Friday, February 27, 2015

Vaccinations: Good or Evil?

Vaccinations: Good or Evil?

Currently, there is a common question in publications about whether parents should vaccinate their children.  There are no federal laws that mandate vaccinations, but all 50 states require children to be vaccinated before entering public schools.  The debate of vaccinations is very public and there are arguments for and against vaccinating children.  

Individuals that are against vaccinations believe that vaccinations and immunizations are harmful for their children, and cause more issues than they do good.  Vaccines do have risks of bad reactions that can be fatal, but these risks are miniscule compared to how successful vaccines can be.  Vaccines do contain harmful ingredients that can have harmful effects on the human body.  Some common side effects are asthma, learning disabilities, diabetes and autism.   Another argument against vaccinations is that parents should have the right to choose whether their child needs to be vaccinated, and that no one should have the ability to force them into vaccinating their children.  It can also be found immoral to inject their children with drugs that are not in the body to begin with.  Some American citizens simply don't trust government agencies to produce the drugs in immunization protocols.  As well, some believe that they shouldn't have to vaccinate for diseases that aren't prominent in today's society.  
On the contrary, many people fight for vaccinations to be mandatory.  They respond to the arguments of people against mandatory vaccinations with their own facts and logics.   Vaccines can effectively save more lives than the amount of lives that would be saved by avoiding vaccinations due to side effects.  As well, even if some diseases aren't prominent in the United States because of the vaccinations, and they could easily be reintroduced by visitors or an increase in vaccine resistant diseases.  The diseases that are on their way to being extinct are only like this due to vaccines.  Also, some illnesses such as measles are returning and causing deaths.   These deaths could be stopped by immunizations to stop the spread of diseases, and protect future generations.  Organisms face many mutations that could make them vaccine resistant, but with scientists continuously doing research they could develop new vaccines and save more lives in the process.  The CDC reported that about  about 32 million cases of childhood illnesses are prevented per year, while 30,000 cause reactions and a small amount of the reactions are potentially fatal.

For people to vaccinate their children, they need to trust the vaccines as well as the people creating and administering the vaccines.  As well, it is important to let parents make their own choices but understand the consequences of not vaccinating their children.  It could not only be detrimental to their children, but also the children theirs come in contact with.  More information about the pros and cons of vaccinations can be found at:

Posted by Victoria Bortolussi (Group C)

Lighting The Way: Developments in Optical Physics Open the Door for Medical Imaging Breakthrough

The idea of using penetrating light to look inside the human body is over a hundred years old. In 1895, German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen discovered a radiant leak in his electron tube. More importantly, he noticed the this radiation had the power to pass through living tissue. Röntgen had unwittingly invented the X-ray machine. Less than a year later, John Hall-Edwards took Röntgen’s discovery from the lab to the examination room, pioneering the use of X-rays in a clinical setting. In the coming decades light would prove a valuable ally to medical science, as the field of Radiology would explode helping to diagnose an incredible spectrum of disease. Again, the work of physicists has paved the way for a revolution in biomedical imaging. 
Meet Allard Mosk. In 2007, Mosk and Ivo Vellekoop were able to shine visible light through an opaque surface and focus it on the other side. At first, they viewed their accomplishment as nothing more than a “bar trick” in the world of optical physics, an impressive, seemingly-impossible feat but one with ultimately little significance or application.  Mosk and Vellekoop’s “trick” bore two papers that would caught the eye of bioengineer Lihong Wang. Wang refined Mosk’s method and was the first to use it on an in vivo target, imaging an ink stained gel that had been inserted into the ear of a mouse. Light shone upon this mouse’s ear, or any other opaque material, is scattered randomly within. Wang’s technique involves shinning light through an ultrasound beam within the specimen and using a “time-reversing” mirror to selectively undo its scattering. Wang’s mirror uses a computer that is able to decipher the pattern by which a material scatters light. This is done sampling how minute changes in the angle of the light entering the material effects the path of the scattered light. Once a pattern has been determined, the mirror conforms to reflect the light along the exact same path it traveled through the material. The reflected light returns to the point it crossed the ultrasound beam, adding its energy to the light passing through. This high-energy ultrasound beam can then be moved around the specimen activating injected fluorescent dyes. 

Wang believes that one-day visible light will be used to as a powerful diagnostic tool and help to circumvent intrusive exploratory surgeries. He imagines a world in which we are able to pinpoint the location of tumors and perform tissue biopsies without the patient having to go under the knife. Wang’s technique not only makes it easier for physicians to look inside the body but will also allow them to do so more frequently. As someone who sufferers from ankle arthritis, this technology could allow my doctor to closely monitor the progress of the condition without having to perform an invasive arthroscopy. Wang’s technology is still a ways from being able to perform such a feat, but the future certainly looks bright. 

Posted by John Slepchuk (Group A)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Algal Blooms and Fertilizers

Red tides in local beaches has always been a seasonal hindrance to fishing and tourism in any coastal state.  The technical term for "red tide" is harmful algal bloom, or HAB (NOAA).  The blooms are caused by a rapid proliferation of bacteria in water that is rich in nutrients; HABs occur when the algae in the water releases toxins.
Fertilization and red tides have been correlated through many studies going back a decade. Excess fertilizer is lost in runoff, which enter the waterways into the ocean.  The nutrient rich water creates the perfect environment for HABs which have the potential to exhaust the nutrients and deplete the oxygen levels of the surrounding water.  The lack of oxygenated water and toxins released by HABs create "dead zones" in the coastal marine environment.

McGill University researchers have documented a dramatic increase in the spread of cyanobacteria in ponds and lakes across Europe and North America.  Commonly referred to as blue-green algae, the bacteria poses a threat to drinking water; certain species release toxins into their freshwater habitat.  The researchers believe the increase in the cyanobacteria is caused by fertilizer runoff from local agriculture.  The threat posed by this fresh water toxins is more serious than the salt water because HAB contaminations are more readily contained through warnings and recalls, while contaminated drinking water is a more complex issue to deal with.

Posted by Daniel Bonkowski (Group A)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hippos and Whales

It has long been believed in evolution that whales and hippos are related, but this has only been confirmed about 20 years ago. A few days ago there has been another update to this evolutionary story. Scientists have discovered a new missing link between the hippo and the whale. Starting in 1994 there have been expeditions led by Meave Leakey in Kenya looking for this missing link. Leakey found the first tooth in 1994, and then returned to Kenya in 2007. The teeth belong to an extinct species of mammals called the anthracothere, ancestor of whales, hippos, cows, pigs and goats. It is believed that the ancestor of the hippo swam the distance from Asia and was the first of their kind to arrive in Africa around 33 million years ago.
Recently a new member of the anthracothere species has been found in Kenya. This creature is a distant relative of the modern day hippo. This creature is being called the Epirigenys lokonensis, meaning the original hippo of Lokone, with Lokone being the region that they found the teeth. The Epirigenys lokonensis was smaller than the modern hippo only being about the size of a sheep and weighing less than 250 pounds. Meanwhile the modern hippo weighs anywhere from 3,000 to 6,000 pounds.
This link was made because of the shape of the teeth of the organism found. Many mammal teeth are distinct from that of others, having evolved to the food sources that they use. Hippos and Epirigenys lokonenis share a similar pattern on their teeth, they both have a similar 3 pronged maple leaf pattern on the top. This shape is unique to the hippo.

Before teeth were used to look at their evolution people believed that the hippo and the whale shared no common ancestors. People believed that they we closely related to the pig, due to their similarities in shape. 200 years ago scientists misinterpreted the shape of the teeth and still believed that the pig was the closest relative. While teeth are helpful things to look at when trying to look at evolution, they cannot be the only source. Teeth are the pieces that are preserved the longest, during that time they are subject to change from their environment. At this time despite teeth being the only remains found there is no denying it, whales are the hippos closest relative.

-Madison Boone (Group A)

They're Just Big Kitties

I've always had a deep interest in mammalian carnivores and especially the really big ones. We see videos and pictures of these animals all the time. They are big, viscous animals specialized to hunt and kill. We have a great understanding of their hunting techniques but what has always got me thinking was their social interactions. My family owns 5 cats and with the constant commotion in my house they are very interactive and I often find myself just watching them from a distance and trying to put myself into their minds. I do this not as much to learn about them but to gain insight on what might be going on in the mind of their big cat relatives while they're not on the hunt.
Although my cats are friendly they seem to spend most of their time kept to themselves and it is really only when they are quite young that they spend more than a few minutes interacting with the other cats. My gears really started turning the other day when I watched a documentary on a  siberian tiger filming excursion. A man who had spent years in the forest by himself with these cats explained a lot about their social behaviors and even got some good live footage (although not much because they are extremely hard to find). I realized while watching this that these huge tigers behaved much like my domestic house cats in the way they interacted socially. Cubs would stay with their mother until old enough to live alone and during that time they would play with their siblings much like the sibling kittens I have would but once they hit adulthood there was no more interaction. The adult tigers would live in solitude for the rest of their days and even fight other tigers if they came too close.
After thinking about this for a while I started thinking about the rest of the big cats and doing some research and found that, other than lions, most all cats behaved in a very similar manner. This made a lot of sense to me; the animals are programmed to be territorial hunters who don't want to share their territory or their kill I get it. But then why are lions different? This is the reason I picked this topic to write about because it is something that has been seriously boggling me for some time. My big cat fascination has led me to learn a lot about lions and when learning about lions the thing that every one wants to talk about is their complex social behaviors. They live in complex groups called prides averaging 15 lions but ranging from a mother and her cubs to over 40 lions. They hunt together, raise the young together, protect each other and really act as a faithful family unit. But why? This is what I've been trying to figure out and I've come up with a few hypotheses. One is that the lions simply live in an area so dense with food that the competition for the hunt wasn't necessary and the extremely aggressive and territorial lions were shunned from bands of friendlier lions leading to their downfall via selection to be a more social lion. I think this could be a reason but I have my doubts that the instinctual greediness that most organisms show would have left this species and not its relatives. The other hypothesis I have that I feel more strongly about is that lions did not choose to become social but they were forced. As biologists we all know that our environment shapes us and we shape our environment, my hypothesis is that as grasslands in Africa opened up every species naturally had to become very fast in order to out run its predators, with one of their main predators being lions. With prey becoming faster the lions had no option but to either match their victim's speed or find a new way to hunt and i think they went with the latter. While one lion would have to locate its prey and beat it in a foot race to catch it, a group of lions would have many other options. They would be able to ambush them from different angles or herd groups of animals to push them right to where another lion is hiding. With this new method of hunting being so effective the social lions would have prospered and been able to catch enough prey for the whole pride with ease while the territorial loner lions would have not been able to meet their food needs and would have slowly died off until there were none left; natural selection at its finest. To solidify this hypothesis I put some thought into other predators of the African grasslands and it appears that they like to also hunt in groups, this is seen in species like the Hyena and the African wild dog which hunt alongside lions in the same territory. There is one African apex predator that hunts all alone and rightly so because it is the fastest land animal in the world, the cheetah. Comparing these two predators which hunt the same prey in the same environments displays two dominant predators with two quite different hunting styles. Could the cheetah have the better design for the African grasslands and be the more successful species? I think in the future we might think they are and here is why; Lions occupy the same niche as other predators in the same territory and while they could be viewed as the most dominant, they are still facing competition and in the event of a decline of prey will lion prides be able to strive amongst their rivals and avoid a decline in population numbers as has been seen in certain lion species? Maybe not. While the cheetahs also have competition, they occupy a slightly different niche and can solitarily hunt in situations where other African apex predators may not be able to.
What are you guys' opinions on these hypotheses or on any other cat/carnivore behavior that you might be interested in? Do you have any other hypotheses that you think might explain these social differences among the cat family? If you guys wanna go read more into big cats and their behaviors check out this website. TheBigCats

-Cullan Bartel


     This is flu season. The time period where everyone is getting sick and indirectly spreading it to others. Usually around October, there are ads everywhere trying to convince people to get the flu shot. The flu  causes the antibodies in the body to develop about two weeks after vaccination which is supposed to provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine. There are several kinds of vaccines available. The traditional flu vaccines are meant to protect against three different flu viruses, which are referred to as "trivalent vaccines”. Trivalent vaccines protects against two influenza A viruses (an H1N1 and an H3N2) and an influenza B virus.
   How affective the flu vaccine can actually be, ranges widely from season to season. The vaccine’s effectiveness also can vary depending on who is being vaccinated. Two major factors that play a role in determining the likelihood that flu vaccine will protect a person from flu illness: 1)characteristics of the person being vaccinated (age and health), and 2) the similarity or "match" between the flu viruses and the flu vaccine is designed to protect against.
     There are new studies that proved that this year's flu vaccines are  23 percent less effective against this year's predominant strain, H3N2. It turns out that the vaccine doesn't offer much protection due to the fact that H3N2 has mutated since the vaccine was created and manufactured. The mutations are called "drift". Vaccines are made months in advance so often do not protect well against drifted viruses although they may provide a little of what's called cross protection.

   Doctors who were participating in the U.S. Flu VE Network interviewed their patients. The patients were eligible for the study if they were at least 6 months old and had an acute respiratory illness with a cough, and had not yet taken any flu medicines, like Tamiflu or Relenza. Researchers used a genetic test to see whether their patients had the flu and which strain. They also asked volunteers whether they had gotten a flu shot or flu mist vaccine at least two weeks before they became sick. As of January 2, 2015, 2,321 children and adults had joined the study. It was found that 49% of the people who tested positive for the flu had been vaccinated, along with a slightly higher percentage – 56% – of those who tested negative
    Vaccinated people may be more vulnerable than usual to the flu,so  CDC is recommending that doctors use two antiviral drugs Tamiflu and Relenza to treat flu and in some cases to prevent it.Tamiflu and Relenza are prescription medicines used to treat the flu in people starting as two weeks old who have had flu symptoms for no more than 2 days. This medication can also reduce the chance of getting the flu in people 1 year and older. It does not prevent bacterial infections that may happen with the flu nor is a substitute for an annual flu vaccination.Giving them to people within a day or two of infection can keep them out of the hospital and reduce how long they're sick for.

Posted By: Barbara Afogho (group A)