"Early one evening a few years ago, I took a short hike with my wife, Jamie, in the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Belize. The large, lush reserve is known for its healthy population of jaguars, so, following closely behind our guide, we kept our eyes peeled for the elusive cats. We saw a few tracks and some claw marks on trees, but elected to leave the jungle before nightfall.
We were very near the end of the trail when we were surprised by a large snake, about six feet long, crossing directly in front of us. Belize has lots of snakes, more than 50 species. Some can get pretty large, like the boa constrictor, which is impressive but harmless.
This one was not harmless. Even in the darkening jungle, the triangular pattern on its back allowed me to identify it quickly as a fer-de-lance, the most dangerous snake in Belize.
Excited, and comfortable that I was well out of striking range, I reached into my backpack for my video camera and flipped on its “night shot” feature. I now saw the magnificent snake clearly on my LCD screen. As I tried to creep in for a closer shot, however, I felt something holding me back.
It was Jamie. She had a grip on my backpack and was concerned that my enthusiasm for snakes had overtaken my judgment. She was not convinced that we were out of range, nor that the snake would not move quickly toward us. I used the zoom and filmed from where I stood.
For me to film the snake in the dark, I had to rely on Sony’s innovation and engineering. The camera’s infrared LED source generated light with a longer wavelength than the human eye can detect; those photons then bounced off the snake and were detected by the camera’s infrared sensors and converted into an image. "
"Humans and other warm-blooded animals emit heat as infrared radiation. Pit vipers are so adept at infrared sensing that some can detect potential prey a meter away.
To understand how snakes evolved their infrared detection systems, a group of scientists led by (former Pew Scholar) Prof. David Julius at the University of California, San Francisco, searched for potential infrared-sensing proteins in the western diamondback rattlesnake. They looked in particular at genes active in the nerve cells that are connected to the pits, called trigeminal neurons.
They found one gene, known as TRPA1, that was 400-fold more active in rattlesnake trigeminal neurons than in other kinds of neurons. Moreover, they found that the TRPA1 gene was not highly active in the trigeminal neurons of snakes lacking pits. These two pieces of evidence suggested that TRPA1 might encode a protein involved in infrared sensing. "
- Date added:
- Aug 29, 2012
Edward De Robertis, National Advisory Committee member and founding member of the Pew Latin American Fellows Program, has been elected into the National Academy of Sciences. Dr. De Robertis, a native of Uruguay, is the N. Sprague Professor of Biological Chemistry at University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute—best known for identifying genetic patterns conserved throughout evolution.More info
On May 9, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced that 27 of the nation’s top biomedical researchers—including seven Pew scholars—will become HHMI investigators and will receive the flexible support necessary to move their research in creative new directions. The Pew scholars named HHMI investigators are Peter Baumann (2003), Michael Dyer (2004), Nicole King (2004), Tirin Moore (2004), Dyche Mullins (2000), Michael Rape (2007), and Rachel Wilson (2005).More info
2009 Pew Biomedical Scholar Charles Mullighan was part of a research team at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital which recently found mutations responsible for more than half of a subtype of childhood brain tumors. Their paper in Nature Genetics pinpointed alterations in two genes that increased the risk of low-grade gliomas—the most common childhood tumors of the brain and spinal cord—and identified an existing drug as a possible treatment.More info
Salil Lachke, a 2012 Pew scholar and assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Delaware, has been selected by the Alcon Research Institute as a 2013 Young Investigator. As one of just eight researchers worldwide to receive the $50,000 grant, Dr. Lachke will continue his work on an online tool he created to discover genes related to glaucoma and other eye diseases.More info
Jeff Gore, a 2011 Pew Scholar and assistant professor of physics at MIT, has been awarded a four-year, $1,131,603 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences – one of the 27 National Institutes of Health – to pursue research into cooperation and cheating in the evolution of antibiotic resistance in bacteria.More info
Ben Stanger, a 2009 Pew scholar and assistant professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, has demonstrated that cells can change their identities under normal conditions in the body. In a study published in Genes and Development, Dr. Stanger pinpointed the gene that allows the main type of liver cells in mammals to convert into the cells lining bile ducts.More info
To understand how embryos develop, many researchers look to animal models such as worms and frogs. But Mary Gehring, a 2011 Pew Biomedical Scholar and assistant professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, turns to plants—even weeds.More info
Learn more about the women scientists of Pew's Biomedical Scholar's Program and help celebrate Women's history month.More info
In celebration of what would have been Albert Einstein’s 134th birthday, FoxNews.com ran an article highlighting young researchers, including 2011 Pew scholar Ann Morris. Thanks to her creative research on vision in zebrafish, Dr. Morris was mentioned among scientists who are “poised to change the way we live today, and will continue to influence our culture in the coming decades.More info
Dinu Florin Albeanu, a 2012 Pew Scholar, was profiled in National Geographic’s “Only Human” series, which highlighted his success as a Romanian scientist. Having lived in Bucharest for most of his life, Dr. Albeanu recognizes the challenges facing Romania’s scientific enterprise. Since relocating to the United States, the assistant professor of neurology at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has co-founded a summer program for aspiring neurologists in Romania. More info
2011 Pew Scholar Wins Paul Allen Distinguished Investigators Award to Unlock Fundamental Questions in Biology
Jeff Gore, 2011 Pew Scholar and assistant professor of physics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has won the Paul Allen Distinguished Investigators Award to Unlock Fundamental Questions in Biology. The award, announced today by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, provides $7.5 million in exploratory grant funding to a carefully selected group of scientists who will embark on five new pioneering research projects that aim to unlock fundamental questions in biology. Dr. Gore will use single-celled yeast to explore how ideas from game theory can provide insight into cellular decision making.More info
Dr. Michael "Micha" Rape, a 2007 Pew Scholar, has been named winner of The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science for his work on ubiquitination, a process which "tags" damaged or bad proteins for destruction, as it relates to many diseases, including cancer or neurodegeneration.More info