Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Friends Are Better Than Chocolate?

Altruism has always been an intriguing aspect of evolutionary selection. It seems very counterintuitive to have animals sacrificing resources (or even themselves) to save others. Sometimes these acts of valor are committed for animals that are not even the direct descendants or relatives, which makes appear to be even more illogical.
The whole mindset of looking at selfless behavior as something that is evolutionarily altruistic provides an interesting perspective. When we help out a friend or a family member, are we doing that because we care or because of our own evolutionary tendencies?
A recent study conducted by researchers at the Kwansei Gakuin University in Japan shed some interesting light on the whole concept of altruism. Rats, which are generally associated with sewers and filth, were studied to observe their social dynamics. Interestingly, when provided the ability to choose between chocolate and saving another drowning rat, the rats decided to save the other animal. The research project altered the experimental setting to provide insight, and even studied scenarios where the compartment with the drowning rat was actually dry. The rats only opted to open the door for the test subject when it was actually in danger. When provided with two doors (one with chocolate, the other with a drowning rat), the majority of the trial resulted in the experimental rat saving the drowning rat, despite the fact that chocolate is a desirable food source for the animals.
I was surprised by this finding. Though I have studied altruism in many courses, I never expected it to be prevalent in this specific species. This does not directly relate to humans, however the study of altruism has sparked an interesting debate in how it can be applied to human social dynamics. For animal species, altruism and selfless behavior have always been explained as actions that are evolutionarily beneficial for the selfless animal. For humans, the discussion changes. Are we truly dictated by natural selection in the same way as other species? Are our selfless actions actually just for our own evolutionary benefit? The intersection of evolution and social factors have not been fully studied, in humans or any other species.
Regardless, it is intriguing that the rats chose long term resources (the benefit of sociality in rats) over the immediate source of food. Though this project did not conclusively explain any of the aspects of altruism in the rats, it did demonstrate that altruism is a powerful force in decision making, potentially strong enough to dictate our own actions. The study of human evolution is still a young movement, but with the progress that researchers are making with other species, it will be interesting to see what light that may shed upon our understanding over our own evolutionary tendencies.

Harris Jackson (Week 1)

Citations and links:

Bartal, I. B. A., Decety, J., & Mason, P. (2011). Empathy and pro-social behavior in rats. Science, 334(6061), 1427-1430.

Sato, N., Tan, L., Tate, K., & Okada, M. (2015). Rats demonstrate helping behavior toward a soaked conspecific. Animal cognition, 18(5), 1039-1047.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Rise In Bat Population Means More Tequila ?

To my surprise, I found in reading a National Geographic article that there is a strong connection between bats and tequila.  Tequila comes from a spiky, stocky, blue plant called agave, which rely on multiple bat species for pollination, one of them being the lesser long-nosed bat. Without bats there would be no tequila, which is why the removal of lesser long-nosed bats from the endangered list is such good news for tequila drinkers everywhere.  This is good news for all humanity in fact, as it shows how efforts to conserve the Earth and its species is really paying off. In a joint effort between Mexico and the United States, conservation scientists were able to raise the lesser long-nosed bat population from about 1,000 to over 200,000 in the span of thirty years.


This was the first ever bat removed from the U.S endangered species list, which has come a long way be completely stable and void of all threats to its species’ survival.  Due to the fact that these bats spend large amounts of time in both Mexico and the United States, both countries had to work together to conserve the species. By identifying the symbiotic relationship between bats and agave plants, scientists were able to develop a plan which would conserve the plants and protect the bats.   One program implemented to help the lesser long-nosed bats was to certify tequila producers as “bat friendly” if they allowed these bats to pollinate their agave plant, which helped to supply more food for the bats. It took many years and many different programs in order to bring these bats off the endangered list, while there are still some bat species that remain threatened.   The Earth is facing many challenges with climate change, which will require much more environmental conservation efforts. But for now, its important to reflect on the successful efforts to help protect the planet, it’s species, and tequila.

-James Bowler (3)

Marijuana's Journey into Pediatrics

            With many states legalizing marijuana as more of it’s benefits surface, a controversy that’s arising is whether or not CBD should be used medicinally to treat children or adolescents. CBD, or cannabidiol, differs from THC in that it doesn’t have any psychoactive effects, therefor it doesn’t get one high. Its known to work exceptionally at easing nausea that’s often caused from chemotherapy, reduce seizures with those who have disorders such as epilepsy, and even increase the ability to focus with those whom have attention deficit disorders. Even though marijuana is becoming legal among most states as it’s benefits become more known, the long term effect on use while the brain is developing is still unknown. This brings in the issue on whether or not its ethical to treat children with CBD rather than past treatments.
Image result for painkillers vs marijuana
     One pediatrician took the child out of the picture when trying to settle this debate. Regardless of the effects it poses on the child, Julie Kim a pediatric oncologist of fifteen years has been seeing a side of prescribing opioids that’s often overlooked. A huge issue found is many parents taking the medications themselves instead of their sick child, creating an opioid addiction. In some cases, the parents make up the children’s pain just to get the prescription.  It’s often seen that parent keep persisting that the original recommendations of rest, ibuprophen, and physical therapy aren’t helping their child until they’re finally prescribed things such as oxycodone or morphine. From there, Kim has found that parents who struggle with these addictions start obtaining these prescriptions at an alarming rate that would normally way too often for a child to take. In attempt to try and trick these parents into stopping their addictions, Kim prescribes CBD instead, a much less dangerous and addictive drug. This way she eliminates any responsibility or liability she may have had if a parent ever experienced an overdose.
Image result for addicted parents
            Kim makes it clear throughout her article that she is pro-marijuana because she is anti-opioid. I think this is a very important way to look at this issue. When researching the pros and cons to prescribing a child medicinal marijuana, most cons consisted of there not being enough search to know that long term effects it may have on the child’s development, or that certain cognitive abilities may be impaired. Those are valid cons, but when looking at the bigger, more dangerous effects that other opioids prescribed to them have cannabinoids don’t compare. Plus, there have bee many cases in which CBD is more effective than other treatments. Until the opioid business gets proper regulation, marijuana may be a better way to help treat your child.

-Katherine Patota (3)


A Delicate Balance

                      I recently read an article in Science about antibiotics in prematurely born babies. As we learn more and more about the human body we come to realize that things we have done in the past are not always the best for us going forward. One of the hot new topics in science is the microbiome, or the trillions of cells that live in our body. The gut biome has been described as an organ of its own, weighing as much as the liver and having more neurotransmitters than the brain. This article looks at the data on the effects of blanket antibiotics given to premature babies and how it affects them in life. One thing that the researchers discovered is just how widespread the antibiotic have become. One example was a premature baby at the Duke NICU that had been prescribed antibiotics without testing for infection or any signs of infection. The researchers realized that this is a very common practice. There are nearly half a million babies born prematurely a year and a good majority are given antibiotics without signs of infection or testing for infection. This has raised the question of whether this practice is doing more harm than good. They found that a premature baby’s gut microbiome will be severely affected by antibiotics. Many doctors are to starting to realize that blanket antibiotics are not the answer in other specialties, but the neonatal units are not adapting quickly to this view. Three of the top four drugs prescribed in the NICU are antibiotics. What researchers found is that early use of antibiotics to prevent thing like sepsis has been reduced, leading to today's high premature birth survival rate. On the other hand, we are seeing an increase in late-onset sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis as the babies mature. Another study in Pediatrics showed that for each additional day that a premature baby was on antibiotics, it was at an increased rate of necrotizing enterocolitis and death. Stool samples revealed that the biodiversity of premature babies who were long term antibiotic users showed a decimation of diversity in the microbiome compared to those that were just on them for a few days. The researcher was not able to get a proper control as all the premature babies had been exposed to antibiotics. The researchers have begun trials after getting long-awaited approval from institutional review boards who were slow to accept the idea. The biggest roadblock they are currently finding is the physicians stuck in their old ways that even when assigned the control group will revert to giving them antibiotics at the sign of a sniffle. It is good that there are researchers that are questioning this long-held practice and are continuing to attempt and make our world a safer place.

Zane Ruehrwein (3)

Mono linked to seven SERIOUS diseases

Mono linked to seven serous diseases

If you thought having mono was bad enough scientist have linked it to other diseases. Those diseases are systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), celiac disease and type 1 diabetes. Just these seven diseases alone affect 8 million people in the US itself.  Mononucleosis is commonly known as mono. Espstein- Barr Virus (EBV) is what causes mononucleosis. There is a protein produced by the virus, EBNA2 that is along several locations in the human genome.

Researchers have shed a light on how environmental factors interact with human genomes and have influenced diseases. Environmental factors are things such as viral or bacterial infections, to poor diet, pollution, and other hazardous exposures. EBV is a very common virus in the US, about 90% of people can be infected by age 20. In other nations that are less developed nations, 90% of the people become infected by age 2. Once someone is infected with EBV, the virus remain in their body for the rest of their lives. Mono causes the body to become extremely fatigue. Some may know that mono is nicknamed the "kissing disease". This is because the main cause for the spread of the this virus is through saliva. Researchers have found possible connections between lupus and EBV. This bring the idea that there are proposing mechanisms of the immune system in response to the virus that leads to lupus. Researchers have also found that almost all children with lupus are found to be infected with EBV. So far there are no vaccines that are able to prevent someone from getting infected by EBV.

- Tatiana Silveira (3)

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "'Mono' virus linked to seven serious diseases: Epstein-Barr virus may affect health in more ways than known." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 April 2018. .

Food Poisoning Prevention

packaged meat
Food poisoning is a very common illness, with over 3 million cases a year in the US alone. I can attest first hand the experience of food poisoning: it is certainly not fun. My personal experience stems from eating at shady restaurants and eateries in questionable areas of Boston. The illness is the result of consuming contaminated and/or toxic food. Such toxic food is contaminated by microbes which may be bacteria, viruses, and other very small toxins.

Some contaminated food is often hard to detect with just the naked eye due to the microscopic size of the toxins. However, Carlos Filipe and his chemical engineer colleagues have created a plastic film that detects the presence of E. coli. When the material touches the bacteria or its secretions, the film glows, indicating that the film and whatever it covers is contaminated. Practical use is still questionable, as the film requires UV light or a fluorescence scanner to view the film's glow. Researchers plan to eventually be able to detect other bacteria with films, such as Salmonella.

Advancements in determining when products are contaminated with food is crucial. Many people in the United States are affected by food poisoning, and if technology can be developed where it is commonplace in every super market then the number of cases could drop significantly. Further research could also include Filipe and colleague's film on packaged groceries so that the packaging glows when the food goes bad. This would be helpful in curbing food poisoning in produce and meats, giving you a timetable on when the food can or cannot be consumed.


Posted by Patrick Munley (2)

Natural Insect Resistance May Make
Pesticides Obsolete
Written By Brooke Sullivan (3)
The plant shown above is known as the currant
tomato (Solanum pimpinellifolium) a close relative to the
modern cultivated tomato, this species and other
relatives are native on the Galapagos islands. Other
than their beauty, what makes this family of tomatoes
extraordinary is their resistance to whiteflies.
Whiteflies are naturally attracted to plants such
as tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers and cabbage; they
are detrimental to the plants health. The flies land on
leaves and feed on the plant’s vital juices and create
a substance known as honeydew, and lay their eggs
on the plant. Honey dew can attract ants and is a
suitable habitat for many types of fungus often halting
photosynthesis in that part of the leaf. (Old Farmer’s
It is believed that the acyl sugars in the
epithelial cells of these Galapagos native tomatoes is
responsible for the whitefly resistance.   (Vosman, Ben,
et al, 2018) Though the acyl sugars direct role in
preventing the whiteflies has not yet been
discovered the two prevailing theories are: that the
sugars are toxic to the insects, and that the sugars
sticky nature immobilizes and traps the insects
them on the leaf. (Vosman, Ben, et al, 2018)
Many of the genes  that code for the
production of acyl sugars have been discovered
but more research must be done to isolate the
production. This research has the potential to
improve agriculture globally. Once the gene for
creating the acyl sugars is isolated it may be possible
to transgenically transform plants with this resistance.
This would reduce the need for dangerous pesticides
allowing humans to consume fresh veggies without
the worry of harmful pesticides and would likely bolster
the bee populations of the world which are suffering due to
commercial pesticide.  

Written By Brooke Sullivan (3)

Close relative of the cultivated tomato is resistant to
many insects. (2018, April 06). Retrieved from
Old Farmer's Almanac. (n.d.). Whiteflies. Retrieved from
Vosman, B., C., W. P., Henken, B., Henriƫtte D. L. M.
van Eekelen, Vos, R. C., & Voorrips, R. E.
(2018, February 06). Broad spectrum insect
resistance and metabolites in close relatives

of the cultivated tomato. Retrieved from

Fake News: Climate Change Edition

         The rise of the internet allowed for an abundance of information to be readily available, any time, at our fingertips. While this allowed for literacy, knowledge, and education rates to skyrocket, many individuals and news outlets have taken this platform as a means of deliberately spreading their myths and propaganda. One of the subjects these fake articles commonly discuss is climate change skepticism, and whether its causes or severity are accurately depicted by scientists and mainstream media.


         Unfortunately, finding a climate change denial article was easy. The author, Elmer Beauregard, even went on to organize ‘scientific evidence’ in bullet points to support his ‘climate change is a hoax’ theory. His argument included record snow and record cold, which he believes ultimately proves that global warming is a hoax, since the Earth is not getting warmer, but colder. As many studies prove, climate change is not explicitly bound by global warming, but rather extreme temperatures in general. The Earth being extremely cold has as much of a detrimental effect as being extremely hot. Another argument he mentioned is that 99% of scientists don’t believe in man-made global warming. After tracing these statistics, I found that they were published on a political campaign website in Minnesota back in 2007. 
        While we had hoped that science would remain unfazed by this explosion of fake news, there has been a rise in the number of inaccurate publications ranging from fabricated data to improper analysis. Due to the difficulty and ethical complications of censoring the internet, it’s imperative that we take the responsibility of monitoring the credibility of our sources.

Rund Tawfiq (3)

Beauregard, E. (2015, January 23). Top ten reasons climate change is a hoax. Retrieved from:

The Importance of Infants’ Exposure to Micro-Organisms

        There are currently several studies that suggest that the trillions of micro-organisms inhabiting within the human body hold much influence in the present and future health conditions. There is evidence within research that suggests limited breast-feeding can alter the micro-organism populations within a child’s gut and this can possibly explain the up rise of health issues in children and adults such as type 1 diabetes, asthma, allergies, obesity and celiac disease. Although babies are exposed to some organisms in utero, the most impactful ones are encountered during birth and the first few months of their lives. These are the micro-organisms that become permanent within their microbiome. It has been studied that both a vaginal birth and breast-feeding can remarkably impact the microbes present in babies’ guts and ultimately affect the risk of developing other serious health problems.
        I have always known that breast-feeding is preferred by physicians up until a certain age, as the breast milks contains certain nutrients that are essential for babies health, which are typically not present in store-brought milk for babies. However, I did not think of the impact this could have on a child’s microbiome which would clearly affect them even until their adult lives. I certainly did not think of the impact vaginal birth could have on the microbiome either but the research indicates clear benefits. It creates a more diverse microbiome in children with natural birth and breast-feeding, thus leading to a more well-rounded immune system when encountering certain pathogens. 

Brody, Jane E. “The Importance of Infants' Exposure to Micro-Organisms.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Feb. 2018,     -microbiome-cesarean-childbirth-breastfeeding.html?rref.

Sunaina Sharma (3)