URL of the Week 2005

December 26, 2005 --  Genetic Modification Clinical Research Information System

Gene therapy offers the tantalizing promise of curing genetic diseases by repairing the mutations that underlie them. This site contains protocols for more than 600 gene therapy trials completed or launched since 1990. You can search the site by disease, investigator, vector, or location, and the database includes abstracts as well as details on methods.

December 19, 2005 -- Anatomy & Physiology Animations, Movies & Tutorials

This collection of visuals to help students understand key processes in biochemistry, physiology, genetics, or cell biology links to more than 100 teaching animations that bring to life everything from cancer formation to muscle contraction. Students can follow the movement of ions into and out of a neuron during an action potential, for example, or learn the difference between peptide hormones, which fasten to receptors on a cell's surface, and steroid hormones, which infiltrate the nucleus.

December 12, 2005 -- Lepidoptera Information

For the latest developments in butterfly research go to the Lepidoptera News Section at this site from entomologist Stanislav Abadjiev of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences in Sofia. The site also holds brief biographies of eminent butterfly and moth experts and a synopsis of Balkan families.

December 05, 2005  -- 
The Knowledge Network for Biocomplexity
Ecologists coined the term "biocomplexity" to describe broad questions such as the effect of biodiversity on ecosystem function. The new field is the subject of these two sites. This site is a catalog of some 1700-and-counting data sets collected by ecologists and environmental scientists. The offerings cover everything from bacterial abundance along the Georgia coast to the impact of gophers on plant growth in abandoned California farm fields. Contributors include the federal Long Term Ecological Research stations. You can access many data sets directly; for others, the site provides contact information for the authors. There's also free software for downloading and analyzing data from the collection.

November 28, 2005 -- The Papers of Sir Joseph Banks

The English botanist Joseph Banks (1743-1820) didn’t become famous overnight. He sailed with James Cook on the British ship Endeavor's historic trip to the South Pacific and Australia. Identification of more than 1300 new species helped elevate him from gentleman naturalist to botanical authority. To learn more about him, you can sift the 10,000 pages of letters, reports, maps, and other Banks documents in this archive from the State Library of New South Wales in Australia.


November 21, 2005 -- 
Butterflies and Moths of the World
Helping taxonomists keep the 110,000 known species of butterflies and moths straight is the function of this site from the Natural History Museum in London. The known species represent more than 31,000 published genus names. There is also a gallery of over 400 specimens representing most of the 131 butterfly and moth families.

November 14, 2005 --  The Coat Colors of Mice
Lab mice come in many colors including lethal yellow, black-and-tan, nonagouti sombre, and varitint-waddler, to name a few. This site is a standard reference on the inheritance of this characteristic, which involves more than 50 genes. Published in 1979, but out of print for years, the book is available online at this site from the Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. The text is useful for everyone from animal breeders to students studying gene interactions, to researchers seeking background data about coat color genetics. Links lead to gene sequence info in the lab's Mouse Genome Informatics database.

November 7, 2005 --  Beastly Garden of Wordy Delights
Most of us know that a group of lions is called a pride and that a male deer is a buck. But what's the word for a gathering of hippos? What do you call a young llama? You'll find the answers (and be able to impress friends and strangers with your knowledge of animal-naming arcane) at this site. Animal names that would stump even crossword mavens: a cete of badgers, a murmuration of starlings, and a clowder of cats.

October 31, 2005 --
Checklist of the Collembola

Collembola, a group of hardy arthropods, are not only some of the most abundant animals, they are among the oldest, with fossils dating back 400 million years. Springtail systematics is the subject of this site created by Frans Janssens of the University of Antwerp in Belgium and colleagues. The taxonomic synopsis furnishes identification keys and distribution maps for families, genera, and species. The site includes the catalog, a gallery, and tour of springtail ecology and anatomy.


October 24, 2005 ASBMR Bone Curriculum
The skeleton bustles with activity. Its cells continually demolish old bone and extrude replacement material. Students can improve their understanding of this dynamic tissue with a primer sponsored by the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research in Washington, D.C. The tutorial covers topics from basic bone structure to the impact of hormones like testosterone and cortisol on the skeleton. Simple animations depict key processes, such as how osteoblasts and other cells help mend a fracture by weaving a mesh of collagen fibers that accumulates minerals. One feature on exercise illustrates why volleyball is better for the skeleton than hockey is (it triggers a bigger spike in bone density).

October 10, 2005 --
Marine Turtle Interactive Mapping System
This site allows you to follow the wanderings of sea turtles with a program designed to help pinpoint feeding and nesting areas that need protection. There are more than 30 years of records for the Indian Ocean and western Pacific. You can create custom maps of egg-laying localities and migration routes for six species, or click on a site or route to get underlying data.

October 3, 2005 --  Hornwort Web Portal

Hornworts don’t get a lot of attention. They aren’t nearly as sexy as a cattleya orchid. However, they are important in the evolutionary transition of photosynthetic organisms from water to land and from seedless plants to seed plants.


September 26, 2005 --  Cold Spring Harbor Oral History Collection
Over the years, many of biology's top thinkers have studied, worked, or attended symposia at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on Long Island. In this set of video interviews, more than 50 Cold Spring Harbor alumni--from evolutionist extraordinaire Ernst Mayr of Harvard to science writer Matt Ridley--reminisce about their time at the lab and how it shaped their careers. Aspiring scientists might want to check out the advice from seasoned researchers. For example, Mayr, whose first language was German, hammers home the importance of honing one's writing skills. In another set of interviews on the Human Genome Project, scientists recall their participation in the effort and discuss controversies such as the patenting of human DNA.

September 19, 2005 --  Global Biodiversity Information Facility

This site is an effort to develop a single Web site that would unite all knowledge of the world's living things. The site lets users simultaneously search over 1 million taxonomic records from museum collections, botanical gardens, and global storehouses. Whether you're curious about a mushroom, a newt, or the bacterium, the portal provides the latest on classification and nomenclature. Some of the 30-plus linked data sources allow you to browse collection and observation records and use them to map species' distributions. Others list details such as diet and size for creatures. GBIF, a consortium of more than 30 countries, hopes that more museums and other organizations will connect their databases.


September 12, 2005 -- Bryophytes
The gallery of photos on this site from botanist Paul Davison of the University of North Alabama in Florence captures a variety of bryophytes and highlights key anatomical features, such as the budlike gemmae that develop into new plants.


September 5, 2005 --
Ants of Costa Rica

This site lists more than 400 species from this ant-rich country. Along with tips on identification, creator John Longino of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, put in information about each species' natural history and distribution. The site also includes keys and discussions of taxonomically troublesome groups.


August 29, 2005 -- 
Radcliffe’s Interactive Pest Management Textbook

Many farmers respond to an outbreak of destructive pests by using pesticides. Chemical control of insects has a health and environmental toll, so scientists have developed alternative control strategies, called integrated pest management (IPM). This site has more than 60 chapters on the theory and practice of IPM, which can involve everything from introducing the pest's natural enemies to altering harvest times to disrupt its life cycle.


August 22, 2005 -- Major Histocompatibility Complex Data Base

This site from the National Center for Biotechnology Information in Bethesda, Maryland offers information for major histocompatibility complex genes and proteins in the lab or the clinic. It lets you compare different protein versions in 3D and browse the DNA sequences of their genes. The site can also help users select or create typing kits and probes to identify which MHC variants a person carries. A new section lists the frequencies of different MHC alleles in more than 70 populations from places such as Australia, Uganda, and Ireland.


August 15, 2005 -- Writings of Charles Darwin on the Web

This site houses transcripts of papers, letters, books, and other of Darwin’s writings. The collection includes lesser-known works such as the unpublished 1842 and 1844 essays in which he first sketched his ideas on evolution through natural selection. You can also read the first edition of The Origin of Species, which Stephen Jay Gould described as the most coherent statement of Darwin's argument, free of the hedging of later editions. Even his quotidian publications can provide insight into his thinking. In an 1855 Gardeners' Chronicle blurb, for instance, he noted that some seeds could survive 6 weeks' immersion in salt water, suggesting a way for plants to colonize remote islands without the need for a divine landscaper.


August 8, 2005 -- Bryology

This site can help you get better acquainted with this ancient group, which includes hornworts, liverworts, and mosses. It contains information for taxonomists, and the index of mosses describes nomenclature, distribution, and classification. The glossary contains more than 1100 bryophyte terms. The site also includes checklists of mosses for the world.


August 1, 2005  --  Ant  Web

This site can help put a name to an ant. It features an identification guide for all of the roughly 270 ant species in California as well as some Madagascar species. The growing list of the California Academy of Sciences also profiles all of the ant genera in the world. Visitors can create a virtual mug book of specimens, lining up photos of different species, genera, or families.


July 25, 2005 --

The local cemetery might not seem like an obvious place to learn about demography, but students can gather life-span data from tombstones and compare survival patterns in different historical periods. Teachers looking for ideas such as this one can check out this site from the Ecological Society of America. The growing collection of resources includes links to useful Web sites, background reports, fact sheets, and primers on writing papers. It also offers lab and field experiments that provide step-by-step instructions for everything from measuring population growth in duckweed to comparing how birds respond to foul-tasting "insects" made of dough and their tasty look-alikes. Entry requires free registration, and visitors can contribute their own labs or other activities.


July 18, 2005 -- SARS Reference

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has entered the textbooks. Scientists described the virus responsible for the lethal lung infection in March 2003, a little more than a month after the disease came to the attention of the international health community, and this free online SARS text is already in its third edition. Edited by infectious-disease specialists Bernd Sebastian Kamps and Christian Hoffmann, it presents information in 10 chapters from five contributors in Hong Kong and Germany. A timeline summarizes the race to identify the virus and quell the pandemic that began in southern China. Find out what we know about the habits of the SARS coronavirus, and how it spreads. Readers can download versions of the book in six languages.


July 11, 2005 -- National GeoChemical Survey

Find phosphorus concentrations in east Texas streams or sodium levels in swamps near Miami by looking on this site, a new database from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The collection has measurements of more than 60 elements at sites around the country. Such data can help environmental science and biology students looking at pollution from farms and sewage plants that spur algal blooms.  The database will eventually hold at least one sample for every 289 square kilometers (an area about two-thirds the size of Washington, D.C.). Most of the data come from streambed sediments, which can reflect even lower levels in soils because they receive runoff from a wide area. A set of maps highlights regional and national trends. You can also obtain county averages or download figures for each sampling site. USGS plans to complete the survey by 2006.


July 4, 2005 -- Virtual Classroom Biology

Students get the chance to use a virtual electron microscope at this site. The simulator mimics controls on a field-emission scanning electron microscope, allowing users to zoom in on flea's stabbing mouthparts, for example, and probe the anatomy of a leaf's surface. The microscope activities have chapters that explore the plumbing system of plants, flower development, the structure and growth of hair, and other topics. Teachers will find a gallery with more than 500 photos, animations, and video clips.


June 27, 2005 -- D.N.A. Interactive

DNA - it's not just for molecular biologists anymore. The double helix can help free the wrongfully convicted, trace the wanderings of species, and clarify our evolutionary kinship with the apes. Hosted by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, DNA Interactive is a snazzy primer on the structure, function, and uses of DNA designed for high school and lower-level college students.  The site uses many graphics to draw students in. The timeline of key discoveries, for example, features biographies of DNA scientists with animations and video interviews. The applications section explores topics such as how understanding cell division helped researchers design the antileukemia drug Gleevec. Students can also learn how DNA testing clarified the fate of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and his family, who were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918. In the 1990s, DNA fingerprinting debunked a woman's claim to be Anastasia, the tsar's youngest daughter, and established that bones discovered in Siberia belonged to members of the family.


June 20, 2005 --  John Day's Inordinate Fondness for Orchids

For the Victorians, who ardently collected everything from conch shells to colonies, orchids were among the most coveted prizes. Grower and artist John Day (1824-88) sketched or painted about 3000 of the ornate flowers, often providing the world with its first glimpse of new specimens. You can browse highlights of Day's scrapbooks at this exhibit from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, U.K. The exhibit features more than 70 of Day's best paintings of plants growing in his own collection or shipped to England from Asia, Africa, and the Americas.


June 13, 2005 -- Human Embryo Animations
Students can follow the twists and turns of circulatory system development with this set of animations from anatomist Valerie O'Loughlin of IndianaUniversity, Bloomington. The eight lessons cover human circulatory embryology from the condensation of the rudimentary heart to the formation of the pericardial sac that sheathes the organ. Captions point out which bulges will give rise to the atria, ventricles, and other structures and track how they change. Quizzes let students test their knowledge before and after watching each lesson. O'Loughlin just added a set of animations that illustrate the development of the head and neck, and others on the formation of the digestive system and the limbs.


June 6, 2005 -- The International HapMap Project

A project to map how humankind varies genetically has unveiled its Web site, along with a first batch of data. The International HapMap Project is making a "haplotype map" of common patterns of variation by examining mutations in the DNA of 270 people of European, Nigerian, Japanese, and Chinese descent. The public data should be a boon to researchers looking for genes that make people susceptible to disease or side effects from drugs. The HapMap Project has released over 13 million genotypes from 145,554 mutations, known as SNPs. You can browse alleles for mutation frequencies, or get genotype data for individuals by registering and agreeing to conditions, such as not patenting the data. The site will soon add material to explain the HapMap to the public.

May 30, 2005 -- International Multiproxy Paelofire Database

A century from now, experts studying tree rings from southern California forests might see traces of 2003's blazes around Los Angeles and San Diego. You can find out when and where past wildfires burned the landscape from this new archive hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Based on tree rings and soil charcoal in samples up to 900 years old, the records provide fire history for some 150 locales in North America. The site is designed to explore how fires shape ecosystems and how to predict future fires.

May 16, 2005 -- The Discovery and Early Development of Insulin
Few scientists ever enjoy as fruitful a 5 years as Frederick Banting, J. J. R. Macleod, James Collip, and Charles Best. In 1921 and 1922, the researchers isolated insulin and demonstrated its power to ameliorate diabetes. By 1926, doctors around the world were treating patients with the hormone. Delve into the discovery and early use of insulin at this site from the University of Toronto, where the researchers performed much of the work. You can browse some 7000 documents, including the investigators' letters, notebook pages, landmark papers on insulin, and photos. The site also offers a timeline, biographies of the scientists, and writings from grateful early patients. Insulin's history has its sour moments, as newspaper clippings on the site reveal. The Nobel committee awarded the 1923 prize for physiology or medicine to Macleod and Banting, snubbing Best and Collip and fomenting a brouhaha over credit that continues today. However, the winners shared the prize money with their overlooked colleagues.

May 9, 2005  -- Live Science

From Imaginova Corporation, this Web site provides news on current science topics and science news.  The information is presented in an easy to read interesting format. 


May 2, 2005 -- GeneTests

The National Institutes of Health provides this site with a wealth of data on various genetic diseases.


April 25, 2005 -- 

To keep tabs on recent forest fires, you can use this fire-mapping tool sponsored by a federal consortium. The site pinpoints U.S. wildfires using satellite data and on-the-ground reports. You can delineate the boundaries of large blazes, such as the recent Cedar fire near San Diego, or display a chronology of the amount of area burned.


April 18, 2005 -- The Biology Project
Biology students struggling to understand the inheritance of sex-linked traits or instructors looking for an engaging activity for teaching DNA structure can find help at this site from the University of Arizona, Tucson. The Web tutorial hits the essentials of biology, including biochemistry, cell biology, development, immunology, and genetics. Flexible lessons let students check their understanding with preliminary quizzes, then focus their efforts on the topics they don't understand. Interactive investigations highlight real-world issues. For instance, students model the spread of HIV with a simple computer simulation and perform a virtual pathology exam on lung tissue from mice exposed to cigarette smoke.

April 11, 2005 -- Plants of Hawaii

Spending a long time cut off from the rest of the world worked wonders for biological diversity in places like Hawaii. This new photo gallery shows many of the unique plant species that evolved during the island chain's millions of years of isolation. The site, which contains photos of more than 900 species, is an outgrowth of the Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk project. The gallery also captures many of Hawaii's introduced plant species. You can track the spread of some invaders such as cat's claw, a spiky vine, using downloadable reports and range maps based on recent surveys.


April 4, 2005 --  Singing Insects of North America
Listen to a pine katydid (Hubbellia marginifera) or other musical insects that fill the air on summer evenings at this site, a guide to crickets, katydids, and cicadas orchestrated by entomologists Thomas Walker of the University of Florida, Gainesville, and Thomas Moore of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The site offers information on more than 100 insects. To help you pin a name to that hard-to-place specimen, compare its features to the multiple keys. Species accounts not only let you sample the insect's repertoire, but also include photos, sketches of anatomical characteristics, range maps, and details of habits and habitat.


March 28, 2005 -- National Water Quality Assessment Program
The latest feature at the U.S. Geological Survey clearinghouse on water quality is data collected between 1993 and 2002 on the abundances of different fish species in nearly 1000 streams. You can use the collection to study aquatic communities and look for trends. To investigate the biological effects of pollution you can also tap into data on the concentrations of contaminants such as metals and pesticides in tissues of water-dwelling creatures.

March 21, 2005 -- Biflora
China's Hainan Island has an estimated 13,500 plant species, but the unique plants of this biodiversity hot spot are under pressure from a sprawling human population, deforestation, and invasive weeds. This new taxonomic database sponsored by Bicoll Biotechnology of Shanghai and the German Investment and Development Company (DEG), documents the island's little-known and imperiled plants.

March 14, 2005 -- Universal Chalcidoids Database

Averaging only 1.5 millimeters in length, chalcidoid wasps seem like they could be bullied by a mosquito. But the wasps, which include the world's smallest insect, parasitize many larger insects, making them valuable for biocontrol. London's Natural History Museum offers updated taxonomic information for these wasps. Listings record data such as where each species lives, what hosts it victimizes, and its economic importance. You can view descriptions and keys for the world's families or study anatomical diagrams and images. The database also provides tips on how to collect, preserve, and ship the minute wasps.


March 7, 2005 --
American Phytopathological Society

Crop diseases such as citrus canker and tomato early blight cost farmers and growers billions of dollars a year. Students can learn more about plant diseases and pathology at this site from the American Phytopathological Society in St. Paul, Minnesota. Teachers will find lessons geared for K-12 students and introductory and advanced college levels. Tutorials delve into the causes and symptoms of more than 30 colorfully named plant ailments, from blackleg to stinking smut to apple scab, an attack by the fungus Venturia inaequalis. Brief articles explore topics such as how sequencing the Caenorhabditis elegans worm's genome could benefit plant pathology. All three levels also supply lab exercises, illustrated glossaries, and other handy resources.


February 28, 2005 -- Cancer.gov

More Americans are surviving breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer, but a steady decline in overall cancer death and incidence rates leveled off in the 1990s, according to the latest status report from the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) and other organizations. Explore these and other cancer stats at SEER, an epidemiology storehouse from NCI. SEER, which stands for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results program, began collecting cancer information in 1973 and now has data from more than a dozen state and local cancer registries, covering about 26% of the U.S. population. The site offers two kinds of statistics. For an overview of cancer trends, try the Fast Stats feature, which furnishes measures such as incidence and mortality for more than 30 cancer types.


February 21,2005 -- GOBASE
Inside a eukaryotic cell, mitochondria and chloroplasts perform the jobs of releasing energy from food and capturing sunlight. These organelles have their own DNA. This collection of chloroplast and mitochondrial genomes sponsored by the University of Montreal in Canada, supplies information for those probing everything from the evolution of these partnerships to the interplay between mitochondrial and nuclear genes. You can also discover the functions of organelle proteins and uncover gene maps and diagrams of RNA structures for some species.

February 14, 2005 --
Mycorrhiza Information Exchange

Most plant species get by with a little help from some friends. Fungi called mycorrhizae swap minerals that they get from the soil for food from the plant. Those studying this symbiotically mutual relationship can find an abundance of useful information at this community site from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Listings highlight new literature, texts, book reviews, and journals.


February 7, 2005 -- Environmental Treaties and Wildlife Indicators

Wondering which agreement governs air pollution crossing the U.S.-Canada border? This site at Columbia University's Center for International Earth Science Information Network has a database of environmental treaties, from the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution to the Antarctic Treaty on Environmental Protection. You can peruse the texts of treaties and find out which countries have signed or ratified them.

January 31, 2005 -- Nature Audit
This site from World Wildlife Fund Canada allows study of the threats facing
North American ecosystems and what treaties are meant to protect nature
worldwide at this pair of environmental sites. It takes a broad view of
conservation. The site divides Canada and the northern United States into 40
aquatic and terrestrial "conservation planning regions" that not only share
similar ecology but also face similar types of human development and
activities, such as mining, oil drilling, deforestation, and invasive
species. Click on an interactive map to summon a description of each region
and its conservation imperatives.
January 24, 2005 -- The DataWeb 
This site provides access to economic, health, and demographic databases
from the U.S. government and private organizations. The portal comes from
two of the government's avid data collectors: the Census Bureau and the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The offerings cover topics
as diverse as attitudes toward AIDS and family income. Scientific and
medical researchers can glean statistics on U.S. births and mortality, rates
of reportable diseases, and eating habits from sources such as CDC's
National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. To burrow into the data,
you need to download a free program called the DataFerrett.
January 17, 2005 -- coliBASE
Find out what makes food poisoning microbes tick with this database from the
University of Birmingham, U.K. Researchers can use it to analyze and compare
the genomes of three strains of Salmonella, one of Shigella, and five of
Escherichia coli, including the deadly O157:H7 variety. Linked databases let
you parse the genes of different species and strains of Clostridium, which
cause diseases such as botulism and tetanus, and the gut-wrenching

January 10, 2005 -- Online Data Reports on Acid Rain, Atmospheric Deposition and Precipitation Chemistry
Although laws such as the 1990 Clean Air Act have reduced air pollution,
acid rain remains a threat to lakes and forests in the United States and
Canada. Packed with data and reports, this site sponsored by the U.S.
Geological Survey can answer questions about acid rain, which is caused
mainly by sulfur- and nitrogen-containing emissions from vehicles and plants
that burn fossil fuels. A linked database allows researchers to download
weekly, monthly, and yearly figures for precipitation chemistry from 250
monitoring stations around the U.S. Some stations' records stretch back as
far as 1978. The site also offers reports and conference proceedings, and it
links to maps that illustrate trends in precipitation pH.

January 3, 2005 -- Evolutionary Biology Group
Evolutionary biologists and population geneticists have a tool to help them
tackle such problems as measuring the speed of viral evolution and
determining when the common ancestor of a group of organisms lived.
Answering these questions requires that researchers draw a phylogenetic
tree, usually from gene sequence data, but uncertainty over which pattern of
branches is correct can confuse the analysis. Rather than relying on a
single tree, a program called BEAST uses a statistical technique called
Bayesian analysis to provide answers by averaging over all plausible trees.
Download a free copy of the program here.

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