Archive for the ‘Neuron – Vol. 7 (issue 1) – Mar. 10 (2009)’ Category

See It Yourself, Do It Yourself Charity

October 9, 2009

By Mohamed Mansour

800 sick children with fatal and incurable blood diseases (Sicke Cell Anemia, Thalassemia, Haemophilia) need medicine on a daily basis to live. The Red Crescent Blood Bank on 29 Gala St. Ramses is giving people a chance to help out by allowing those who are interested to buy subsidized hospital-priced medicine for these children as well as getting to know them personally. For more information or if you want to donate blood and/or money call me, Muhammad Mansour, the Red Crescent Volunteer Representative of AUC at 0106588635

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Have you ever seen the library from this angle?

October 9, 2009

There is a lot of beauty on campus! Step off the beaten path and take a look!

Photo courtesy of Dr. Moshira Hassan

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The Common Kestrel

October 9, 2009

By Mr. Richard Hoath

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There are no eagles on the New Campus, though the Steppe Eagle and Lesser Spotted Eagle could, along with other far rarer species, be soaring over this spring on their way from sub-Saharan wintering grounds. But we do have here in New Cairo their diminutive cousin, the Kestrel. This is related to, but different from the more boldly patterned American kestrel of the New World. The Kestrel Falco tinnunculus, also known as the Common or Rock Kestrel, is a small falcon. As is usual amongst the birds of prey, the female is larger than the male, up to 37cm in length.

       This size difference, termed sexual dimorphism, and common in the natural world, means that the sexes can exploit different food resources, the larger female, in this case, tackling larger prey that the male may not be able to handle. It is, courtesy of evolution, an eminently sensible arrangement. The female is warm brown above with a black spotted mantle, streaked below and with a grey rump. The male, smaller, is similarly patterned but has a grey head and with a distinct moustachial stripe. The claws in both are black an important feature as will become clear. Also listen out for its call, a raucous and utterly unmusical kee-kee-kee.

Kestrels are predators preying largely on small mammals but also reptiles and large insects. With predictable reports of mice here it should be welcomed. I have seen a Kestrel take a bird only once, a Goldfinch just north of Saqarra. And it is the method of hunting that makes the Kestrel so distinctive. It hovers, seemingly motionless in the air before diving down on the victim. But it is not true hovering flight. That is the mastery of the New World hummingbirds and our own Pied Kingfisher, the bird in The Guinness Book of Animal Records as the largest species capable of true hovering flight. What the Kestrel does is orientate itself with the presiding breeze and fly into it with just enough force to make it static. This mode of hunting has perhaps been described best, not by scientists but by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in The Windhover.

Other falcons are far remoter possibilities. The Lanner Falco biarmicus is a much larger raptor recorded from Wadi Degla to the south and throughout the Eastern Desert. It is darker with pale cheeks and rufous nape. As Spring approaches the Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni will be passing through Egypt on its way to European breeding grounds. The male is, to my mind, the most elegant bird of prey, similar to the male Kestrel but with an unspotted mantle and plain dove grey head. The female is almost indistinguishable from the female Kestrel but has white as opposed to black claws. It is more gregarious than the Kestrel and one of my favourite birding memories from Egypt is coming across a flock of these raptors on the Ain Suhkna road, just a few kilometers from our New Campus, and close enough to get those diagnostic claws.

 

References:

Carwardine, Mark. The Guinness Book of Animal Records Enfield: Guinness, 1995

Gardner, W. H. ed. Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1978

Mullarney, Killian et al. Bird Guide London: Collins, 1999

Campus Walks

October 9, 2009

By Maha Khalil

Have you ever stepped off the beaten track of the campus avenue and walked amongst the trees and shrubs around and beyond the buildings?? Have you ever noticed how many different birds are flying from tree to tree? How many different bird calls have your ears detected? Have you noticed the red flowers and the pomegranates? Sniffed the blooming citrus trees??

v7-2If the answer to any of these questions is no, you might want to join us on our Campus Walks!!! The Environmental Awareness Association (EAA) in collaboration with the Biology Club is guiding a Campus Walk every Monday during Assembly Hour to give students, staff and faculty a tour around the less-travelled paths on campus, pointing out whatever is interesting, alive and beautiful on campus which, in the hustle of life, you may not have noticed… Three walks have already taken place and there are more to come.  If you would like to take a load off and admire the nature on campus, join us! The meeting point is in front of Quick 24, and we will be holding a sign.

For more information, please contact Maha Khalil at maha.khalil@kaust.edu.sa

The Marine Genome Project

October 9, 2009

By Nabila Abu Ghanem

The Oceanus Research Vessel

The Oceanus Research Vessel

A forum was recently held to present the collaborations between AUC and The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). One such collaboration involves AUC’s Department of Biology which is undertaking an exciting project with the ambitious title The Marine Genome Project. On Sunday, the 22nd of February, I interviewed Dr Rania Siam, one of the faculty members in the Biology Department and a key member of the research team, to understand just what the Marine Genome Project is all about.

According to Dr Siam, the Marine Genome Project is “an environmental genomic approach to study marine microorganisms in the Red Sea with a focus on marine bacteria”. The project is done in collaboration also with members of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) – the top oceanographic institute in the world. In an expedition which involved the entire research team from all contributing universities (from October 19th to November 1st 2008) WHOI participated with their research vessels to collect “filtered water samples from brine pools (hot springs imbedded in the depths of the red sea) and non-brine pool areas”. Those samples, Dr Siam explains, then come to AUC and “[AUC researchers] do the DNA extraction, library construction and then sequencing of the samples”.

One of the brine pools that they visited had a temperature of 70 degrees Celsius as well as 8 times the salinity of surface sea water, “so the bacteria that could survive under such harsh conditions would definitely be novel and provide unique insight into the genetic basis of this bacteria and how they can resist such harsh conditions”. KAUST is funding this project with a grant of over $ 6.2 million to buy the necessary genomic equipment, and they are also funding AUC’s graduate students by paying the tuition fees for those who have a scholarship. Since it is a joint project they are collaborating with KAUST’s scientists as well, and in return they will train post doctoral fellows, technicians and research assistants at AUC who will then move to KAUST.

Dr. Hamza El-Dorry (current Chair of the biology department) and Dr. Siam are both investigators on this project and each of them coordinates certain tasks. They are also hiring 4 post doctoral fellows in the field of bioinformatics, molecular biology and marine biology. In addition, they have 6 graduate students from the biotechnology program involved in this project, one of whom, Dr Rania added, went on the sample-collection expedition.

When asked about the significance of this project, Dr Rania said that in addition to their training scientists and their students, as well as doing cutting edge research in the field of molecular biology and environmental biology, doing met-genomic analysis in such harsh and unexplored regions in the Red Sea would allow for an understanding of how such bacteria are capable of withstanding such conditions. This information could in turn be applied to produce pharmaceutical drugs (e.g. cancer drugs), and it can also be used in a myriad of other biotechnological applications.

The academic benefits of this project entail the advancement of the science of biotechnology in addition to establishing a group of scientists in the region that are doing cutting edge research. As for the way in which it would benefit the environment, the team is planning on looking at the different microorganisms that are present near touristic sights of the Red Sea versus non-touristic sights which will provide them with insight as to how tourism may be affecting the environment in ways unseen by the naked eye. Samples will also be collected from sediments near coral reefs which will hopefully allow them to identify organisms that may be involved in the loss of color in coral skeletons (coral bleaching) and their death which usually follows….                                     

Special thanks to Dr. Rania Siam for contributing the  information in this article.