Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Why do humans naturally prefer fats and sugars in their diet over more healthy alternatives?

Despite many people in modern nations preferring to eat more natural and healthy foods, it is hard to argue the fact that a piece of chicken tastes better alone than fried with some vegetable oil in a pan. Now let's add some barbecue sauce... see how that may make your mouth water?

Overall, through the addition of a fat and something sugary, the appeal of a food item has increased drastically. According to this article, the main reasoning is that fats and sugars have one thing in common; they have very high concentrations of energy. Evolutionary, originating in animals, those that seeked food sources that contained higher amounts of energy would be more successful, therefore the brain is more satisfied by these foods. This idea leads to the craving of fats and sugars that modern humans have. 

Generally, children have a higher affinity to sweet and fatty foods than adults. Because children have not fully developed their taste system, the first foods that we learn to like are the aforementioned food groups. This ensures that all developing children will receive adequate energy from their food while liking the taste. 

Another trend that is observed is the state of social development in a nation based on its obesity, which is derived from average amount of sugar and fats consumed. Undeveloped nations such as Yemen and Afghanistan contain very few obese people due to a lack of ability to afford high-sugar and high-fat products. Once a nation has been developing, it will go through a phase of high consumption of high energy foods, observed in places such as Egypt and Mexico. Developed nations with high wealth disparity also have high rates of obesity, such as Saudi Arabia and the United States. Nations that have fully developed socially endure a final phase of returning to eating less energy rich foods due to health concerns and a lesser need of high calorie foods with more idle lifestyles. Examples of this trend include Spain and France.

Overall, the differing reactions to certain foods by our taste buds is not just one of life's greatest indulgences and the modern person's largest threat to health, but it can even give insight to society as a whole. 

Posted by Isaac Collibee (7)

Nine Pieces of Eight: The Minds of an Octopus

Part of what draws us biologists to our field is the chance to observe and learn about the many different superpowers that lifeforms possess in nature; adaptations, as we call them. At one point or another, I think we all must face that fact that there is a true superman among Earth’s different creatures; the octopus. This marvel of the ocean exhibits many different superpowers: camouflage, shape-shifting, texture-shifting, ink-expelling, venomous bites, glowing, and regeneration to name just a few. What people don’t realize is just how alien this Kryptonian really is in terms of physiology. What sets the octopus apart from other species is its central nervous systems (plural). In addition to having a brain, an octopus has eight other centralized nervous systems; one in each of its arms. 

This unique octopus feature is what makes them such good multi-taskers. It would be as if you or I had brains in our hands that made them operate separately with surroundings without our direct central control. The arms of an octopus have their own neural integration centers and can interact with stimuli without the octopus brain consciously processing it. In fact, according to AGU research, octopus arms can communicate with each other without the brain ‘listening in’ because of a neural ‘ring’ that skirts around it while also connecting to each of the integration centers in the eight arms. Our analogy of thinking hands could be expanded; the neural ring structure would be as if our hands were talking with each other behind our backs. Further evidence of the divided central nervous systems can be seen when measuring the neural activity in each appendage when an octopus is going about its daily routines. If a scientist were to measure the neural activity in each of the arms of the octopus while it was interacting with something the scientist would observe that different electrical patterns occur in each of the arms; this indicates that each arm is acting as a separate entity in the octopus’s environment.  

Learning about all these additional ‘brains’ causes one to wonder; “what would happen if one of the octopus arms were to be cut off?”. Octopus’s sometimes cut off their own limbs to escape from predators (making it clear that they don’t have much sentimental value for the semi-conscious beings attached to them). In this scenario, most people would focus on the escaping octopus in wonder of its abilities. However, if one were to watch the amputated limb left behind, their jaws would drop even further when they saw the lone tentacle crawl away by itself. According to this article, when this chopped off tentacle by chance comes into contact with a tasty morsel, it will automatically grasp it and move it towards the absent mouth of its octopus body. Unfortunately for the tentacle, without the mouth and digestive system of it former body, it will die alone without its tentacle brethren. Even if the octopus were to come back for its lost arm, there are biological mechanisms that prevent the amputated arm to latch back on to its owner. These biological mechanisms, which are rooted in the chemical composition of the octopus’ skin, are the reason why octopus arms don’t get entangled while they are accomplishing a task. 

After reading this, you might think to yourself, “Wow! Wish I were an octopus! They are so lucky with all their superpowers!”. The octopus is indeed a superman among the world’s creatures. Remember though that Superman is not from our planet. Relatedly, octopuses are often described by astro-biologists as the closet thing on our Earth to an alien life form. We may not have as many superpowers as the octopus but hey, at least we’re human. Who knows, maybe if we’re lucky we’ll get ourselves some more adaptations down the line, though come to think of it, this would take several thousand generations.

-David Frykenberg (Week 7)

Shark Fin Soup

A historic Chinese delicacy called shark fin soup has rich significance in Asian culture, being idolised as a dish fit only for royalty and the ultra rich. Known for its aphrodisiac effects, the dish is actually pretty underwhelming, consisting of hot clear broth, dried ham, seafood, and small strands of shark fin, making the shark fin an interesting replacement for noodles (Vance 44). In Asian culture it is viewed as a status symbol, eaten at weddings and other celebratory events. The shark fins are sourced through a process known as finning, where a shark is caught, has all of its fins dismembered and then finally thrown back into the sea to bleed out or suffocate. Recently there have been uproars around the world pertaining to the ethics of how shark fins are sourced; leading governments worldwide to consider policy changes and heavier restrictions on the buying and selling of fins. The value of shark fins in terms of currency is very high, in Asia one kilogram of shark fins can cost from $700 all the way up to $1,400. Even though Asian culture highly values the soup as a status symbol in their culture, shark populations need to be protected because they are rapidly declining, on the verge of extinction.
Shark fin soup is deeply rooted in Chinese culture originating from the Ming Dynasty as an imperial dish that only royals and the rich could afford to consume. In the magazine Virginia Quarterly Review Erik Vance explains “According to legend, it was also a notable part of the 
Manchu Han Imperial Feast, a three-day meal presented by the emperor in 1720, where shark fin soup was supposedly served alongside such dishes as camel’s hump, leopard fetus, and brains scooped from the skulls of living monkeys.”(44). Shark fin soup is an integral meal in almost any classic Chinese wedding, being held to the same importance as the bride’s gown. Many people only attending the wedding celebrations to consume the prized dish, and will criticize the the two 
families if it is not provided (Vance 53). In an interview for NPR, a Chinese immigrant from Hong Kong named Wendy Mok equates shark fin soup to ice cream going on to explain “It’s eating at, like, a big birthday party of your aunt or uncle, or, like, a wedding banquet. You usually dress up to go to these special occasions. So when i think of shark fins even now, i'm like, whoa, yum, yum, yum.” (“California Debates”).
The allure and popularity of the dish has had an effect on shark populations across the globe, with biologists worried about the predators possible extinction. It is estimated by The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation that about 900,000 tons of sharks, rays, and skates were caught in just the year 2003. Shark populations have been decimated around the world for only their fins, as shark meat has no real value. A 2006 article in The New York Times claims “Some sharks, like the hammerhead and the great white, have been reduced by upwards of 70 percent in the last 15 years, while other sharks, like the silky white tip, have disappeared from the Caribbean.”. The amount of sharks that have been caught in the last 10 years is triple what was caught 50 years ago. Shark fin fishing is turning into an unsustainable industry, the amount of sharks that are being caught every year is increasing to the point that sharks cannot reproduce quickly enough to keep populations stable. In another report published in 2011 it was estimated that commercial fishing has cut the populations of big shark species by more than 95 percent  (Vance 42). But there seems to be no stopping the shark fishing industry with one fisherman saying “The shark, the fishing, will never end. Fishing will only end when the water ends.”
The practice of fishing sharks for their fins is known as shark finning. Fishermen only harvest the fins of a shark because shark meat by itself has almost no value while the fins of the shark have exponential monetary value. The age-old way that fishermen will acquire fins of a 
shark is by reeling it into the boat, dismember all of the fins and then proceed to throw the shark's body back into the ocean to either bleed out, or consumed by other fish. No shark species are exempt from being finned but in a National Public Radio debate a shark keeper describes the ideal shark for shark finning by explaining “With very large eyes, a tall dorsal fin and wide, exaggerated pectoral fins, unfortunately, she's an example of a shark that might be finned.”. With shark meat being viewed as almost worthless, fishermen see no point in taking up precious storage space for the whole shark, and instead would rather save the space to hold more valuable fish. From one shark the dorsal and pectoral fins, known as a “set” can earn the fisherman 100$ or more.

Liz Clark(7)

ASMR: The New Sensation

ASMR has become very popular over the last couple of years. From many YouTube channels dedicated to it, thousands of videos, and ASMR podcasts, it has become an internet sensation. Some might find it unusual, weird, or even creepy and those who experience it can describe it as a nice soothing feeling. But what is ASMR and what causes it?

ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, a tingling sensation which originates in the back of the head and can go down the spine. It is a response to a stimulus and varies from person to person, causing a feeling of calmness and relaxation. Some of the triggers that can activate this response are whispers, scratching, tapping, blowing, personal attention, hair play, eating, applying makeup, shaving, stirring liquids, hand movements, and many more. There is not a lot of research done on ASMR since it became popular a couple of years ago, Dr. Craig Richard from Shenandoah University is one of the few people that has done research studies on ASMR. On one of his studies he and his colleagues reported what happened inside the brain of 10 volunteers while watching ASMR videos. When the participants experienced the ASMR tingling certain areas of their brains were more active such as the medial prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbes, regions that can also be activated in mammals interact with each other in a positive way. 

Some people believe that one of the reasons why ASMR can give a feeling of calmness and relaxation is because the triggers are believed to release Endorphins, Dopamine, Oxytocin, and Serotonin; the four primary chemicals in the brain that effect happiness. The brain has cells called “mirror cells” that are activated when watching someone do an action or task and are thought to imitate the movements that are seen. Mirror cells are connected to the “body map” and the motor areas of the brain, and it is believed that they are involve in learning and in empathy. It is believed that when seeing hand movements in ASMR videos, such as massages or makeup application, mirror neurons are activated making it seem like you are the one receiving the massage or makeup application and that is why a person can experience tingles as well.

Hopefully in the future more research can be done in the biological and chemical level explaining why ASMR affects some individuals only and what is the science behind it. Now I ask you, have you ever experienced ASMR and if so, how would you describe your experience?

Posted by Genesis Figueroa (7)
The Golden Age Of Antibiotics Is Short Lived !

For as long as humans have existed so have diseases. There are many preventative measures and precautions people can take to minimize exposure to germs; such as washing your hands daily to avoid the simple flu or something as contagious as hepatitis. Although it would be ideal to prevent the spreading of all infections or bacteria to one another it’s actually impossible. The antibiotic era started in the early 1900’s by a man named Alexander Fleming, who discovered ways to defeat illnesses such as the common flu, cold, and more with an antibiotic. However, what Fleming could not predict was how the viruses would respond and retaliate against these new antibiotics. In the 1980’s was when scientists first discovered resistance building up in these viruses you can find the research article (here).
Flemming eventually discovered that viruses can be viewed as some sort of species with a life of their own and will always find a way to thrive in any environment like any other “living thing”. As seen with MRSA in hospitals, a type of staph bacteria that has become resistant to antibiotics allowing infection to spread and become life threatening. Although over the years hospitals have taken precautions to minimize staph infection patients are still at risk. The ultimate fight science face today is the rate at which viruses are exploiting the human body in cases such as cancer. Should we anticipate that one day we will have the research that will be the answer to eradicate viruses and harmful bacteria from our world or do we just accept the fact that it's a losing battle?
Thus far, scientists do not have the ultimate answer to eradicate all diseases. Throughout the years there have been many groundbreaking developments from which now we can cure malaria, varicella, mumps, measles and many other diseases that once would inevitably lead to death, but unfortunately during the past few decades new strains of bacteria have evolved and became resistant to antibiotics. This article here describes antibiotic drugs as delaying the inevitable, because only a few decades ago antibiotics were considered a “wonder” drug because it was actually effective. Currently science can only address these issues through tactics of slowing the rate at which bacteria become resistant and, also by applying our knowledge of evolution that living organisms will evolve when selective pressure is introduced. 

Posted by "Fredjah Desmezeaux" (7)

Can using our phones & laptops accelerate aging?

Can using our phones & laptops accelerate aging?

Growing up I always was told to not look at the computer or tv screen as it can be bad for your eyes. It definitely is an issue how everyone is so reliant on technology and we use it for hours every single day. I never knew that this could have serious effects on other parts of the body like the brain.  Recent studies are showing that wavelengths produced from screens that we look at everyday can have an affect on how long we live. It can simply be from just having the device on and not even looking directly at it.
            A group of researchers at Oregon State University have been looking at how blue wave-lengths can cause damage to cells in your brain and retinas. They looked at Drosophila melanogaster which are fruit flies and exposed them to blue LED lights for a 12-hour period. They discovered that the flies were aging quicker than ones that were not exposed to blue light or were kept in complete darkness. The flies exposed to the LED lights had damage in both their brain and retinal cells. These flies also had affected locomotion and were unable to perform normal activities such as climbing a wall.
            Jaga Giebultowicz who is a member of the research group at OSU mentions how natural light is important for our body’s circadian rhythm which controls brain activity, cell regeneration, etc. Tests have shown that if we are exposed to too much artificial light it can have negative effects on our sleep and circadian rhythm. Us humans are exposed to so much blue light as LEDs emit a high amount. This group also tested blue light response in the fruit flies and discovered that if the flies were able to avoid the blue light then they chose to. This help to show the negative affects that too much blue light can bring.

            As there has not been much research if this actually can increase aging in humans, us humans should try to reduce the amount of blue light exposure we are getting. Some phones and laptops have the ability to block blue light emission which I just found out. I never knew this could be an issue but I definitely will be more cautious from now on when I’m using technology. We need to do our best to protect our bodies and stay healthy. I think that if more research was to be done and if more results come out that show that blue light can have affects on humans, people will be more cautious. If this issue is true and future computers, TVs, and phones are able to be created without emitting blue light, it could have positive outcomes.

Posted by Matt Cayer (7)

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Myth: The Sun Causes Climate Change

Have you ever faced someone who believes that climate change is not real? We as scientists, tend to receive a boat load of criticism when trying to explain the truth about global warming and climate change. The truth is within this current short period of time, the Earth’s surface temperatures are climbing at a rapid rate that has not been seen before. In the 1980’s, when scientists first tried to explain why earth’s temperatures are rising so rapidly, they first turned to the sun. According to this website, scientists believed that an increase in surface temperatures on earth were due to a constant increase in sunspots. 

According to this article, scientists first turned to the sun due to it solar radiation influence on earth. Speculation increased in the mid 20th century following the discovery that the number of sunspots seen on the sun rose and fell in a regular 11 year cycle. This cycle, commonly known as the Schwabe cycle is caused by dark and light spots on the sun’s solar surface. These dark and light spots on the sun can affect the sun’s total irradiance that is received by earth; light spots naturally radiated more solar energy than dark. Naturally, scientists thought that the differences in solar radiation correlated with the variations in spots. Before the greenhouse effect was fully understood, scientists within the 19th century believed that rising global temperatures correlated to these light sun spots. 

Myth: This cycle is not causing global warming! The amplitude of the schwabe radiation cycle is too small and its timeline is too short to have a significant impact on the climate. According to this additional article, the trend between the solar irradiance and global temperatures do not correlate to one another. In order to understand what is happening, it is important to know about Earth’s natural greenhouse effect. When the sun’s solar energy strikes Earth's atmosphere, ⅓  of this radiation is reflected directly back out into space. The remaining ⅔ solar radiation is absorbed by Earth’s surface. Earth’s land and oceans take this absorbed radiation and reflect it back into the atmosphere where greenhouse gases are located. Greenhouse gases within the atmosphosphere trap this solar radiation from escaping into space, essentially trapping the heat and creating a sustainable surface temperature for all life on earth; this is natural budget system. This heat we feel on Earth's surface originates from the sun’s solar radiation 

So what is causing global temperatures to rise? Humans. The fact that we are experiencing the most rapid increase in global temperatures is because of humans. Increased human activities add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere through the use of burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and agriculture/land clearing. Increased greenhouse gases added to Earth’s atmosphere allow less solar radiation (heat) to escape into space. Due to increased greenhouse gases, there is more trapping of heat within our atmosphere which as a result raises Earth’s surface and oceanic temperatures.

-Elise Babula (7).

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Rooftop Gardens — Combating Climate Change

Suburban and rural areas have more farmlands and more open lawn spaces but that doesn’t mean they are more suitable than cities for all species. In fact, for some species urban areas are considered to be a better alternative. In suburban and rural areas, more farms means that there are more pesticides present compared to places like Now York City where there are fewer farms and lawns and therefore fewer pesticides. Rooftop gardens are the perfect way to bring native species back to the cities and are being used to try and increase some of the major declining species like monarch butterflies and honey bees.

A new law is set to take place next month to try and combat climate change. This law would require new buildings to take action by providing either solar panels or a rooftop green space. Real estate groups surrounding the city are not happy with this law saying that it is unfair to require such demands due to the fact that it is more expensive for owners and it can be a burden to maintain a rooftop garden. Others stress that animals in the city can be annoying and out of place. For example the bee swarm that attacked the hot dog stand in New York City a few years ago. Others are suggesting that The Green Point Project can have a positive effect on the city by allowing calming public spaces. Workers can be brought to the roofs via school field trips, community service projects, and even parties.
A New York Times article states that there are currently 730 green roofs in New York which covers only 60 of the city’s 40,000 acres in rooftop space. The article also stresses how urban cities have so much potential to create and rebuild natural habitats. With birds, butterflies, and honey bees significantly decreasing population size over the past few decades, rooftop gardens would be a great way to help try and increase these populations. These gardens would attract the species mentioned above and allow them a safe place to make their homes, away from pesticides. Some effort large or small is all that is being asked for by the residents in the city. From something as large as a whole rooftop garden and designing windows that prevent bird collisions to something as small as a flower box with native plants and a patch of dirt on the side of the road. 

With more urgency being expressed about the harsh reality of our future due to climate change impacts, people are determined to start combating the issue. Small steps like adding a flowering box outside the window are the steps in the right direction that will only get bigger in time. Everyone has to start helping somewhere. Hopefully with this new law taking place in New York, urban areas like the cities can help regrow native species and make a better effort in caring for our planet. It’s the only one we have.

- Posted by "Sophie DeRepentigny" (7)

Friday, October 25, 2019

Fight of Flight May Be in Our Bones

Fight of Flight May Be in Our Bones

Have you ever felt your heart beating out of your chest when you're about to present in front of a large group, or take a high stakes exam? This intense physiological response to high stress levels is often referred to as “Fight or Flight” where the sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system kicks into overdrive, resulting in an increase in heart rate, temperature, respiration, and blood glucose levels. While this norepinephrine (noradrenalin) based response originally evolved in our ancestors to protect us from predation and other potentially life threatening situations, this same mechanism is still triggered in modern humans by seemingly innocuous circumstances. 

A recent controversial study conducted by physician and geneticist Gerald Karsenty at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center supports the claim that at least part of our fight-or-flight response is mediated by the release of a hormone from our bones called osteocalcin. When Karsenty first started his work on osteocalcin over 20 years ago, he originally set out to investigate the role of osteocalcin in the calcification and hardening of bone. However, when Karsenty and his team knocked out the gene encoding for osteocalcin in mice, he noticed that the calcification process remained undisturbed, and that the rodents lacking the protein began to accumulate excess body fat, and have trouble breeding. These results were surprising, and led Karsenty and his team to propose that osteocalcin was a hormone, released into the blood by the skeleton, to help regulate functions in other parts of the body. 

Karsenty and his colleagues began to wonder why the skeleton (involved in protection and movement) also has the ability to act as an endocrine organ. This led researchers to the unusual hypothesis that perhaps bones may have evolved, in part, to help animals escape from danger. If this hypothesis is correct, then it would make sense for the bones to somehow contribute to the fight-or-flight response. The team believed that osteocalcin was able to activate the sympathetic branch of the autonomic (involuntary) nervous system, and performed a second experiment where osteocalcin was injected directly into the bloodstream of mice. However, the protein appeared to have no activity on the sympathetic nervous system and instead led to a rapid decrease in activity in the parasympathetic (rest and digest) branch of the ANS. This suggested that osteocalcin works by inhibiting parasympathetic branch of the ANS, in turn allowing for the fight-or-flight reaction controlled by the sympathetic branch to occur.

In contrast to this, Dr. Elefteriou (a former postdoctoral researcher in Karsenty’s lab) notes that Karsenty has his critics. In fact, many members of the bone research community have been unable to replicate these results, and have posted studies reporting the absence of endocrine abnormalities in mice lacking osteocalcin. Dr. Elefteriou commented on the research stating that “There are people who are in awe in front of this data and think it’s exciting...and some people who, because it’s so controversial, don't believe a thing”.  

Overall, no conclusions regarding the role of osteocalcin in the fight-or-flight response can be made without conducting further research. However, the data exhibited in Karsenty’s study does  inspire the scientific community as a whole to re-evaluate our overly simplistic view of stress, and the fight-or-flight response. So next time you experience that heart pounding, palm sweating stress, consider the fact that it is part of human nature, and may or may not be “in your bones”. 

Posted by Kayla Rosiello (3)

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Ghost Gear Regulations in Response to the Rise of the "Conscious Consumer."

Ghost Gear Regulations in Response to the Rise of the "Conscious Consumer."

Since the 1980’s the marine debris issue has gained significant attention within scientific research, governmental regulations, as well as independent and public communities. More recently, the impacts of “ghost gear” via derelict fishing gear have just begun to gain popular media attention; partly due to the surfacing of graphic images of ocean wildlife getting entangled and injured in the gear. Additionally, the scientific community has taken interest in the rising issue due to concerns over its current and potential impacts on the environment, wildlife habitats, human health, and ultimately the productivity of the ocean. 

To give a short summary: Ghost fishing, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, refers to fishing gear, including: longlines, gillnets, trawls, and crab pots/traps, that are not under control of a fisherman, either commercially or recreationally. A prohibition of dumping or abandoning fishing gear was established by the International Maritime Convention in the 1970s. Ghost gear, however, still enters the ocean by abandonment, breakage, or loss. In many ways, ghost gear can be harmful to underwater ecosystems. The derelict fishing gear not only adds to the marine debris issue, but is also responsible for the unintended injury or death of marine organisms and benthic fauna; ghost gear often continues to fish and entangle various species such as whales and marine birds and mammals even after it has been detached from its vessel.

Shocking Statistics

  •  It has been roughly estimated that ghost gear makes up around 10% of the total marine debris in the ocean
  • 46-80% of the macro-plastic in the ocean come from ghost gear
  • 640,000 tonnes per year in ocean

Starting back in 1994, studies had identified the potential impact of ghost fishing on commercially targeted fish stocks. More recent studies have also indicated that fish stocks can be affected due to ghost gear induced fish mortality, while studies on the economic impacts have suggested the costs of replacing lost gear, or by complying with new regulations, can negatively impact fisheries. 

For businesses and corporations, the concern not only lies with loss of fish stock but also in consumer preference. With the rise of the ‘conscious consumers’ wave, many are growing increasingly concerned over the affliction of plastics in the oceans as, well as the ethicality of the production of the food they purchase. Just look at incidents such as the ban of plastic straws at Starbucks or the removal of plastic shopping bags around the world. In a 2017 report by CONE Communications on corporate social responsibility, it was found that when companies support environmental or conservation issues, 92% of consumers have a more positive image of the company, while 88% of consumers say they would be more loyal to a company. Additionally, at 89%, consumers are more likely to switch over to a company that is environmentally responsible.

Independent organizations working towards education and outreach, as well as an increase in published literature, have been advancing the understanding of the issue. However, a detailed understanding of its impacts on habitats, species, fish stocks, and economy is still limited due to cost-prohibiting factors, as well as the general complexity of the international issue. As a result, very few laws and regulations have been established to address it. It is critical that all seafood companies are proactive and take the first initiatives to prevent the future pollution of ghost gear in our oceans.

Posted by Lauren Mason (6)