On Science – It’s All in the Eyes

    Published: 06-16-2009
    Views: 11,336
    11-6-13: On this episode of On Science, snakes can control blood flow to their eyes, starfish are dying on the west coast, and cognitive decline is linked to genetics.


    The science behind snake eyes…


    What’s turning to goo on the West Coast?


    An epidemic we didn’t expect…


    And cats caught in candids coming up today... On Science!

    Hello and welcome to On Science. I’m Emerald Robinson.


    There’s a science behind snake eyes.  A new study from the University of Waterloo found that snakes optimize their vision when they perceive a threat by controlling blood flow to their eyes.  Snakes have a clear spectacle over their eyes for protection. The researchers serendipitously found, while studying a different part of a snake’s eyes, that these spectacles have a network of bloods vessels that are sort of like the blinds in the window. They found a constriction in the presence of threatening stimuli.  In perceived danger, the vessels kept the blood flow reduced for longer periods, up to several minutes at a time, to guarantee the best possible visual capacity in times of greatest need.  Love a little serendipity in science. 


    What is the West Coast starfish saying?  I’m melting, I’m melting.  It’s sad but true.  Marine biologists at the University of California Santa Cruz report that a mysterious bacterium is killing starfish up and down the West Coast by literally turning them into piles of goo. Yuck! One biologist said, “They essentially melt in front of you.”  It’s like the Wicked Witch of the West.  The affected animals first form white lesions that grow and occasionally turn ulcerous.  They start losing arms here and there and then eventually just turn to plain ole goo.  The disease is appropriately called star wasting syndrome.  Although it isn’t a new disease, the size of this year’s outbreak is unprecedented.  It sounds just awful.


    And teenage boys are also wasting away, in another under-talked about epidemic.  Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital report that as many as 17.9% of boys suffer from eating disorders, proving that it isn’t a girl-centric disease.  After studying 5,000 teenage boys over an 11-year period, they found that 9.2% were “highly concerned” with achieving a muscular body type and 2.5% said they wanted to be skinny.  Another 6.3% of boys said they wanted to be muscular and skinny.  But what really surprised me was the whopping one-third of the group that reported having binged and purged at some point in their lives.  Researchers also pointed out that boys are more likely to use dangerous drugs and supplements to achieve their desired body image, and are less comfortable talking about eating disorders than girls.   Very disturbing indeed.


    And cognitive decline has been linked to genetics for the first time.  A team from Yale University has identified genes associated with brain aging in a study of over 1,100 people between the ages of 18 and 83.   Researchers said that white matter plays a role in how a person’s brain learns and operates, and genetic material shared in biological relatives seemingly foretold the brain-function changes observed with age.  They said they demonstrated a heritable basis for neurocognitive deterioration with age that could be attributed to genetic factors. So decreasing white matter integrity with age was influenced by genes.  It’s all in the genes peeps….

    An elusive cat has been captured on camera.  Ecologists in Borneo have captured images of the elusive bay cat in a heavily logged forest--an indication that threatened species can survive amidst intense human activity. Animals are not typically expected to succeed in such an area but the cameras caught the most images ever of the bay cat along with four other wild cat species.  I feel like Gloria Gayner should be playing the background.  They say this “hidden camera” technique works well in such studies because it captures species that are very good at avoiding scientists in the field.   Smile, bay cat, you’re on candid camera.

    And that’s all for today On Science.  See you tomorrow!