Master of Insects?

Insects are awesome! With that, I need say nothing else, but I will. As I have not posted in some time, and there are many things happening with me, I thought I better compose an update.
I have started my Masters of Pest Management degree at Simon Fraser University and it is interesting. In more ways than one…

I am finding school very challenging. I am in two classes, and there is a lot of homework that arises from there. In addition, I am supposed to be reading everything that has ever been written about cutworms, entomopathogens and biological control.

That last sentence may need some further explanation, so let me elaborate.
Pest management is a pretty simple concept. We humans grow a lot of different crops, and those crops are tasty, easy to digest and good sources of energy and nutrients. Unfortunately that makes these crops equally appealing to a wide array of insect herbivores (plant eaters). Pest management the study of controlling those “pests” while still maintaining low production costs and environmental impact.
Biological control uses living organisms to control the pest populations rather than chemical pesticides. Not only is this (usually) more eco-friendly, but as the control agent is living, it can become established in the environment and persist in its control activities. Thus pest management is really just applied population ecology (duh…).

‘Entomopathogen’ is just a fancy term meaning insect disease. There are several groups of entomopathogens that are used or studied as agents for biological control: fungi, nematodes, viruses and bacteria. There is another type of biological control – classical – but I will discuss that more in another post.
My specific research will concentrate on controlling a pest of wine grape plants, called a cutworm. Those of you who are vegetable gardeners may be familiar with this group of pests. They are the larvae (insect babies) of a group of moths (Noctudiae for those of you who like the latin) and they chomp plant stems. I will be searching for biological controls in order to limit their populations in vineyards.

So the masters has started… Whether I survive it or not remains to be seen. Needless to say (why do we always state ‘needless to say’ and then go on to say something?) this will be a challenging time in my life.

Scott

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Arachnids and Prey…

I thought that today, instead of ranting, I would post some photos of some of the most efficient hunters on the planet. Spiders! Honed through millions of years of selection, the spider is a formidable predator, helping to keep in check the hordes of insects that pester and cause us harm. Here are a couple of orb weavers (Family: Araneidae) munching on some fruit flies (likely Drosophila melanogaster ) that inhabit our composter.

Enjoy these fine ladies. I only wish that I had an SLR with a decent Macro lens…

Scott

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Unending Chain…

I was thinking about something and I wanted to share… I was thinking about life. Not my life and where it is going, but life, living things, in general. It is a simple fact that all living things die. No exceptions. (Well there may be some cnidarians; medsuae and what not, that may be immortal.) All organisms die…
At first that may seem like a depressing statement, but there is a second half to my thoughts. All organisms die, but life itself never ceases. Let me repeat that for dramatic effect: All organisms die, but life never ceases.
“How is this possible?” one might ask…
“Simple” I would reply. Organisms reproduce, that is one of the driving goals of life; to replicate. In order to reproduce the organism either splits itself in two, creating two identical “daughter” cells or it produces specialized cells (gametes) that go off and find other specialized cells that fuse and form a new organism. Those new cells grow up into a new organism that eventually might reproduce and then die and the chain continues.
Take a human for example: a male produces sperm, a female produces eggs. When sperm and egg get together (how that occurs I will leave for you to ask your parents or nearest biology teacher – which may in fact be me) they fuse and form a single cell. That cell, called a zygote, will begin to divide into more cells and will grow up into a new human.
So what is my point?
Every living thing on earth today can trace its ancestry through a never ending sequence of non-dying cells to the original living thing. All of us. You and I are descended from the same “organism” ( more likely a group organisms that shared genetic information easily in a “pool” – but we can discuss the finer points of the cenancestor theory later). There are no gaps. Each subsequent organism produced some form of offspring that made more offspring that made more offspring &c, &c, &c.
Of course over time the diversity of life forms increased as life branched and evolved, but the chain of cells remained unbroken…
It makes me feel pretty special, that I am one of the lucky ones to be a part of that chain.

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School is in for the year…

Another school year has started and I already feel overwhelmed with the work I have to do… Oh well, the life of a student and all that. This time heading back to university is a little better, because now I know people by name and they talk to me! I know that seems pretty weak, but I always found it hard when I was taking one or two classes a semester and I did not know anyone in them. Now there are people who say ‘Hi’ to me and actually want to work with me.
It might not seem like a big deal, but I have often felt like an outsider at my various schools, mostly as I moved around a lot as a kid. I am sure most of it was in my head, but I never felt accepted and all that, so having people talking to me and what not makes me feel more at home in my classes. Of course everyday I am in class and learn something, it only serves to remind me how much there is that I do not know, and I am never quite sure that I will be up to learning all that I need to…
Back to the grind – papers to read, notes to write and problems to solve &c, &c, &c

Scott

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Quick Update

Greetings all – not going to write much today, just a quick update:

I have been chilling these past few weeks… I was in class right up to the end of June, and I was feeling pretty stressed. I am still working on my undergrad research project, and am gearing up to write my final paper and prepare a poster that I will (hopefully) be presenting at a conference.

School is starting soon, and I have a few classes left, and assuming I pass, I should be finished my Bachelor of Science in December. I have applied to a masters program, and if I get into that, then I will be starting my Masters in January, but more on that later if I am accepted.

I have still not received much input on the name of my blog, so I will try another sample name and hope someone responds – I still want some ideas for a blog name, so come on my loyal three or five readers, and give some input!

Fighting the forces of moderately mean since 1977,

Scott

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Here we go!

Space X corporation has launched their Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral. This is good in that NASA can contract them to supply the ISS when the shuttle is officially retired later this year. Perhaps with corporate competition, we will finally see some exciting and ground breaking space exploration.
Hopefully contracting the delivery arm of space exploration (The shuttle was just a glorified, albeit awesomely cool super, delivery truck) to private industry will allow NASA to focus on more robotic exploration of the solar system. It is neat to see people in space, but robotic probes have been far more useful for science than personed space flight has been.
Besides, Space X has way cooler names for their vehicles: “Falcon” rocket, “Dragon” cargo module…

Now we are heading for a true space age! If only I were not too old to sign on to be an asteroid miner…

Watch the skies! (Literally – there is a new comet become naked eye visible soon!)

Scott

PS I have still not received ANY suggestions for the blog title, thus it remains “Scott Evolves” for now. Come on my loyal three readers!

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Win Some, Lose Some

Greetings
We managed to finish selecting and bagging stems yesterday! Yeah! Now hopefully the egg removal that was undertaken was not in vain and the stems will remain beetle larvae free for the next week or so (assuming the bags did not blow away in the storm last night…). My research is involving an invasive plant and the beetle that was imported to eat it.

On the downside, the chemical assay technique that I hope to employ in order to assess my plants did not seem to work. This is the reason for trial runs. I will have to look at it next week and try again. I am not sure what went wrong, but I will give it another go. It was supposed to be a simple procedure to assess tannin content of plants, but alas, I guess it was not simple enough. I do have some ideas as to what might have failed, and I do have several weeks until I actually need to have the assay work, but it is still frustrating…

So the research continues. The initial set up is finished and in a few weeks I will return to the site to add larvae and begin the experiment proper.

So little time, and so much to do.

Scott

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