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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ever wonder what a worm fetus looks like? (Im SO going to worm hell..)

So in my neverending quest to figure out why my baby worms look weird, I have come to the hypothesis that they may have hatched 'prematurely' since most worm babies emerge better developed. I'm guessing that if this is true it could be because the fridge was too cold for the babies and they didn't grow enough...Or they are alien babies...who knows.

How did I test this hypothesis? By performing a worm abortion (the politically correct term in science is SACRIFICED... like to a hethen god or something...hey Zeus want some worms?) on a cocoon... I know I am a terrible person.
Eenie meenie minie moe...

I wonder if my personal spot in hell will be something like I have to eat worm casts for eternity or try to escape a giant worm like the ones in Dune... Well apparently I have a guilty conscience because I dreamt I had crazy lab bred mutant worms that ended up parasitizing me... I need to get out more.

Anyways here is a pic of an earthworm embryo that I found when I cut open the cocoon. It actually was moving but it was really hard to take these pics with my iPhone through a microscope let alone a video.
No, its not an alien...or is it...? AM I AN ASTROBIOLOGIST??
This is my scientific proof that invertebrates look cool 

It does kind of look like the hatchlings I got in that its a short, tubby, not well segmented or pigmented thingy. You be the judge! Peer review me! 

Pic of my weird underdeveloped hatchling.
Your favorite worm torturer,

The 'Dirty' Scientist

Sunday, December 4, 2011

You wish penises could do that...worm locomotion 101

So I've mentioned that earthworms are kind of like a penis...but have I mentioned that they are, in fact, COOLER than a penis? Sure, sure, penises are great for getting stiff and inseminating some fine females, but they just aren't as dynamic as earthworms. Yes, they can engorge with blood and get inflated and all...but can they crawl and burrow using wave-like muscular contraction and specialized segments? If you know a penis that does, I might go see a doctor...

File:Earthworm on stone.jpg
It's ok if you are jealous of their sexy design

Earthworms are surprisingly sophisticated and fancy for animals famed for being great fish bait and having nutrient rich poop. Burrowing on land isn't easy, and it's kind of weird that such squishy critter can live meters below the ground and actually move around down there. I mean, when it comes to gardening, I usually give up digging after about 6 inches... I ain't breaking my back for no petunias.

Here is a vid I took of an earthworm burrowing for your viewing pleasure

As you can see, worms are segmented animals. And each segment is isolated into discrete compartments by muscular barriers called septa. This allows earthworms to be able to make really high local pressure in one area, without affecting the other areas of the body. It's kind of like the way a submarine is arranged into compartments with bulkheads so if one part of the sub leaks or has a Cthulu attack, the sailors can close off the bulkeads in that compartment and prevent the water or Cthulu from spreading to other parts of the sub.

Earthworms...they are kinda like if a penis and a submarine were hermaphrodites and had a dirt-eating, cocoon hatching baby that breathed through its skin

This kind of pressure isolation is kind of nice since it means the worm probably won't explode if one area of its body is under high pressure. Also, if a worm has part of its body in an awkward position, the segments that aren't twisted or bent will still function A-OK because they are not affected by the other segments.

So how do worms move anyway? Well basically they have two types of muscle, circular muscle that wraps around their circumference and longitudinal muscles which stretches down the length of their body. When they contract their circular muscles, their body thins and elongates. When their longitudinal muscles contracts, the opposite happens and they get shorter and fatter. An earthworm moves using alternating waves of  circular muscle contraction/elongation and longitudinal muscle contraction/fattening. When part of the body is  elongated it pushes the worm forward, and when it is fat it anchors the worm against the ground or burrow. Observe their magical alternating sets of waves:

I'm sorry that your penis can't crawl or burrow or thin or fatten. Natural selection can be a real bitch, and there will always be losers. Just ask the dinosaurs :( RIP.

Gone but not forgotten

Sincerely, the girl who makes you feel inadequate about your genitals,

The 'Dirty' Scientist

Monday, November 14, 2011

Baby worms... WTF. Plus David Attenborough and the giant Australian earthworm!

Hi all,

So I just finished some histology on baby worms and all I have to say is...WTF. Their innards don't look like the adults at all! See my previous post for the comparison!
Here is the cross-section of a baby worm, I think the dark green patches are bundles of muscle

Here is a sagittal earthworm section (a worm cut in 2 along its long axis).. The bristly end is where its mouth is. Weird, huh?

 I think the little bundles I am seeing are muscle, but there is this weird green goo inside them as well. I now have to scour through old Russian and German tomes from the 1700s to see if anyone did baby earthworm histology. No luck so far. Why do you have to make my life so complicated baby worms? Now I will murder you all...seriously.

On a lighter note, I found a video of David Attenborough showing the giant Australian earthworm! The gurgle sounds remind me of a bad bowel movement...

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Histology (Part 2): THE EPIC CONCLUSION

So now that you have ogled and marveled at worm babies, I must sadly announce I have murdered several of them in the name of science. I'm afraid there is no way to cut open a worm and measure its innards without killing it. Yes I am indeed a horrible, heartless worm serial killer. But at least now I can use these measurements to predict how baby worms move and generate forces when they burrow! Okay, so it's not much of a consolation...

So last we left off, I had boozed and killed and chopped it into pieces and put the pieces in a jar. Where did I put the jars? Where any crazy person puts body parts, the fridge!

I put the worm parts in the 'meat' drawer.
So now that I have parts I need to cut them, but as you know worms are floppy, so I need to put them in hard stuff to make cutting them easier. Usually histologists use wax, but I am fancy and use plastic (more specifically, glycol methacrylate or GMA) so there isn't any heat that could distort the worm body. All I do is fill molds up with a plastic goo that hardens with time and shove my worm parts in.
Worms in Han Solo in carbonite... minus the possibility of surviving the  process

So once I have a nice hunk of worm in plastic, I use a cutting machine called a microtome to take very thin sections of worm in plastic. Here is a vid of the microtime cutting one sheet of worm:

You'll notice the knife I use to cut the sheet is made out of glass. Yeah, that's right. I make and use glass knives. I'm a badass.

I then take the thin worm slices and heat them on slides so they stick to the slides. The final step once I have worm slides is to dye them so I can tell what is what in the worm body. The dye I use is a mix of acid and powders. The dry form of this acid is EXPLOSIVE. It is a small miracle my lab still exists after I tinker with the stuff.
bombs,cartoons,dissatisfied,emotions,errors,explosions,gestures,mistakes,people,problems,Screen BeansĀ®

Here are some slides in dye...
You can see I accidentally spilled some dye above the tray when I put the slides in . Shh, don't tell my boss!  

And here is the final product!
Cross section of a worm. You can see the worm has 2 types of muscles, I will talk more about how they work soon!

Sagittal (cut from head to tail) section of a worm. The septa you see is a muscular barrier that isolated the body cavity of each segment. More on this soon!

 Now I measure the inside dimensions of the worm! From this data I can predict the effects of its body dimensions on its movement and force. My plan is to test these predictions later on with movement and force recording to see if they match up to what I predict. If my predictions don't match what I see, then worms are even more complicated than we thought! And you thought they were just spineless poop machines, for shame...

Notice how my worm slides are red and green, like Christmas colors!  Who wouldn't want worm slides for Christmas?? Okay, okay, I am kidding. Instead you will get a corny Christmas card or something.

Your favorite body part hacker,

The 'Dirty' Scientist

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Birth Announcement! (No, not me)

So before I tell you more about histology, I have a very important announcement... My worms had babies! I found 5 of them altogether in the past two weeks. I had been finding cocoons for a while now but they take 3 MONTHS to develop and hatch and I was worried I was somehow killing the cocoons. Yes, I thought I was capable of killing cocoons that had evolved to be even more resistant to the enviornment than worms themselves. I'm just that good.
At first I wondered how popcorn kernels got in my worm bin... then I realized they were cocoons. Good thing I didn't eat them!

I was hoping they'd hatch by my birthday, but instead they waited a week. Don't they know I want my gifts ON my birthday, even if it's the gift of life? Stupid brainless inverts... Anyways, I opened my worm bin the other day and was doing my typical aerate soil/ cocoon scavenger hunt when I saw what looked like a tiny yellow mealworm...

I found even more and managed to capture a video of one moving with my iphone. Here is the vid:

I also took a video of a baby next to an adult for epic contrast!

This is the first organism I have ever taken care of that hasn't had a mass dieoff and has instead reproduced! And I only check on them once a week! I'm telling you, if you can make a career working with these guys it's totally awesome.

Your new mother,

The 'Dirty' Scientist

Monday, October 10, 2011

Histology (Part 1): Cutting, embedding, and staining dead @%$# since 1771

Hello, people, it's the post you've been waiting for...finding out WTF I do in lab besides dig around in a large dirt container full of live fish bait. Well, now that you know about muscles and hydrostatic skeletons (remember, the fluid filled structure surrounded by flesh and muscle, kind of like a pipe or an erect penis? I knew if I said penis it would come back to you!) I can tell you!

elbow joint pipes,industries,industry,pipes,plumbing
Worms, a living pipe

I am basically cutting up worms to look at worm's muscle and fluid filled skeleton to see how different variables affect these dimensions. As you may remember, the cross sectional area of muscle is proportional to force production, so if I know how big worm's muscles are I can predict how much force that worm can produce. If I know how large the fluid filled skeleton is, I can guess how much stress the skeletal fluid is putting on the muscles and body wall that surround it, kind of like how much stress pipe walls have when they are filled with water. You can imagine if the muscles are under a lot of stress, the worm may not want to contractthem too hard or else the pressure in the fluid cavity will increase, increasing the stress on the muscles, potentially making the worm burst! I accidentally did this once... I normally use a 10% ethanol, 90% water solution to drug my worms before I cut them and one time I forgot to add the water and put the worm in a 100% ethanol solution and it seized up all of its muscles and blood started spurting out because the worm's body wall was under so much pressure it burst...kind of like a pipe wall under too much water pressure. Or kind of like an aneurysm in your blood vessels, which I nearly had when I realized what I did. Oops!

So, how do I look at these dimensions? I use what is called histology. You know when you were in high school and looked at stained microscope slides of skin cells or protists or whatever? That is the end product of histology. All you really do is kill the thing you want (don't cry for my worms, they have got to a better place where they can have all the moist dirt they'd ever need), cut up the part you want to look at, embed it in something hard to make cutting it easier, slice it up, put your slices on a slide, and stain them. The end product is something much more colorful and aesthetically pleasing than the live critter you were looking at, and it makes it easy to tell different tissue types apart, like muscle in my case.

So here is the first part on how I kill and slice earthworms. I'll show you the rest next time!

Here is a pic of a drugged earthworm in 10% ethanol. Sorry, I did not take a pic of the exploding worm, I was too busy freaking out.
He/she is so wasted right now.

Here is a pic of my mad scientist worm cutting station. Basically what I do is cut the worm into pieces, then I will cut the pieces further to get specific segments, and I will measure and compare these segments to other earthworms. I have been looking at segments 10, 20, and 30 (starting at the head) in worms because these segments can be different from each other down the length of the worm and segments in the first half of the worm are the most important for movement and burrowing. The tail of the worm is basically dragged along when the worm moves, so I focus on the front half of the worm.

See the jars? That is where the worm parts go, yum!

I then weigh and measure the worm and plop him on the 'surgery table'. You can see the worm is limp and motionless from being drugged and I promise he/she didn't suffer (at least not nearly as much as a worm on a hook!).

RIP: Wormy. 
 The last step is to cut the worm into pieces and out the pieces in jars. I actually go back the next day and slice the pieces into the specific segments I want. Now I have the worm pieces I need to embed the worms in plastic!
Worm heads in jars, the next must have for the fall season.

You can see I cut the head even more so now I just have the segment I want.

Hope you enjoyed my worm murdering, stay tuned for embedding, cutting, and dying worm parts! I know you can't wait!

Your favorite mad scientist,

The 'Dirty' Scientist.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Muscle Pop Quiz!

As I put together my awesome worm stuff for my next blog entry I thought I'd fill the time with a pop quiz on muscles! There is only one question and if you get it wrong then the only logical conclusion is you don't know enough about muscles and therefore must have puny guns. Yeah, I'm pretty good at logic problems.

Ready? Don't cheat!

#1. What kind of muscle does Phil the dog mostly have based on the video below... Type I or type II muscle? HINT: This video was taken AFTER a 30 minute run...seriously...

If you said Type II then I am afraid you are incorrect and thus a weenie. Now go do some bench presses before your muscles atrophy!

You can also note here that my dog has no concept of low friction surfaces. He runs into walls more often than is healthy for his doggy brain.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

MUSCLES...they help you get all the ladies

Muscles are cool, and by extension people who have nice muscles are cool...and hottt. Why else would I have wasted my time going to see Thor? Did you see Thor's abs? I'd worship a god with a six pack like that...

...What was I talking about?

Oh yeah, muscles. I figured since I am currently thinking about the muscles and skeletons of worms, I'd give all ten of my loyal readers a little background into what muscle is, how it works, how it changes, and why you need to go to the gym more often.

So basically muscle is tissue that can contract and make force. And the more force you can make, the more manly you are. It's a simple proportion.

All muscle in made up of muscle fibers aka muscle cells which are arranged in bundles. In these muscles cells are pairs of contractile proteins that grip and can ratchet past each other to make force and contract your muscle. Yes, like when you flex your massive biceps.

biology,cells,close-ups,healthcare,heart muscle,hearts,medicine,micrographs,micrography,muscles,Photographs,science,sciences
Muscle cells look cool. Scientific fact.

The amount of force you can make with your muscles depends on how large your muscle cross sectional area is and in turn how many force producing proteins are in parallel to each other... more muscles acting in parallel means more force being applied directly to the load. Basically, if the cross-sectional area of your muscle is big, you have larger muscle cells in parallel and you can generate more force and validate grunting like a gorilla in heat when you do barbell chest presses using a ton of weight:

There are also different kinds of muscle cells, depending on whether or not you do aerobic exercise or short intense bursts of exercise like weight lifting. Type I muscle fibers are 'slow twitch' fibers which just means they contract slowly. Basically it takes a while to get this muscle going, but once it does it can use oxygen and food to make energy and keep going for a long time. If you do a lot of cardio, this is what you have. This is 'red' muscle like what you see in cows because this muscle has hemoglobin inside of it to get max oxygen delivery to power the cells. So you have cow-like muscle. Moo.

Red meat= Type I Muscle

Type II fibers are the opposite case. This muscle can contract quickly because it has tons of nerve fibers firing on it, but the tradeoff is it can't use oxygen and food to make energy. Instead it has to rely on the energy reserves it has and what little energy you make without oxygen just before you cramp up, so it fatigues quickly. Since it can't use oxygen, it doesn't have hemoglobin in it to get oxygen from the blood and is white in color like white chicken meat (the dark meat is type 1 muscle fibers). Yep, I just called you a chicken, Mr. Weight lifter.
White meat= Type II Muscle

The punchline: MUSCLES ARE GOOD, SO GO TO THE GYM ALREADY. And no, shaking a shake weight does NOT count:

Yes, I know working out is hard...BUT... muscle is sexy... You know you are totally jealous of my chiseled arms...

You don't have to pay to watch this gun show!

Plus, muscle cells just look cooler than fat cells. Just sayin'

anatomy,body parts,cells,healthcare,medicine,tissues,muscles

biology,fat cells,healthcare,medicine,science,technology
The most picked on cells in the body.

Your gym buddy,

The 'Dirty' Scientist

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Worms...They are Kind of Like A Penis

I'm making this blog to document the strange field that is science and my thesis on how earthworms and other squishy burrowing animals (such as sea cucumbers, clams, sea anemones, and marine worms) work as organisms. Earthworm burrowing is considered super important because it aerates the soil which helps plant roots grow and it helps the soil retain water among other things. Worms are also great composters, their poop is coveted and sold as garden fertilizer. I've never seen so many blogs and web forums dedicated to how to get the most poop fastest. So I want to know what life is like as a squishy animal in a stiff coarse environment (wow that sounds like the trailer one of those inspirational movies, huh?)
cape daisies,dirt,environmental conservation,fragility,gardening,giving,greens,growths,holding,iStockphoto,leaves,nurseries,planting,seedlings,soils
Dirt. It's what's for dinner.

Am I putting you to sleep already? But earthworms are cool! Wake up! I have cake! Okay not really...

So I thought I'd start my first blog post explaining why earthworms are pretty awesome since I'm probably going to spend the next few years of my PhD life thinking about them and other soft-bodied burrowing critters. Yes, yes, I'll get to your genitalia in a minute, that is one of many reasons. To begin with:

1.For my fellow science nerds, I'll have you know Charles Darwin wrote a whole book on them (see

2. They are job creators...we should elect them into Congress. Yes, people have dedicated careers to breeding/harvesting and selling worms for composting, agriculture, and bait. For example, see

3.They are a cheap, low maintenance pet when your dad refuses to get you a dog

Yes, my dog's tongue really does stick out all the time!

4. They sell them at Walmart. Can't beat one stop shopping. Razors..? Check. Apples...? Check. Animals for thesis project...? Check.

5. There live friggin' everywhere. They can be found on remote islands, deserts, tundras... all over

6. They are hermaphrodites and have a bizarre sex life:

7. The babies are as small as 0.1g, yet some worms are as big as 1.3kg/ 1.4 meters long:

8. They have no brain!

9. They live in a place that very few people do (besides mole people)... underground
Underground. Homey.

10. They have blood, but I don't think you're considered a vampire if you eat them

11. They don't have eyes but can detect light using cells all over their body

These worms are mad because I was digging and screwed up their perfectly fine burrows.

12. Their poo or 'casts' are coveted like gold for fertilizer. You will never see so many articles on how to get a critter to take a dump.

13. Their genitals are near in their 'head' region. The place where you eat and mate are close by, handy!

14. They reproduce by making cocoons, how cute!

I know, the cocoons are adorable!

15. Some worms can hibernate, so they will survive the nuclear zombie apocalypse.
Do zombies eat worms?

16. You can eat them! Bear Grylls and Jake Gyllenhaal did on Man vs Wild, nom nom nom.

17. Many can regenerate body parts, particularly if their tail gets cut off. Luke Skywalker is jealous.

18. They are kind like your penis... Worms have a fluid filled body cavity called the coelom surrounded by muscle/flesh. This skeleton gets stiff by pressurizing the fluid, aka a 'hydrostatic skeleton'.

When a penis gets engorged with blood ...assuming you don't have erectile dysfunction... it also fits the description of a hydrostatic skeleton

And neither worms nor weiners have a brain yet seem to have a mind of their own... They aren't the exact same, though. The membrane surrounding the fluid sac in worms is arranged in a so-called cross-helical pattern (basically in left and right handed helices) in worms which is good because it allows the worm to lengthen and WISH you could do that with your penis!. On the other hand, this arrangement lets the worm bend easily, and if a penis were bendy...well...things could get tricky. So penises have membrane fibers that run around the circumference of the penis and along the length of the penis... a so called 'orthogonal' arrangement . Sorry, you can't change the dimensions of your penis, but at least it's not floppy either!

Hope you enjoyed my first post, more squishy science soon :)

-The 'Dirty' Scientist