School of Life Sciences | Ask A Biologist

Ask A Biologist heading

You may know that your skin is made of cells, your bones are made of cells, and your blood is made of cells. But these cells aren't all the same types of cells. Different types of cells each do unique jobs in your body. Together, they let your body function as a whole. So to put it in a joke format, how many types of cells does it take so that an adult human can screw in a lightbulb? Any guesses? Over 200.

Question From: Mat
Grade Level: 7

Answered By: Jameson Gardner
Expert’s Title:
Graduate Student

More Information

Looking for the number of total cells in the human body? Visit Building Blocks of Life.

For more simplified information on cells, check out Cell Bits and Cell Parts Bits.
 
Interested in immune cells? Don't miss Viral Attack.
 

  

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Mixed cell image by Librepath.

One Wormy World

Around 4,000 years ago, on the wind-swept island of St. Kilda, Scotland, people started creating a food storage of sorts. They moved a population of sheep to the island, likely as a back-up food resource for when times were tough. Little did they know that their actions would affect 21st century science. Today, rather than ending up as a meal, sheep from this isolated population are the subjects of research on immune function. Evolutionary ecologist Andrea Graham takes Dr. Biology on a trip of exploration through the dangerous cliffs, windy conditions, and wormy world that the Soay sheep deal with on St. Kilda.

Content Info | Transcript


MP3 download | 18MB

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Topic Time
Introduction 00:00
Why work on the Soay Sheep? 01:27
How did the sheep get on the island? 03:55
How does the body defend against a parasite? 05:15
Can up you get rid of round worms without treatment? 06:49
The difference between tolerance and resistance. 07:11
Do all the sheep have round worms? 08:26
Do you have to collect the specimen, or will a photo do? 05:18
How do the sheep get the worms? 08:29
How do you catch the sheep? 09:44
Unpacking a question from Andrea's website. 11:20
Autoimmune system, sheep, and Lupus. 13.52
Could our improvement in health and nutrition be a possible cause of some autoimmune diseases? 16:39
Where is the symbiotic part of your work? 18:27
Importance of bacteria in the gut. 19:16
What is next to discover or explore with the Soay sheep? 19:51
Let's talk about your background in art, science, and teaching in K-12. 20:33
Does your art enhance your science or vice versa? 22:44
Three questions - When did you first know you wanted to be a biologist or artist? 23:34
If you couldn't be a biologist or artist, what would you be? 24:38
What advice do you have for a budding biologist? 26:26
Sign-off. [learn more - Coping with Parasites in a Wild World] 27:25

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One Wormy World

Audio editor: CJ Kazilek

Cybertaxonomy

The race is on. It is one where biologists and citizen scientists are working as quickly as possible to find and identify all the species on Earth before some go extinct. It might not seem like an important race, but we learn from entomologist Kelly Miller that not knowing what species we are losing might be more important than we think. Today scientists combine traditional and newer computer tools to speed up the search. These combined tools are part of the world of cybertaxonomy.

Content Info | Transcript


MP3 download | 15MB

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Topic Time
Introduction 00:00
What is taxonomy and why is it important? 01:30
How many species have we discovered and ordered? 02:06
Why is is important to discover and catalogue species before they go extinct? 02:55
Mining species - for drugs [Nature's Medicine] 03:31
Citizen Scientist 03:59
What do you need to do when collecting a specimens? 04:40
Do you have to collect the specimen, or will a photo do? 05:18
What do you do after you collect a specimen? [make your own plant press] 06:07
How do species get their names? 06:57
Why names are so important. [Planet Bob Video] 07:51
Cybertaxonomy 08.22
Using GPS to mark the location where specimens were collected. 09:11
Using Google Earth to enter GPS information. 10:20
Other tools for taxonomy. 10:43
Expeditions - collecting insects. 11:16
Do you have to travel to far away places to find new species? 12:14
Do you have a favorite expedition? [lion story] 13:00
What insects do you collect and study? 14:11
Scanning photography - a new tool for entomologists. 17:02
Why are illustrations important if we can take photographs? 18:26
Part of discovering a new species is you get to give them a name. 19:43
Back to cybertaxonomy. 21:50
What would the museum of the future look like? 23:12
Spida-web - the future of cybertaxonomy 25:03
Three questions 26:06
When did you know you wanted to be a biologist? 26:15
What would you do if you could not be biologist/entomologist? 27:53
What advice do you have for someone who wants to become a biologist? 29:16
Sign-off. [learn more - Linnaeus & Taxonomy - Making the List] 30:59

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Cybertaxonomy

Audio editor: CJ Kazilek

Time Traveling Paleoentomologist

If you could travel back in time what would you find 50 million years ago? What was the climate like? Would you find the same plants? What animals were crawling, walking, and flying around? Paleoentomologist Bruce Archibald takes Dr. Biology back in time to explore the planet during the Eocene Epoch where things were a bit different than today – there was even a giant flying ant that would make anyone look twice.

Content Info | Transcript


MP3 download | 16MB

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Topic Time
Introduction 00:00
What is biodiversity? 01:46
Do you have a time machine? 02:55
What is a fossil? 03:18
How are fossils made? 04:08
What makes a good fossil? 05:24
How much detail or resolution can a fossil have? 06:23
Why are museum fossil collections important? 08:24
The giant ant story. [ Titanomyrma lubei ] 11:34
What did the ant look like? 13:23
How does an ant get from Germany to North America? 14:15
Another research project on climate and biodiversity. 18.02
How the research was carried out. 21:45
Three questions. 25:24
When did you first know you wanted to be a biologist? 25:37
What would you be or do if you were not a paleoentomologist? 28:02
Advice for someone wanting to be a biologist. 29:28
Sign-off. [ Read more about Giant Insects. ] 30:42

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Time Traveling Paleoentomologist

Audio editor: CJ Kazilek

Inner Space the Final Frontier

You hear that space is the final frontier, but could we have another frontier right here on Earth? The microscopic world offers a limitless opportunity to explore amazing places and life forms. You just need the right tool for the trip – a microscope. Guests Angela Goodacre and Doug Chandler have a conversation with Dr. Biology about the instruments that let us journey into inner space.

Angela Goodacre in front of a microscopy inspired painting by Doug Chandler

Content Info | Transcript


MP3 download | 16MB

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Topic Time
Introduction 00:00
How long have microscopes been used? 02:36
Who are the two people who first documented using a microscope? 03:10
What do you need to make a microscope? 03:33
Robert Hooke's first book about microscopic world and interesting pieces of history. 05:00
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek - his microscope and his animalcules. 04:46
Some of the scientific breakthroughs that happened because we had microscopes. 05:47
Microscopes used to detect cancer. 07:49
What are some of the many types and shapes of microscopes? 09:12
How does a microscope compare to a camera? 10:03
Sites to explore amazing images made with microscopes. 12:04
Molecular Expressions - all about microscopes - Ask A Biologist Image Gallery 13.41
Go out and buy your own microscope to explore the microscopic world. 15:06
The different types of microscopes. 15:50
Labeling different parts of cells with colors. [mitochondria] 17:58
Advantage of using colors that are invisible to the human eye. [color spectrum chart] 19:09
Summary of light and florescent colors. 20:12
Electron microscopes. [photons and electrons] 20:29
Basics of light and electron microscopes. [photon and electron wavelengths] 21:21
What is resolution? 22:41
When and why do we use a light or an electron microscope? 23:56
Three questions. 26:06
When did you know you wanted to be a biologist? 26:15
What would you do if you could not be a biologist or microscopist? 27:53
What advice do you have for someone who wants to become a biologist? 29:16
Sign-off. 30:59

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Inner Space the Final Frontier

Audio editor: Eric Moody

Hi, Andi.

What a great question! You may have heard that the oldest human lived to be 122 years old. But that amount of time only makes a small fraction of the lifespan of some other living things. Identifying the oldest organism gets a bit complicated when we start to think about what we consider an individual organism.

Question From: Andi
Grade Level: 8

Answered By: Karla Moeller

Have a different answer or more to add to this one? Send it to us.

Rebooting the Immune System

Remember your last paper cut, or the bad cold that had you coughing and blowing your nose? It was your immune system that was busy trying to make you better by battling the bacteria or virus that was attacking your body. How your immune system works is the discussion Dr. Biology has with pediatrician Paul Turke. They also talk about how our immune systems have to reboot to keep up with evolving bacteria and viruses.

Background T-cell image from NIAD/NIH

Content Info | Transcript


MP3 download | 15MB

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Topic Time
Introduction - with basics of the immune system. 00:00
What is the immune system? 01:44
Cast of characters - the cells of the immune system 02:20
Why the immune system needs to reboot. 02:36
Nature versus Nurture and how it relates to allergies 04:46
T-cell education 09:18
You are called a Darwinian Pediatrician - what is that? 12:42
How did your journey in science lead you to become a doctor? 15:21
How does anthropology fit into the practice of medicine? 18:48
Are there misconceptions between an evolutionary pediatrician and a traditional pediatrician? 19:41
Sports and steroids 22:34
Three Questions 24.16
When did you know you wanted to be a scientist - physician? 24:26
What would you do if you could not be a biologist or physician? 25:33
What advice do you have for someone wanting to be a biologist? 26:16
Intro to the book 27:04
Reading from chapter one of Bringing Up Baby by Paul Turke. 27:35
Sign-off. 30:27

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Rebooting the Immune System

Audio editor: CJ Kazilek

Sooty Selection

Discuss ideas of natural selection, play a selection-based game, and take a trip through time to see how scientists of the past figured out just how a trait is passed from a parent to its offspring.

>> Full Story

Zombie Ants

Do zombies really exist? They do... at least in the world of ants. Learn how some ants are made into zombies and find out what ants can do to avoid being zombified.

>> Full Story

A lot of people think we only use a small part of our brains, but this isn't true. While all of your brain is not active every second, most of us use 100% of our brains over the course of a day.

Question From: Tara
Grade Level: 7

Answered By: Patrick McGurrin
Expert’s Title:
Graduate Student

To learn more about how your brain works, visit What's Your Brain Doing?

 

Have a different answer or more to add to this one? Send it to us.

Images via Wikimedia Commons. Brain with lights by DARPA.

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