Thursday, May 3, 2012

First Blind Patient with an Electronic Retina

Two blind patients in the UK have had electronic retinas implanted inside of their eyes, and things seem to be going well.  A few weeks after the surgeries, when both retinas were switched on, the patients were both able to recognize the difference between light and dark.  This might not seem like a huge breakthrough but the brain isn't used to receiving signals from an electronic device, so it will take some getting used to.

The device is designed to replace lost cells in the retina.  The microchip contains 1,500 small light detectors, the optic nerve can then receive electronic signals from there and the patients in theory will start regaining their sight once the brain starts to make sense of the signaling.

The device is extremely small but must also comprise of a hearing-aid like device worn behind the ear.  Although it is perfect for people with diseases that degenerate the retina, it won't work for people whose optic nerve is nonfunctional, such as patients with glaucoma.

Regardless, this is the first trial and already the patients can recognize basic large shapes like dinner plates on a table, and researchers think that they may regain a good amount of vision back through the proper use and calibration of these devices.  We'll see what the future has in store.

Mike Selden (3)

Monday, April 30, 2012


The plague is a disease which has never concerned me.  I have not taken the time to think twice about its effects as it was a major cause of death many years ago in unsanitary times. Yet according to the article “Antibiotic for plague approved by the FDA” posted on the CBS news website, we should still be aware of its detrimental consequences.
An outbreak of the plague could be extremely deadly as concerns have arisen that it could be used in a bioterror attack. Because of these concerns US regulators have approved a very powerful antibiotic to prevent and treat this rare bacterial infection. The plague is a deadly disease one that is mainly present in animals.  It causes swollen lymph glands, fever, headache, chills and weakness. Humans contract this infection through animal contact or bites from infected fleas with there being only about 1000 cases in humans worldwide each year.

There are three types of the plague: bubonic (most common) which occurs from a flea bite, septicemic which happens when Y pestis bacteria multiply in the blood and pneumonic.  The centers for disease control and prevention are worried about pneumonic plague being spread (the only type that is contagious) in a bioterrorism act. The plague bacteria can be used in an aerosol attack which affects individuals who inhale it directly. The worst part and biggest concern is the fact that individuals who breathe in this bacterium may not have pneumonic plague until 6 days later leading to a major spreading issue as controlling the disease would then become a lot more difficult.

The last urban plague epidemic in the US happened in 1924 in Los Angeles, California, and since then only about 10 to 15 people contract it in the US each year. It is crazy to think that the plague could be used as a bioterrorism act, yet I am glad officials have taken extreme lengths to make sure an epidemic like this does not occur.

Tara Reynolds (3)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Stress and Violence, Hurting Us More Than We Think

It is a known thing that stress has negative effects on the body. I have personally experienced the joy of breaking out (cough, FINALS WEEK, cough) or eating everything in sight as soon as my stress levels start raising through the roof. There are many situations that can cause stress, not just school. Family problems and violence are one of the more traumatic issues kids have to deal with first in life. Studies show that the stress actually have a very negative effect on the body; it wears down DNA.

Telomeres are found on the end of chromosomes and they act as caps that keep the DNA from unraveling. Telomeres get shorter each time the cell divides, until they get so short that the cell can no longer divide at all. Smoking, obesity, psychological disorders and stress have been found to possibly accelerate that process of telomere loss. A new study, run by Idan Shalev, a post-doctoral researcher in psychology and neuroscience at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy, followed 1,100 British families with twins since the time the twins were born. The twins are now 18, but the researchers have taken DNA samples from them at ages 5 and 10 as well. The researchers also interviewed the twins' mothers extensively, and know which ones have been subjected to the stress of physical and mental violence as a child. Studies showed that the children who experienced two or more forms of violence as a child had serve telomere loss, which in the long run can lead to poorer survival and chronic disease. It is extremely sad; a child should not have to experience violence at such a young age to begin with. Something like that can cause enough problems in life. Unfortunately, it can effect health in more ways than we thought.

Taylor Pirog (2)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bridges Made of Water?

Water is quintessential for life on earth, and it remains one of the most puzzling substances known to man. Scientists have been working since the beginning of recorded science to comprehend this incredible substance, and new research only adds to the mystery. Scientists at Graz University of Technology have found that when under the influence of a very strong electric field, water fill form a "bridge" between two beakers. 

Elmar Fuchs and his colleagues have found that when two beakers are under the influence of high energy electric fields, water will climb out of two side by side beakers to form a bridge. The water moved from the anode or negatively charged beaker to the cathode beaker, and was able to form this "bridge" up to a distance of 25mm. Scientists found oscillations of molecules within the structure, which they believe attribute to the formation and maintained shape of the cylindrical connection of water. The electric fields are believed to form what scientists are calling "microstructures", which is an un-pioneered field as of now. 

What puzzles scientists most, is how water can be so versatile, and is unlike any other substance on earth. The fact that electricity causes it to act in this way is simply the tip of the iceberg when it comes to mysteries of water and its physical properties. The value in terms of applications for this discovery are not quite apparent yet due to the mysteries of the field, but never the less it is very intriguing.  

- Jeff Keating (2)

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Obesity is a complex disorder with many factors that include not just diet and exercise, but also environmental, emotional, and socioeconomic as well. In an effort to help lower rates and cure obesity, it is essential to identify the causes and work towards reversing them. A recent study by Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health has found evidence that air pollution is another factor that may contribute to childhood obesity.  
The study involved 702 non-smoking African-American or Dominican women, aged 18-35, living in areas of northern Manhattan or southern Bronx and having a predominantly low income.  During the third trimester of their pregnancy, the women would wear a device that continually sampled the air surrounding them for PAHs (polycyclic aromatic compounds), common urban pollutants that are released into the air by the burning of organic substances such as coal, diesel, oil, gas, and tobacco.  
The results of the study showed that the children of the women exposed to high levels of PAHs during pregnancy were 1.79 times as likely to  be obese by age 5, and 2.26 times more likely to be obese by age 7 than those children whose mothers were exposed to lower levels of PAH’s.  That is a twice-as-likely chance of being obese due to higher pollutant exposure! And, according to Dr. Rundle, “not only was their body mass higher, but it was higher due to body fat rather than bone or muscle mass.” 
These findings also coincide with several animal studies that have shown that exposure to PAHs causes a gain in fat mass, and prevention normal lipolysis (the process by which fat cells break down and shrink).  
This study is a breakthrough in identifying causes of childhood obesity, as it equalizes the other known factors of low-income, neighborhood poverty, cigarette smoke, and proximity to high-traffic roads. If there weren’t a million other reasons why the burning of fossil fuels needs to cease, and new energy sources need to be explored, this is one is enough in itself. Less burning of fossil fuels means less air pollution, which, according to this study, could mean less childhood obesity.  
Posted by Laura Moro (2)

Thursday, April 19, 2012

can we live forever?

Have we finally found something that can make us live forever, or at least for a much longer time? Throughout history, kings, sorcerers and even ordinary people have sought to find the secret to immortality. Stories of these people going through treacherous adventures in search of such an object that will grant them eternal life have lived for centuries. Nowadays, these stories are no more than just myths, or even tales we tell to our kids before bed; suggesting that we have lost our belief that a life without death is impossible. However, a group of scientist have found a molecule might hold the key to extending our lives significantly.

Buckminsterfullerene, a molecule consisting of 60 carbon atoms, might not only give us an extended life span, but it has also been considered as a viable treatment for HIV and cancer. Recently, a trial was done to see the effects of this substance. In this trial, scientists had three groups of rats with different diets. One group was given a control, anther group consumed olive oil and a third group was fed a mixture of olive oil and Buckminsterfullerene. The results were remarkable: while the rats that were fed a control lived for 22 months and the group that ate olive oil lived for about 26 months, the rats that were fed a mixture of olive oil and Buckminsterfullerene lived an astonishing 42 months! From their findings, aging is caused by oxidative stress, and Buckminsterfullerene works by reducing this.

While these were only tested on animals, and no one knows how beneficial it will be to humans, it definitely is a step closer to finding a substance that can increase our life expectancy. Plus, it might play a huge role towards cancer treatment and neurodegenerative disorders.

-Hermann Kam (1)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Oral Health and Joint Health Possibly Linked?

The bacteria that exist in gum disease are found to be the same bacteria that lubricates the knee and hip joints. In 36 of the tested patients with osteoarthritis, only five or 14% of the patients showed a direct link between the bacteria in the mouth and the bacteria in the knee joints. This is a good sign that we are going in the right direction with this theory. With a bigger study more evidence could be found to really prove the theory. This could lead to a new health awareness campaign for oral health. Showing that brushing teeth not only makes your breath nice and teeth white it can also make you healthier. And this can really hurt the tobacco industry with another health problem with long term tobacco usage.

Posted by Khoa Chu (1)

A Deadly Combination

The practice of death by lethal injection is a controversial one. But whether or not you believe in its use, the science behind the method is very interesting. The article from ScienceLine goes into the controversy and ethics of this process. This method involves a series of three shots to be administered in a particular order, all through an intravenous drip. The three shots each affect different aspects of the body and are administered in order to ensure that the individual feels no pain.

The first injection is sodium thiopental. This is an anesthetic that quickly puts the individual into a state of unconsciousness so deep that they will not be able to feel pain. This anesthetic works by suppressing the activity of the CNS (central nervous system) as opposed to just numbing pain in the nerves. The sodium thiopental also amplifies GABA which is a neurotransmitter that suppresses brain activity. This complex state of unconsciousness can be reached in as little as 30 seconds. The dose administered is theoretically large enough to keep the individual under throughout the process. Around 5,000mg are administered during executions as opposed to around 150mg for a 15 minute surgery.

A saline solution is then administered through the drip. After that, a neuromuscular blocker, pancuronium bromide is administered. This chemical prevents the nerves from communicating with the muscles. This prevents the muscles from moving and subsequently, as the diaphragm can no longer contract, causes the lungs to stop working. Another dose of saline is administered before the next step.

The last chemical administered is potassium chloride. This chemical fills the heart with charged particles that stop the heart from beating by interrupting the signals. These three chemicals together, administered in this order, effectively numb the body, inhibit the lungs, and inhibit the heart.

Posted By Erica Bonnell(1)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Can you raed tihs?

Humans possess the ability to read words even when the interior letters are jumbled, as long as the letters on the boundary of each word remain the same. This is because the positions of letters in most languages are consistent. You know that the words “raed” and “tihs” in the title of this article are not real, because you know how to spell and have used the English language for most of your life. Researchers wanted to see if they could teach baboons to do the same thing.

The scientists conducting this study wanted to see if baboons could tell the difference between real words and jumbled letters. Six baboons were trained to distinguish four-letter English words from strings of letters containing three consonants and one vowel. The baboons were rewarded when they would touch an oval button for real words and a cross when they were nonsense letters. This was not just an example of the baboons learning a memory game to match certain patterns to ovals or crosses. The researchers found that the longer the baboons had used the training program the faster they could differentiate real from fake words. The mistakes would increase based on the similarity of fake words to real ones.

Researchers postulate that the baboons would treat syllables like components of visual objects like the handle of a coffee mug. Letters are part of the word just as the handle is a part of the mug, so we may just be mimicking the way that we identify visual objects rather than through the sounds that syllables make.

Michael Thomas (3)

Sneaky Snake Survival

As ectotherms, snakes have a lot of difficulty regulating their temperature in cold environments. They must carefully balance their time between thermoregulation and hunting, and to a lesser extent mate searching. The type of hunting a snake uses has a large impact on this tradeoff; snakes can either forage and search for their food, or sit and wait in ambush for food to come to them. In a recent study by researchers at the University of Illinois, this tradeoff was examined. The focus was Massasauga rattlers, an ambush hunter. The populations examined were at the northernmost borders of their habitat in British Columbia. The snakes were implanted with transmitters to gather location and temperature data, which was later compared to existing data on Ratsnakes and Watersnakes (both forage predators). Intuitively, it makes sense that the ambush predators would be able to thermoregulate the best. They can find somewhere comfortable to set up their trap, whereas hunters have to move through various inopportune environments (especially Watersnakes, which swim through cold Canadian water). The results complied with this hypothesis. It was found that Massasaugas were much more efficient thermoregulators, despite having a higher preferred temperature and living in poorer thermal environments.

Rhys Ursuliak (3)

U.S. Economic Decline Due to Brain Size?

I may be stretching things with my false advertisement that the economic depression in the U.S that we've been trying to recover from for the past decade or so is related to human brain size, but the question certainly didn’t cross my mind after reading an article published by, Teamwork Builds Brains.

Graduate students at Trinity College Dublin created a simulation to mimic the evolution of brain growth and compared it to other intelligent animals that have comparably large brains versus their body size to support a hypothesis that brain size is affected by the level of cooperation expressed within a community and amongst species. How they were able to accurately predict how their 3-6 neuron test brains would make decisions when presented with the games Prisoner’s Dilemma and the Snowdrift Game wasn’t discussed in great detail, but seemed like basic genetic testcrosses were applied to predict progeny types. The results of the brain’s choices (meaning their level of cooperation in each game) were then compared to brain size by measuring the number of neurons developed. An increase in neurons reflected more cooperative brains, signifying a higher level of intelligence.

So with leaders like George W. Bush who refuse to cooperate with scientists to attack climate change issues, and when international wars set boundaries making it hard for countries to cooperate with one another, it makes me wonder if there’s any evidence that our brain’s size and cooperation are linked to the economic turmoil. The economic decline is nonetheless motivating. For example, young college students are known to be the brainstorm central where seasoned professors can bounce off the issues at hand and historical events leading to our predicament to try and find resolutions to the numerous issues we are troubled by today. Marketing has taken the depression to a whole other level with power companies like General Electric and British Petroleum advertising that their ‘cooperation’ is leading to jobs and paving the way for a new, innovative America. And the good news is that cooperation in school just may be paying off as careers for the East coast in life science disciplines are increasing, leaving a hopeful and promising future with secure jobs. In a state address by President Obama a few months back, he blatantly accused Republicans of not cooperating. And the republican senator of Illinois responded that Obama is right, that we, as a country, need to cooperate if there is hope for economic recovery and put aside immaterial differences that tend to divide our parties since all Americans have the same goal: Success.

Perhaps competition is what prevents our brains from growing larger, and we’ve reached our brain growth maximum capacity as a species, but I’d like to believe my exaggerated ‘theory’ may be stretching the facts and that our brains will grow like those in the Trinity lab the more we cooperate, giving me hope for future social and economic relief, assuming our species can evolve rapidly enough, and of course, get along.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


The majority of teenagers have suffered from acne at some point in their adolescence. Ugly and sometimes painful bumps across one’s body are one thing everyone tries to rid of. What if the acne cream prescribed by a doctor or received over the counter was not the best solution? Recently research presented at the Society for General Microbiology’s Spring Conference
in Dublin has found that herbal preparations of thyme could be more effective than over the counter or prescription creams.

Researchers from Leeds Metropolitan University tested thyme, along with marigold and myrrh on Propionibacterium acne, which is the bacterium that infects pores causing acne of white heads, red bumps, and puss filled cysts. Acne was exposed to these three substances for five minutes. Although all three were able to kill the bacterium within the five minutes,
thyme was the most efficient and effective of the three. It was further discovered that thyme tincture had a greater antibacterial effect than the active ingredient in most acne creams, benzoyl peroxide. A tincture, made from plants and herbs is kept in alcohol for many days or even weeks drawing out the active compounds in plants in order to be effectively completed. The thyme tincture was tested against over the counter and prescription creams as well as an alcohol base. Findings explained that thyme tincture most effectively and efficiently removed and killed off the acne bacterium.

Further and extensive research on tinctures is said to be continued yet the current results have been overwhelming. An herbal treatment of thyme would be a wonderful addition to acne care. It would be beneficial for users with sensitive skin, and would be a very positive natural
alternative to current prescription creams.

Tara Reynolds (3)

The younger the herd, The more "Horsing Around"

There was a recent study done on behavior of young horses in herds of different levels of maturity. Results showed that in a herd that is predominately horses under the age of 4, then there is more aggressive behavior and the young horses hangout with other young horses most of the time. If the herd is predominantly over 4 years old, the young horses had better behavior and didn't spend as much time with there peers. To test this, the scientists spend hours watching each situation and recorded how often the youngters bit, kicks, or rough-housed other horses. When there were more adult horses, the younger ones behaved better because the adults set an example. They were being taught a more proper way of social order in a herd.
At home, I have a herd of horses and i agree with this study's findings. When we add a new horse to the herd, it is taught how to act by the other horses. Either the newby makes a buddy that shows him the ropes, or he is bullied by the herd until he does what is expected of the adult leaders.
We can see this pattern in human groups as well. In a group of people that is mostly adults, the children are better behaved. In a group that children out number adults, it will most likely be a little more chaotic. For example, in a daycare setting, you can probably observe that it is quite hectic compared to one babysitter watching one or two kids. With a smaller ratio, the youngsters get more individual attention, and in turn behave better.

Posted by Jen Silva(3)

Drink wine to stay skinny

So this is pretty interesting. Everyone is worried about what they eat at one time or another, and we all know that obesity is a pretty big problem in this country. Well I guess red wine, and gapes is the new miracle cure! Red wine contains the compound resveratrol which is thought to fight cancer, heart disease, and neurodegernerative diseases, so that in it'self seems like enough of a reason to get more grapes in our diet. However grapes contain another amazing compound that has recently been discovered by scientists at Purdue University. It's called Piceatannol, and while it shares a similar structure to resveratrol it's very different. Apparently this compound works at the molecular level to slow and even stop the process of fat cell formation. And no fat cell formation means a skinnier you. A assistant researcher at Purdue named Kim had this to say. "Piceatannol actually alters the timing of gene expressions, gene functions and insulin action during adipogenesis, the process in which early stage fat cells become mature fat cells," Kim said. "In the presence of piceatannol, you can see delay or have complete inhibition of adipogenesis." Sounds pretty cool right?

This is a amazing find if it manages to prove effective on the large scale. These researchers have only used cell culture models of obesity, and it appears to be working. So in the long run, this compound just might prove to be the new miracle formula, if it's stability can be increased. Personally though, I just might start eating more grapes.

Posted By Dorian Pillari (c)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Near Unlimited Energy if Only We Used It

Nuclear reactors have made the news a good amount lately, due to the Japanese nuclear disaster. This has been giving nuclear energy a pretty bad name in people's eyes, but did you know that there is a much safer alternative to the current Uranium and Plutonium rectors? One alternative is called a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (aka LFTR) and is a considerably better energy resource for many reasons.

A heavy water cooled fuel reactor will use 0.7% of uranium's energy, while a light fuel reactor will use about 0.5%. Thorium can be used over 200 times more efficiently. Since Thorium is almost completely used, this reduces the waste in comparison to other nuclear waste by a factor of hundreds, and in comparison to fossil fuels by a factor of millions.

Thorium is four times more common in the Earth's crust than Uranium. It has so much energy inside of it and it can be used so efficiently that one could hold a lifetime supply of Thorium in one's hand.

The normal boiling point of water isn't hot enough to generate energy effectively, so it is put under 70 atmospheres of pressure in a normal reactor in order to increase the boiling point. This means that if a normal reactor loses pressure it can trigger a meltdown because the water will boil away to steam, and the fuel will no longer be cooled so it will melt itself and release radioactive fission products.

The LFTR uses a liquid fuel, so it is already melted. This means that it doesn't have to operate at high pressure and doesn't have the danger of a pressure loss meltdown. In an LFTR there would be a piece of frozen salt kept frozen by blowing cool gas over the outside of the pipe it is in. If the reactor is somehow without power, the salt plug will melt and the fuel will drain down into an underground sealed tank. This means that there is no way for the nuclear fuel to become a threat to the population, because in the worst case scenario it will be trapped underground.

Upon hearing these reasons for using LFTR, you might be wondering why we aren't switching to it today. The problem is that a prototype would cost a few billion dollars (pocket change in comparison to defense funding) and it would be impossible to weaponize the technology, so the government has no interest in writing grants to further research in LFTR technology. Hopefully sometime in the future funding can be found to work out the kinks and we can use this incredible technology to humanity's benefit.

Mike Selden (C)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dinos of a feather…

It is well known that dinosaurs are related to birds and that many small dinosaurs had feathers. However, a recent discovery in China has found fossilized dinosaurs that weigh over 1 ton that had feathers. It has been dubbed Yutyrannus huali – or, “beautiful feathered tyrant”. This is a significant finding and helps re frame the debate about feather evolution and dino ecology.

Which came first – flying or thermoregulation? It is a question that is batted around in biology. This finding may help better understand the role of feathers in evolution. It is clear that Y. huali did not fly - it was far too big. So what were the feathers for? Scientists claim they were for thermoregulation – however it is argued that larger animals like Y. huali would have little trouble staying warm and would in fact have issues over heating. So, it is then argued that possibly the climate was cooler during that period of time – however, that too is argued against since large wooly animals today like wildebeests have little trouble staying cool in warm climates. So what were the feathers for? Other hypotheses have been presented that focus on display and mating.

I find discoveries like this one intriguing. Oh how little we truly know about those beasts of ancient times. Maybe the feathers on Y. huali were present for a reason not understood in light of modern biology. If I were to pick a side, however, I would probably lean towards the thermoregulation team. I think it makes sense that scales modified over time to produce feathers that allowed more control of the thermoregulatory processes of these large reptiles.

William Mohn (2)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Personalized Medicine for Cystic Fibrosis Patients

Cystic fibrosis is the most common fatal genetic disease in the United States. Those with cystic fibrosis are faced with a life of deadly lung infections, persistant cough, and poor growth. Receiving the diagnosis is heart breaking for sufferers’ families, as only 47% of them will live past the age of 18.

Just recently, the FDA approved Kalydeco, a new drug to treat a specific subset of cystic fibrosis patients. This drug specifically targets the G551D mutation which is found in only 4% of CF sufferers. Although this is the minority of the population, it can be the difference between life and death. The G551D mutation creates a defective protein that fails to balance the absorbtion and secreation of water and chloride ions across cell membranes. This leads to the buildup of thick mucus in the lungs, digestive tract, and other internal organs, which in turn causes severe repiratory and digestive problems as well as infections and diabetes.

Kalydeco improves lung function and minimizes infection by restoring proper protein activity. It is the most effective medicine, because it addresses the root cause of cystic fibrosis, not just the symptoms. Children and adolescents who receive treatment are able to do sports or go away to college, which would be virtually impossible otherwise.

This is one of the first drugs made to target a specific genetic defect. Scientists have known about this faulty gene since 1989, but have only recently had the technology to treat it. As Kalydeco is ‘personalized’, it is not effective if a patient has a different mutation. However, it gives hope because there may soon be a treatment developed for their mutation also.

Video Interview:

Posted by Erica Fitzpatrick (1)

Sparrows: Changing Their Tune to be Heard

I'm sure we all know the frustration, trying to talk to someone in a loud area and constantly screaming, "What did you say?! Can you repeat that??" Most times people either have to shout louder, or just have the conversation later in a quieter area. Believe it or not, our fellow wildlife deals with the same problems. Only, they figured out a permanent solution for dealing with the issue.

It has been shown that there is a strong link between the change in song and the change in noise, in the sparrows of San Fransisco's Presidio district. The current study being done tracks bird songs from as far back as 1969 up until current day. Researchers also know how San Fransisco's streets have become much noisier based on studies done in 1974 and 2008. The quiet areas that these birds once lived in are now filled with noise pollution. The sparrows in return, have made themselves louder. The birds used to have a low hum which would work, until a car came along and covered up the sound. Now they have one primary high-range dialect. The birds have adapted because these songs are their form of communication. It is how the attract mates, as well as warn each other of predators. When these calls can't be heard, the sparrows start running into trouble. Compared to the calls recorded in 1969, the calls of today are not only louder but they sound more threatening. These birds are much more defensive, which is understandable due to their current surrounds. A lot of animals have a hard time surviving when rural areas become cities, but this is just another example of natural selection at its finest.

Taylor Pirog(2)


We’ve all heard the BPA, found virtually everywhere in plastics, cans, and other polymers, is bad for us. Now, according to an article on a study performed by Daniel Weber of UW-Milwaukee has shown that even exposure to small concentrations as an embryo has big effects on later adult life.

The test Weber performed was a simple learning test in which he condition adult fish to turn left in a T-shaped maze. After learning to turn left, he then reversed the direction and attempted to condition them to turn right. The adult fish that were no exposed to BPA as embryos took only about 7-10 trials before they learned to turn left. The adult fish that were exposed to concentrations of BPA as embryos, however, took 2-3 times as many trials to learn to turn right instead of left, and those that were exposed to the highest concentrations of BPA as embryos were never able to turn left in the first place.

In addition to the learning disabilities evident in adulthood as a result of BPA exposure, there was also an observed immediate effect of hyperactivity upon hatching.

It is obvious then, that these effects are connected. Hyperactivity makes it difficult to learn, as is seen in children with ADHD, and even though the exposure only occurred in the embryonic stage, the wiring in the brain was permanently effected and the learning and memory impairments are evident in adulthood.

I think this study is a breakthrough that will only lead to further knowledge about the effects of BPA and other man-made environmental toxins. With so many children being born with behavioral and learning disabilities, especially hyperactivity disorders, these findings cannot be ignored. I have been avoiding BPA for years by using stainless steel bottles and mugs, but it is everywhere in our environment now and is, sadly, unavoidable. I hope that this and further studies will lead to the permanent banning of BPA and other known dangerous chemicals found in plastics, so we can stop condemning and increasing number of our children to a life of learning and behavioral issues.

Source article:


Due to many comments expressing confusion about BPA, I thought I would provide a little background information. BPA, or bisphenol A, is an organic compound that is used to make many different plastics, polycarbonates and resins that we encounter in our daily lives. I have posted a picture of the structure of BPA below for reference. Basically, BPA has been used in the commercial production of plastics since 1957, and approximately 8 billion pounds of BPA is used yearly. You encounter BPA numerous times a day, in your shatter-proof, polycarbonate nalgene water bottle, in baby bottle, sports equipment, household electronics, eyeglasses, and on and on. However, it has been discovered that BPA is an endocrine disruptor, and can mimic estrogen. This can lead to negative health effects, especially when exposure occurs during early developmental stages. BPA exposure, which is virtually unavoidable (in a recent study, 96% of pregnant women were found to have BPA in their bodies), has been linked to not only neurological and developmental issues, but also to obesity, thyroid function, and cancer. The most common way the BPA enters our bodies is through ingestions. When materials containing BPA are washed, heated, or stressed in some way, the chemical leeches into our food. Considering BPA is in almost all food packaging, containers, and bottles, it is leeching into all of our food, daily. According to a story by TIME magazine, "if you don't have BPA in your body, you are not living in the modern world."

Scary, huh?


Posted by Laura Moro (2)

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cancer Stem Cell Vaccine In Development

When the word vaccine is used, many people immediately correlate it with diseases such as tuberculosis and the flu. Cancer on the other hand, is more commonly associated with being a condition rather than a disease, when in fact it is. All healthy cells undergo a process called "apoptosis" when they have reached the end of their life cycle, which destroys the cell. Caner cells do not undergo apoptosis and as a result they grow out of control which causes mass buildups of cells known as tumors. This lack of a cells ability to undergo apoptosis constitutes the condition as a cellular disease which, may be curable with a vaccine

Scientists have been able to isolate pure cancer stem cells and generate a vaccine that strengthens the bodies immune response to such cells. The objective of the vaccine is to strengthen antibodies and T cells, and to increase their response in the event of a cancerous cell buildup. Despite being called "stem cells" these cancer cells are a separate branch and are distinct from embryonic stem cells, which only helps the development of this vaccine when it boils down to the morality of the situation.

Doctor Qiao Li PhD. of the University of Michigan has observed the effectiveness of this vaccine first hand. Li has stated the the immunological response of the antibodies and T cells increased dramatically after the administration of said vaccine. The antibodies were able to detect the cancerous cells much more effectively and seek out and destroy them once detected.

Currently the testing is still in the realm of lab rats and cell cultures, but the results look promising. The most optimistic factor of this development, is that it just one of many of its kind that are rapidly emerging. Could science be on the verge of a cure for cancer in not just one method, but many? Only human trial results will tell; as for now the developing methods are proving to be more than promising.

- Jeff Keating (2)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Will climate change seal the fate of another species?

Though some might debate this notion, most of us know the existence of climate change to be true. But despite all the documentaries, science articles and textbook readings about it, most of us aren’t really conscious of the impact it has on the environment; one of these reasons being that nothing in our immediate surrounding has really drastically changed. But to creatures living in extreme conditions, some changes in the climate have already been noticed, and no matter how small, it can affect them in huge ways.

Take the Antarctic fur seals for instance. These cute creatures are very delicate in the early stages of their lives, requiring huge amounts of energy to grow, and to begin living independently. Now, due to climate change, conditions in the Antarctica are becoming more wet and windy. As a result, these seal pups are finding it even harder to meet these energy requirements, as they now need to use more of their energy to keep themselves warm. These can result in lower survival rates, as these pups will have less energy available to them for growth. But that’s not all, as the climate changes so does prey availability, which means the pups now more than ever, need to conserve and allocate more of their energy to keep warm instead of growth.

According to scientist Birgitte McDonald, a postdoctoral researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, these changes can have adverse effects on these seals as it they’ll find it a bigger challenge to be able to shift towards nutritional independence successfully. From a study she carried out, in which she studied the amounts of energy these pup seals invest in different areas (growing, thermoregulation, energy storage, etc), she found that the newborns use 60% of their energy they get from their mothers for growth. But as they progress to 1 month old, these number drops to 25%. This shows how important energy allocations to the right areas are in the early stage of the pup seal’s life. This is due to the fact that this stage is used to focus on growing, learning, and to prepare for a future independent from their mothers.

Even though predictions from climate models suggests that the places they live in will have higher temperatures, they expect rainfall , snowfall, and stronger winds to be more abundant, making these pup use more of their energy to keep warm, as they lack the insulation that an adult coat would offer. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the impacts that are affecting our planet, even if we don’t see it in our surroundings. The decisions we make in the next decade will shape the fate of such species and our earth as a whole.

-Hermann Kam (1)

Modern Caveman

Why aren't there Neanderthals anymore? It seems odd that such a close relative of humans wouldn’t be around anymore. Especially since modern humans occupy nearly every part of the planet. Why are we around and not the Neanderthals? There's an older theory that says that Neanderthals were driven to extinction by the ancestors of modern humans. This theory made sense because lets face it, humans have not always been accepting of those different from them.

However, recent evidence suggests that there is a different reason. Science Daily has an article that refers to research done by Barton and Julien Riel-Salvatore of the University of Colorado Denver. This research consisted of using stone artifacts to tract the paths of these ancient groups as well as computer modeling. Basically, their research says that during the the Upper Pleistocene the ancestors of modern humans, and Neanderthals encountered each other in Western Eurasia. The two groups then mated and hybridized, but because the Neanderthal population was much smaller than the ancient human population, the Neanderthal population became “absorbed” into the ancient human population.

The above is supported by genetic analysis which shows that some DNA (1-4% of the total human genome) that came from Neanderthals. This is especially seen in modern humans of European descent.

When you think about it, Neanderthals aren't the only ones thought be be extinct that actually live on today. Dinosaurs are technically living among us today. Many groups of dinosaurs actually went extinct but those that survived changed over time and became birds.

Posted by Joseph Frimpong Group A March 28 2011