Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Epidemic of Overweight Pets

The Epidemic of Overweight Pets

Obesity in humans is classified as having a BMI over 30. However, in pets the definition of obesity is having a body weight at least 20% over their optimal body weight. Weight is a sensitive subject, something that many people are uncomfortable talking about or just sometimes outright ignore. However, this is a serious issue as more and more people are becoming heavier as well as their pets.

Over half the dogs and cats around the world are struggling with weight. Obesity in animals can cause complications in health the same as it does in humans. Animals can complications with their body experiencing conditions from diabetes to osteoarthritis. Being overweight can also affect the lifespan of your beloved pet. Overweight Labradors lived 1.8 years less then Labradors that were of healthy weight. Humans are part of the big reason that our pets are overweight. From  contributing factors of higher calorie foods, insufficient exercise, and genetics they all play a role in weight gain.

To fix this issue both owner and pet need to work together. The relationship between pet owner and pet is very deep, emotionally and psychologically much like that of a family member. Pet owners need to show less love to their pets through food. Pet owners can change their bad habits of overindulging their pet and find new methods of expressing love for their pets. Slowly but surely obesity can be treated allowing both pets and pet owners to spend more time together.


Posted by: Trung Le (2)

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Bunker-Busting Mega Ultra Super PGPR

Bunker-Busting Mega Ultra Super PGPR

When looking at an organism as massive as a full grown oak tree, it's hard to imagine that such a behemoth would need any help staying alive. After all, living for hundreds of years is no easy accomplishment. And yet, without the help of plant growth-promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR), plant life would not flourish in the way that it has. In fact, with the release of volatile organic compounds (VOC's) these rhizobacteria are capable of causing profound effects on the growth and metabolism of various plant life. In this study, the model organism Arabidopsis thaliana was grown using various mutants of the species, as well as different PGPR's responsible for producing distinct VOC's. The main purpose of this, of course, is to determine with greater specificity what sort of influences these various molecules have on the plant.

As it turns out, certain PGPR have incredible effects on the overall efficiency of the growth rate of these organisms. For example, Bacillus subtilis GB03 and Bacillus amyloliquefaciens IN937a, two PGPR's that produce 3-hydroxy-2-butanone and 2,3-butanediol respectively, have shown to cause substantial increase in total leaf surface area by a factor of almost three compared to the control group (which was only given water). While other PGPR's did manage to also manage to augment the leaf growth in a positive way, they did not come close to the previously mention species.

While this was a study conducted on a small plant that is not used commercially, there are still substantial implications to this. Farmers searching for miracle crops need to look no further, as someday simply spraying average seeds with a strain of highly optimized PGPR could take any plant to its peak performance. This will allow farmers in desolate regions to more easily cultivate their land, either through preparation with a crop meant to create more fertile soil or the 'money crops' themselves, such as corn. Hopefully by harnessing the power of what is already found within nature, we can take our agriculture to the next level and fix the problem of world hunger.

-Colby Ells (I)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Counting Sheep

Counting Sheep

Irritable, shortened attention span, weight loss, anxiety, depression. These are only a few symptoms of a not so well-known disease, insomnia. According to guidelines, insomnia is characterized or defined as a difficulty or complete inability to fall asleep or stay asleep. There are two main types of this disease known as acute or chronic insomnia. Acute being a brief bout of the disorder that usually subsides sooner rather than later. This form of insomnia can arise from certain life circumstances and is most of the time, nothing to worry about. Say you have a big test, or have additional stress caused by something that is going on in your life at that moment these things can cause acute insomnia. Small cases of acute insomnia can almost be considered normal, if it doesn’t progress to become chronic insomnia.

Insomnia can be caused by many things some of these include endocrine problems, allergies, chronic pain, Parkinson’s disease, a feeling of being overwhelmed by responsibilities, stimulants such as caffeine, or nicotine.  All of these are factors that do not allow your body to fully relax when it is time to sleep leading you to be restless. Most of these can cause acute insomnia which may or may not be a serious issue as some can be cut out of your lifestyle such as the caffeine or nicotine, allergies, or pain.

In some more serious cases chronic insomnia, defined by the inability to fall asleep at least 3 nights per week for more than 3 months may be caused by something more serious such as chemical imbalances in the brain. Certain neurotransmitters that are known to be involved in sleep and wakefulness may be the underlying cause. There are also many chemical interactions that may interfere with sleep that do not have any specific identifiable cause.

There are a few risk factors such as hormonal changes, mental or physical disorders, being under a lot of stress during difficult times and not having a regular daily schedule. Although, insomnia seems to affect most people at least once in their lives there are many ways to prevent it. Some of them include: Keeping your bedtime consistent day to day, including weekends. Stay active, avoid or limit naps, avoid large meals before bedtime, create a bedtime ritual or making your bedroom more comfortable.


Posted By: Matt Alexander (1)

The Door To Hell

The Door To Hell

Deep within the Karakul desert in Turkmenistan lies what locals call the “Door to Hell”, a 70 meter wide and 20 meter deep crater that has been constantly ablaze for 45 years. 

The formally known Darvaza gas crater was originally stumbled upon by Soviet engineers in 1971, who deemed it a plentiful oil field site and set up exploratory measures to estimate the amount of petroleum it held. Soon after discovering a natural gas pocket located just underneath the surface of the desert, the surrounding ground collapsed in on itself creating a huge sinkhole and began emitting noxious gases.

Darvaza Gas Crater, Darvaza, Turkmenistan

In an attempt to minimize the potentially harmful effects of the gas, the engineers resolved to set the entire crater on fire, hoping to burn off the dangerous gas. Originally the fire was predicted to last only a few days to weeks, but after a whopping 4 decades the crater still burns today with no clear sign of ceasing. Geologists studying the area are unsure for how long the fires will persist, as Turkmenistan's land is substantially rich in natural gases.

The President of Turkmenistan, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, visited the site in 2010 and declared that the sinkhole be closed, however the request initiated little action to fill the crater. Three years later, Berdimuhamedow returned to the site and announced that the section of the Karakul desert containing the crater be considered a nature reserve.

Posted by: Grace Houghton
Week 4

The Power of Love

The Power of Love

When we go through a sad or difficult time and our morale is low, one of the first places we turn to in an effort to feel better is a loved one. I mean, a hug from a friend, significant other, or parent can take all of our pain away, right? It turns out that researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Haifa conducted a recent study that suggests that this may be true.

The study looked at 22 heterosexual couples, age 23 to 32, who had been together for at least one year. Using electroencephalography (EEG) caps to measure their brain activity, the couples completed several two-minute scenarios. During the trials, the couples were asked to sit in various positions, ranging from 1) sitting together but not touching, 2) sitting together and holding hands, and 3) sitting in separate rooms. These same scenarios were then repeated, but the woman was also subjected to mild heat pain on her arm. Astoundingly, the researchers found that merely being in each other’s presence (with or without touching) resulted in brain wave synchronicity in the alpha mu band, which is a wavelength associated with focused attention. And if the couple held hands, the synchronicity increased even more. This phenomenon is regarded as “interpersonal synchronization”, which simply indicates that people physiologically mirror the people they are with. On the other hand, the researchers found that when the female was in pain and the man was not allowed to touch her, the coupling of the brain waves diminished. Thus, the results of the study appear to suggest that “pain totally interrupts this interpersonal synchronization between couples and touch brings it back,” as explained by Pavel Goldstein, the lead author of the publication.

Another notable finding of the study was that subsequent tests of the male partner’s level of empathy revealed that the more empathetic he was to the female partner’s pain, the more their brain activity synced up, and thus, the more her pain subsided. The authors agree that future studies should look into explaining this phenomenon, but perhaps one rationalization is that empathetic touch makes a person feel understood, which in turn activates pain-killing mechanisms in the brain. Future studies should also explore if this same phenomenon exists within same-sex couples, or in other types of relationships. But for now, Pavel explains that the take away is “Don’t underestimate the power of a hand-hold.”

Story Inspiration:

Journal reference:
Pavel Goldstein, Irit Weissman-Fogel, Guillaume Dumas, Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory. Brain-to-brain coupling during handholding is associated with pain reductionProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2018; 201703643 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1703643115

-Posted by Nicole Ayres (1)
Post #2

Mermaid Wine Glasses

Mermaid’s Wine Glasses

There will always be an exception to the rule. As a general rule of thumb, individual cells require a microscope to be seen. This is where Acetabularia comes in. These single-celled organisms – sometimes called “Mermaid’s wine glasses” – can grow up to about 10 cm tall. They are comprised of 3 main sections from bottom to top; root-like rhizoids (“feet”), a thin and long stalk, and a “cap” of branches that may be fused or not depending on the species. The nucleus is located at the bottom of the stalk or in the foot. This fact was crucial to research done by Joachim Hammerling.

Acetabularia mediterranea

Hammerling used Acetabularia mediterranea (A. mediterranea) as well as Acetabularia crenulata (A. crenulata) in his experiment. The morphology of A. mediterranea is such that the branches of the cap are fused together forming a bowl shape, whereas the branches of A. crenulata are not fused and create a look similar to that of a flower. The feet of each species were cut off and fused to each other’s stalk + cap types. Then, the caps of each were cut off. The first time, the cap types that grew back were paired with the stalk type that they grew on since the appropriate proteins remained in the cytoplasm of the stalks. The caps were again cut off and grew back such that they were paired with the foot types because of the presence of the nucleus. Through this experiment, Hammerling discovered that the nucleus is what controls the cell.

Acetabularia played an important role in this discovery. They were an excellent choice because the entire cell can easily be seen by the naked human eye and can be handled by the human hand. The plainly visible difference in cap morphologies allowed researchers to easily determine which morphology the cell was adhering to once the nuclei were swapped between cell types.

Source 1: https://www.britannica.com/science/Acetabularia 
Source 2: http://www.accessexcellence.org/RC/VL/GG/hammerling_s.html 

Posted by Natasha Dalton (1)


I am currently studying for my Biochemistry 420 exam and figured why not use this space to test my knowledge on enzymes and the importance of inhibitors.

An enzymes main purpose in our cells is to speed up reaction rates by lowering the activation energy at the transition state. The reason that enzymes interact with the substrate the most at the transition state rather then with the reactants is due to the amount of interactions it would need to break in order to proceed with the reaction. With the most interactions taking place in the beginning of the process there would be no incentive for the reaction to proceed seeing as though the enzyme and substrate are happily bound together. Due to the fact that substrates and enzymes are always moving, the enzyme will bind with the substrate and limit its ability to change shape forcing it to change conformation into the transition state of the reaction, this is when optimal interactions will take place.

There are two main types of enzymes, Michaelis Menten and allosteric, each demonstrating key differences between enzymes and their abilities. Michaelis Menten is a kind of enzyme that demonstrates a hyperbolic curve whereas allosteric enzymes portray a sigmoidal curve due to their feature of having multiple subunits. The subunits of allosteric enzymes can be in two forms, either T form or R form, meaning they are less active or more active respectively. Positive cooperativity takes place between subunits of an allosteric enzyme when switching from the T form to the R form. This means that when one substrate binds to a subunit in the T form is causes the substrate to change conformation therefore causing a conformational shift in the neighboring subunits resulting in more R form. With more R form of the enzyme, the affinity is increased allowing the substrate to be more likely to bind to the enzyme. 

One main way to regulate enzyme function in a cell is through the production of inhibitors. Inhibitors can get very tricky due to the fact that there are many different kinds of them. Not only are there irreversible and reversible kinds, but there are also competitive, uncompetitive and mixed. These all depend on where the inhibitor binds as well as whether it is to the free enzyme or the enzyme substrate complex. To get even more complicated there is another type of inhibitor that falls under the mixed category called noncompetitive, just a special case of mixed inhibitors. Each of these reversible inhibitors have a different effect on the Km and Vmax of the reaction which is key in terms of identifying which inhibitor is being used when looking at a graph.

Although enzymes can get complicated they are still an essential part of our cells and our bodies could not function properly without them!

Image: http://www.bioinfo.org.cn/book/biochemistry/chapt08/bio1.htm

Posted by Sarah Aboody (1) -second post