Author Archives: monicaleslie

The Sharp Truth of the Hook

An alien planet lives closer than we ever would’ve expected. Not far beneath the surface of the water lies a mostly undiscovered world, complete with its own set of aliens.

Leafy Dragon (Photo Courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons)

Coral reefs may look like they don’t belong on our own planet, but this world is not as isolated as we may think. In fact, our actions, above and below water, can have drastic consequences on their world.


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

The Giant Clam is only one of many species being affected by human activity. Coral reefs and their marine inhabitants around the world are in serious danger of being lost forever. Unfortunately, it has already begun to happen. Reefs face

Giant Clam (Photo Courtesy of: Monica Leslie)

many challenges today, including increasing sea temperatures due to climate change as well as increasing ocean acidity. In addition, pollution and larger sediment loads on the reefs are also causing stress to the ecosystem. However, according to Krista Greer, it is overfishing of these reef ecosystems that often push them over the edge. Greer, a researcher for The Sea Around Us Project says:

“There are all sort of outside stresses, [and] maybe the reef can handle one or two of them, but when you also add overfishing, there’s a breaking point.”

We often think of commercial and industrial fishing as being the major cause of overfishing, but even smaller scale fishing practices can impact the ecosystem.  Due to this manner of thinking, many places around the world are unaware that they’re fishing to a point beyond what is sustainable for the reef. This is the case with many island communities, such as Cocos (Keeling) Island.

YouTube Preview Image

Although not every species is affected by human fishing activity, the loss of even a single species can lead to an overall decline of ecosystem health. Overfishing is the final straw that can cause the delicately balanced ecosystem of coral reefs around the world to collapse.

Cocos (Keeling) Island Locals (Photo Courtesy of: Saripedia)

The first step in remedying this situation is implementing appropriate management of fisheries throughout the world. However, it is not enough to simply create laws and policies regarding fishing. Education is crucial, especially in small island communities as the local people need to understand the consequences of their actions. Krista Greer says,

“In order for it to actually work … they need the local population to be on board. They’re not going to be there to watch and regulate and enforce, so they need … the local population to do that.”

A global effort is needed if we are ever to start on the road to recovery. If our current actions don’t change, we risk losing this mysterious and enchanting world forever, before we have a chance to fully discover it.  Can we really live with the sharp consequences that our hooks cause? 

-Monica Leslie, Richelle Eger, Justin Sidhu

Audio Credits:
Sound Effects/Music Courtesy of:  iMovie, Garage Band                                   Narrated By: Richelle Eger

Beard Implants: A Growing Trend?

Hipsters are known for their trends. From thick-rimmed glasses to flannel plaid, they always strive to be unique. However, none of these trends are as elusive as the full, thick beard so many hipsters strive for.

Photo Courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons

Although hair transplantation surgeries have been available for years, beard transplants are becoming increasingly popular due to the latest male fashions. According to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, facial transplant surgeries have increased 14.2% from 2008 to 2010 and it continues to be on the rise.

A beard transplant is historically done by a series of micrografts and minigrafts; harvesting the hair follicles from the back of the scalp and inserting them into incisions made on the face with a 0.8mm scalpel.  However, these techniques are very meticulous, time consuming and require quite a long healing period. In addition, these old techniques limit the surgeons to only harvesting 500-700 hair follicles in one surgery. Most patients require the harvesting of between 500 and 1000 follicles to complete their beard transplant, so this number is less than satisfactory.

The latest technique is called a NeoGraft Follicular Unit Extraction (FUE) hair transplant. This technique still collects the hairs from the back of the scalp and implants them in the necessary regions on the face. However the Neograft device improves the accuracy and speed of a FUE hair transplant while being less invasive, and requiring significantly less healing time. Using Neograft, a surgeon is able to harvest and transplant over 1500 hair follicles in one surgery making it more desirable for those individuals who require more hairs to be transplanted.

YouTube Preview Image

After the surgery one can expect the hairs that have been transplanted to grow as any normal hair would. A man will have to shave this hair like they would a normal beard. Dr. Bauman, the first plastic surgeon to routinely use the Neograft device says,

 “It takes about a week to heal from the procedure. It takes 6 to 12 weeks for hair to start to grow. Half of the transplanted follicles have visible growth after 6 months. The rest fill in after a year.”

Although the latest techniques make a beard transplant surgery a more minor procedure it is not without its costs. A typical beard transplant surgery costs $10 per follicle. This equates to a cost of anywhere between $5000 and $10000. In addition, it should be noted that the hairs that are removed from the back of scalp never grow back.

FUE hair transplant, similar to FUE beard transplant. Photo Courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons

With less invasive procedures becoming available and the trend of a thick, full beard being more prominent than ever, it’s no wonder that beard transplants are becoming more popular. So, to all hipsters out there, you are not alone if you choose to embrace this growing trend.

Monica Leslie

The Black-Tailed Antechinus: The Definition of Fatal Attraction

You may think a teenage boy is sex crazed, but this marsupial takes it to a whole other level. Scientists have recently discovered a new species, whose sexual preferences rival those of even the horniest of teenagers.

Agile Antechinus. Courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons (user: Richard001)

Map of Australia. Courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons (User: Martyman)

Meet the Black-Tailed Antechinus, a carnivorous marsupial found in the humid and forested region of southeastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales, Australia. Although it is an extremely rare and exciting event to discover a new species of mammal, this particular creature piqued the interest of researchers further due the male’s “sex marathons” that ultimately result in their death.

The species, Antechinus arktos, commonly called the Black-Tailed Antechinus, was first discovered in May 2013 by a team of scientists out of Queensland University of Technology. The team, led by mammologist Andrew Baker, published their discovery in the journal Zootaxa.

The Black-Tailed Antechinus is slightly larger than a mouse and looks very similar to the Agile Antechinus (Antechinus agilis), being distinguishable by its larger skull, as well as its black feet and tail. Male Black-Tailed Antechinuses are semelparous, meaning they reproduce only once in their lives.

Agile Antechinus. Courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons (User: Richard001)

In August, at only 9 months of age the males reach sexual maturity. Once sexual maturity is achieved, sex becomes all these creatures think about. Does this sound familiar? Well, unlike teenage boys, the sexually mature, male, Black-Tailed Antechinuses cease to participate in anything unrelated to finding sexual partners. When a female is found, they engage in unrelenting sex lasting up to 14 hours. The males then move on to find mate after mate for approximately 2 weeks. Andrew Baker describes it as,

“frenetic, there’s no courtship; the males will just grab the females and both will mate promiscuously,”

Unfortunately, during this 2 week orgy the males rid themselves of vital proteins and suppress their immune system. In addition, an overload of stress hormones further damage the body, ultimately resulting in infection and likely death.

“Their fur falls off. The look very sick and stagger around and sometimes they get gangrene infections because their immune system stops working.”

This is how Dr. Diana Fisher of the University of Queensland describes the males unpleasant end. 

Female Agile Antechinus with Joeys. Courtesy of: Wikimedia Commons (User: Richard001)

It is not much better for the females unfortunately, who have to carry up to 14 joeys in their pouch. The female Black-Tailed Antechinuses store the sperm of every male they mate with and only ovulate at the end of the breeding season. This results in a large litter of joeys being born, who are likely from a wide variety of Fathers. Very few females survive raising even one litter. 

Although one may be able to say that they died doing what they loved, the phrase “Fatal Attraction” has never had a more literal meaning.

YouTube Preview Image

Monica Leslie

Perfect Pitch by Popping a Pill?

Have you ever wanted to win that karaoke contest on Saturday night, but just couldn’t seem to stay on key?

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons: Encore Entertainment

Well, you may be in luck! Researchers have recently found that you can learn how to detect and produce absolute pitch, even as an adult, with the help of a pill.  In this study it was demonstrated that the ability to achieve absolute pitch could still be learned as an adult (with the aid of a pill) even though there is normally a critical period (usually early in life) for being able to learn this type behaviour.

Absolute pitch is the ability to identify or produce a tone without the aid of any reference tone and it is estimated that only 1 in 10,000 people actually have the ability to do this. Although it is believed to be a genetic trait, it was previously thought that if absolute pitch  was not learned during the critical period (from birth until around age 7) that it could never be obtained. However, with the help of a medication this critical period can be reopened and allow us more time to learn absolute pitch.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons: Yngve Bakken Nilsen

Valproate, or valproic acid is normally used to treat epilepsy, bipolar disorder and migraine headaches. However, in the study mentioned earlier it was individuals taking valproate that were able to learn to identify pitch significantly better than individuals taking a placebo. Takao Hensch, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University, says: 

“It’s quite remarkable since there are no known reports of adults acquiring absolute pitch.”

Valproate is thought to be able to achieve these results by modifying the brain’s plasticity to a more juvenile state. As we age, our neuroplasticity decreases and that’s what causes these critical periods to exist. So, a higher plasticity in adulthood allows us to learn things we were once only able to learn as a child. It makes the brain “young again”.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr Commons: Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier

What does this mean? Well, being able to win that karaoke competition may only be the start of it. Critical periods exist for a wide variety of other things including language development. This discovery could also potentially enable us to learn new languages more effectively. The possibilities are truly endless.

However, Takao Hensch warns:

“…Critical periods have evolved for a reason and it is a process that one probably would not want to tamper with carelessly … If we’ve shaped our identities through development, through a critical period, and have matched our brain to the environment in which we were raised … then if we were to erase that by reopening the critical period, we run quite a risk as well.”

Although this finding seems to have incredible potential, would winning karaoke really be worth losing part of your personality?