How to be an Amateur Naturalist

Cathy Taylor conducts her “Amateur Naturalist” program at Paris Mountain State Park in Greenville, S. C.

With Cathy, a half mile hike can take two hours and feel like five minutes. On a hike down the Turtle Trail, she shared the tools of her trade: magnifying lenses, binoculars and bug jars. Back at the park’s classroom is a collection of field guide books, a microscope, nets and buckets. Various animal skulls, a collection of scat replicas, birds’ nests, shed snake skins and an aquarium stocked with tadpoles and minnows from the park’s lakes provide specimens for study.

Keeping a Nature Log

Cathy also keeps a nature log, recording sightings, observations and their dates. The most important tool, she emphasizes, is a healthy dose of curiosity.

How do you identify an unknown specimen? Cathy points to a small, frilly, white flower as an example. First she observes it closely perhaps with a magnifying lens. How many petals does it have? How are they arranged? How are the leaves arranged? Do the leaves have any unusual characteristics, such as hairy or shiny surfaces? How tall is the plant? Where is it growing? What grows next to it?

Identifying the Starry Campion

Although she admits she’s not an artist, Cathy draws a picture of the specimen in her nature log. Drawing can be a better memory aid than a photograph for the simple reason that it forces the mind to notice and record all these details. Once she returns to her library, she consults her field guides. To be certain of the identification, she then searches the internet for photos and information, entering specific characteristics of the plant in the search engine. The small, frilly, white flower now has a name: Starry Campion.

Identifying Birds and Other Specimens

Crossing a small creek, one of her students spots a frog several yards away and half submerged. Cathy lends her binoculars for a close-up view. Unfortunately, sometimes even binoculars cannot help identify an animal. It may be partly hidden or it may move too quickly. In that instance, a naturalist may have to depend on other identifying characteristics. For example, while observing a bird, note its size relative to common birds such as crows, robins or sparrows. What shape is its silhouette? Does it have any distinctive field marks? What is its flight pattern? And what is its habitat? Some birds prefer feeding on the branches of a tree, while others prefer the tip top or the trunk; still others hunt on the ground.

The Swallowtail Likes Dog Fennel

Later, Cathy illustrates the importance of observing the specimen’s surroundings to learn more about its ecological niche. Once, on a nature hike, she was pointing out a dog fennel plant when a butterfly landed on it. One of the students asked, “Why did it land there?” Turns out it was a Black Swallowtail Butterfly, a species fond of dog fennel.

Cathy recommends taking advantage of state and national park learning programs to build skills and knowledge. They can be found on state park websites such as the South Carolina State Parks website, Southcarolinaparks.com . To search for programs at national parks, go to National Parks Service website, NPS.Gov.

Cathy has kept a nature log for a number of years. Nature logs record the date, place and details of a sighting. They are useful for consultation in the following years to predict the appearance of a species. They can be very scientific, recording time of day, temperature, weather etc. Or they can become a creative project. Some naturalists sketch, paint, and write poetry to embellish their logs.

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What are Platelets? The Smallest of the Three Blood Cell Types Plays a Role in Clotting

Platelets are fragments of larger cells found in the bone marrow. While they don’t possess a nucleus and their lives are short, these “cells” serve a vital role.

The primary function of a platelet is in hemostasis, the cessation of bleeding from an injured vessel.

Platelets are cell fragments that break off from larger cells, called megakaryocytes, that reside within the bone marrow. Megakaryocytes synthesize platelets in response to a protein (thrombopoietin) made by the liver when the number of circulating platelets falls.

Once in the circulation, platelets survive for eight to ten days before they are filtered out by the spleen and liver, whereupon they are replaced by new platelets arising from the bone marrow.

A normal platelet count ranges from 140,000 to 440,000 per microliter. Pregnancy, inflammation, or menstrual phase can influence this number to a certain extent.

Platelets contain storage granules that hold clotting factors and other proteins, calcium, serotonin, ADP or ATP, and growth mediators. When activated, platelets release the contents of these granules in order to initiate clotting and, eventually, healing.

Platelet Activation and Clotting

  • In the normal state, blood vessels are lined by endothelial cells which produce nitrous oxide, prostacyclins, and mediating enzymes that prevent platelets from sticking together, or aggregating.
  • When a blood vessel is injured, endothelial cells stop producing mediators, so platelets immediately become more “sticky.”
  • Injury to a vessel wall exposes collagen and von Willebrand’s factor (VWF), both of which stimulate platelets to change shape, adhere to the vessel wall, and begin releasing the contents of their granules.
  • Release of granular contents initiates a series of reactions that attracts and activates other platelets and triggers the plasma-based coagulation cascade.
  • Activated platelets assemble receptors on their surfaces that attract fibrinogen, which is then converted by a plasma protein called thrombin to fibrin.
  • Fibrin strands form a meshwork which traps still more platelets and generates a plug, or clot.

Disorders of Platelets

  1. Decreased numbers of platelets (thrombocytopenia)
  • Loss of megakaryocytes in bone marrow: leukemia; aplastic anemia; myelosuppressive drugs (e.g., chemotherapy)
  • Diminished platelet production: HIV; alcohol-induced bone marrow damage; megaloblastic anemias; myelodysplasia
  • Platelet sequestration: cirrhosis with splenomegaly (or other causes of enlarged spleen); Gaucher’s disease
  • Increased or accelerated platelet consumption or destruction: HIV; HELLP syndrome; transfusion; drug-induced (quinine, sulfa, sulfonylureas, gold salts, etc.); autoimmune conditions; idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura; lymphomas; acute respiratory distress syndrome; disseminated intravascular coagulation (e.g., sepsis, massive burns); hemolytic-uremic syndrome
  1. Increased numbers of platelets (thrombocytosis)
  • Overproduction of platelets: essential thrombocythemia (abnormal proliferation of platelets arising from a blood-producing stem cell); chronic inflammatory diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis, inflammatory bowel disease, etc.); acute infection; tumors; polycythemia vera; certain leukemias; iron deficiency; abnormal proliferation of bone marrow (myeloproliferative syndromes)
  • Decreased removal of platelets: splenectomy
  1. Abnormal platelet function
  • Decreased function: drug induced (aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories); kidney failure; multiple myeloma; cirrhosis; lupus; hereditary (von Willebrand disease; defects in storage granule release, Glanzmann’s disease, Bernard-Soulier syndrome, etc.)

Platelets are integral to the coagulation and healing processes. Abnormalities in platelet count or platelet function can be secondary to a variety of disorders or drugs.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): Dealing with Inflammation and Infection of the Reproductive Organs

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is a broad term for infection of one or more of the female reproductive organs – the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. It is relatively common, according to NHS Direct, affecting one in 50 women. It is caused by an excessive growth of bacterium in the vagina, and is sexually transmitted in most cases. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are common culprits*.

In some cases, bacterial infection is introduced to the vagina during medical procedures such as abortion, gynaecological examinations, fitting a coil, or as a result of miscarriage or childbirth. The bacterium live in the vagina and slowly travel upwards to infect the reproductive organs. This can lead to the development of cysts, which will need to be removed. The movement of bacterium can take a while, which is why a woman may have no symptoms for a while after being infected.

Symptoms of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Part of the problem with PID is that symptoms can be mild, and a woman may not realise she has it until it is picked up during routine testing. Ask your doctor to check things out if you have recurrent stomach, pelvic or lower back pain, or vaginal discharge of any kind. An bacterial infection can spread quickly and make you feel quite ill so seek medical help if you have any of the following common symptoms: –

  • Recurrent pelvic, stomach, rectal or lower back pain.
  • Feeling sick.
  • Developing a fever.
  • Heavy periods and spotting blood between periods.
  • Constant tiredness.
  • Vaginal discharge.

Diagnosing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Your doctor will do several tests to determine what the infection is. These include swab testing, which involves taking a sample of any discharge for lab analysis. Blood and urine tests may also required. If the infection cannot be identified, a laparoscopy may be required to examine the internal reproductive organs.

Treating Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

If left untreated PID can damage the fallopian tubes and affect fertility so treatment needs to be prompt. The NHS explains that even a few days can make a difference in terms of the amount of scarring to the fallopian tubes. If your symptoms are mild or come and go, have a check-up to make sure everything is okay. If PID is diagnosed, antibiotics (Ofloxacin, Metronidazole, or Doxycycline) are usually prescribed, which should clear up the infection and inflammation within 1-2 weeks. Even if you feel better after a few days, you need to finish the course of antibiotics to avoid recurrent infection. Painkillers will help ease any chronic pelvic pain, if required.

During treatment, you need to rest and look after yourself. Eat a balanced diet and abstain from sex until the infection has cleared up.

In severe cases, surgery may be required to remove abscesses and/or the fallopian tube(s), if the damage cannot be reversed. This is a process called Salpingectomy.

As Pelvic Inflammatory Disease is usually sexually transmitted, you will need to inform any recent sexual partners so they can be tested and treated, if necessary.

Preventing Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

To help prevent vaginal infections and PID it is important to have regular sexual health checks to identify any problems early on. Practise safe sex and use condoms with new sexual partners. If you are using the coil as a contraceptive method, your doctor may advise that you review this, as the coil can be an irritant and cause of PID.

PID is a serious health issue that requires prompt treatment. In most cases, antibiotics will clear up any infection and inflammation within two weeks’. Even if your symptoms are mild, always seek medical advice from your doctor or local sexual health clinic.

Sexual Health Resources

*Chlamydia is responsible for 75% of cases of PID, followed by Gonorrhoea (14% of cases) NHS Direct, accessed 30th August.

Women’s Health Handbook, by Dr Miriam Stoppard, Dorling Kindersley, ISBN 07513 1434 X.

What are Traditional and Alternative Medicine Fibroid Treatments?

Do you have pain, irregular and unusually heavy menstrual periods? Talk to your doctor about fibroids. Here’s information on the various fibroid treatments.

Fibrin is a protein that the body creates in response to inflammation or bleeding. Fibroids or fibromuscular tumors occur when excessive amounts of fibrin build up. Hormonal imbalance is a reason this occurs. Specifically, fibroids can be inside the uterus muscle wall, under the uterus lining, on the outside part of the uterus, on long stalks outside the uterus, or on long stalks inside the uterus. Fibroids are typically benign; however they’re very painful and they cause blood clots, urinary urgency, pain during sex, anemia, low back pain, constipation, pelvic pressure, bleeding in between periods, heavier menstrual periods, scarring, infertility, or problems if they occur during pregnancy. In terms of age of occurrence, fibroids typically occur in women anytime from their early 20s to late 40s although occasionally fibroids occur in post-menopausal women or teenagers. There are various treatments for fibroids.

Traditional Treatment and Diet

Treatment options for fibroids are varied. For example, doctors sometimes prescribe birth control pills at low dosage to treat fibroids. Sometimes they may prescribe high dosage ibuprofen to reduce pain and swelling. Or, they prescribe iron supplements to combat the anemia that occurs as a function of heavier menstrual periods.

Other treatments include surgery. For instance, physicians may choose to do uterine artery embolization which stops blood supply to the fibroid. Or, they may do hysteroscopic resectioning or may do a myomectomy to remove the fibroids. Granted, surgery also has risks such as potential regrowth of the fibroids, post-operative infections, or infertility. If the previously mentioned surgeries do not work, then hysterectomy is sometimes an extreme measure that it taken because it removes the uterus as well as removing the fibroids.

Physicians sometimes prescribe hormone therapy for persons with fibroids. Granted, hormone therapy has potential side effects that could include mood swings, depression, excessively heavy menstrual periods, or even ovarian cancer. There are other treatments for fibroids that are reportedly not as harsh on the body. For instance, doctors often prescribe stress reduction, exercise, and a high fiber low fat diet for people who have fibroids. Avoiding foods laden with sugar, flour, or yeast has also been suggested.

Avoiding phytoestrogen foods and avoiding soy has been suggested because some women have reported that consuming soy made their tumors worse. Also, apparently being given soy formula as a baby is a risk factor because a study found that women given soy formula when they were babies were in fact 25% more likely to eventually have uterine fibroids as compared to women who were fed cow’s milk or breastfed. It has also been recommended that some cereals should be avoided due to the presence of sugar and other unhealthy ingredients. Also, it has been suggested that processed foods, pasta, overly acidic foods or carbonated drinks should not be consumed. Additionally, it has been stated that drinking sufficient amounts of water such as eight cups of water each day is very important in the healing effort.

Alternative Medicine Treatments for Fibroids

There are also alternative medicine treatments. Examples of alternative medicine treatments include Cayce castor oil packs, chiropractic spinal adjustments, an insert into the heel of one shoe in cases where there is discrepancy in leg lengths, and colonics. Treatments for leaky gut syndrome are sometimes suggested in cases where the leaky gut syndrome is contributing to the fibroids. Acupuncture is another alternative medicine treatment that is sometimes done for persons with fibroids.

Herbals are another alternative medicine fibroid treatment. One example of an herbal used for fibroids includes the supplement fibrovan. There are anecdotal reports that fibrovan reportedly helps dissolve fibrin deposits and clots. Fibrovan contains ingredients such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which is an antioxidant typically found in green tea leaves, lycopene which is an antioxidant that is found inside of tomatoes, nattokinase which is an enzyme extract that is found in soy beans, and bacillus natto which is a beneficial bacteria to the human body.

G Protein Coupled Receptors: The Most Frequent Target of Pharmaceutical Agents

The G-protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), or 7-transmembrane (7-TM) receptor, superfamily is one of the largest groups of related genes in the entire genome with more than 300 members. Owing to the large number of physiological processes controlled by signaling through these receptors, the superfamily members make up the largest group of “druggable” targets in the body.

GPCR Family Groups

Sequence analysis of the genes contained within the human genome has identified large numbers of GPCR genes (>300) and remarkably enough the function of a sizable portion remain unknown. But based on sequence similarities, the GPCRs have been divided into 6 different classes. All of the members of this group of proteins have seven transmembrane spanning segments. The biochemical and pharmacologic characterization of the original members of the superfamily identified them as utilizing small GTP binding proteins to transduce their intracellular signal once activated.

Examples of GPCR Proteins and Their Functions

GPCRs are involved in many different cellular processes. One of the best characterized members is the light-transducing protein known as rhodopsin. This protein and several close relatives are responsible for the specialized pigment present in the rods and cones of the retina that allow for sensing of light, and the sense of vision. The receptors in cells that respond to the hormone adrenaline, the adrenoreceptors, are GPCRs. Many important neurotransmitter receptors are members of the GPCR superfamily including receptors for serotonin and for glutamate. One of the most widely known by the public at large, and seasonally appreciated members of the GPCR superfamily are the histamine receptors. The sense of smell is possible because of GPCRs that detect odor molecules.

Common Drugs That Target GPCRs

Because of the widespread distribution of GPCRs throughout the body, their presence on the surface of cells and the vast array of cellular processes that they can modulate, GPCRs are the target of more drugs than any other targeted protein in the body. Name a body response and a need to control it and there is likely a GPCR involved and a drug available to modulate it.

  • Stomach Acid Relief: Histamine H2 Receptor blockers like Zantac and Tagamet
  • Allergy or Hayfever Relief: Histamine H1 Receptor blockers like Benadryl and Claritin
  • Blood Pressure or Heart Rate Control: beta-Adrenoceptor blockers like sotalol, timolol, atenolol, propranolol, and many, many others
  • Motion Sickness: Muscarinic Acetylcholine Receptor blocker scopolamine
  • Dilated Eye Examination: Muscarinic Acetylcholine Receptor blocker tropicamide
  • Severe Psychiatric Disorder: Dopamine Receptor blocker haloperidol

The list of potential GPCR targets and the drugs that have been developed to affect their function is extremely long. And as the functions of the 100 or so other GPCRs with as yet unknown physiological effects are identified, the list of drugs that target GPCRs will grow ever longer.

Wild Atlantic Salmon Stocks Declining: Fish Farms are Causing Depletion of Wild Fish Stocks

Crowded condition of farmed fish encourages parasitic sea lice.

Parasites attack young wild salmon as they return to the sea and are threatening the sustainability of wild stocks.

Wild Atlantic Salmon Stocks

Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar) come into fresh water to spawn. The young travel down to the sea, and then spend a couple of years feeding in the ocean. The adult fish are genetically programmed to return to the river system of their birth, and the cycle continues. Since the 1970’s the number of adults returning to spawn has reduced by over 50%, and there are now thought to be less that four million wild salmon in the ocean.

Fish Farming Atlantic Salmon

The farming of Atlantic Salmon began in the 1970’s, initially in Norway and Scotland. Eggs are ‘stripped’ from adult salmon, hatched and raised in fresh water. When they are big enough they are put in cages, usually in estuaries, where they are fattened up for market. It is estimated that there are currently around 270 million farmed salmon (compared to 4 million wild!).

Effects of Fish Farming on Atlantic Salmon Stocks

  • The crowded conditions of the farmed salmon in their cages are ideal for encouraging parasites (see ‘Sea Lice Affect Wild Salmon’ and ‘Sea Lice and Salmon’). Unfortunately wild salmon often need to swim past these fish farms to get to the open sea, and in doing so they can pick up heavy infestations of these parasites – enough to threaten their survival.
  • Sometimes cages get damaged allowing farmed salmon to escape into the wild, and although this might initially appear to be a ‘good thing’, these escapees are genetically different from the truly wild fish, and their effect on the wild stock is detrimental.

(Watch the very impressive ‘National Geographic Multimedia Presentation’).

History of Salmon as Food

  • As far back as 20,000 BC salmon were an important food. (A carving of a salmon has been found in a cave in the Vezere region of the Dordogne – France – of this date.) There is also evidence of salmon traps in the same river system dating to around 10,000 BC.
  • More recently the site of Westminster Abbey in London is said to have been determined by the presence of salmon fishermen over a thousand years ago. (The fishermen believed they had ferried St.Peter across the Thames, and this superstition led to the building of first a chapel, and later an Abbey, where he was supposed to have been landed.)
  • Even more recently salmon was so cheap and plentiful in London that mediaeval apprentices had it written into their agreements that they would not be fed salmon more than once a week.

Like oysters, salmon were once thought of as ‘food for the poor’, but have now become a luxury food.

Genealogical Surname Studies and the Home DNA Test

While DNA tests are certainly useful for paternity testing, there are many other applications, including some that can be quite helpful from the point of view of genealogy and family heritage research. Surname studies, in which people who carry the same last name can determine how closely they are related to one another, is one such use of DNA testing.

Home DNA Tests

To participate in a surname study, one must have Y-chromosome DNA tested. DNA companies will provide a kit that allows for the collection of a saliva sample at home. A personal DNA test kit consists of a mouth swab or scraper, a collection tube, and a mailing envelope. Home DNA testing kits can be ordered online, and range in price from less than $100 to several hundred dollars, depending on how many markers and how many tests are wanted. Most websites offering tests provide explanations of the various tests, with recommendations for their use. Only men carry the Y chromosome, so male DNA must be collected. Women may participate in a surname study, but only by providing a test from a close male relative with the same surname.

Surname Studies in Genealogy

Surname studies involve compiling the Y-chromosome profiles of men who carry a particular family name. While compiling these profiles will not produce a family tree, it will allow people to determine the probability of relationship. Y chromosome testing can show if two men share a common ancestor. In a surname study, once a Y-DNA test has been completed, the results can be compared with those of other men who carry the same surname.

Joining a Surname Study

The first step in joining a surname study is to find an existing one. Be sure to check variations of the last name, since names like Edmond, Edmonds, Edmund, Edmonde, etc., might easily all be part of the same family. People in the past were not always as concerned about spelling as people tend to be today.

One place to check for studies is Family Tree DNA, where a simple search engine will tell you if a study exists, and how many people are currently part of the study. People who have had their DNA tested at other labs, including the National Genographic Project, may also join a surname project using the results of that earlier test.

Other ways to check for surname studies are by searching Google for a particular name and the words “surname study,” and on the DNA page on Cyndi’s List. If no existing study can be found, a new one can be started. Family Tree DNA provides a link to start a new project.

Non-Paternal Events

There is one aspect of participating in a surname study that may come as a surprise. A significant number (somewhere between 1 and 10%, according to various studies) of people discover that there is a break in the line. For example, a man named Martindale, while participating in a Martindale surname study, may have a genetic profile that does not correspond to anyone else in the group – in fact, he might match a group of people name Edwards.

This is what is referred to as a “non-paternal” event, denoting that somewhere in the line the surname and the DNA don’t correspond. This can be the result of adoption, a name change, or illegitimacy, often many generations in the past. Many name changes were informal, as when a recent immigrant simplified or Americanized his name, or when an orphan was adopted by a relative, step-parent, or neighbor. Until recently, no legal papers were required for these changes.

Genealogy and DNA Tests

Traditional genealogy relies on paper documents to prove relationships between family members, but sometimes those documents are hard to find or non-existent. That’s when DNA and surname studies can help fill in the blanks, by providing clues, opening up new avenues for research, or even disproving kinship theories.