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

v7-4

The Common Kestrel

October 9, 2009

By Mr. Richard Hoath

v7-3

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.

Note to AUCians

October 9, 2009

By Mary Habib

 

While I was walking one day beside the green area in AUC, I noticed many cigarettes are buried in the Palm Trees and around the fountain area. I really got depressed. How much effort AUC workers are exerting to provide you with fresh air and nice places to sit in and you smokers cause their efforts to be in vain.

Not only fresh air and green view are offended, but also class material is deformed. It was 3:30 pm and I was sitting in my class waiting for the doctor and my colleagues were there. Boredom was spreading and spare time came to find someone holding their pen to draw a portrait for the colleague sitting next to them. I thought it was only to kill time graphing on air, but I realized at the end of the class that it was a desk that was left with the random scratch on it.

I am just asking why we give ourselves the right to hack public benefits. Why we even think of the beauty of the environment and tings around us and simply smile without putting our painful sign on them.

The Biology club family is inviting you to sense the beauty of life and promote your environment protection. And always remember life is a big basket, if you spoil, it can’t be able to carry anything for you. Enjoy your life.

                                                                                           maramero88@gmail.com

October 9, 2009
Contributded by Salma Abdel-Nasser

Contributded by Salma Abdel-Nasser

Leopard in Captivity

October 9, 2009

v6-6

Photo  by Maha Khalil

This picture of a leopard in captivity was taken at the African Safari Park, an open zoo along the Cairo-Alex road. Many of the animals kept there are in terrible condition due to neglect. .

 

The White Wagtail

October 9, 2009

By Richard Hoath

Everyone has their own idea as to when winter really begins. Perhaps it is when the traffic police swap their white summer plumage for somber black. Maybe it is when the air-conditioner is switched to warm or when the ceiling fan becomes redundant. But for me, winv6-5ter starts with the arrival of the White Wagtails from their northern breeding grounds. And to my delight, the irrigated gardens, though embryonic, seem to be providing the White Wagtails with ideal habitat on the New Campus.

The White Wagtail Motacilla alba is a small bird of immense character. It is a slim long-tailed bird, 18cm long and largely grey and white with a white face and a blackish band across the upper breast. In the winter male the crown and nape are black, in the female grey. The tail is long and black with white margins. It is one of the more sensibly named birds in that it does indeed wag its tail, particularly vigorously when nervous or agitated. In flight the White Wagtail appears slender, the flight bounding and often accompanied by a distinctive call variously interpreted as tslee-wee or tslee-vit.

Like most wagtails, the White Wagtail is often associated with damp or waterside habitats. However it is an adaptable species and in many parts of its range it is a familiar urban bird with roosts, sometimes of many thousands of birds, gathering in city centers and it is now frequently found far from running water. The gardens of the New Campus provide these winter visitors with ideal new habitat in what would otherwise have been an unsuitable environment. Like all wagtails, and their close relatives the pipits, they are insect eaters. I saw my first New Campus wagtails at the beginning of November, two flying over the square outside HUSS and Admin before my 8.30 class adding a welcome bit of zip to the early morning. Listen out for that call.

Wagtails do indeed wag their tails but scientists really do not understand why. Theories range from it being a form of communication between individuals or species recognition to a distraction to potential predators. Whatever, it makes them one of the most readily identifiable groups of birds and for that, every birdwatcher used to battling with the complexities of such difficult groups as larks or warblers, is very, very grateful.

 

Alstrom, Per and Krister Mild. Pipits and Wagtails London: Christopher Helm, 2003.

Beaman, Mark and Steve Madge. The Handbook of Bird Identification London: Christopher Helm, 1998.

The Sal’awa – Fact or Fiction?

October 9, 2009

By Maha Khalil

I remember how, as a child in the early 1990s, I was told by friends at school some highly imaginative stories, which then seemed terrifying but now seem ridiculous, about a certain creature which attacks, bites and even kills people for no apparent reason. I was told that this “ugly,” dog-like creature hides under cars and sneaks up on unsuspecting children and adults passing by. Everybody called this “mysterious” creature the Sal’awa orالسلعوةin Arabic. But what is the sal’awa? Does it really exist?

A stray dog claimed to be the sal'awa

A stray dog claimed to be the sal'awa

Most probably not.

In fact, there is no scientific evidence of any kind either online or in books that this creature really exists as a separate species. The only available sources which give information about this creature are newspaper articles based entirely on hearsay which tell stories of the attacks and mention that the sal’awa is not a scientifically classified organism, but just a name invented by the public for what seems to them to be an unfamiliar creature. It first appeared on the eastern edges of Cairo in the 60s and 70s then reappeared in 1996 in the village of Armant in upper Egypt and in Cairo. It’s also claimed to be responsible for another short bout of attacks in 2005 and in October 2008. Some of these attacks resulted in the death and hospitalization of some adults and a few children.

The Sal’awa is described by highly emotional eyewitnesses to be the size of a dog, have hind legs that are somewhat longer than its front legs, a large muzzle that “resembles that of a hyena” and big canine teeth. However, neither veterinarians nor zoologists in Egypt have provided any official identification that separates the Sal’awa from the average street dog.

Some speculate that the Sal’awa must be a hybrid of a dog and a wolf or a dog and a jackal, but that’s all it is – speculation. At first glance, this guess may seem plausible as the resulting hybrids might have the appearance of dogs and the predatory behavior of wolves or jackals (both of which are found in Egypt, the jackal Canis aureus being the more common one). However, again, there is absolutely no evidence.

A wolf-dog hybrid

A wolf-dog hybrid

Not to mention that both wolf-dog hybrids and jackal-dog hybrids look fairly similar and are beautiful creatures known to make excellent pets and working dogs after passing around 3 generations from the original hybrid. Moreover, according to the Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt, the only wolf species recorded in Egypt (Canis lupus)  is  found in the Sinai – a long way away from Cairo and upper Egypt. Surely, the scientific community would not remain quiet if there was any real suspicion that we have a new, unclassified canine species on Egyptian soil.

So, let’s separate fact from fiction. People were attacked by an animal, and some of them died – truth. The creature is an unfamiliar species – highly questionable. The creature is a hybrid between different dog-like species – no evidence of any kind. The creature is simply a rabid street dog  – most probably so.

A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE to keep in mind is that the fox seen on campus in October is NOT the “Sal’awa” as some people claimed!! It was the harmless Red Fox.    

Al Masry Al-Youm (2008). <www.almasry-alyoum.com/>.    

Briggs, Helen (2002). “Jackal blood makes ‘perfect’ sniffer dogs”. BBC News. Available from. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/1977094.stm&gt;.      

Hoath, Richard (2003). A Field Guide to the Mammals of Egypt. The American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.