Week In Review: The Wide World of Science

UNC-TV Science Week In Review: October 17, 2013
The Wide World of Science


Remember the Wide World of Sports? They used to cover the athletic contests seldom seen on American television. They cut their teeth televising track, Indy Car racing and even NCAA basketball. They covered somewhat stranger events as well: cliff diving, hurling and rattlesnake hunts.

The area of research is much like the Wide World of Sports. Researchers show us much of what we come to expect from the world of science: climate change, cancer, Higgs Bosons. But occasionally they break into what’s truly out there. This week, North Carolina researchers bring us some odd events from the wide world of science.

Fighting Human Leishmaniasis
Human Leishmaniasis affects almost two million people every year. Tiny microorganisms called Leishmania protozoa can cause sores on the skin and even more serious damage if they enter the body and attack the internal organs.

Leishmaniasis is transported by phlebotomine sand flies, who lay their eggs in the most sanitary of places, decaying organic matter (essentially garbage). Scientists think the best way to prevent Leishmaniasis is to stop the flies, and Professor David Wasserberg from UNC Greensboro is designing fake organic decay to lure the flies into a trap.

The idea is this: the flies find the decomposing matter by smell, so Wasserberg and his group are examining what types of decaying matter are most appealing, then examining exactly what mix of chemicals give them their winning rotting smell, therefore making them the most enticing to the flies in order to lure them in. By making a more perfectly tuned garbage smell, Wasserberg and his team hope to fight one of the most widespread diseases in the developing world.

Climate in the Trees
I mean that segment title in the most literal sense possible, as UNC geography professor Erika Wise is studying large rain and snow events several hundred years in the past by looking at tree rings

Every year a tree grows, it gains another ring in its cross-section. Within these rings is preserved data of how much it rained in that year. Rainwater has a different composition of isotopes than groundwater, so by examining the isotopes in each tree ring, Wise hopes to gain climate data from further back than we have recorded it.

She also plans to employ students from the Pacific Northwest, where she is conducting her research, to gather rain and snow for isotopic comparison.

Predation and Adaptation
Meet the Bahamas mosquitofish. It is a few centimeters long and lives mainly in lagoons closed off from the ocean and other bodies of water. Generally, the mosquitofish goes about its business in the lagoons: swimming, eating, and occasionally making more mosquitofish.

Not all the lagoons are the same, however. Some have predators and some don’t. And those predators affect how the mosquitofish behaves when making more mosquitofish. Now researchers from NC State University have discovered that not only the behavior changes with predators but also the mosquitofish’s body.

The researchers found that in predatory evironments, male mosquitofish have larger, bonier genitalia, called gonopodiums. The researchers believe that larger, bonier gonopodiums help the fish mate more quickly, making them less vulnerable to predators.

How do you learn something like this? The scientists had to visit several pools in the Bahamas, catch some mosquitofish and measure.

- Daniel Lane

Daniel Lane covers science, medicine and the environment as a reporter/writer. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in medical and science journalism at UNC Chapel Hill.