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2nd Blog-iversary

New Under the Sun Blog is 2 years old! Because WordPress keeps such detailed statistics, here’s the annual numbers rundown. Here is the link to the first year’s numbers. 

Followers: 928

Still not exactly sure how this gets counted, but I’m definitely up from last year (668) and still completely amazed that many people outside of my immediate family chose to follow a blog about photosynthesis, plants and biochemistry.

Total page views: 35679

This number is waaay higher than last year. Thanks Google and social media. My all-time most-viewed posts and pages are still my basics of the photosynthetic reactions. Lots of students seem to be still confused about this topic and many variations of ‘photosynthesis-related’ Google searches send clicks my way. I hope my pages were helpful.

I have a new winner for the all-time highest single day post: Two Tales of a Manuscript at 304 views that day (Big thanks to the Plant Cell Facebook page for posting a link!). It faded pretty quickly, but still a good long read about the process of science that struggling scientists and even non-scientists will appreciate.

Also, internet users search for ‘cotton’ a lot and end up clicking on my post from last Labor Day. It’s on pace to even out hit my post on the world’s tallest tree (Hyperion), which continues to be my most popular non-photosynthetic post.

I also like to troll the stats on the least common and crazier search terms that earn me a click. This year’s favorite ‘everything aspiring biochemists should know.’ This search term alone gives me hope for the future and I hope that the clicker found something useful on my site. In addition to the Rules of Biochemistry and the Molecular Biology Code, I do have plans for Dr. Roose’s Pyramid of Biochemist Greatness coming soon ala the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness (coming soon).

Now for the bad news as to why the sequel isn’t as good as the original- only 55 posts this year (about once a week)Sigh. In my first year, I was able to churn out 165! My only excuse is I had to keep my new day job. So, on this free site, you get what you pay for. This summer has been less than productive on the blog front as well. It is hard to write clever, informative posts now that Jr. PhD has hit the stage where he is constantly asking questions. Tonight’s topic- Why did the Giant Sloth go extinct? (We went to the library today and got an encyclopedia on dinosaurs and prehistoric animals.) I’m a plant person and I don’t have a short answer that he will accept.

I was able to finish out some series this year. Check out the Frozen Parody series for a new twist on plant science topics and the Holiday Plants series for the botanical companions to your holiday traditions (also available in almanac-form downloadable PDF for free!). Still working on finishing some others and I’ve definitely have no shortage of post topics- just time to write about them. Please be patient.

Here’s to another year of science blogging!


What scientists do… in summer!

This has never been more true for me than now. Academic year 2014 – 2015: It’s all over but the grading!

New Under The Sun Blog


Let’s start the Frozen series with some summer fun for everyone. Here’s what Olaf (a snowman) thought about summer…

Have you ever wondered what scientists do in summer?

I’ve always loved the idea of summer… Really, I’m guessing you don’t have much experience with breaks, do you?

Nope, but I like to close my eyes and imagine all the potential productivity when summer does come.

There’s no classes… except that new course you wanted to develop for fall

There’s no students… except the half a dozen HHMI undergrads in the lab

No committees… except that one search that’s planning to beat the competition

PI’s will have time to work in the lab… except they don’t remember how to use the equipment.

A flask in my hand,

A burner flaming under ring-stand,

Squinting, yes, that could be a band,

So many experiments to do in summer!

The joy of preliminary data,

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2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 31,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 11 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Dracula (Orchids)

Dracula radiosa Credit: Eric in SF via Wikimedia

If you thought we were done talking about plant costumes, you were wrong. While the title may lead you conjure images of vampires with fangs and dark cloaks, orchids of the Dracula genus look decidedly like something else- an adorable monkey face! I admit it’s a strange nexus of nomenclature and form; nevertheless, today’s post will be appropriate for all audiences.

Dracula simia Credit: Dick Culbert from Gibsons, B.C., Canada via Wikimedia

Dracula orchids won’t be found in Transylvania. These blooms are native to the cloud forests of Ecuador, growing in rainforests at elevations of ~3000 – 6500 feet. They were given their name by botanist Carlyle Luer in 1978. The name was inspired by the dark burgundy to black petals that curve up like the stiff collar of a vampire’s cloak. The petals also taper off into sharp points reminiscent of infamous vampire fangs.

Dracula vampira Credit: Eric Hunt via Wikimedia

But back to the real costume, why would a flower need to look like a monkey? If you’ve been paying attention to the last few posts, you can probably guess that the answer has something to do with pollination. However, it’s not quite as obvious as the Orphys bee orchid connection- these flowers are not trying to entice monkeys over for pollen transfer. From what scientists have been able to decipher so far, these flowers aren’t really wearing a monkey costume so much as they are wearing a mushroom costume. Take a closer look at the floral structure posing as the monkey’s snout. These lightly colored and highly ridged structures look very similar to mushrooms found nearby on the rainforest floor. Check out this link with images for a close-up comparison.

Yes, a perfectly good autotroph in mycological masquerade. It’s not just looks either. Again, orchids dig deep into their biochemical repertoire to create a specialized perfume to go along with the visual effect. All of these smells and visual cues serve to trick small flies into coming to their flowers for pollination purposes. The flies prefer real mushrooms as a food source and place to lay their eggs, but are fooled by the Dracula orchids.

Still, this botanical mushroom costume looks an awful lot like a small monkey’s face. I don’t think scientists have completely uncovered all of Dracula’s secrets when it comes to floral form. Investigations are still underway to tease apart the factors of shape, coloration, and scent. Of course, it’s still possible that the rest of the costume isn’t exclusively for the flies. The faces may serve to deter other would-be herbivores from eating the plants. If you were an insect or another small mammal, wouldn’t you think twice before walking over for a bite if that face was staring back at you? I know I would.

Dracula cordobae Credit: Javier Martin via Wikimedia

If you’re interested in learning more about the ecology of cloud forests and the scientists that study it, check out the link below for a trailer for the Cloud Forest Project documentary film.



References and Links:


Today is the first day in my new role as Biochemistry Instructor for my department. It’s a change I’m very excited about. I’ve inherited a great lab course along with some experienced TAs. Of course I’ll be teaching my students the rules of biochemistry. However, the lab course also incorporates a great deal of molecular biology as well. Stay tuned on the blog for the rules of molecular biology. As for this blog, I’ll keep posting as much as time allows. There may be some topic deviations, but I plan on keeping the primary subject matter the same. After all, somebody has to speak for the trees.