Author Archives: tumbleweedstumbling

About tumbleweedstumbling

I have three blogs, embryogenesis explained, tumbleweed tumbling AND fulltimetumbleweed. I am a scientist, and my husband and I have written a book which was published by World Scientific Publishing in Nov 2016 called Embryogensis Explained. Full time tumbleweed was my first blog which I worked on during five years of living full time in a travel trailer. I have now retired that blog in favour of Tumbleweeds Tumbling since we bought a stick house in April 2015 and are no longer full-time. I have a blended family of five sons and one daughter, all grown up now. I am (step)grandmother to nine boys and one girl. My husband and I have a dog and a cat. We live in Manitoba, Canada, in a 480 square foot house on a half acre of land in the tiny town of Alonsa.

Nuns work to save axolotls from extinction.

Gill, V. (2018).

Meet the nuns helping save a sacred species from extinction.

which is a ray of hope for preservation from extinction for our favorite model animal, the axolotl (Ambystoma mexicanum, a neotenic salamander).

When I “retired” in 2011, Natalie and I delivered our axolotl colony to the dinosaur museum in Drumheller, Alberta. See:

Alberta, Canada ~ Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

Our book Embryogenesis Explained is based on our axolotl research. Susan Crawford-Young is carrying this on, and soon hopes to be imaging axolotl embryos in 4D at the Canadian Light Source (a synchrotron in Saskatoon, SK, Canada).

Visual projection to the skin in the mimic octopus? (OCTM)

I send out weekly schedules to my various collaborators and devote Mondays to taking time to speaking via Skype with anyone who might want to talk with me. I started to take the opportunity of these weekly schedule updates to let everyone know some of the ideas on my mind, of which they might want to partake. I now extend the invitation to readers of the blog. Perhaps inspired by the work of Helmut Hirsch on kitten visual cortex and the model we published in which linear receptive fields act like rays in computed tomography:

Gordon, R. and Hirsch, H.V.B. (1977) Vision begins with direct reconstruction of the retinal image, how the brain sees and stores pictures. In:  Gegenstrom, Für Helmut Hirsch zum Siebzigsten/Against the Stream, for Helmut Hirsch on His 70th Birthday. H. Schallenberger and H. Schrey, (eds.) Peter Hammer Verlag GmbH, Wuppertal: pp. 201-214.

I started thinking about the reverse process of vision. How could we get an image in our mind out, so others could see it. Now, of course, this is precisely what a fine artist does, and what happens when a forensic artist reconstructs a face you’ve seen through a set of questions. But could each of us do it ourselves, with less training, and faster? Sometime in the mid-1970s I conceived of a device that could pick up an image from our skin, by noting that each hair has a ring muscle around it. This then got the silly name of “goose bump voluntary mind reader”. As is my wont, I of course did not even attempt to build such a contraption. With modern technology, I suppose it could be built.

According to Wikipedia was discovered in 1998, and apparently can mimic 15 other animals:

Since octopuses can learn quite a bit, maybe it could do even more. So the question arises whether the patterning (and mimic behavior) is built-in? If not, then this octopus perhaps can project an image in its mind onto its skin. Perhaps, indeed, we could do the same. So here’s the tentative title for a paper:
Visual projection to the skin in the mimic octopus? (OCTM)

.Mimic
Showing you what’s on my mind

 

Turtle Rescue

Saving a sea turtle.

Tumbleweeds Tumbling

We do get involved in some crazy things, no doubt about it. There was a mass turtle stranding in our area of the panhandle in Florida where we were staying. The last time this happened was in 2006. All the sea turtle people around Florida were out seeking cold stunned turtles due to the bizarre cold weather from the polar vortex. The turtle get too cold and then end up unable to move floating on the surface. Many drown when they can no longer move enough to even lift their heads up to take a breath. Some end up washed up like debris on the shore where certain death awaits. If the cold doesn’t kill them, predators or dehydration will. Any turtle that cold be found could be brought in and warmed and saved to be released when th cold spell passed.

A call went out for folks who could…

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A New Review of Embryogenesis Explained

The review is by:

Dr. Palmiro Poltronieri
Editor-in-Chief, Challenges
National Research Council of Italy,
AgroFood Department,
Institute of Sciences of Food Productions
via Monteroni km 7
73100 Lecce, Italy

“The model discussed by the authors is based on a simple, unifying idea that differentiation waves, based on cell cytoskeleton, i.e., contraction and expansion of the network of microfilaments and microtubules, is at the basis of mechano-transduction signalling, that brings transcription factors to regulate chromatin into specific cell-stage differentiation states, based on regulons, i.e., the wholeness of opened DNA regions and inaccessible DNA regions. Thus, from determination of a cell’s fate, i.e., signaling to advancement of process, to differentiation state, i.e., new transcriptional program and reprogramming of active regulons, clusters of cells thus divide, mature and form the various cell type component tissues of the developing embryo.”

And my favourite part:

“Overall, the book is a great book, documenting with images, schematic reproductions and drawings the embryo development, showing parallelisms, universal processes and the peculiarities of various vertebrates and invertebrates.”

You can read the full open access review here:

The Science Police

The Science Police

by

On highly charged issues, such as climate change and endangered species, peer review literature and public discourse are aggressively patrolled by self-appointed sheriffs in the scientific community.

A profoundly important article that describes how peer review is really done. In most fields it is not important enough to have cables denying funding because of what the public might misperceive. Still, the science police exist. People inclined to be science police tend to gravitate to positions of power such as grants committees and senior academic administrative chairs.

I wish I had a nickel for every time we wrote a grant on our waves and got back an answer that basically said, “It’s an interesting result but it goes against the prevailing wisdom and so we won’t fund you to test it”

Our system of peer review is made up of deeply sincere individuals who are so convinced they are right and others are wrong that research progress is slowed and huge amounts of money are wasted,

I once had a fellowship application for a grant turned down with the following:

“You have written an excellent application, clearly showing your methodology and goals. Your references, publication record and previous accomplishments prove you are well qualified to do this research and you have a high probability of success. The project itself is completely novel and potentially ground breaking. However because you have never published about this topic in a reputable high impact journal we cannot fund you.”

My husband has the same committee tell him in one year he was brilliant and if the work held up it was likely time for another nobel prize in embryology. In the following year the same committee rejected him saying it is a wonder he ever graduated from high school. The only thing that changed was who the chair of the committee was.

This article is long but it very clearly illustrates a phenomena first described to me by writer and naturalist Jack Rudloe (though he says he heard it from someone else.)

“You can always tell an academic by the number of knives in his or her back.”

Our Pond and Wet Meadow

Our little house on the northern prairie is in a place with a high water table. We live in the aspen parkland zone near the 51st parallel. Aspen parkland is a narrow strip of transition between boreal forest and the three prairie zones, tall grass, mixed grass and short grass. Because it is a transition zone it, we have many plants from both boreal forest and prairie. In our specific area, we have mostly boreal and tall grass prairie plants but we are also blessed with some medium grass plants. The parkland is an area rich in diversity. We have so many different birds nesting right around our yard that I can’t name them all. I will try. The types of birds I see in my yard every single day are ruby throated hummingbirds, robins, mourning doves, Baltimore orioles, cedar wax wings, American goldfinch, purple martins, wood, barn and cliff/mud swallows, nuthatches, juncos, chickadees, three kinds of kinglets, common red polls, pine siskins, yellow bellied sap suckers, northern flickers, downy woodpeckers, blue jays, marsh and house wrens, about 15 different little brown sparrow types birds I can’t identify, and often overhead, riding the thermals, sandhill cranes and pelicans. They arrive to enjoy the vast abundance of insects, seeds and nectar our nearby wetlands and wildflowers produce. Many of these birds are featured in this delightful blog.

When we first moved into our little house, we were confronted with a real eye sore. Our sump pump drains at least once a day, and in spring or periods of heavy rain it can kick in as often as once an hour. It pumps out about 20 litres of water each time. The result was an ugly brown bare place where nothing grew. It showed up as a sunken, slimy pest hole beyond our deck. I went looking for pictures of it and I found I have very few pictures because it was so ugly and embarrassing that I mostly took pictures around it. In addition to this bare ugly eyesore is a low ditch that drains rainwater from our typical three day prairie monsoon rains. Years ago someone tried to plant cypress trees but they are long dead, drowned, and one sickly potentilla bush struggles to survive in the muck.

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The ugly bare spot and the ditch that is perpetually wet are visible in the background  of this picture where I am showing off garden produce.

With so much to be done getting the neglected old house in proper shape, I just ignored that ugly spot as much as I could. One day, my husband noticed life in the muck. We had a stroke of inspiration. You can’t beat nature. She is far too powerful and she always wins. You can take advantage of her though, if you are willing to work cooperatively. And so we decided to create a pond.

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In this view you can see potentilla in the foreground, a dead cypress tree and the bare ground eroded out by constant flooding from the sump pump hose coming out of the house at the front of the deck.

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My husband noticed life in the small temporary pond created by the sump pump drain.

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Our first step was to try to disguise the ugly drain pipes with something useful and so we planted a raspberry cane near the deck. This is our raspberry starter cane in the first year.

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By the second season the raspberry cane was taking off and spreading just as hoped it would. It was obvious mere raspberries would never hide the yuck.

The water did not hang around if the input was low. It would drain off, soaking the gravel/sand in the scouring area. The grass would start to creep in only to be washed away as soon as the next heavy rain took place. While we were out shopping for other things, we found a pond liner under-pad on sale for next to nothing so we grabbed it. We ordered a proper pond liner of the correct size from Amazon. It would precisely fit and go over the scoured out area.

It was lot of digging. Anyone who visited ended up doing some digging. Over the course of the second summer we got the pond dug out to our satisfaction. We made many trips to collect suitable pretty local rocks to prevent the liner from moving. We felt like we were getting somewhere by the end of the summer. The pond liner stopped the scouring. The water from the sump pump is ground water and therefore hard, but rainwater from the roof is collected and sent via another pipe into the same area.  The pond has an overflow channel that directs water into the low ditch. This keeps the water level in the pond constant. The pond is maintained by the sump pump drainage and is regularly flushed out by rainfall off the roof. We had a stable pond! On our regular walks we began searching for native plants with appealing shapes and forms.

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We soon found ourselves with a lush growth of algae. Yuck! We began bringing home buckets of local pond denizens, snails, beetles, water striders and the like to try to control the algae. We soon had a marvellous flourishing of pond life. We worried about mosquito larvae but a few passing dragon flies ended that issue and we now grow dragon fly larvae  in abundance. These ferocious hunters live as the apex predators of our pond ecosystem. We simply never see moquette larvae. Several of the water plants ‘took’ and we soon had lily pads, bullrushes and sedges in pots.

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The drainage from the overflow channel ended up creating a constant wet zone in the nearby ditch. We decided to extend the pond area to have a wet meadow in the ditch. A wet meadow would be a lot easier to maintain than a wet soggy ditch that is often impossible to mow. We began looking for plants that inhabit areas that are soaking wet in spring and subject to flooding in heavy rains, but dry up in late summer or between rains. We transplanted individual plants and collected and spread seeds. It has been a labour of love. Each year we have seen small improvements in our pond and wet meadow garden as lawn is replaced by local native plants. Because they are native plants, once established they need no care. This spring we were positively delighted and astounded to discover native orchids like our wet meadow. I moved the grass around and found these lovely late yellow lady slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum). Though common in our area they are as lovely as any orchid you can find anywhere else.

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We have stopped trying to mow the drainage ditch/wet meadow. It’s pretty messy yet but you can see a flash of yellow among the dandelions going to seed marking our lovely orchid. And we found this. I think it might be a showy lady slipper orchid. If it is, we will have two spectacular native wild orchids growing in our wet meadow. It will be years of tending before our pond and wet meadow look exactly like the ponds and wet meadows of the surrounding area. It will take time and persistence to get rid of the lawn grass and the other nonnative plants. But the lawn grasses really have no chance to compete when people aren’t helping them. And so we are hopeful. And we will have less lawn to mow.

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The slender green shoot with branches looks a lot like a Showy Lady Slipper. Time will tell!

 

Our Fourth Positive Review

Miller, D. (2017). The cell state splitter: Embryogenesis Explained: A review. Systems Biology in Reproductive Medicine, doi: 10.1080/19396368.19392017.11290160.

“What I was not expecting was a whole new and potentially paradigm shifting concept in our understanding of what drives cell determination and fate in the developing embryo, in the form of the cell state splitter and differentiation trees. I am not alone in being (up till now at any rate) ignorant of these fascinating ideas.”

 

David Miller

from Leeds Institute of Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK