Science

These ScienceBlog.com entries are written by our Chairman and Chief Science Officer, Jonathan R. Matias.  These light-hearted essays chronicles many of our current and past projects. We hope you enjoy these essays. 

Scientific advancements occur every day.  We will plan to feature projects that are of practical importance to our island of Panay and all the other islands that surround Sulu Sea.

Also read our featured special projects in our website:  www.sulugardenfoundation.org.

The year 2020 will be long remembered as the Year of the Coronavirus.  The corona or halo of this virus envelope will be the most enduring image of this troublesome year as it flashes all around the newsrooms and as a backdrop of almost all government updates on the Covid-19 pandemic.  This seemingly alien structure has captivated the imagination of mankind with a kind of awe and shock.

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Jonathan R. Matias | April 2, 2020

Life in quarantine is difficult for most of us.  It is something we have never been used to in a free society.   To keep mentally and physically busy, people find their own ways within the confines of their own realities. For me, it is about traveling backwards in time 40 + years ago in the mid 1970’s and 80’s when I was young and very much interested in understanding the biology of a particular rare fish from East Africa – the annual killifish.   The word “kill” was derived from the Dutch word meaning small stream.   An annual fish population can exist even in pools of water created by elephant hoof prints during the rainy season.

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Jonathan R. Matias |  

Between sports fishing, by-catch from longline fishing and the Chinese penchant for shark’s fin soup, mankind has devastated the world’s shark population to the point that sharks are becoming endangered.  But the fear of sharks remains with us.  It is a visceral fear.  More people die of bee stings than shark bites.   With bears or lions, the fear is also there, but tempered by the fact that we can always carry a gun, can run off in a jeep or simply hide inside a house.  With sharks the fear is magnified because there is really not much one can do in the water if the shark decides to take a bite, mostly by mistaking us for a seal or a big fish dinner. 

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Jonathan R. Matias |  

For thousands of years, seaweed has been harvested from wild beds and some cultivated artificially for food, primarily in Asia.  It is only in the last century that a portion of the world’s seaweed harvest has served as natural resource for ingredients used in cosmetics and other industries.  This nonfood use has great potential.  Just as an example, a recent paper in Science described the use of engineered microbes to convert brown seaweeds (kelp) into biofuels.

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Jonathan R. Matias | January 30, 2011

Practically everything humans do, even those done with the best of intentions, carries unintended and often unforeseen consequences.  Even a simple new design for baby cribs get recalled for flaws found only when thousands began using it and accidental deaths occur.  The same happens to new drugs that came into the market, backed with world class research and extensive clinical trials on thousands of patients, only to be withdrawn later because, when millions use it, then other medical problems emerge.  When the spraying of the pesticide, DDT, to kill mosquitoes was banned for the sake of protecting other non-target species from being decimated, millions of Africans died of malaria instead.

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To download a PDF copy, please click HERE.

 Though lunar eclipses are reasonably common, this one is particularly rare because it comes at the precise time of the solstice.  For those like me who are unfamiliar with the term, solstice (from Latin sol meaning ‘sun’ and sistere meaning ‘to stand still’) occurs when the Sun’s apparent position in the sky from an earthbound observer reaches its northernmost or southernmost extremes at which time the movement of the sun comes to a stop before reversing direction towards north or south.  I am sure you are still a bit confused by this explanation, but the story must go on!

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Why is cancer research so difficult, you may ask? The answer is because it’s a biological phenomenon, not a physical one where all the variables are predictable and easily quantifiable. The cancer cell is a tough opponent — it mutates, it can develop resistance to drugs, it can grow faster than most normal cells, it can hide inside tissues, it can travel at will, it can lie dormant and it can make the blood vessels migrate to it to keep supplying its growing needs.

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To download a PDF copy, please click HERE.

The science of aging paints a picture of a progressive, predictable decline of biological function. One topic that always came up during the traditional Tuesday morning science conference at the Orentreich Foundation was the question of whether we age, like all the graphs typically showed, in a mostly sigmoidal S-shaped mode. But hardly anything even in my own life I can consider linear or sigmoidal. Can we instead age in steps rather than a slope of a curve? For some inexplicable reason, this question followed me long after I have gone on to other things and I want to revisit that issue one more time.

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To download a PDF copy, please click HERE.

I think our skin oils have a higher purpose and that is to give our uniquely individual scent. In non-mammalian primates, such as gerbils, rats and mice for example, sebaceous gland secretions are the means of communicating individual identification and sexual attraction. Most likely early humans identify each other by their scent. Perhaps, the sense of smell was more heightened as a means of communication before language was invented. It still persists in our modern world only in some aboriginal cultures. In the Desana tribe of the Amazon and the Batek Negrito of the Malay Peninsula, tribal membership is based on similarity of body odor and marriage is allowed only to a person from another tribal group with a different odor. The Ongee of Andaman Islands, the Bororo of Brazil and the Serer Ndut of Senegal all recognize personal identity by the individual’s smell.

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To download a PDF copy, please click HERE.

Yesterday, there was a well attended public hearing in Pennsylvania sponsored by the EPA on the use of fracking to release natural gas from shale deposits underneath the earth’s surface. It was a heated “debate.” One side arguing how dangerous it is to their local environment while the industry is saying that it has been proven safe for decades. July 22 was certainly a one ‘fracking’ day for everyone there. It is also uncanny that it was the same day we announced a new project to develop an alternative idea to reduce the environmental impact of fracking.

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To download a PDF copy, please click HERE.

The prospect of oil spills was so remote during this “safe period” that the industry magazine Spill Science & Technology Bulletin, edited by my friend, Michael Champ, closed down because of not enough readership.  Also, during this period of ‘tranquility’, much of the research and development associated with oil spill response technology winded down. 

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To download a PDF copy, please click HERE.

June 29, 2010

Scientific expeditions, whether on land or at sea, always have a romantic appeal.  Expeditions meant adventure and excitement.  One can only imagine the thrill and the foreboding that Darwin felt as he embarked on this naturalists’ dream of exploration.  That same sense of adventure, despite all the sophistication and the trappings of our modern digitally enhanced world, still remains today.  

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To download a PDF copy, please click HERE.

June 27, 2010

Like the painting of the Sistine Chapel, writing my first scientific paper was indeed sheer agony.  It really was because the language and style of scientific writing are too precise, too impersonal and too alien.  There was none of the flair, the colorful, expressive words that went to writing a history essay, for example.   The scientific writing I meant refers to writing for a scientific journal, where your ‘peers” review your research data and render a judgment as to whether you are either wasting their time or have really something unique, worthy of publication in their illustrious journal.

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To download a PDF copy, please click HERE.

June 20, 2010

Why bother studying barnacles?  Marine biofouling is such a multi-billion dollar problem because attachments on the bottom of the ship causes drag and increased fuel consumption.  It is estimated that a supertanker from Saudi Arabia to Los Angeles port would cost an additional 1 million dollars worth of extra fuel if barnacles are present in the submerged portion of the hull.  The barnacle, Balanus amphitrite, is the most ubiquitous fouling organism that tenaciously attach to the surface.

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To download a PDF copy, please click HERE.

June 19, 2010

When I think of hibernation, my first thought is my high school English literature class on Washington Irving’s tale of a Dutch settler named Rip Van Winkle.  The story’s setting is New York’s Catskills Mountains during the American Revolutionary period.  In this tale, Rip Van Winkle was a fun-loving, lazy, henpecked husband who escaped his nagging wife by running to the mountains where he encountered strange men playing nine pins. 

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To download a PDF copy, please click HERE.

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