“In addition to nature’s selective pressures, man’s own activities can inadvertently influence the fate of various species on our planet. In the case of the Oriental White-backed Vulture (Gyps bengalensis), biologists noticed that their numbers began drastically decreasing in the 1990s, being reduced by approximately 99% by 2008,” said Dr. David P. Mindell of the National Science Foundation. “The main cause for the decline turned out to be the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, that farmers in India and Pakistan were giving to their working livestock to relieve pain. When these work animals died, their carcasses were taken to communal bone yards, where vultures would feed on them. The vultures were unable to metabolize the diclofenac remaining in the carcasses, and this toxin eventually lead to the massive die-off of vultures.”
Dr. Mindell was the featured speaker for the Friends of Arlington’s David M. Brown Planetarium February weekend devoted to the theme of Life. The weekend shifted from the Friends’ typical focus which is usually in the realm of Astronomy-related phenomena, and focused on life here on planet Earth, as well as the field of Astrobiology.
The weekend started on Friday Feb. 20 with a premier of the new full-dome show Natural Selection. It was followed with a talk by Evolutionary Biologist, Dr. David Mindell titled “Evolution in Everyday Life.” On Feb. 21, the events were unfortunately cancelled due to weather conditions. On Sunday Feb. 22, there were showings of a series of short videos about astrobiology, and finally, an animated full-dome feature for kids called Cell! Cell! Cell!
In his lecture, Dr. Mindell discussed how the principles of evolution and molecular biological techniques have been used to help solve crimes, the potential changes to the Earth’s biosphere due to pressures exerted by man, and finally how other important species influence the health of humans and the biosphere itself.
Due to the show cancellation on Feb. 21, the Friends will host a special additional screening of Natural Selection coming up this Saturday Feb. 28. This show will take place at 6:30 pm, and will be followed by the regularly scheduled programming by the Arlington Public School system. Tickets can either be purchased on line or on site.
The Friends will host special events at the David M. Brown Arlington Planetarium one weekend every month until the end of the school year. Each weekend will be geared towards increasing STEM education/awareness for all ages and will feature a specific theme. For more information, visit their website. The theme of February’s Friends’ weekend at the planetarium will be Science Fiction.