True's beaked whale.jpg

Western spotted skunk

Hooded skunk

Yellow-throated Marten


Archive for December, 2009

Creature matching game

Sunday, December 13th, 2009

Here’s an idea for a game. It would be like the kid’s game Memory, where cards are turned over and matches are taken off the playing area. Instead of using identical pictures, images of different animals or plants would be used. Any pair could be matched by a player. The play would be quite similar to standard Memory.

The idea would be to match organisms by evolutionary similarity. So scoring would give maximum points for animals of the same species, next most for same genus, fewer points for animals in the same order, and no points for creatures in different phyla. The easiest implementation would be as a computer game with the computer dealing with scoring. Alternatively cards could be made the lineage described on the back. Each classification category could be displayed a different color or with a different symbol and the first/highest point matching lineage symbol give the points for the match.

This would make the play interesting as any pair could be matched but the player would have to decide if a pair was good enough to pick up or to wait for a better and higher scoring pair next turn.

The design aspect of picking a card set could make an easy set or a hard set, and two aspect of the choice would affect this. First, if animals fall into close pair groups that are distantly related (two parrots, two foxes) then the set would be easier. Having graduated and overlapping groups of cards make the set harder (dog, fox, skunk, weasel, otter, raccoon). Also, how much the player knows of these animals and their relationships can make a card set easier or harder. Some groups are obvious–birds, whales, bats–while other animals are either not as well known (i.e., coatis) or don’t have an obvious lineage (i.e., wolverine). And all these examples are mammals. Invertebrates would make a ridiculously hard game! So sets for kids could be easy and moderate to hard sets can be created.

Here are three game sets:
Mammals, butterflies, and marine invertebrates.

Preventing wisdom teeth

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

I have thought for years that it should be possible to regrow teeth. Teeth should be one of the easiest body parts to regrow. It seemed likely that the tooth bud, once formed, would receive signals from its local environment and grow into the correct type of tooth and emerge into place. That’s what happens during normal adult tooth development. So generating a tooth bud looks to be the key step. And indeed, in the past few years there have been reports of progress from research in this area. See this news article and this paper from the Yelick lab in São Paulo, Brazil.

But much easier than growing teeth should be killing tooth buds. Specifically, if the buds of wisdom teeth were killed then the painful, expensive surgery to remove wisdom teeth could be avoided.

Tooth buds form during fetal development. Wikipedia has a detailed overview. Wisdom teeth don’t begin to calcify until a person is 7 to 10 years of age. It should be fairly easy to kill the tooth bud at early stages. An injection into the tooth bud of a localized cytotoxin, either a general one or perhaps one specific to dividing cells would kill the stem cells that form of the core of the tooth bud. A toxin dose that kills cells within a 1-2 mm radius of the injection site should be effective. The gums will heal up and then the tooth bud will be gone. The dentist should be able to pick the injection location based on the expected eruption site. Inspection of x-rays may help pinpoint the bud location. A jig could be used to precisely position the needle tip.

Googling briefly I don’t see any other mention of this idea. It would be easy to test experimentally in animals if one can be found with late enough tooth development.