Baked Goods for Science Lovers

Hey everyone! Fun post today.

For anyone who thinks that science is all parts technical and no parts creative, I refer you to this blog: Not So Humble Pie . The creator of the blog, Ms. Humble, is a self-described “nerdy biological anthropologist turned stay at home mom and baker of sometimes strange goodies”.

Her blog contains an endlessly delightful section of science– and biology-themed baked goods.

Below are images of a few of my personal favorites, sometimes accompanied with science explanations (sorry, can’t resist!). The first five pictures show cookies made by Ms. Humble, while the later four are photos of baked goods that other people submitted to her periodic “Science Cookie Round-Up”.

Zebrafish cookies

Drosophila cookies

Zebrafish and Drosophila are both classic science model organisms. We study model organisms to understand more about the biology of other animals. Because many life forms share  genetic material and metabolic or developmental pathways, we can make general assumptions about other animals from studying model organisms. However, it is important not to lose sight of the diversity of animals when studying these model species.

Model organisms typically have features that make them more convenient to study. These include short generations, easy accessibility, non-selective living requirements, and genetic material that lends itself to manipulation and sequencing.

Zebrafish are tropical freshwater fish belonging to the minnow family. They were first used in scientific research by George Streisinger, a molecular biologist at the University of Oregon, in the late 1970s/ early 1980s. They are ideal vertebrate model organisms for many reasons. For instance, they have a fully sequenced genome, rapid embryonic development, similar responses to toxicity testing as mammals, and  easily observable developmental pathways that are amenable to experimental testing. There are many well-characterized zebrafish mutant lines, which allow scientists to document the morphological effects of manipulating certain genes. Zebrafish also have incredible regeneration abilities. They are capable of regenerating their fins, skin, heart, brain (in larval stages), and even certain neurons. Research with these organisms has contributed to advances in developmental biology, oncology, toxicology, and stem cell research, among other fields.

Drosophila are small fruit flies. One species, Drosophila melanogaster, is ubiquitously used in research on genetics and developmental biology. Thomas Hunt Morgan, a geneticist, evolutionary biologist, and embryologist,  pioneered the use of Drosophila in the 1906, during his time at Columbia University. His work with Drosophila would eventually earn him the Nobel Prize in Medicine for showing that genes are inherited through chromosomes. Drosophila make excellent model organisms because they are easily cultured and have short life cycles. Similar to zebrafish, data for mutant Drosophila lines are readily available.

Cephalopod cookie

Cephalopods are marine mollusks that have been dominant predators in the open ocean for millions of years. Living cephalopods include nautilus, squid, octopuses, and cuttlefish. Cephalopods are widely considered to be the most intelligent invertebrates. Their well-developed nervous system links to complex eyes that provide acute vision and display convergent evolution with human eye lenses. Cephalopods also demonstrate startling abilities to camouflage and change color. They use a variety of specialized cells — including chromatophores, iridophores, and leucophores — that can match not only the color but also the patterns, textures, and brightness of their environment. These color changes can occur within milliseconds — to the untrained eye, the cephalopod seems to completely vanish into its surroundings in the blink of an eye. Some cephalopods also bioluminesce, which they might use to attract prey, impress mates, startle predators, or communicate with one another.

Cephalopods lead an active lifestyle, using jet propulsion to thrust themselves through the water column. This mode of locomotion allows them to move in spurts of high velocity, which comes in handy when capturing prey or evading predators. Indeed, cephalopods are the fastest marine invertebrates, and can even out-maneuver many fish. When it comes to feeding, cephalopods are keen predators. They seize prey with their tentacles, and feed with a beak and chitinous scraping structure known as a radula.

Periodic Table of Cookies

Gel Electrophoresis Cookies

Gel electrophoresis is a technique that allows scientists to separate samples of proteins, mixed DNA and/or RNA fragments, or nanoparticles. The molecules being analyzed are dispensed into wells in a gel matrix, which is then placed into an electrophoresis chamber. When connected to a power source, the chamber applies an electric current through the gel. This electric field causes shorter molecules to migrate farther in the gel than the longer molecules, because smaller molecules move more easily through the gel’s pores. These differential migration speeds form distinct bands on the gel that can be read using a stain or dye.

Paleontology cookies

Cake decorated as a kelp forest ecosystem

Kelp forest ecosystems are one of the most productive ecosystems on the planet. They occur in temperate and polar coastal oceans around the world. These dense seaweed gardens provide habitat for marine creatures, influence coastal oceanographic dynamics, and yield important ecosystem services. Many human industries rely on kelp-associated products. Humans extract ingredients from kelp to make toothpastes and antacids, and economically important fisheries revolve around kelp-dependent species, such as lobsters. Furthermore, kelp forests are of recreational value, serving as popular destinations for SCUBA divers and kayakers.

Trophic interactions play an important role in maintaing kelp forests. In a classic example of top-down control, sea otters function as the keystone species in Alaskan kelp forests. Sea otters represent the highest level in this trophic cascade, which also includes sea urchins and kelp. When sea otter numbers dwindle (for example, due to hunting for their prized pelts), sea urchin populations explode because their predators have been removed. Increased numbers of sea urchins consume and devastate kelp stands. As a result, the kelp forest deteriorates, along with the rest of the ecosystem.

Reducing the impact of overfishing can ameliorate kelp forest degradation. One way to accomplish this is to establish marine protected areas. These zones provide a buffer from the fishing/ hunting practices that deplete important predators such as sea otters, lobsters, or large fish, which normally keep herbivore populations in check.

Cookies displaying a neuron, neuromuscular junction, and spine with nerves

Human anatomy cake

What do you think about these fabulously geeky masterpieces? Are you inspired to make your own periodic table of cookies/ brownies/ cupcakes/ [insert favorite baked good here] ? Do you also enjoying science and baking? I’d love to hear about or see photos of any other science-culinary exploits!

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Baked Goods for Science Lovers

  1. The gel electrophoresis cookies are my favourite although it does seem that an inappropriate ladder may have been used for a few of them. They look delicious enough to make me forgive them that though.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s