Saturday, May 17, 2008

My Little Pony 25th anniversary

I collect My Little Pony, although due to space constraints in my little house I pretty much only buy ones that I find at thrift stores or yard sales. I began collecting right at the very start, 25 years ago, when I was... 11 years old. Wow. My best friend Jen and I each bought one pony at a time together so they could be buds, and our ponies made potions and cast spells and looked into the future through "scrying glasses" (tiddlywinks); no wonder I'm a godless heathen now. Anyway, the two ponies on the bottom right of the picture were my very first ones.

Here's one I got at Goodwill a couple of months ago. She's kind of strange with the molded (rather than fiber) tail, but I'm pretty sure she's authentic due to the eyes and overall shape. On the bottom I can barely make out something that looks like "MFG for McD...", so maybe she came with someone's Happy Meal.

Getting started with painting the bedrooms today! The walls are washed and now I need to calculate how much paint to buy. Hopefully I can finish one room this weekend.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Flies: drag racers of the insect world?

Despite my lifelong love of insects, I've never really gotten into flies. They're tiny and they invade my home and they crawl around on poop and dead squirrels and the slime coating the drains of the rec center locker room. Lately, though, I've begun to think about them much more, and to realize that flies are some of the most streamlined and efficient creatures on earth, with every structure and function in their body pared down to the bare necessities for their two big purposes in life: as a larva, eating; as an adult, reproducing.

The fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster has been an important model system for embryonic development, gene expression and nervous system function to name just a few areas of study. As other insects' genomes have been sequenced, and as comparative studies in other insects have accumulated, it has become increasingly clear that Drosophila, and probably most of the flies, are extremely specialized and not always representative of insects in general. Drosophila has dispensed with key genetic pathways for development and invented a few of its own. Its nervous system has been reduced and streamlined; this is becoming increasingly obvious through studies of the mushroom bodies, my favorite part of the brain. A recent paper from Kei Ito's lab suggests that Drosophila has lost nearly all of the complex local circuitry of the mushroom body lobes, that characterizes the mushroom bodies of insects such as cockroaches and honey bees.

Maybe flies don't need all of that extra neural circuitry to find a rotten carcass and a mate during their short lives.

Other flies are pared down to monstrous proportions. Above are a couple of march flies. Note the dimorphism of their heads: the male has huge eyes, probably to track females flying across the sky.

The female, however, has a miniaturized head. Does she eat or do anything except mate and find a place to lay her eggs? I'm guessing not, and I'm also guessing that there is a very reduced brain behind those tiny eyes.

And don't forget the children- fly larvae are headless, legless bags of guts with a gaping mouth at one end. They have just enough brains and muscles to stay immersed in the food that their mother placed the egg in. At metamorphosis, the entire adult head, which was stored inside-out in bags of cells called imaginal discs, pops out and a massive wave of cell proliferation forms the adult body nearly from scratch.

Someday I'm going to do a comparative brain study of flies. Not all of them are the eating and breeding machines I described here, and I would like to know how their brains have been modified to accomodate their more complex behaviors. One truly has job security being an insect neurobiologist- there's never a shortage of experiments to do.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

School's out for summer YAY!

Well, everything's green and it's getting warm and the flowers are blooming...what a relief. Town is quieting down as the students take off for summer, and I have the luxury of considering how I will spend my work time for the next 3 months. I have one paper ready to submit, two papers to complete experiments for and finish writing up, and then some serious grantwriting. I have ideas, but I am apprehensive to start writing grants again. I don't look forward to getting so caught up in reading and designing experiments and writing up a proposal and then having it dropkicked back to me. I'm a coward, I guess; it's part of the job.

Went down to the rail trail with Ron and the doggies this weekend, and spent the rest of the weekend picking ticks off of the dogs. It's that time of year again. I also figured out how to shoot video on my camera and took this clip of Gouda and Wizard playing in a waterfall along the trail. Pretty cool!

Other than that I've been doing a lot of artsy fartsy stuff (painting and drawing and collage) and a lot of reading and looking up interesting artists on the web. I found the above picture via a link this evening, from a website called The Darkhouse Quarter. A lot of dark and dream-like Photoshop work with a Victorian feel that reminds me a lot of Joel-Peter Witkin. Back to the picture, I feel like it is almost a portrait of me, as if I had described my life over the past handful of years and the artist had assembled icons representing different aspects of my personality. There are parts that I am willing to admit and others that are pretty ugly. Those people that know me will know what I mean. Anyway, I think I will contact the artist about ordering a print.

That's it for now- time for some reading and then sleep...