually do have some super exciting news: I have wrangled my first graduate student! One of my rotons (who, for the record, is FULL OF WIN) has asked to stay in my lab to do hir dissertation research. w00t!!11!1!!!11!!!!


*if anyone would like to throw other suggestions my way, I'm all ears. On the advice of Cackle of Rad I tried out Lucinda Williams the other day. It was great, but I need something a little more...high energy for my writing, especially at night. Also feel free to direct me to other sites where I can download other GT albums (is that what they are called these days?)

18 responses so far


Feb 15 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I love science, and so do you! Don't deny it. So it is time to step up. Our science mistress needs us now. The NIH budget is under attack in the current GOP budget, HR1, which proposes a 1.6 BILLION dollar reduction in the National Institute of Health (NIH) budget. The NIH funds basic biomedical research, which is the foundation upon which new therapeutics are built. The NIH is also the source of funding for a LOT of graduate students and postdoc researchers. Boehner may not care about those jobs, but I do.

MAKE THE CALL! Listen to Dr. Isis and Tideliar: Call your representative to tell him/her that you OPPOSE the cuts in HR1. If you need to find the number for your representative, or real the call to action from Dr. Talman at FASEB urging action, go here. Then put that # in the speed dial. Our representatives need to hear from us more often. Oh, and while you are at it, drop them an email, using this handy web form.

I just got off the phone with my rep, so now it is your turn to call. Let's make sure that the folks considering this budget understand the implications of this kind of cut to the NIH.

One response so far

Guest blog at Scientopia!

Feb 14 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

So, I'm still drowning in prospective grad students (seriously, is recruitment EVER going to end?!). But, I can't miss this opportunity to mention that Scientopia has a super-awesome new Guest Blog(ge) up and running. So stop by and see the great stuff already there by Frau Tech and Zygoma. Enjoy!

No responses yet

brain bruising

Feb 10 2011 Published by under exhaustion, jr faculty, Uncategorized

Holy crap. This week has been crazy busy. I am pretty sure that my brain is bruised. That can happen, right?

In addition to my normal schedule of managing my lab peeps and writing grants (have 2 foundation applications due at the end of the month), I have given 4 - not a typo - different talks this week. Two were for grad students, one was a low-key presentation for my dept., and the other was a Big Time talk for another program at my MRU (a big deal). The talks went well (I totally nailed the "big" one). Oh, and it is interview season. Prospective grad students, faculty candidates, more grad students. You name it, I'll interview it. Oh yeah, and I've got a stack of postdoc fellowship applications I am supposed to review. Damn.

It is safe to say that the work/life balance was tipped toward work this week. Hopefully tomorrow I can get enough done on my grants to justify taking a small break this weekend. I really need to go for a run-I have been too sleep deprived to get my normal workouts in.

My brain is just too tired to put together a coherent post (see above). But I do have a couple of points I would like to bring up for anyone that is out getting interviewed right now:

- under no circumstances should you answer (or send) a text message during an interview.
- seriously, just  put away your iPhone. At least pretend to be interested in what I am talking about when I am interviewing you.
- for a TT job talk, please tell me why I care. Spend some time on the big picture, please.

That is all I have right now. I am fucking exhausted.

8 responses so far

how excel failed me

Feb 08 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

So, I was unable to shirk responsibility any longer and I have agreed to host this week's VWXYnot Hockey Pool. Unfortunately, no matter how I plot the data it is impossible to hide the fact that I BLEW IT this week

This is the best I could do:

Plotted this way, you can almost miss the fact that I came in dead last this week with only 15 points. 🙁 TJ fared only slightly better, with 17, and Cath and ScientistMother each managed to scrape together 19 points. Moving up the ladder, Chall was able to pull in 22 points, Ricardipus racked up 24, and Bob ran off with 25. Lavaland was the big winner this week with 27 points (nice work!).

OK, I can't hold out data. Even when it hurts, I love me some data. So, here is the visual of the data from last week:

week 18 points

So there. There was not much shuffling in the top 4, but ScientistMother built a little lead up over me and Cath made some progress toward catching up.


My picks may suck, but at least there is always hockey beer.

10 responses so far

Here I am...over here!

Feb 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Well, it is obvious now, but I've been asked to join the super group here at Scientopia. Of course I jumped at the opportunity. Thanks for following me (again). I plan on settling in here for a while, so hopefully this will be the last time you will need to update your blogroll for a while.

Since you are here, why not say hello? It would be great to meet you, so please de-lurk in the comments. I would love to know who I am talking to-why do you follow me around? What would you like to talk about?

I've migrated my old posts (even the early ones from my Blogger days!). Please help me kick the tires and let me know if there is anything that seems out of place. I'm still unpacking boxes, but I'm open to suggestions.

This is going to be fun!

22 responses so far

What will I find if I google you?

Feb 04 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the little bits of advice I got when I was on the job market is that I should make my own website. So I put together a very rudimentary personal website. It was not fancy. There was a front page, with a neat image from my work and a short description of my research interests. Then there was a page with all my publications and another with more detailed descriptions of my research projects. It was basically my CV and research statement, but online. I put the URL on my LinkedIn page and in my contact info on my CV that I sent out to (the later) job searches. But really, it was nothing that they wouldn't find in my actual application.

Then, I put a Google Analytics tracker on the page. Now, I don't know if I would recommend this if, like Cackle of Rad, you are prone to spending hours in front of a computer hitting "refresh". But what I found was that there were hits from EVERY single place that ended up interviewing me. And also a couple of places that didn't interview me, but where I had made the short list, I found out later.What is interesting is that even places that got applications without the url for my website still found it. OK, so that is not really interesting in the era of Google. The question is: did the website help me? Probably not. There was not any new info there. But it probably didn't hurt, either.

Which brings me to my point: SEARCH COMMITTEES WILL GOOGLE YOU. Really. We are in the midst of a search right now and every single person on our short list was googled. There are basically two outcomes when someone that is thinking of hiring you hits the google. 1. they will find something that is neutral or positive and it will not really affect their decision or 2. they will find something ridiculous that will negatively affect their decision. I don't think that googling can help a job candidate, because if there is something that is awesome about you then it should be in your application already.

Clearly, it is in your best interest to KNOW what the search committee will find when they google you. And then clean up the ridiculous. Especially if your name is somewhat unique and we will be able to find everything that has ever been on the internet about you. In this case, it could be really good to make your own site that ranks high on the google. This will divert us, the busy but slightly curious search committee. Or at least make it that you get to have a say in what we see.

This may seem obvious, and perhaps I'm preaching to the choir. But, based on my experience with the search this year it had to be said.

What will the search committee find when they google you?

15 responses so far