The NSDL Scout Report for Life Sciences -- Volume 2, Number 22

November 14, 2003

A Publication of the Internet Scout Project
Computer Sciences Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison

A Note to our Readers




Topic In Depth

A Note to our Readers

New Archive Features

The Internet Scout Project is pleased to announce new features available in the Scout Archives. These new capabilities attempt to tap into the collective expertise of Scout Report readers in order to benefit the entire Scout community. From the Full Record page for any Scout Archives entry, you can now rate the usefulness of the resource and provide comments about that resource for other readers. Also, after rating a few resources, you may now obtain recommendations on other resources (in a fashion similar to book recommendations on sites like Amazon.Com). To use these features, you will first need to register and log in (registration is brief and free). As always, if you discover any factual errors, bad URLs, or other problems, please let us know by sending a note to or via the feedback form on our website. Thanks and we hope you enjoy the new service. [JPM]


PLoS Biology [pdf]

The Public Library of Science presents PloS Biology, a new journal featuring "works of exceptional significance in all areas of biological science, from molecules to ecosystems, including works at the interface with other disciplines." The Public Library of Science -- as a nonprofit organization "committed to making the world's scientific and medical literature a freely available public resource" -- offers the online version of PloS Biology entirely for free. Readers will find research papers and synopses, editorials, book reviews, and other familiar elements of a scientific journal. PloS Biology also provides two online forums: the Journal Club for postdocs and graduate students and Community Page for organizations and societies. The journal also explores unsolved mysteries, each month highlighting a poorly understood but important topic in the biological sciences. [RS]

Medscape: Public Health and Prevention

WebMDs Medscape and the American Public Health Association (APHA) present the new Public Health and Prevention Medscape website -- "a cutting-edge resource for a variety of health professionals, offering timely information about important public health issues of the day and tools for improved practice." Users will find the latest health-related news from Reuters Health and Medscape Medical News, as well as highlights from The Nations Health (the APHA newspaper) and selected articles from the American Journal of Public Health. Other offerings include a book-of-the-month review, coverage of recent conferences, and online Resource Centers (topic-specific collections of Medscape's key clinical content). The site also provides Continuing Medical Education tutorials in public health subjects for physicians and other health professionals. The list of resources goes on and anyone working in public health should certainly bookmark this site. [RS]

Nature: The Human Genome [pdf]

This special Web Focus from the journal Nature presents research papers that "serve as the definitive historical record for the sequences and analyses of human chromosomes -- the ultimate results of the Human Genome Project." Papers are available for chromosomes 6, 7, 14, 20, 21, 22, and Y, which readers can access (no subscription required) by clicking on the image of the corresponding chromosome. The papers for chromosome 6 are the most recent, published in the October 23, 2003 issue of Nature. The website also offers free feature articles on the subject. [RS]

The Trichomonas vaginalis Genome Sequencing Project

The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) recently released the first draft assembly of the Trichomonas vaginalis genome, available through this website to the academic and not-for-profit research community for noncommercial use only. TIGR will release more data at regular intervals during the sequencing project, which should help researchers better understand this widespread parasite and its role in HIV infection, neo-natal disorders, predisposition to cervical cancer, and of course, vaginitis. The website also includes background information on T. vaginalis, as well as a link to TIGRs sequencing project for Entamoeba histolytica -- a closely related organism. [RS]

PubMed Tutorial [Macromedia Flash Player]

PubMed Tutorial is a "web-based learning program that will show you how to search PubMed, the National Library of Medicines journal literature search system." Clear, detailed explanations and helpful animations guide users in making the most of PubMeds many features. The level of detail in this tutorial is amazing, yet not overwhelming (thanks again to animations and demonstrations that replicate the PubMed user interface). A final review section offers a number of practice exercises. [RS]

Systematic Botany and Mycology Lab [Macromedia Flash Player]

This is the nicely designed homepage of the Systematic Botany and Mycology Laboratory (SBML), part of the U.S. Department of Agricultures Agricultural Research Service. The SBML conducts "research into the systematics of fungi and plants essential to solving problems in conventional and sustainable agriculture." Botanists, agronomists, mycologists, or any number of related researchers may find the websites online resources of interest. Fungi Online and Plants Online offer a substantial set of databases, images, taxonomic keys, and other resources based on SBML research and the Germplasm Resources Information Network. The website also provides fungi and plant collections information, a detailed staff directory, and an extensive set of links. [RS]

The Biocomplexity Thesaurus

The National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) and Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA) recently launched the Biocomplexity Thesaurus -- "a major new resource for the bioinformatics community." The Biocomplexity Thesaurus integrates five existing CSA and NBII thesauri that cover the biological, environmental, and social sciences. The user interface is as simple as can be -- just type in a phrase, term, or root word and the search engine does the rest. No Boolean logic, quotation marks, or parentheses needed. Clicking on the hyperlinked terms in the results list will launch a new search, allowing users to rotate the thesaurus to explore different facets of a particular concept. [RS]

Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Plant Records

This website contains an online database of plants cultivated at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG). A recent addition to the BBG general website, the database may be easily searched by common or scientific name. Search results provide summary botanical information for all species and varieties related to the search term. Records also indicate where on BBG grounds each plant may be found, which could be of some use to visiting researchers. Photographs are available for a few plants in the database. [RS]


Two on Ants from Discover

Discover: The Secret Life of Ants
An Educators Guide To: The Secret Life of Ants

The Secret Life of Ants, a free article from the November 2003 issue of Discover magazine, offers a fascinating look at the work of myrmecologist Walter Tschinkel, who studies the intricate architecture of subterranean ant nests. As Tschinkel explains, understanding ant-nest architecture has led to "a better understanding of the insects and the mysterious principle known to science as self-organization -- units of nature forming larger patterns through interactions with one another." The second website contains instructions for a do-it-yourself ant farm -- a fun classroom project that could be used in conjunction with the article or with other material. Users may also browse educators guides from previous months for more life sciences activities. [RS]

NATURE: Hippo Beach [Macromedia Flash Player, RealOne Player]

This website is the online companion to Hippo Beach, which recently aired on the PBS series NATURE. And as the website explains, "from the study of hippos' essential relationships with birds to the discovery that hippos can communicate underwater, these mammals deserve a closer look." Students can get a closer look with "Sun, Sand, and Hippos," an interdisciplinary lesson plan for grades 3-5. The lesson guides students in researching and creating presentations on hippos and helpful weblinks, worksheets, and a teachers guide are provided. The website contains other special features as well, including video clips from the program, multimedia activities, informative essays, and more. [RS]

San Diego Zoo: Kid Territory [Macromedia Flash Player, QuickTime]

This San Diego Zoo website is absolutely packed with fun and informative stuff for kids, and features not only the residents of the zoo, but also the people who work there. Read All About It offers a look at how the San Diego Zoo began, why we give scientific names to animals, why animal enrichment is important, and much more. Science in Action offers simple experiments to do at home or in the classroom, like exploring what life would be like without an opposable thumb (with tape, not via amputation). The website also provides interesting essays on zoo-related careers, as well as cool multimedia games, animal-themed recipes, and loads of other great features. [RS]

Stem cells -- Gateway to 21st Century Medicine [pdf, QuickTime]

This website comes from NOVA Science in the News, an online educational feature of the Australian Academy of Science. The site offers a comprehensive review of stem cell biology and related issues over the past few years. In addition to informative essays, a glossary, and a suggested reading list, visitors will find a useful set of links to external sites with classroom activities. This annotated list features activities from the Genetics Science Learning Center, The New York Times Learning Network, the Australian Broadcasting Company, and other tried-and-true sources. [RS]


The Bio-Database of the Digital Imaging and Resource Laboratory (BIO-DiTRL) is a web-based database from the University of Alberta containing images, animations, and other digital resources available free of charge for teaching and learning purposes. BIO-DiTRL resources may be downloaded by students and instructors affiliated with publicly funded schools only, although anyone is welcome to explore the database. Users may browse BIO-DiTRL by taxa, biological concept, or grade level. A straightforward search engine is another option. The resources available -- mostly photos and diagrams -- look quite good, and users are encouraged to submit their own quality teaching media. [RS]

Leaf Identification

This straightforward tutorial on leaf identification comes from the Department of Horticulture at Penn State University. Simple diagrams, helpful photos, and clear explanations make short work of learning the basics of leaf identification. The website even includes a section on why anyone should bother learning this skill (i.e. its not just for dedicated horticulturists and botanists). The tutorial covers leaf structure, blade shape, margins, venation, and so on. The self-testing component appears to be unavailable at this time, but this site as a whole is definitely worth a look. [RS]

AIPL Kids Corner

The U.S. Department of Agricultures Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory (AIPL) has a website just for kids, full of "interesting and exciting facts about [the] lab, cows, and your favorite dairy products." In addition to lots of fun trivia (e.g. the average body temperature of a cow, the number of pizza slices consumed in the U.S. every second etc.), this website provides multiple-choice quizzes and educational games. The Facts about AIPL section may be a bit dry for a younger audience, but altogether this site offers an engaging look at dairy production in the U.S. [RS]

Azas Web [pdf, Macromedia Flash Player]

The American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) presents Azas Web, an online headquarters for a campaign created "to engage a dialogue among zoos, aquariums, children and leaders" about protecting the environment. Azas Clubhouse offers kid-friendly games and activities with an environmental message, each featuring Aza, the campaigns spokescreature (a somewhat bewildering character composed of nearly every animal taxa known to humanity, and then some). Visitors can read Azas comics, download a Pledge for the Planet certificate, play educational games, post a message to the online bulletin board, and more. [RS]


Astrobiology: The Search for Life [pdf, QuickTime]

This is the latest website from the Exploratoriums Origins series -- a Web-based project that "explores the origins of matter, the universe, earth, and even life itself." In "Astrobiology: The Search for Life," visitors can read up on Earths extreme environments that support life and serve as models for extraterrestrial environments. The site also introduces some of the scientists working in astrobiology, including Jill Tarter. Other sections explore the tools of the trade (e.g. NASAs Mars Rover) and important ideas in astrobiology (e.g. the Drake Equation). Additionally, during the month of November, the Exploratorium will air live webcasts from field sites like Chiles Licancabur volcano, and broadcast interviews with some of astrobiologys top brass. [RS]

MedicineNet, Inc., a Web-based healthcare publishing company, offers "easy-to-read, in-depth, authoritative medical information for consumers via its robust, user-friendly, interactive website." is similar to other online resources like WebMD and MEDLINEplus, designed to help readers make informed decisions about their health. In addition to basic background information on everything from allergies to urology, offers the latest health-related news, physicians views on various topics, timely and relevant health facts (e.g. flu vaccination information), and much more. [RS]

Live Expedition: Owls Among Us [Macromedia Flash Player]

Visitors to this website will find an interesting, multimedia introduction to owls, including dispatches from a recent live expedition to survey Saw-whets -- a common but extremely elusive species. Each dispatch includes an annotated slide show, where viewers can learn more about Saw-whet banding projects. The website also contains Tour an Owl -- an interactive look at owl anatomy from ear tufts to talons. See Saw-whets contains the same slide shows found with the expedition dispatches, but also provides excellent photos of different owl species. Visitors may also learn more about owls and owl conservation in Give a Hoot, a collection of related links. [RS]

California Academy of Sciences: Notes from the Field

The California Academy of Sciences recently concluded an expedition to Chinas Yunnan Province, the fourth such trip undertaken to document the imperiled flora and fauna of this "biodiversity hotspot." Journalist Stephanie Greenman accompanied expedition scientists, posting the brief but interesting field notes available in this website. Readers will find six of these dispatches -- together with great photographs -- and links to past Academy expeditions to the Yunnan. [RS]

Duke University Primate Center [pdf, Macromedia Flash Player]

The homepage of the Duke University Primate Center (DUPC) is an excellent stop for anyone interested in prosimians and prosimian biology. Visitors will find a brief overview of DUPC research, and a more detailed look at projects headed by DUPC researchers -- including a few abstracts and full text research papers. But the most appealing pages can be found under the Learn section, which features photos and natural histories of aye-ayes, bushbabies, mouse lemurs, and other members of this undeniably adorable suborder. The same section also contains a Kids Corner, with online coloring books, mazes, and jigsaw puzzles. [RS]

Country Cures

Londons Natural History Museum presents Country Cures, an "interactive project to gather information about the sometimes familiar, often surprising, use of plants in traditional medicine." Readers are highly encouraged to participate in this on-going project by contributing their own herbal remedies, which are listed by plant under The Exhibition and by ailment under Your Cures. All contributions featured in this website appear to be from residents of the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland, but theres nothing to suggest that others may not participate (especially as dandelions, yarrow, comfrey, and other plants in the exhibit are common in North American folk remedies). [RS]

NPR: Southeast Asias Illegal Animal Trade [Real One Player, Windows Media Player]

National Public Radio (NPR) invites listeners join host Michael Sullivan on a Radio Expedition to Southeast Asia, where "despite international and local laws designed to crack down on the trade, live animals and animal parts -- often those of endangered or threatened species - -are sold in open-air markets throughout the region." Complete audio of the 3-part story is available (aired November 3-5, 2003), as are links to related websites and NPR stories. [RS]

Yard & Garden Solutions

The University of Illinois Extension takes some of the guesswork out of gardening with this Solutions Series website, part of the Universitys "Web-based library of information that can help you with some of the questions you have around your home." This comprehensive guide covers flowers, fruits, pests and diseases, vegetables, and more. Each section contains pages and pages of useful information: For example, the soils and fertilizers section describes various soil minerals and elements, demystifies pH, explains what can go into a compost pile and how quickly each item will decompose, etc. This site could benefit from the addition of photos or illustrations, but overall, its well-designed and informative gardening resource. [RS]

Topic In Depth


1. NATURE: The Octopus Show [Real One Player]
2. Discover: In the Octopuss Kindergarten
3. Discover: Through the Eye of an Octopus
4. Octopus Eyes Open New Electronic Vision
5. BBC News: Giant Octopus Puzzles Scientists
6. Some Cephalopod Species
7. What Animal Has the Most Sophisticated Eye, Octopus or Insect?
8. Tattoo Gallery

The PBS Web companion to "The Octopus Show" is an excellent place to begin this tour of one of the most extraordinary invertebrates around (1). The video clips are not to be missed: Viewers will see how an octopus can squeeze through impossibly small plexiglass tubes, camouflage itself to near invisibility, and even catch a shark! The next two websites are recent news articles from Discover magazine. The first article (2) offers a look at a recently discovered deep-sea nursery -- "a place where fish and octopuses brood their eggs as if they were chickens in a coop." The story photo almost looks fake, its so unusual. The following article (3) goes further in depth into these "big-brained invertebrates that display many cognitive, behavioral, and affective traits once considered exclusive to the higher vertebrates." The following website (4) contains an article from The Christian Science Monitor, highlighting the work of a University of Buffalo professor who is using the octopus eye as a model to create "electronic vision systems that could be used in robots to explore the oceans, outer space, and harsh environments." The next site provides a March 2002 article from BBC News, reporting on the discovery of a 4-meter-long Haliphron atlanticus specimen, found somewhat incidentally when someone cleaned out a freezer at New Zealand's National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (5). The next website comes from The Cephalopod Page, an online resource created by Dr. James Wood at Dalhousie University (6). Visitors will find photos and informative descriptions of different octopus species here (look under Family Octopodidae). Next, BioMEDIA Associates provides an interesting comparison of octopus and insect eyes -- each examples of sophisticated vision in invertebrates (7). And just for fun, take a look at some of the octopuss most dedicated admirers in this website from The Octopus News Magazine Online (8). [RS]

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