Tag: sciencesunday

The ‘microscopic’ edition: recapping Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

So I mentioned earlier that a good portion of January became hectic, to the point that I didn’t get quite as much finished as originally planned.

This meant I was behind on my science news round-ups. I’m hoping that my schedule is back on track, and that it will become a weekly post (but definitely a biweekly post) starting again this week.

Since I missed a week, this week’s post is a combination of recaps of articles I’ve read over the past two weeks (I decided I would only recap 3 articles this week).

Currently I’ve just been reading and sharing articles from Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, though I may start at least reading news from other sites to share here as well. As I mentioned in my first post, their site is updated Monday-Friday with new articles, and if you subscribe to their site you can get their daily newsletter (which is what I do).

So again–this is going to be a fairly long post, probably somewhere between a ten and fifteen minute read.

The first article I want to recap is “Tomoplasma gondii linked to brain tumor”.

The protozoan, Toxoplasma gondii, is one of the world’s most common parasites and is the causative agent of Toxoplasmosis. It has been estimated that approximately 11% of the US population over the age of six has been infected at one point with Toxoplasma gondii.

Colored image of the Toxoplasma gondii protozoan (c)istockphotos credit: Dr_Microbe

We come into contact with Toxoplasma gondii, through either under cooked infected meats, infected cat feces (as cats are a host for the protozoan), or it is passed from mother to child during pregnancy.

After entering the human body, the protozoan forms cysts within various tissues including the skeletal tissue, the heart, brain, and eyes. Depending on how old a person is when they come into contact with Toxoplasma and the strength of their immune system, the cysts may remain throughout the individual’s lifetime.

Toxoplasma now been linked with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, epilepsy, and various cancers. One group of researchers decided to look to see if there could be a linnk between parasite infection/cyst formation and the possible risk of developing glioma brain tumors.

The researchers published their paper “Toxoplasma gondii infection and the risk of adult glioma in two prospective studies” in the International Journal of Cancer. I have not read teh paper–because it is behind a pay wall (hopefully it will be freely available at some point over the next year).

Their reasoning to look at brain cancer, is that the brain tissue is one of the tissues that hte parasite tends to favor in terms of cyst formation. Glioma, is a rare (but fatal) neurological cancer. It is the most common primary brain tumor, though it can occur at any age and part of the central nervous system where the glial cells are found.

Approximately 80% of malignant brain tumors are gliomas, with a very low five-year survival rate of only five percent.

The scientists were wanting to see if there was any correlation between having been exposed to the Toxoplasma parasite at some point in life and development of glioma tumors later in life.

The two groups that they looked at showed that there could be a possible correlation between infection with the parasite and development of glioma tumors. They stated though that a larger and more diverse number of cases were needed to to see if the findings (presence of antibodies against the surface antigens of the parasite) are reproducible.

If the findings are reproducible looking at larger and more diverse groups, then reducing exposure to the parasite could be an easy way to help prevent the development of these highly aggressive and lethal brain tumors. Though it does need to be stressed that exposure to Toxoplasma gondii isn’t the only possible cause for the development of the tumors.

The second article I read was “Dengue virus blocking antibody indentified”

Dengue fever is caused by a flavivirus, carried by mosquitoes, and infects somewhere between 50 and 100 million people per year. Therefore finding a treatment(s) or a vaccine is needed, and is something that scientists have been working on for some time.

3-D image of Dengue Virus. (c) Image created by Kateryna Kon stock.adobe.com

One of the major problems is that there are four different strains of the virus, and being infected with one strain (and building an immunity to it) doesn’t mean you’re protected from the other strains. In fact, it is just the opposite–building the immunity against one, actually makes you more vulnerable to infection from one of the other three strains.

The research group published their paper “Structural basis for antibody inhibition of flavivirus NS1-triggered endothelial dysfunction” in Science. Since I don’t remember if I have a password for the journal or not, I haven’t read the paper yet (it isn’t behind a pay wall per say, but you do need an account with the journal to read it).

It has been shown that the dengue virus has a specific protein (NS1 or non-structural protein 1) that it uses to attach to endothelial cells around organs. This protein helps weaken cellular membranes and allows the virus to enter the cells. The weakening of cellular membranes and movement of the virus may also lead to the rupture of blood vessels.

The research group found that an antibody that would physically block NS1 from being able to attach to other cells. Therefore helping to slow the spread of the virus. This is an important discovery, due to the fact the antibody is against the protein and not the coding sequence. This means that it should be effective against all four strains of the dengue virus (the physical structure of the NS1 protein should be similar enough for the antibody to recognize it).

If shown to be effective against all four strains of the dengue virus, and if it gets into (and through) clinical trials, it would mean that there is at least one possible treatment for dengue fever. It would also open the door to looking at other flavivirus diseases (such as Zika or West Niles) to see if an antibody against their surface binding proteins would also be effective or not.

The final article I want to recap is “Taurine enhances the microbiome’s resistance to future pathogens”

There has been a wealth of research done over the years that show our microbiome in our gut plays a role in just about every part of our day-to-day lives, and can be connected to numerous different diseases and conditions (though more research still needs to be done to show that the microbiome is playing a significant role whatever the disease or condition is).

So one of the problems when we develop a bacterial infection, is that the antibiotic treatment doesn’t just get rid of the bad bacteria, it also gets rid of some of the good bacteria in our gut. This is one reason, why now doctors suggest that you eat yogurt that is fortified with the ‘good’ bacteria to help recolonize your gut as you’re taking your antibiotics.

Therefore, a key area of research now in infectious disease is to find alternatives to antibiotics for treating bacterial infections–but hopefully not harm our native gut microbiome.

It has recently been shown that taurine (an amino sulfonic acid, it is derived from cysteine), which is found in foods such as meats, fish, and eggs could help enhance the protection of the gut by the native microbiome.

Taurine biosynthesis. Image (c) www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/taurine/taurineh.htm

Taurine is also a molecule that we can make ourselves from the amino acid cysteine (see above image). Taurine can be found in the brain, retina, muscle tissues, and in bile acids. The presence of taurine in the bile acids helps up digest fats and oils in our gut.

The group published their paper “Infection trains the host for microbiota-enhanced resistance to pathogens” in the journal Cell. Hopefully it will be freely available to read within a year.

When present in high enough concentration in the gut, it helps the microbes produce excess amounts of sulfides to prevent any cellular respiration from occurring in the gut. By helping to prevent cellular respiration, it helps to then prevent the colonization of invasive bacterial pathogens that rely on cellular respiration to replicate and invade neighboring cells/tissues.

Their research showed that even an small initial infection can be enough to induce taurine production (bile acids), which then led to the increase in population of certain bacterial species in the gut. If a second infection (same or similar bacteria) occurred, the microbiome was quicker to react. But treating the animal with an over the counter medication (one to say soothe an upset stomach, deal with diarrhea or even indigestion), was enough to actually allow the pathogenic bacteria to colonize the gut by removing sulfide producing bacteria in the gut.

This also shows that we should take into consideration our own microflora when taking over the counter medications–because you never know when you could possibly come down with food poisoning or some other bacterial infection.

So that wraps up this week’s Science News Round-Up. I could have covered quite a few more articles, but decided that three to four articles is a good number, especially if I can get a good variety in the articles. I think that going from protozoan parasites, to viruses, to bacteria was a good choice this week–it kept everything at the microscopic level (more or less).

Again, let me know what you think of the post–too much scientific jargon still? Is there something that you would like me to cover in more detail? Do you have a specific site you go to read science news on?

Image References:

Image of Toxoplasma gondii again is from istockphoto.com; image credit: Dr_microbe

Image of Dengue virus again is from stock.adobe.com; image credit: Kateryna Kon

Image of taurine biosynthesis is from the following site: www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/taurine/taurineh.htm

No Comments Personal Developmentprofessional developmentScience

Recapping Genetic Engineering & Biotech News: First Weekly Round-up

So I mentioned earlier this month that one of the ideas that had been floating around in my head last year was doing a weekly post summarizing all the science news I had read that week (and probably shared via Twitter or LinkedIn).

This will be the first in hopefully weekly (or possibly bi-weekly) installments of my Science News Round-Up. The topics are going to be bouncing around from cancer treatments to neurological disorder treatments, to DNA, RNA, protein, and probably everything in between.

As mentioned before–my top strength is learner, which means I love reading on different topics (and within science I hop between just about everything). Also these posts may lead to other spin-off posts as I will possibly be looking into various topics more deeply.

Also if I am able to download the paper that is mentioned in the article–they will automatically become a separate post and will show up at a later date (after I have time to read the paper and take notes). So, with that said basically all of the news round-ups will be over the news brief, background, but not the actual article.

Also–FYI this first one, is going to be a very long post (possibly a fifteen to twenty minute read).

The articles this week are all showcased on Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News website. Their site is usually updated Monday thru Friday with new stories, and you can also subscribe to their newsletter and get their daily briefings.

One article this week was entitled “Strategy to boost CAR-T cell efficacy against solid tumors demonstrated in mice”.

A little background is probably needed:

CAR-T cells are white blood cells that have been genetically engineered to recognize and attack cancer cells that are expressing certain proteins on their surface.

The proteins on the surface of the cancer cells are the ‘antigens’ that the CAR-T cells recognize. This allows for the CAR-T cells to be ‘customized’ for different cancer types, and can be considered almost a ‘personalized’ treatment plan for cancer patients.

Generation of CAR-T cells. Cartoon (c) Dana-Faber Cancer blog

This treatment method has been successful for B-cell lymphoma and is in clinical trials for other blood cancers.

There are two problems with using this treatment for other types of cancers (outside of lymphomas) are 1) CAR-T cells have to get to the tumor site, and then 2) enter the tumor and be able to survive and replicate to kill off the cancer cells.

A group of scientists at the University of North Carolina may have found a way to increase the success rate of CAR-T cells when combined with other immuno-therapies.

They published their work “STING agonist promotes CAR-T cell trafficking and persistence in breast cancer” in the journal of Experimental Medicine. Again disclosure–I haven’t read the article, because it is behind a pay wall (where you have to pay to have access to the article). I’m hoping it will become freely accessible within the next six to eight months.

The key take away points from the news article were that by activating the STING pathway (which is an pathway that induces inflammation in response to a viral or bacterial infection), the CAR-T cells ability to destroy cancer cells in mice increased. In addition if the ‘checkpoint’ of turning off the CAR-T cells was inhibited, their ability to ‘stay on’ increased as well.

They then came up with a triple combination: CAR-T cells derived from either Th17 or Tc17 cells (T-cells that had longer persistence in the tumor micro-environment), use of therapeutic antibodies to deplete various immuno-suppressive cells from the micro-environment, and turning off the CAR-T ‘check-point’ allowed for these CAR-T cells to destroy breast cancer cells in mice.

To be able to translate these results to human trials, a different agonist for the STING pathway would be needed (as the one used in mice doesn’t activate the pathway in humans). Plus, one would need to see which cancer could be treated with activating the STING pathway. The group stated that they would initially focus on improving treatments for head and neck cancers first, and if the combination is beneficial, move on to other cancers.

CAR-T image came from: https://blog.dana-farber.org/insight/2018/20/recurrence-remission-lymphoma-patient-cancer-free-car-t-cell-therapy/

The second article I read was titled “RNA-DNA World Circumvents RNA World Sticking Point”.

This article covered the sticky question–which was first DNA or RNA?

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute published their paper “Prebiotic Phosphorylation and Concomitant Oligomerization of Deoxynucleosides to form DNA” in the journal Angewandte Chemie. Again–I haven’t read the paper, because it is behind a pay wall.

What the group found though is that through the combination of two chemicals (diamidophosphate and 2-aminoimidazole) that were probably also present in the ozone of Earth’s early atmosphere, along with various nucleotides, you can end up with a RNA-DNA chimera.

This chimera then allowed each ‘strand’ to somewhat easily disassociate from the other to replicate, but at the same time forming a chimera from time to time for stability.

The RNA-DNA World Hypothesis. (c) phys.org/news/2019-09-rna-dna-rna-chimeras

The RNA-world hypothesis is based on the idea that RNA was the original self-replicating molecule. The only ‘sticky’ problem with this hypothesis is that when RNA binds to itself (forming a double-stranded molecule), it is very difficult to pull them apart without the help of enzymes (which wouldn’t have been present at early in Earth’s formation).

The chimera RNA-DNA gives support to the hypothesis that maybe DNA and RNA co-emerged at roughly the same time.

This discovery (that the interaction of these two chemicals and various nucleotides can lead to synthesis of DNA) leads to another question–could there now be a broader impact on science? Could the use of these two chemicals possibly make various things easier and cheaper? Such as developing an enzyme-free method of making DNA & RNA, which could then lead to revamping how we do PCR reactions or even synthesize various oligo nucleotides for research.

Image of the RNA-DNA world hypothesis from: https://phys.org/news/2019-09-rna-dna-rna-dna-chimeras

The third article that I read this past week was “Single-cell transcriptome profiling of gastric tumors reveals prognostic gene signatures”.

One major problem with all forms of cancers is the heterogeneity of the tumors. While people can have the ‘same type’ of cancer–for example, breast cancer–each cancer is actually slightly different due to the individual mutations of each patient.

This is why developing cancer treatments are so difficult–they may not (and often do not) work for every patient with that particular cancer. This is one reason why there has been such a push for individualized cancer treatment plans.

So a group of scientists at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, were able to use single-cell sequencing to look at the individual transcriptome of cancer cells from 20 patients who had/have advanced gastric cancer.

Schematic for single cell sequencing from basically any biological starting material

Their article “Single-cell dissection of intratumoral heterogeneity and lineage diversity in metastatic gastric adenocarcinoma” was published recently in Nature Medicine. Again, I have not read the article because it is behind a pay wall (hopefully will be available freely in about six to twelve months).

They collected ascites fluid (which is the fluid that accumulates in the abdominal cavity due to liver disease, cancer, and/or heart failure), from these patients and then isolated a specific cancer cell: peritoneal carcinomatosis cells. These are a specific cancer cell that invades the abdominal cavity, adhering to the stomach and other organs.

They isolated, profiled, and sequenced 45,048 peritoneal carcinomatosis (PC) cells. They learned that the cells seemed to have one of two lineage origins: gastric (stomach) and were considered the most aggressive PC cells resulting in a shorter survival prognosis, or intestinal-like, which were less aggressive, allowing patients to have a longer survival rate.

Through the profiling of the 45,048 cells, they were able to isolate a signature pattern of 12 genes that could be correlated to patient survival, which they tested against even more data from more patients who have PC.

They are hoping that the profiles of the PC cells may also give rise to potential targets for treatment, as there is currently no effective treatment for patients who have peritoneal carcinomatosis.

Cartoon on single-cell sequence came from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_cell_sequencing

The next article was one I found really interesting: “MicroRNAs modulating diurnal rhythms in cells identified in genome-wide study”.

I found this article fascinating in part to the fact that microRNAs were the topic of my dissertation thesis (though I worked with plants and not animals), and the fact that the other portion (diurnal or circadian rhythm) was the recipient of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (and had been awarded to a trio of scientists–Dr. Jeffrey C. Hall, Dr. Michael Rosbash, and Dr. Michael W. Young).

The paper “A genome-wide microRNA screen identifies the microRNA-183/96/182 cluster as a modulator of circadian rhythms” and was published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. While I haven’t read the paper, I am going to figure out a way to access it (without hopefully having to pay for it), or maybe wait for to to be freely accessible.

So, basically every living thing has a circadian clock (the internal 24-hour clock that is basically running on auto-pilot in the background carrying out the day-to-day essential functions of living).

Most research has been focused on the protein-protein interactions and various pathways and feedback loops. This group changed their focus and looked at a specific class of non-coding RNAs (miRNAs) that regulate genes, but at the transcriptional level.

They screened almost a thousand microRNAs in a luciferase reporter system that was engineered to glow on and off based on the cell’s specific 24-hr circadian clock.

To their surprise, they found 120 microRNAs that affected the bacteria’s circadian clock. Looking at the microRNAs, they decided to go with the cluster miR183/96/182, as mi96 showed to regulate PER2 (which is a core circadian clock gene).

They then went on to knocking out the cluster in the bacteria, and found that depending on how they knocked out the cluster (leaving one miRNA present), they either shortened the circadian period or increased the amplitude of the period.

Wanting to see how the cluster affected the circadian clock in mammals, they knocked the cluster out in mice and found that the mice lacking the cluster had a more difficult time trying to run on a wheel in the dark.

It will be interesting to see how miRNAs, the circadian clock, and disease all tie together.

The final article that I read this week was “Marine natural products identified with potential to treat lethal RNA viruses”.

The title of the actual research paper is “Natural products with the potential to treat RNA virus pathogens including SARS-CoV2” and was published in the Journal of Natural Products. This is a journal that if I renew my membership in the American Chemical Society I should be able to gain access to at some point this year.

So there is a big push in science to find natural products that can serve as antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antiparastic, and anticarcinogenic treatments. This is due in part to various things (such as bacteria and cancer cells) finding ways to get around current treatments.

There is already quite a bit of research going in this area in terms of looking at plants and soil bacteria (plus other soil organisms), for natural products. Recently there has been a push to look at the oceans for other potential natural products that could be beneficial to human health.

Currently there are ~21 pharmaceuticals that can trace their discovery to a marine natural product. For example, Marizomib (an potential proteasome inhibitor) is in clinical trials for be used as a potential treatment for different brain cancers.

It can trace its discovery to a genus of marine bacteria that was collected from seafloor sediments in 1990 by scientists at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

The scientists are looking to develop a library of compounds with medicinal potential from natural products found in the marine environment (so metabolites from various organisms).

The one thing that I found interesting was that I didn’t realize that members of only 3 RNA virus families have caused all the viral epidemics and pandemics throughout human history (or at least since we’ve started recording it). These 3 virus families (Coronaviridae, Flaviviridae, & Filoviridae) are responsible for the following viruses: SARS-CoV2 (COVID19), dengue fever, West Niles encephalitis, Zika, Ebola, and Marburg disease.

The thought that a treatment is just floating under the waves for any of these viral diseases is quite fascinating–as we are still learning what is actually living under the waves. But it also serves as a reminder that we need to continue (and improve) the protections we have in place for the oceans. These waters cover almost 70% of the planet, so it really shouldn’t be a surprise that the cure/remedy/treatment for numerous diseases caused by viruses could be under the waves.

So this wraps up my first science news round up. I realize that it is an extremely long post, and I may try to do it in two parts moving forward or just limit the number of articles I recap (here I did five articles).

I hope that this has been beneficial to you, and let me know if it still seems to have too much scientific jargon, which topic you found interesting, and also possibly what topic(s) you would like me to dive deeper into with either a series of blog posts or pages under the ‘all things science’ category.

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Photography Challenge Day 155: The household pest, the house fly

So the winner of today’s photography challenge is actually the common household pest—the house fly. I took a picture of this one outside, when I was sitting on the patio this morning. What caught my attention is it’s coloring—unlike the other flies that were being pests, this one (was still being a pest), but had a white body instead of the darker colored body that the other flies sported.

A white/black housefly in the backyard

Seeing this fruit fly, took me back to my high school genetics class, where we actually had to cross two flies and keep track of the progeny. We learned how to determine male from female flies (before they hatched from the pupa stage), so that we could separate them. Then we would do crosses, check the sexes, separate and look for specific traits (such as body color, eye color, and wing shape).

Just for those three traits, this particular fly has the recessive markers for body color (since it is white and not a darker color; and I’d assume the darker color is more dominant as I hardly see lightly colored house flies), but managed to get the dominant markers for eye color (as red eyes are more common), and the wings look normal (not curled, or thin).

So flies are pests (but can should be considered a semi-beneficial pest). They do help recycle organic matter, but can also transmit diseases as well—this along with their flying around being obnoxious is the reason why they’re considered pests. They are also one of the most widespread insects, as they can basically be found almost anyplace humans are.

They have at least a four week life cycle, and the female can lay up to 500 eggs in her lifetime. The life cycle of a house fly goes from egg to larvae (this stage is ~2 weeks, though can be as long as a month if eggs laid in cooler climates or cold front comes through) to pupae (this stage is 2-6 days, though again can go longer if the temperatures are cooler), then finally the adult. The life span of the adult is anywhere from two weeks to a month.

So this week’s theme for the photography challenge may be insects, or oddly colored objects??

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Photography Challenge Day 147: The dew drops and the fungi

So I’m still trying to decide on the next theme for a week of the photography challenge. I have some ideas–but I need to make sure that I can either a) get a picture within the theme at some point during the day, or b) I have several pictures already (that I hopefully haven’t shared) on my computer.

Therefore today’s photography challenge winner is one of the tiny mushrooms that pop up every so often–and if you aren’t looking for them, you’ll miss them.

Tiny mushroom hiding in the grass.

Though the humidity was high enough that I managed to catch some dew drops as well before they disappeared. These little guys seem to pop up after rain, and then quickly disappear.

Since I’m not an expert at identify most fungi (I’m pretty good at identifying oyster mushrooms and toad stools), I’m not to going to even try to guess what this one. While I’ve shared some other fungi pictures earlier, I don’t think that these are the same type. The only thing that the two have in common–is that they’re small.

This one was growing by itself, and the others I saw as a small grouping. I know that I could get even more pictures of mushrooms/fungi if I started going out to the area lakes and walking some of the trails. My main thing against that are the ticks–they’re numerous in Oklahoma, and I’ve developed allergic reaction to them even crawling on me. Once I find some new long/breathable leggings, and a hiking partner (or two)–I’ll probably try it. For now, my mushroom watching will be limited to areas that I know have very few ticks in them.

Fungi are an important part of the local ecosystem–they help decompose things, and recycle nutrients back into the soil. They can also have symbiotic relationships with bacteria, plants, and others.

No Comments naturePhotography

Science Sunday: Wasp Nests–Photography Challenge Day 21

Today’s science Sunday post is dedicated to the architecture of a specific group of insects: wasps. On yesterday’s walk I noticed that there was (hopefully) an abandoned wasp nest lying on the ground. I’ve noticed several of these over the months, and have photographed them from a safe distance (just in case there were any stinging residences still present).

Part of a wasp nest lying in the grass

You can see that this was part of a nice size wasp colony since there are numerous “honeycomb” openings on the nest. This paper like structure was built from wood fibers that the wasps collected and chewed in to a pulp and then shaped into the “honeycomb” hexagon. Each opening had the potential of becoming hatching grounds for eggs laid by the queen wasp.

So here are some cool little facts about wasps:

They can come in a variety of color.

Cicada killers are a type of wasp.

They all build nests—which they build from wood fibers that they chew into a pulp.

They are either social (these include yellow jackets and hornets) or solitary (cicada killers as an example).

One of the major benefits of wasps is that they are predators to almost all other insect pests (either food or host for the parasitic larvae of solitary wasps; such as cicada killers), and be used to help control agricultural pests around farms and other areas.

If they sting—they can sting more than once (and it also means that you’ve upset the females as they are the ones with the stingers).

I give all members of the wasp family space in the spring, summer and fall—though I will admit that I’ve swatted at yellow jackets mainly because I want to keep them away from my drinks (or food) when I’m outside during the nice weather. Also there are times when I think cicada killers could use glasses for hunting their prey (I’ve had those things buzz me way to often during the day).


1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/group/wasps/

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Science Sunday: Photography Challenge Day 14

Today’s double post (photography challenge and science Sunday) is moss.

Moss is one of the more primitive plants, where they don’t have flowers and actually reproduce via spores. There are about twelve thousand species in the group (which scientifically is called the Bryophyta). Though they play an important role in various ecosystems—especially when it comes to erosion control.

It looks like moss……..

I took this picture of moss a few weeks ago on campus, as moss generally grows in the shade and where it’s moist—and we’ve been moist the past couple of weeks with all the snow, ice, and rain we’ve been getting. There is one general area that is fairly shaded and in the path of runoff water that allows for the moss to grow in late winter and early spring.

It may go on my bucket list—getting out into the national parks/forests and getting some more photos of moss in different elevations and areas of the country.

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Science Sunday and photography challenge day 7: Cat’s whiskers

Decided that today was going to be a two for one post: a new photo and then some of the science behind the topic. So I decided for the first double Sunday post, it would be on cat’s whiskers.

Pancakes’ long whiskers around her nose.

Most of us think of the cat’s whiskers as the pointy hairs on their faces (namely around their muzzle), but they can also have on other areas of their bodies such as their ears, around their jaw, and their forelegs. These hairs are actually called vibrissae and are used as sensors in their day-to-day lives.

When a cat brushes up against an object their whiskers allow them to determine the texture of the object, its location, and size—and it doesn’t matter if it’s light or dark around the cat.1 They’re also extremely sensitive, which makes sense if they’re sensory organs and have a higher supply of nerve endings and blood to the area. I know for a fact that my cat doesn’t like to drink from the water bowl if it’s too low as it presses against her whiskers.

They can also serve as one of the many emotional barometers for cats (along with ear and tail positioning).  For example in the picture, Pancakes’s whiskers were standing out sideways, meaning she was relaxed (and totally use to me taking pictures of her—though she was still giving me a dirty look—probably for waking her up). Though if the cat pushes their whiskers forward this could mean they’re excited, and if they’re flat back against the their cheeks, it mean they’re scared or extremely irritated.2

Have you paid attention to the directions of your cat’s whiskers?? How often are they forward or flat against their cheeks?


  1. https://www.livescience.com/44196-why-do-cats-have-whiskers.html
  2.  https://www.catster.com/cats-101/cat-whiskers-facts
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