Thursday, February 13, 2014

Turning nomenclature on its side

Today it's snowing like it should be during winters in Albany - some predict as much as two feet (~61 centimeters) will coat the ground. Slippery under foot, slippery under treads, I'll need some traction to walk home from the lab tonight. Which got me thinking about feet and how we, as biologists, name things. Many types of single-celled organisms have structures that serve as "feet" at the functional level. But when naming body parts, structure seems to trump function. Don't ask me why - this is probably a rule made by the ancients. Unfortunately, when I talk to young students about the work we do, the terms used in the lab seem strange and unfamiliar. Like the term "pseudopods," which literally translates to "false feet." The term "aperture," which is a hole in the shell, is another one that glazes over young eyes.

Structural definitions imposed on a shelled protist
One theme I've been touching on lately is that protists like forams use these "feet" for feeding as well as locomotion. Sort of like a dog holding a bone (or chewy chew treat) with its feet while it happily muches, belly on the floor.

Terms turned sideways
 I wonder if adding a little humor will help give kids get both the structural and functional concepts? But then again, they'd have to know what "maw" and a "paw" are. Ugh, it's time to brave the weather and slide home on foot ...

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