March 14, 2012

Page 5

The california aggie

Science &Technology

wednesday, march 14, 2012 5

Research gives strong evidence for origin of vision in animals Light is involved in firing of stinging cells of small sea animal By BRIAN RILEY Aggie Science Writer

Researchers have made important new discoveries about the evolution of the senses in animals by identifying a light-based, or “photic,” sense in a multicellular marine animal called hydra. The discoveries are reported in a new article in the journal BMC Biology, written by David Plachetzki, who is currently a post doctoral fellow working in the UC Davis Center for Population Biology, along with two co-authors from UC Santa Barbara, Caitlin Fong and Todd Oakley. Plachetzki is also affiliated with the UC Davis department of evolution and ecology. “By combining genomic and physiological approaches we now have powerful tools to unravel these first steps in the evolution of a nervous system,” said Thomas Holstein, a professor of molecular evolution and genomics at the Centre for Organismal Studies in Heidelberg, Germany, who was not involved in the

Obesity Cont. from page 6 through PFT is the only objective data source collected on body composition that’s not self reported,” said Alecia Sanchez, policy director for the Center of Public Health Advocacy. “It enables policymakers to see trends and formulate interventions to address them.” “The initiation of additional interventions in school nutrition and physical activity programs that might be required to improved students’ health could not be well monitored without the student fitness testing,” Aryana said. The elimination, said Tina Jung, information officer for the CDE, has yet to be decided. “I don’t believe the governor called for the elimination of fitness testing but to find another funding stream for it,” Jung said. “Physical fitness is very much a part of his initiative for schools.” Whatever happens to PFT, it is clear that though increases in obesity rates may have slowed, there is still much work to be done statewide, according to the study. “We have our own study that we released late last year that shows a decline in the obesity rate statewide, but there are parts of the state that aren’t enjoying those successes,” Sanchez said. “Some districts have experienced increases in obesity.” “The UCD study showed we’re at a critical turning point,” Jung said. “Obesity has started to stall. We’ve stopped going up the mountain, but we haven’t started to go back down.” Further plans to address the issue are presently in the works. “We are currently working with the CDE to develop a plan where students, volunteers and parents could help further alleviate obesity in school children,” Aryana said. More details of the plan Aryana mentioned will be available next week. EINAT GILBOA can be reached city@

tech Cont. from page 4 Anything else? The new iPad has a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera that can record video in 1080p, an improvement over the iPad 2’s 0.7-megapixel camera which only captures video in 720p.

current study. Plachetzki and his research colleagues asked questions about the common ancestor of cnidarians and humans, which existed 600 million years ago. “This is the origin of complex ‘animalness’ — that’s not the first animal, but the first one that has a nervous system and moves around,” Plachetzki said. Cnidarian (pronounced “naye-DAREee-en” with a silent “c”) animals include hydra, jellyfish and sea anemones, among other animals, and are evolutionary cousins to humans. “Dave [Plachetzki] had noticed that visual proteins were located around the stinging cells in hydra,” said co-author Fong, who is a member of the research team and is now a lab technician at UC Los Angeles. “This led us to believe that hydra used visual signals to regulate the usage of these stinging cells.” “We devised behavioral tests to be the first to show that stinging cells depend on light level,” said Oakley, a professor in the

department of ecology, evolution and marine biology at UC Santa Barbara. One of the main findings of the study was that hydra are more likely to fire their stinging cells when a shadow is cast onto them, which increases their chances of catching the possible prey casting the shadow. “Hydra fire more stinging cells in dim light conditions and less in bright light conditions,” Fong said. “We think that this is a method by which hydra conserve stinging cells and only fire them when they might catch prey.” Hydra are freshwater polyps, which are small relatives of jellyfish, that have been studied for over 250 years. Although they don’t have eyes, Plachetzki’s research shows how a physiological pathway could function which was a precursor to vision in later animals. “This is one way that those pathways could function before they got co-opted into a complex eye,” Plachetzki said. The animals that developed vision in later evolution were “putting togeth-

er pieces that have already evolved,” Plachetzki said. There are three main ways that animals detect sensory cues from the environment: chemical, mechanical and photic. The current study focused on the photic, or light means of sensation. The chemical category corresponds to the sense of “taste” in animals, while the mechanical category roughly corresponds to touch and hearing. Holstein is currently studying dinoflagellates, a type of plankton, in his lab in Heidelberg and says that Plachetzki, Fong and Oakley’s new research findings raise new questions as to whether a mechanical sense or a photic sense developed first in common ancestors of animals and plants. “This is difficult to decide at the moment,” said Holstein, commenting on the lack of evidence one way or the other. “We just don’t know enough [about the] huge diversity in unicellular organisms.” BRIAN RILEY can be reached at

Text message celebrates 20th birthday By Gordon Brillon The Daily Reveille (Louisiana State University)

For most college students, 1992 is history. Anything that happened then has simply been that way forever. Clint Eastwood became a surly old man in “Unforgiven,” Banksy became the lovable rascal of the art world and — in possibly the most important development in college students’ consciousness — the first text message-capable cell phone was released. The Nokia 1011 was a blocky model almost eight inches tall, weighing more than a pound and capable of holding up to 99 phone book entries. Mobile phone technology has come a long way since then, and as it has evolved, so has the generation that grew up with it. Chair of the Louisiana State U. Department of Sociology Wesley Shrum said the generation that grew up with text messaging has been integral in making it relevant. “Text messaging can only be important as it becomes a pos-

sibility for almost all students,” he said. In 2011, 72 percent of cellphone users in the United States paid for text packages, amounting to 203 million people, according to a Neustar survey. These people sent an average of 2.5 billion messages every day, according to the same survey. Shrum said people have accepted texting as part of their social lives and organically created new social rules related to it, which explains why texting in public or in company has become a norm rather than a taboo. “People are approaching a common understanding of what is rude,” he said. According to Shrum, text messaging has not fundamentally changed the way people form relationships, but instead provided different methods for people to do so. “It doesn’t improve relationships or make them worse. It provides new opportunities for relationships,” he said. But not everyone agrees that text messaging is so benign. Lance

Porter, the head of LSU’s Digital Media Initiative and a professor in the Manship School of Mass Communication, said text messaging and online communications have been detrimental to the modern generation’s face-to-face social skills. “You can’t get full meaning or context from a text message,” Porter said. “People are more comfortable with them because they take less time and less attention than a conversation.” Porter said this reluctance to speak in person is stunting the personal growth of the Millennials, the generation born from the mid1980s up to 2000. “Millennials don’t like faceto-face conflict. You probably have friends that have broken up through a text message,” he said. Most students agree that this is the largest problem with texting, and they say moderation is the best policy. “I don’t really like texting now,” said Nicki Klimacek, a communication disorders sophomore at LSU. “It makes personal relationships harder to maintain, and be-

ing older, relationships are more important. It’s kind of a high school thing.” But while they agree texting can cause problems, it can be hard for students to ignore the text message’s convenience. “I used to always talk on the phone. I would call my mom on the phone, but now I text her. It’s 50-50; it has its advantages and disadvantages,” said Bruce Jackson, an LSU marketing freshman. Porter also said text messaging and social media have made it more difficult for young people to focus on single tasks. “We’re a society of multi-tasking,” Porter said. “The problem is, our brains can’t multi-task.” Porter said he has seen this effect on students firsthand as a professor, and it has affected their performance in academics. Shrum said students will decide if they should be productive in class regardless of their ability to text. “I can sit in a lecture and not pay attention just as well with or without a mobile phone,” he said.

AARP and Microsoft study shows online communication bridging the generation gap By Monique Collins The Marquette Tribune (Marquette Unversity)

The Internet and social media are becoming crucial tools in helping families stay connected, according to a study by Microsoft Corp. and AARP released Feb. 7. The “Connecting Generations” study, which surveyed participants ranging in age from 13 to 75, found 83 percent of all participants consider going online to be a “helpful form of communication among family members.” In addition, the majority of respondents think computers increase good communication with family members living far away, as 70 percent of teens and 63 percent of adults 39 and older believe it improves the quantity of communication. Sixty-seven percent of teens and 57 percent of adults 39 and older believe it improves the quality of that communication. That generation gap isn’t just for parents and children. Thirty percent of grandparents found connecting online has helped them better understand their grandchildren, while 29 percent of the grandkids said the same about their relatives. Students traveling from different cities or states to come to Marquette U. often use social media websites and online communicawith 64GB of memory and 4G. The iPad 2, by comparison, is now $399. It all comes down to how much you want the latest technology, but iPad 2 owners should most likely be content to stay with last year’s version. While the upgrade in screen resolution is eye-catching, all of the other upgrades seem to be similar to the jump from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S — relatively incremental in comparison.

So, what’s the price? The basic new iPad 16GB model starts at $499 and is available in black or white. The price goes all the way ERIC C. LIPSKY can be reached at science@ up to $829 for the new iPad

tion to connect with friends and family back home. Jeffrey Djoum, a Marquette sophomore, uses Skype, email and Facebook to connect with friends and family in Chicago. “I chat with friends on Facebook often and keep everyone informed on my latest antics through Twitter,” Djoum said. “I still have my mom restricted on Facebook, but it’s nice to see her keeping up with the young people.” Social media has become increasingly popular at Marquette, whose students use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and most recently Pinterest to connect with students and other Marquette community members. Tim Cigelske, senior communication specialist in the Office of Marketing and Communication and one of the key people behind the university’s social media presence, said the campus has Facebook groups for incoming freshmen, alumni and parents. “Social media allows us to reach out to the community wherever they are, so they can get the support they need,” Cigelske said. Scott D’Urso, an associate professor in the MU College of Communication, thinks this newest study is testament to the power of social media and online communication. “Looking at the past 20 years of computing, you’re seeing a larger number of older

adults buying computers to connect with their children and grandchildren,” D’Urso said. He specifically cited the development of video communication in keeping in touch with family. “Video conferencing tools are helping online communication become more real and rich,” D’Urso said. “When you’re using video chat, it’s nice to be able to see the nonverbal cues and facial expressions of family and friends you don’t see as frequently.” While Cigelske did not find the research findings surprising, he thinks other social media users will. “I think a lot of Twitter users won’t believe it,” he said. “The median age of Twitter users is 35 years old, so the assumption is a lot of teens and young adults use the site, but in reality, the ages of Twitter users vary a lot.” The university’s Twitter account, which boasts more than 14,000 followers, is followed by current students, alumni, faculty and parents. “We see a broad range of followers of all different ages,” Cigelske said. “I have a lot of alums tell me they love following the university’s Twitter because it keeps them involved in what is going around of campus without having to wait around for the newsletter.”