Thursday, January 24, 2008

I spent two days last week in Liverpool. I was visiting two professors at the University there to discuss projects in Ploen. Basically, they are writing models about how the complex life cycles of parasites may have evolved and we are trying to test them empirically. Though I spent most of the time discussing parasites and evolution, I did manage to wander the city for a couple hours. Liverpool is one of the two European Capitals of Culture for 2008. However, after visiting the city, I'm unsure as to why. In my humble opinion, it didn't have the charm of older European cities. With the exception of the many typical, red brick buildings (often run down, see pics), there were a lot of 60s and 70s style buildings that have not aged well. In my opinion, Liverpool is a cultural capital simply because the best band ever came from there. The Beatles formed in Liverpool, and a number of entrepeaneurs are keen to take advantage of this...Beatles shops, museums, statues of Elanor Rigby, clubs that still boast "The Beatles played here". The poverty was also palpable, at least in comparison to places like Leipzig. The city (the whole region) has suffered from the slow draining of manufacturing jobs.

Other observations...a major similarity to the U.S.: unfriendly border officials. A major difference to the U.S.: language. I noticed a number of colorful phrases used by my British hosts, but unfortunately only managed to remember a couple. For example, jacket potato = baked potato, rat run = back-alley shortcut.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

In a previous post, I wrote that "Guitar Hero" is crazy addictive. Here is the statistical proof.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

So it has been a couple months since I've posted anything. Here is my first excuse: science is hard. Yeah, I spend a lot of time in the lab. Some of this is simply the professional environment I'm in...people here in Plön spend a lot of time working, more than was the case in Finland. But some of the extra hours I put in because I'm still new on the job and I feel like I have to prove myself. I don't know if this pressure is real or simply imagined, but want to produce some tangible results quickly to show that I am capable of doing the job they want me to do. I also spend a lot of time in the lab because there is really nothing else to do in Plön (pop. 13,000...but there’s a movie theatre!). At least Plön is scenic…the picture is the view from my 14th floor apartment.

To stay in touch with the title of this blog, maybe I should say a few things about the project I'm working on. The project is called "evolution of complex parasite life cycles", and essentially we want to understand why parasites use so many hosts in their life cycles. Parasites commonly have up to 3 hosts, but why they do this is a bit of an evolutionary conundrum. That is, wouIdn't it be easier to survive and reproduce when only one host is used? Well, parasites that add a host to their life cycle that's higher on the food chain (e.g. a bigger fish) may actually be able to grow larger and produce more offspring. A parasite that adds a host lower in the food chain may be able to increase their probability of transmission if the new host is frequently eaten by the old host. Though interesting, these ideas are difficult to test because most parasites have set life cycles, so there is no variation that can be used to design experiments. Instead, an indirect approach is necessary, such as examining the costs and benefits of parasite traits likely related to life cycle evolution. In this vein, I plan to examine the growth strategy of a particular tapeworm species in its different hosts. Here are some of the questions I hope to test…Does faster parasite growth increase the likelihood of host death? Natural death or death by predation? If it is costly to grow fast, what do parasites gain by growing fast and large? Do these costs and benefits apply to every host, or just some of the hosts a parasite uses? Is there any flexibility in parasite growth rates and what factors influence this? By pursuing these questions for the next 2 years (maybe more), I hope to further our understanding of how parasites divide up their life cycle (why do they grow a lot in some hosts, but not much in others?). In about a week, I'll go to the
U.K. to discuss this project with some professors that are mathematically modelling the evolution of complex parasite life cycles, and, who knows, maybe we'll come up with some fantastic ideas and I'll take a whole new approach to the project.

What else has been going on the last couple months?? Ines has been furiously writing her Diploma thesis. Her deadline is in a couple weeks. Afterwards, she will be a high-earning, diploma-carrying journalist! Maybe then I could quit my job, and become a professional blogger. Or better yet, a profi gamer. I got completely addicted to Guitar Hero over the Xmas holidays. For those who don't know, Guitar Hero is a playstation game in which, using a guitar shaped controller, you have to press buttons and strum chords to the rythym of different rock songs. Here in Plön, I'm going through withdrawl. I felt a bit bad about my addiction, because I actually gave the game to Ines for Xmas. I was hoping that it would add to our playstation-based party games, such as singstar and eyetoy.

We spent New Year's in Leipzig, which was a blast. Ines and I went to a party at a friend's apartment. After
midnight, we went dancing in the most famous indie club in Leipzig. Good food, cold beer, loud music. A good way to start 2008. Hopefully this year will be as a good as 2007. Though in retrospect I did manage quite a lot last year (finished my PhD, started a new job, published 4 papers, learned to speak least a bit anyways). I didn't make any resolutions, but maybe I should have resolved to be a better blogger...