Wednesday, February 28, 2018

One in a Million

Earlier this week a yellow cardinal was spotted in Alabama. 
This beautiful bird is rare anomaly bird watchers are flocking to 
Alabama to witness this bird in person. Most people will never get
 the chance to see a yellow cardinal the phenotype is only spotted 
two to three times each year. This yellow phenotype is so rare 
because the color red in birds has been overwhelmingly sexually 
selected for. The theory behind the selection is: the enzyme that
converts yellow pigment to red is located in mitochondria so it is
linked to energy production, thus the red pigment is associated 
with higher fitness. (Lopes et. al. 2016)

 Many birds such as cardinals, flamingos and woodpeckers, 
need to consume pigments known as carotenoids to achieve their 
bright plumage colors. Carotenoids are organic pigments in orange 
foods such as sweet potato, carrots, and apricots. This effect spans 
vertebrate phylum and has been shown to affect salmon and even 
humans: the salmon’s pink colored flesh is result from the 
consumption of carotenoids, and humans’ skin can turn orange from
consuming high levels of beta carotenes (a carotenoid) which is 
commonly found in carrots. (Lopes et. al. 2016) 

This yellow cardinal is likely a knockout mutant for the gene 
that produces CYP2J19 an enzyme for processing beta carotenes.
 CYP2J19 converts the yellow pigments into red feathers.
(Lopes et. al. 2016) CYP2J19 is a ketolase which cleaves
the beta carotene at the keytones changing the compound into canthaxanthin changing the color of this compound from yellow to red. (Lopes et. al. 2016)

While this mutation may not change the fate of 
society, it certainly made many bird watchers’ day. Dramatic
mutations like this that alter an organism’s entire phenotype
are a reminder or just how genetically diverse life is, how
special it is for every living organism in the world to have its
own mostly unique genetic code, and humbles all who realize
the fantastic awe-inspiring process of evolution.

Written By: Brooke Sullivan
Story Inspiration:
Genetic Basis for Red Coloration in Birds
Lopes, Ricardo J. et al.
Current Biology , Volume 26 , Issue 11 , 1427 - 1434

The Catch to Chemotherapy

The Catch to Chemotherapy. 

Breast cancer survival rate is continuously improving in many countries. Some therapies have been able to help diminish the effects of chemotherapy, but show other sorts of side effects such as a decrease in hemoglobin level, muscle strength, and reduced cardiorespiratory fitness. It is no secret that the effects of chemotherapy can be extremely harsh to one’s body, but recently it has been discovered that exercise can improve one’s physical function and describe one’s fatigue when it comes to chemotherapy.

The OptiTrain trial was conducted to see the effects of high-intensity interval training (RT-HIIT, AT-HIIT, or UC) in breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. As a result, the trial lasted 16 weeks and exercise groups trained twice every week under supervision of an exercise physiology or oncology nurse. The results of the 240 women showed that muscle strength was significantly improved and that there was a decrease in pain sensitivity. It also showed that there was a success in preventing any declines in their cardiorespiratory fitness and that HIIT is an effective and time-saving training strategy that results in similar benefits as high-volume aerobic training. It is recommended that women who receive chemotherapy for primary breast cancer should have access to a HIIT regimen.

As a biology major, cancer has always been a topic of interest to me. Fortunately, my family and I have not had to deal with any type of cancer, but one of my closest friend’s father died from cancer and it took a big toll on her. I think it’s safe to say that many people see chemotherapy as something that’s “negative” in a sense because of the varying side effects it has on a person’s body. Chemotherapy can damage blood-forming cells in the bone marrow, hair follicles and cells in the reproductive system or digestive tract. Worst case scenario, it can even damage cells such as the heart, nervous system and other crucial body parts. 

Reading this article made me wonder about not just people who are diagnosed with breast cancer, but other cancers and whether or not they know that there are other options for them. Just because they have to go through with chemotherapy, doesn’t mean that they can’t do something to help diminish the side effects. I can only imagine how one would feel if they found out they had cancer, but I think knowing about different treatments and options really do give these people hope and a chance to start over. I know HIIT isn’t a cure for cancer, but it is definitely something that helps your body through possible rough treatments. 

Catherine Tsang (2)

The Blues of Light

     Its no surprise that light plays a vital role in all life on the planet. Plants use it to respirate and create energy and most animals utilize the light from the sun to dictate their habits and lives. In recent years, us humans have found ourselves exposing ourselves to more and more light from our various technologies. However, the popularization and around the clock exposure to artificial light, especially the Blue light emitted from LED's found in most smart phones and computers, have been found to adversely affect the health and circadian rhythms of many people with high exposure to this harmful light.   
     Artificial Light has been linked to such adverse effects such as a damaged sleep schedule with potential links to the causation of cancer, obesity, and diabetes. A study showed that when people were put on a schedule that gradually shifted their circadian rhythms, their levels of blood sugar increased and levels of leptin decreased. Both changes could potentially lead to a pre diabetic state with exposure to other adverse effects as well.
     The body's Circadian Rhythm is what is observed to regulate most innate functions and secretions within the body, and average to oscillate on a roughly 24 hour basis. This reflects the natural exposure to sunlight and the pattern of melatonin secretion which aligns ones internal clock with their environment. Exposure to any light can disrupt or alter circadian rhythms, but Blue light in particular has shown to have the most harmful effects. In a separate study, researchers compared a group of people exposed to blue light for 6.5 hours, and another group only exposed to green light for the same length of time. The study concluded that the group exposed to the blue light showed suppressed melatonin secretion for twice as long as the green light group and shifted their circadian rhythms by 3 hours as opposed to the green lights 1.5 hours. This suppression of melatonin, throws off the bodies natural sleep cycle and can easily lead to sleep deprivation if persisted.

Derek Simoncelli (3)

What you need to know about Meningitis

Meningitis ! If you have been at Umass this year i'm sure you have heard of it.  There was quite a big scare last semester when it became news that two umass students tested positive for the same strain of meningitis, which eventually lead to the university giving out the vaccine to over 10,000 students.  This is a very serious disease that affects the brain and spinal cord and can even be fatal in some cases. Unfortunately, there was a new diagnosis of meningitis in a Smith College student just last week.      
Spreading this disease is very easy, and can be done through contact either directly or indirectly.  This makes it especially alarming in an area like Amherst where there are so many people sharing a small space. Meningitis causes inflammation of the membranes that line the spinal cord, which has a huge effect on the nervous system. This leads to flu-like symptoms, as well as severe headaches, light sensitivity, and a stiff neck. There are also many different strains of meningitis which makes the treatment process different depending on if you have bacterial or viral type.  Bacterial meningitis will require antibiotics before becoming life-threatening, while people with viral meningitis can recover within 2 weeks.  
It is no wonder why these cases have triggered such a reaction in the town of Amherst, and Umass specifically.  There are so many risks associated with this disease and it is so easy to get if you are not vaccinated.  Umass makes it very easy to get vaccinated too, as they regularly host walk in clinics on campus.  More information on vaccinations on campus can be found at  The recent case just proves that the bacteria is still active in Amherst, and there is no reason not to get vaccinated and prevent a potential illness.

James Bowler

What's your Puppy Trying to Say?

Have you ever wondered what little Fido was trying to tell you? Most of us wish that our furry companions had the ability to talk. When we think about communication, we often think about speaking and signaling, but don’t consider facial expressions. Thankfully, a deeper examination of animal communication could change your relationship with your best friend.

In 2013, a study by researchers at Walden University aimed to explore the classification of canine facial expressions from photographs. Both experienced and non-experienced dog owners were shown photographs of dogs with different facial expressions, with each expression previously categorized into an emotion. Experienced dog owners had an upper hand in identifying situations that were behaviorally defined, while non-experienced dog owners were better at detecting aggressiveness. 

Many people consider dogs to have a strong ability to form emotional bonds with humans. They’re also socially interesting animals whose experience shapes their behavior. Personally, I’ve rescued two dogs that came from completely different backgrounds. At times, I find it extremely difficult to understand their emotions. I’m thankful that I learned this now, so I could be more observant to their needs, as they are of mine.

Rund Tawfiq (3)

Why do people nail bite?

Why do people nail bite?

Nail bitting also known as NB is a very common. It is a problem in psychiatry,  psychology, medicine and dentistry. Nail bitting can be stopped, but it can be very difficult based on the individual. There is a review aiming at the overview of prevalence, co-morbidities, education, counseling and management for nail bitting. Co-morbidities of psychiatric disorders and stereotypic  behaviors is a clinical sample in children. The percent of the children who suffer is 80%, more than half the children's parents have also suffered from the same disorders, such as depression.

Nail biting usually doesn't occur until the age of three or four. This is a very young age at which nail biting can occur. It is unclear what percentage of children with NB stopping. Nail biting decreases once one goes from a child to an adolescent. In a study in Iran, school age children indicated that NB in boys and girls was 20.1% to 24.4%. This study showed that NB is not related when it comes to gender. This is because the percentages are so close in number that there really isn't a difference. NB is also not related to conduct problems, inattentiveness, hyperactivity and peer problems. A study showed that 36.8% of nail biters had one family member with the same bad habit. NB has not been proven to be genetic, but when it comes to children biting their nails it may be because they are exposed to the bad habit of nail biting. Nail biting has been related to a behavioral and anxiety study. NB is a state of anxiety and not a trait. The trait coincides with NB is oral aggression. Recent studies have shown that NB is due to boredom or working on difficult problems rather than anxiety. Nail biters don't bite their nails in social interactions or when they are reprimanded for their bad habit.

I myself am a nail biter so reading this journal entry changed my perspective of things. Based off what I shared above I thought it was interesting that studies showed that nail biting is not caused from anxiety or depression. After rereading this I thought about my interactions when I nail bit. I normally nail bite when I am under stress, for example test taking. I recently had a physics exam and gnawed off all my nails because I sought the problems to be very difficult. That being said it makes me think about all the times I have bitten my nails. Did I bite my nails because of the difficulty and not that I was anxious?


Tatiana Silveira (3) 

Inside Wounded Flies, Fat Cells Race to the Rescue

It has always been thought that fat cells live a sedentary lifestyle. Since fat cells
 are usually much bigger than other cells, it has been thought that they do not move 
much. A team at the University of Bristol in Britain, headed by Anna Franz, has 
evidence to suggest otherwise. She  studied the immune response in fruit flies under
 a microscope.
Dr. Franz and her colleagues used a laser to make small wounds on the thoraxes 
of the fruit flies. She observed cloud-like shadows moving to a lesion on a wounded 
insect. They observed that not only were the fat cells arriving at the site of the wound, 
but they were also performing vital functions. The researchers observed how the fat 
cells used their mass to plug the hole created. They also observed the fat cells
 pushing the harmful debris to the edge where immune cells were waiting for them. 
The fat cells also created a microbial substance that could fight off infection and 
promote healing.
The fat cells’ form of locomotion was one that was not expected to be seen.
 They use actin and myosin proteins typically found in muscle cells as a 
means to their locomotion. The researchers wanted to confirm that actin and myosin 
were the modes of locomotion. They created genetically modified cells where those
proteins were inactive. They then created a lesion and observed no movement on their 
own. The researchers are unsure what tells the fat cells to go to the site of injury. The 
researchers ruled out the theory that the immune cells draw them in. They created 
mice that were lacking immune cells, they still observed fat cells moving to the site. 
Other studies have suggested that fat cells may be responsible for more than just 
energy and insulation. Such studies point to fat also helping in tissue repair and 
immune responses. If the researchers observe a similar response in vertebrates and 
humans it could create a very lucrative vanity-driven industry, as a lot of people would 
pay to have fat move to otherplaces on their body.

Posted by: Zane Ruehrwein (3)

A Potential to Deliver Noninvasive Brain Stimulation

            Scientists at NYU School of Medicine have investigated into a new method known as  transcranial electric stimulation (TES), which they believe offers a more efficient approach to affecting brain circuits, in comparison to current methods. Investigations are currently being done to see how TES could possibly aid in the treatment of neurologic and psychiatric conditions.
            The idea for noninvasive TES was brought about after NYU Langone scientists suggested that the current protocols were not delivering an adequate amount of stimulation to affect neuronal activity within the human brain. Dr. Buzsáki and colleagues have shown this novel stimulation method to be more effective at affecting neuronal circuits, in addition to establishing a minimum current threshold needed to affect brain oscillations in people.
            Although this method is more efficient than current protocol, it does not directly stimulate neurons in the brain, which is the goal for most people working in the field of neurology. Scientists are still looking to find stimulation methods that would deliver enough charges to the brain with a decreased effect on the scalp. There is need for devices that deliver a higher intensity of current, without causing an excess of sensory discomfort.

Posted By: Sunaina Sharma (3)