Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Anchiornis, the “nearby bird”

The word Anchiornis defines a dinosaur genus: small, feathered, deinonychosauria (“fearsome claw lizards”) belonging to the family Troodontidae. The genus name Anchiornis is based on the Greek roots anchi and ornis, meaning “nearby” and “bird,” respectively. The name highlights the close relation between these feathered lizards of the Cretaceous period and birds [1].  Anchiornis huxleyi is currently the only known species of this fossil genus—included in the scientific name is an epithet that honors Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), an English biologist, who pioneered research into avian origin.

A recent Keanium article in the journal Chemical Heritage shows a striking artist's rendering of Anchiornis [2]. The article describes how insight in the dinosaur-bird relationship (or evolution of birds) is gained by the study of pigments such as melanin, found in fossil feathers—dino fuzz. Identification and scanning electron microscope-supported analysis of fossilized and surviving melanosomes in proto-feathers of fossil animals from northeastern China allow the reconstruction of dinosaur and early bird's color patterns [3]. While the dinosaur-bird debate is still going on, proto-birds such as Anchiornis already shine in brilliant colors and bring art and science together.

Keywords: paleontology, anatomy, evolution, dinosaurs, birds, feathers, melanin.

References and more to explore
[1] Xu Xing et al.: A new feathered maniraptoran dinosaur fossil fills a morphological gap in avian origin. Chinese Science Bulletin 2008, 54 (3), 430-435. DOI: 10.1007/s11434-009-0009-6.
[2] Sam Kean (artist's rendering by Michael DiGiorgio): Colored In. Chemical Heritage Summer 2012, 30 (2), page 5 [].
[3] Chris Sloan: Dinosaur True Colors Revealed for First Time. National Geographic January 2010 [].

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Chompion: champion among strong-biting animals

Which is the hardest-biting land animal ever known? According to recent biomechanical studies, this is Tyrannosaurus rex, which—with a maximum bite force of 12,800 pounds—had a stronger bite than any other known terrestrial animal [1-4]. Only some water-based monsters such as extinct giant sharks and crocodilians had most likely a harder bite. Ouch!

They all made a living by forcefully chomping their prey apart inside their megamouth. T. rex is the chomp champion, chompion, of the land animals. Brian Switek uses this playful portmanteau in his recent Smithsonian article, reporting on the newest results in modeling and estimating bite force of large animals and referring to T. rex as the world chompion [4]. Congratulations!

Keywords: comparative anatomy, biomechanics, paleontology, evolution, biology, bite.

References and more to explore
[1] Jennifer Viegas: T. Rex Had The Toughest Bite. DiscoveryNews, Feb. 28, 2012 [].
[2] BBC Nature: Tyrannosaurus rex bite measured [see a video:]
[3] Brian Switek: The Tyrannosaurus Rex's Dangerous and Deadly Bite [].
[4] Brian Switek: World Chompion. Smithsonian magazine, October 2012, page 14.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Donner Summit Bridge and its other names

Donner Summit Bridge is a concrete arch span built during the 1920s. This landmark bridge, as part of the Old Lincoln Highway (Hwy 40), was then an important east-west artery between San Francisco Bay and New England. Now, Interstate 80 takes most of the traffic and the route leading over this bridge, called Hwy 40 Scenic Bypass, is favored by tourists and those who come to the Donner Pass area for hiking, biking, rock climbing, skiing and exploration of natural and Gold Rush history.

Donner Summit Bridge is commonly known as Rainbow Bridge. It also is named Donner Memorial Bridge, reminding visitors to memorize the fateful event of 1846 and 1847, during which many emigrants to California lost their lives. The vista point next to the Rainbow Bridge offers a great overlook of  Truckee's Donner Lake. This view point, as many other locations of interest along the scenic bypass, features informative panels illustrating the local history. More about the Donner history can be learned around the Donner Party Memorial (Pioneer Monument) and in the Emigrant Trail Museum at Donner Memorial State Park at the east end of Donner Lake. 

Keywords: Sierra Nevada, geography, history, landmark name.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Scottish-Californian place name: “Loch Leven” means “Lake Eleven”

The Loch Leven Lakes are scenic, subalpine lakes embedded in a granite wilderness of the Sierra Nevada in California. How did they get their name? The Scottish Gaelic word loch for lake gives a clear hint.  J. L. Medeiros, professor emeritus of the Sierra College, suggests that the name came either from the Scottish placename Loch Leven or “from the same moniker given the German brown trout” [1]. Loch Leven is a lake in central Scotland with an island on which a castle ruin, Loch Leven Castle, is located. The German brown trout (Salmo trutta) is also called Behr trout or Loch Leven trout [3].

So far, we have some threads. Jed Welsh nicely connects them for us [4]:
In Scotland there was [a] series of lakes that the Scots simply named lake one, lake two, lake three, etc. The most popular lake was Lake number eleven. The Scottish lingo for the lake was “Loch Leven.” It was from this lake that the Scottish brown trout were planted in the Eastern Sierras. We didn't call it a brown trout we called it Loch Leven. 
By the way, there are different strains of brown trouts: red-and-brown-spotted German and the “real” Loch Leven trout—but neither one is native American [5].

Summary:  North Sierra's Loch Leven Lakes are named after a European trout species nicknamed after a lake named after a number.

Keywords: geography, history, Scotland, Sierra Nevada, North America, toponym, brown trout, natural history, folklore, lingo.

References and more to explore
[1] J. L. Medeiros: A Naturalist's Transect along the I-80 Corridor in California: Rockin to Donner Pass [see Stop #7 in].
[2] Historic Scotland: LochLeven Castle [].
[3] Salmo trutta Linnaeus, 1758 [].
[4] George van Zant: Jed Welsh - Brown Trout of the Eastern Sierra [].
[5] Lenn Harris: Not All Brown Trout Are German! [].

Saturday, September 15, 2012

City of Reno in Nevada named after Jesse Reno (1823-1862), an infantry commander and mathematician born in Wheeling, Virginia

The city of Reno in Nevada was named after Jesse Lee Reno, who was born in 1823 in Wheeling, Virginia [1]. The name Reno is an anglicization of  the French name Reynaud (or was it Renault [2]), which Reno's ancestors from France changed after their arrival in America. Thus, the name of Nevada's second biggest city has french roots.

In 1868 the American railroad executive and founder of the Central Pacific Railroad, Charles Crocker (1822-1888), named the Gold Rush settlement at the Truckee River after Reno. The Union General Jesse Reno, who was killed in the Civil War, was Crocker's friend [3].

This year is the 150th anniversary of  Jesse Reno's death. Reno died September 14, 1862, as an infantry commander at the battle of Fox's Gap in Maryland [4]. He never came to Reno; but he came close to it during the Utah War or Mormon War in 1857—seven years before Nevada became a state.

Even then, battling was not left to good luck: Reno was a Professor of Mathematics at West Point to design artillery [2]. Media are typically focusing on the Reno named after a war hero story. Obviously, Reno is also named after a mathematician; although one that is not in the league of E. T. Bell's Men of Mathematics

The name Reno is often associated with that of its sister city of Sparks and also with nearby Lake Tahoe, to which Reno considers itself as a gateway. For example, Reno's airport is named Reno-Tahoe International Airport. A professional golf tournament,  taking place annually at the Montrêux Golf and Country Club south of Reno, is known as Reno-Tahoe Open.

Keywords: geography, tourism, history, war hero, namesake, eponym, toponym.

References and more to explore
[1] Jesse Lee Reno (1823-1862) [].
[2] West Virginia Archives & History: Jesse L. Reno []. 
[3] About the Reno-Sparks Area [].
[4] Emerson Marcus: Reno honors namesake 150 years after death. Reno-Gazette Journal, September 15, 2012; page 3A (also .

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The term “dietary fiber”

Dietary fiber is the preferred spelling in American English. Texts from Canadian, British, Australian, Indian and other non-U.S. publications typically adhere to the spelling dietary fibre. The nouns roughage or ruffage are sometimes used as synonyms.

Dietary fiber is the indigestible portion of  plant parts such as seed husks. Dietary fibers—and their function after eating food containing them—have been described in ancient herb books and medicinal literature up to the recent emergence of the dietary fiber hypothesis, putting forward the idea that indigestible, fibrous residues of seeds and vegetables play a significant role in human nutrition and health [1-3].

AACC International (AACC stands for American Association of Cereal Chemists), a non-profit professional organization of grain scientists, adopted the following definition [4]:

Dietary fiber is the edible parts of plants or analogous carbohydrates that are resistant to digestion and absorption in the human small intestine with complete or partial fermentation in the large intestine. Dietary fiber includes polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, lignin, and associated plants substances. Dietary fibers promote beneficial physiological effects including laxation, and/or blood cholesterol attenuation, and/or blood glucose attenuation.

Instead of merely being a formal definition, this text underlines the nutritional and nutraceutical (a portmanteau of the words nutrition and pharmaceutical) aspects of dietary fibers.

Keywords: biomedical sciences, physiology, gastroenterology, health, food science, macromolecules.

References and more to explore
[1] Steve W. Cui and Keisha T. Roberts. Chapter 13. Dietary Fiber: Fulfilling the Promise of Added-Value Formulations. In  Stefan Kasapis, Ian T. Norton and Johan B. Ibbing (Eds.), Modern Biopolymer Science: Bridging the Divide Between Fundamental Treatise and Industrial Application.(pp. 399-447), London (UK), Burlington (MA) and San Diego (CA): Academic Press, 2009.
[2] Thomas P. Amy: The dietary fiber hypothesis. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1981, 34 (3), pp. 432-433 [].
[3] Low-Carb for You: The Fiber Hypothesis. May 4, 2010 [].
[4] AACC International: AACCnet > Scientific Initiatives > AACCI Standard Definitions > Dietary Fiber [].