Animal Fact File: Llamas

The llama has a scientific name ‘Lama Glama’ which is a South American camelid that has been domesticated for its good quality wool, meat (however people only eat llama meat in South America, but not in the UK or the USA) and it use as a transportation animal. An adult llama can reach up to 1.9 m in height and weigh over 170 kg. A young llama is known as a cria which weighs about 10 kg when it is born. An adult llama is capable of carrying loads of 30 kg (which is around 25% of their body weight) and can carry this weight for around 10 miles or more in very rough and mountainous environments in a single day.

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Other uses for llamas include:

1) Breeding

2) Livestock guarding (it is well known that llamas will protect other livestock from predators and they will do this to the best of their ability, which makes them very useful animals).

3) Companion animals

The ancestors of modern day llamas came from North America around 40 million years ago. However around 5 million years ago they started to move to South America. At the end of the last ice age (around 10,000 years ago) camelids died out in North America, however the camelids that have migrated to South America have not only survived but thrived as a result.

The other camelids that inhabit the South American continent alongside the llama are:

1) The alpaca

2) The guanaco

3) The Vicuna

The alpaca and the llama are domesticated while the guanaco and vicuna remain untameable. The guanaco is relatively common in South America, while the vicuna is in danger of dying out (they number only around 5000 and their numbers are still declining).

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Llamas are very adaptable and hardy animals and rarely suffer from disease. However they can be affected by the following diseases and problems:

1) Leptospirosis

2) Tetanus

3) Enterotoxaemia

4) Parasites (both internal and external)

Llamas can eat a wide variety of vegetation (they can either browse or graze) – an interesting fact is that llamas have not one but 3 stomachs and like cows they will regurgitate food from their stomach and chew their cud. Llamas also need much less water compared to most mammals.

Llamas are docile and gentle animals, but get easily upset. A llama will spit when annoyed and make put a stone in its mouth and use that to act as a missile. Llamas are highly intelligent and are able to perform certain tricks and tasks in a very short space of time, meanwhile their cousins the alpacas are not as intelligent and they are more limited in what they can do.

Thank you for reading.

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Basic Information on Atoms

Atoms are very small particles which form the basic building blocks of everything around us.

The ‘magic numbers’ in chemistry are 2, 8, 8 which are the maximum numbers of electrons that can fit into the first, second and third shell.

Tip – When you draw the electrons on a dot and cross diagram try to draw them in pairs as it makes it easier for us to count how many electrons are in each shell. If you do not do this, then it becomes harder to know how many electrons you have drawn and you run the risk of miscounting the electrons and putting more electrons than you should be. (Electrons also move around in pairs, so by drawing them like this it makes the diagram more realistic).

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We can work out how many electrons would be in the outer shell of a particular element by looking at the periodic table and by looking at the proton number. With atoms (not ions) the number of protons in the nucleus is always equal to number of electrons in that particular atom.

Lithium has a proton number of 3 so this means there are 3 protons in the nucleus and 3 electrons in the atom’s shells.

The element’s aim is to become stable during its life. An element becomes stable when its outer shell is full of electrons. (Elements want full outer shell, we need to keep this in mind when we draw our dot and cross diagrams).

Covalent molecules – A covalent molecule is when we have 2 non-metal atoms. We can tell if an element is a metal or non-metal by looking at the periodic table and which side it is on of the baron step.

If we need to draw a dot and cross diagram of CH4 we would need to think about the electron configurations (2, 8, 8) of the elements in that bond.

So carbon has 6 electrons (2 in its first shell and 4 in its outer shell, this means that it needs 8 electrons to have a full outer shell, so it will need 4 more electrons). A non-metal element would gain electrons by making a bond and each time the atom forms a bond it gets an additional electron. This means that carbon needs to make 4 bonds in order to get a complete outer shell. As carbon always will have 4 electrons it will always need to create 4 additional bonds. This means that we can determine how many bonds an element will need to make by simply looking at how many electrons that element needs in order to get a full outer shell.

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Tip – When drawing covalent bonds do not draw the electrons in pairs, instead draw them separately as these electrons will overlap the orbit of a different electron. When a carbon atom and a hydrogen atom stick together (bond together) their orbits will overlap and both of these atoms will share an electron. Hydrogen requires 2 electrons to be stable so it shares an electron with carbon. The formula CH4 has the number 4 because it needs to make 4 bonds to become stable.

Another example would be CO2 the carbon atom needs to make 4 bonds, but the oxygen only needs to create 2 as it has 6 electrons in its outer shell. Each carbon atom needs to make 4 bonds while oxygen needs to make 2 bonds. We would be making a double if two oxygen atoms bond together. In a single bond each element shares a single electron. In a double bond each element shares 2 electrons.
The electrons that do not overlap in a covalent bond are known as ‘unbonded pairs’ or ‘lone pairs’.

Ionic bonds – An ionic bond is when a non-metal atom bonds with a metal atom. Remember – Always a non-metal atom will take electrons from a metal atom. For example NaCl – a chlorine atom will take an electron from the sodium atom so they will both have a full outer shell, which means they are stable.

An electron has a charge of -1 so if a chlorine atom gains an electron it becomes negatively charged. If the sodium atom loses an electron it becomes positively charged.
Another example would be MgO. A magnesium atom needs to lose 2 electrons to become stable while oxygen needs to gain 2 electrons to become stable.

An interesting fact to finish off with… Did you know there are more atoms in a single glass of water than all the glasses of water from the whole of the Earth’s oceans.

Thank you for reading.

Deadly Disease: Mycobacterium Marinum

Mycobacterium marinum (also known as freshwater infection, saltwater infection, marine bacteria and water-borne bacteria) is a bacterium that is able to infect humans and cause significant harm. It is now thought that all fish species are susceptible to mycobacterium marinum, this means that people working or handling fish are at the greatest risk. The bacterium can only get into the body if there is a cut at the skin, if someone handles fish with cuts on their hands this gives the bacterium the window of opportunity it needs.

The people at the highest risk of contracting such a pathogen are as follows:

1) Fishermen and people working saltwater fish

2) Marine biologists

3) Divers who stay under water for extended periods of time

4) People who swim in the sea on a regular basis

5) People who have an aquarium at home

6) People who clean aquariums and other water bodies where fish inhabit

7) People who have a suppressed immune system

A common sign that someone has contracted mycobacterium marinum is a nodule (a prominent bump) on the hands, fingers, wrists, toes, feet or ankles. The nodules will get larger as time goes on forming ulcers on the skin which will cause agonising pain. The temperature of 37 degrees Celsius hinders the growth and population expansion of mycobacterium marinum significantly; this means the pathogen can only inhabit the cooler regions of the body such as the hands and feet. To combat the infection the body produces white blood cells which attempt to engulf (ingest) the invading bacteria, however they are able to withstand the attack and thus kill the white blood cells in the process.

Mycobacterium marinum

The bacteria will then slowly, but surely creep their way to the bone, if treatment does not take place quickly amputation maybe the only way to get rid of such of pathogen. In some cases the hands or feet are not amputated, instead the infected tissue and bone are cut out, however this leaves the person with permanent neurological damage for life). The bacterium is highly resistant to microbial drugs so powerful antibiotics must be taken in order to kill it swiftly and effectively. The antibiotics should be taken for 10 weeks possibly longer depending on how long it took to diagnose the disease.

The antibiotics that could be taken include:

1) Clarithromycin

2) Fluoroquinolones

3) Tetracyclines

4) Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole

Precautions need to be taken in order to insure that people do not contract mycobacterium marinum, these include:

1) Avoid getting in contact with fresh or saltwater if there are cuts on the hands.

2) Do not handle fish if you skin scratches.

3) When cleaning an aquarium make sure that you wear gloves if there are any cuts.

4) Make sure that swimming pools have an adequate amount of chlorine.

Although reports of this disease are rare across the planet, it is nonetheless a very serious disease if you contract it. It is easy to prevent this disease by taking a few simple precautions (as mentioned above).

Thank you for reading.

Animal Fact File: Golden Eagle

The scientific name for the golden eagle is ‘Aquila Chrysaetos’. The golden eagle is one of the most adaptable birds of prey in the world, they have lived on for millions on this planet and remain the most successful and widespread bird of prey in Northern Hemisphere. The golden eagle can be seen across much of Asia, small parts of Europe (with the most sightings in Spain), areas of Scotland, parts of North Africa and much of the North American continent.

The golden eagle can thrive in the following habitats:

1) Woodland

2) Grassland

3) Meadows

4) Mountainous Regions

5) Tundra

The golden eagle has many features which enable it to be a successful hunter, these adaptations include:

1) They are agile and swift flyers which mean they are capable of targeting fast prey and coping with sudden twists and turns.

2) Many golden eagles have a wingspan of around 1.9 m and long feathers on their wings; this allows the animal to stay airborne for extended periods of time while they search for prey.

3) Excellent eyesight – The golden eagle has binocular vision which enables them to detect prey from up to 3 miles away.

4) The golden eagle has sharp, non retractable claws which allow them to capture and kill their prey quickly and easily, this prevents the animal from suffering any injuries.

5) Large, Powerful wings – These enable the golden eagle to reach speeds of a staggering 110 mph when chasing prey.
The golden eagle has been persecuted for centuries across Europe particularly in the UK. In the past people thought that the golden eagle would often attack and kill poultry, game birds and even livestock. Due to the golden eagle’s large size and immense power it is more than capable of attacking and in rare occasions killing grey wolves, they have also been used in falconry.

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There are 6 known subspecies of golden eagle throughout its range; each varies slightly in colour and size. The subspecies that inhabits the British Isles is known as ‘Aquila Chrysaetos Chrysaetos’.

The golden eagle feed on a wide variety of prey (around 380 species have been known to fall prey) these include:

1) Rabbits

2) Brown Hares

3) Small mammals such as squirrels

4) Waterfowl

5) Young deer

6) Game birds (however they prefer to hunt grouse and pheasants)

7) On rare occasions they will attack livestock if food is scarce

8) They will even attack and kill foxes however they only compose of around 10% o their diet, however this varies depending on where they live.

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About 70% of the golden eagle’s diet consists of mammals. Golden eagles are ambush hunters and will often dive towards their prey in the hope it will catch its chosen target.

The golden eagle has declined from much of its original range in the UK and Europe, once they could found throughout these regions now only small, isolated populations remain and these are shrinking … fast! Golden eagles often find it challenging to adapt in a human environment, although some have managed to survive and even thrive in spite of it. There have been projects to reintroduce the golden eagle back into Scotland, there are now 800 individual golden eagles and the population is slowly increasing. The golden eagle has even begun to reclaim some of its lost territory in Europe.

Thank you for reading.

What is Genetic Engineering

Genetic engineering is when an organism has part of its DNA removed and this part is replaced by new different DNA (this takes place artificially). Any living thing that has had its DNA changed artificially is known as a ‘genetically modified organism’ also known as (GMO).

The advantages of genetic engineering are:

1) Deadly disease can be prevented much more easily. This will protect livestock and crops which will increase food production as it prevents them from getting harmed or dying (which would have a negative effect on agriculture).

2) Animals and plants can be genetically modified to have the wanted features. For example a cow can be genetically engineered to produce more milk which has useful proteins. Another example would be a tree can be genetically engineered to absorb a much larger quantity of carbon dioxide which would reduce global warming.

The disadvantages of genetic engineering are:

1) There is a lot of concern about what would happen if these ‘strange’ genes were to enter into the wild. This could have terrible and not to mention irreversible consequences that would be difficult to cure.

2) There are ethical and health issues with this as we do not know the impact of GM foods on our health.

3) There is reduced fertility in genetically modified animals and plants.

How does genetic engineering take place? (Genetically engineering bacteria)

1) Identify the desired gene in a chromosome in the nucleus of a cell.

2) Cut out the desired gene using an ‘enzyme’ (a biological catalyst).

3) Remove one of the plasmids (bits of DNA) from the bacterial cell.

4) Cut open the plasmid using the same enzyme.

5) Carefully insert the desired gene into the plasmid with a different ‘enzyme’.

6) Put the plasmid back into the bacterial cell using a minor electric shock.

7) Place the bacteria into a container with the correct conditions to enable it to divide and grow.

It might seem that these steps may be easy to do, but in reality it is very challenging and time consuming. GM food is mainly grown commercially in Canada and the USA, in the UK there is very little commercial GM food grown. At the moment that is a lot of debate weather or not these GM products are a good thing or not, only time will tell.

Thank you for reading.

Plant Fact File: The Cactus

The cactus has a scientific name of ‘Cactaceae’. The largest cactus species in the world is the ‘Pachycereus Pringlei’ which can reach about 19 meters in height. The smallest cactus in the world is the ‘Blossfeldia Liliputina’ which only reaches a few centimetres in height. The cactus spends much of its time staying dormant; as soon as it begins to rain the plant will relish the opportunity by growing, flowering and storing as much water as possible.

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The cactus has many adaptations these include:

1) Thick waxy cuticle (coating) across the cactus – A cactus has a thick waxy coating to significantly reduce the water loss.

2) Thick, folded stem – A cactus has a thick, folded stem so, that the cactus can store as much water as possible in the stem during short periods of damp weather.

3) Spines instead of leaves – Cactuses have spines instead of leaves to reduce water loss and to protect it from desert herbivores.

4) A stem that is capable of carrying out photosynthesis – As the cactus’s leaves have become spines the cactus has evolved, to allow its stem to be able to carry out the process of photosynthesis.

5) Long roots – The roots of a cactus is thick and long means that the cactus can send out its root deep into the ground and spread out to maximise the chance of obtaining some water in the dry and tough desert soil.

6) CH4 – Unlike other plants the cactus can open its stomata (small pores on the stem or left) during the night in order to store as much carbon dioxide and remove as much oxygen as possible in order to enable photosynthesis to take place. When the stomata are open the plant will lose vast amounts of water over a short space of time, to combat this, the cactus has evolved to open its stomata during the night and keep them closed during the day, and this helps to dramatically reduce water loss. Other plants are CH3 which means they can only open their stomata during the day while the are photosynthesising.

Facts about the cactus include:

1) There are over 2000 species of cacti.

2) Cactuses are native to the Americas (from the southern tip of South America to Western Canada). However, there is an exception to this rule the ‘Rhipsalis Baccifera’ which can be found in many parts of Africa, small pockets of India and Sri Lanka. This plant believed to have came from the Western Hemisphere as a result of birds eating the seeds from this cactus and then expelling them once they arrived to Africa and India.

3) There are around 1750 different species of cacti. Depending on the species a cactus’ spines can be very fragile.

4) A large saguaro cactus which has a scientific name of ‘Camegiea Gigantea’ is capable of storing a staggering 50 litres of water in a single rainfall.

5) Also a large saguaro cactus will only lose a mere glass of water in a single day, while an apple tree in the UK can loss a whole bath full of water in the same amount of time.

6) It is very possible for 90% of the mass of a cactus is water.

Some cactus species are vitally important for wildlife for example the cactus wren only makes its nests inside or on a cactus. Cactuses are pollinated by butterflies, moths, bees and hummingbirds. An interesting fact is the hummingbird is capable of beating its wings up to 90 times every second. The cactus is a relatively useful plant as it is a very hardy and adaptable plant is can be grown for commercial use so it can be eaten and given to livestock (once the spines are removed). They can also be used to make medicine.

Thank you for reading.

What is a Maillard Reaction?

The Maillard reaction is a type of ‘nonenzymatic browning’ which is slightly similar to ‘caramelisation’. The Maillard reaction often results due to a chemical reaction between the amino acid and a reducing quantity of sugar (this usually requires heat).

The Maillard reaction is extremely important in the preparation, presentation or the baking of many and various different types of food. This type of reaction was named after a famous chemist known as Louis Camille Maillard, who first described this in 1912 while he was attempting to reproduce biological ‘protein synthesis’.
The type of amino acid is vitally important as it will often determine the flavour as a result. This reaction forms the basis of the flavouring industry.

In the process, hundreds of different flavour compounds are produced. These compounds, in turn, break down to form even more new flavour compounds, and this will continue. Each type of food has a rather distinctive and particular group of flavours compounds that are formed during the Maillard reaction.

Boiling food in water does not tend to allow the reaction to take place, as the boiling point of water (100 degrees Celsius) in far to low to set off the reaction. Frying foods in vegetable oils will often reach temperatures ranging from 180 degrees Celsius to 210 degrees Celsius, providing these temperatures are maintained the reaction will occur.

The brown crust of bread and the appetising crisp outside of chips are all the result of the Maillard Reaction.

Thank you for reading.