Wednesday, November 27, 2019

What's so Magic About Magic Mushrooms?

As you may have heard of by now "magic mushrooms" or Psilocybe cubensis have a unique chemical within them called psilocybin. This chemical is known to cause differences in mood, perception and behavior. Many companies have been researching the effects of this chemical of the mind and they have started to conclude that it can be used to help people deal with depression and anxiety. Altogether it is being considered as a form of medication to improve mental health. In the article "Magic Mushroom" Ingredient Inches Closer to Becoming a Depression Treatment"
by: Ed Cara, he elaborates on the clinical trials concerning Psilocybe cubensis.

Recently the FDA has granted a "breakthrough therapy" treatment. This treatment has been actively studied since 1970 on depression and anxiety. Due to the drug's popularity for recreational use it has been completely banned and labelled as a schedule 1 drug. This means the drug has a high potential for abuse. As time proceeds the research into this drug proves to be worth looking into. At the moment about 55% of people don't respond to typical antidepressants, this means psilocybin could become an alternative medicine.

Clinical trials for psilocybin have been primarily focused around challenges with depression and helping people with severe illnesses such as cancer to help process their anxiety. With the help of the FDA granting companies like COMPASS Pathways the ability to study psilocybin as a last resort drug treatment for depression. The FDA has finally considered this as a possibility that can potentially help. As of now the company is in it's second clinical trial and they expect to be finished with it some time next year. If this second trail is successful it will open the door for phase three clinical trials before being approved.

The expectations for this to come to market are anywhere between five to ten years. Although this may seem like a long time there are still many breakthroughs happening within our country. Denver has decriminalized the personal use and possession of psilocybin mushrooms of people 21 and older. This first simple decriminalization may not seem that significant, but with it opens up the possibility of more research and trails being preformed using this mysterious mushroom.

Posted by: Joshua Gach

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Keto Diet Better Than Flu Shot?

Could it be possible that simply altering your diet could prevent your body from being susceptible to influenza? New research seems to be pointing in that direction. This article describes a recent study conducted among mice where a group of mice were fed strictly a high-fat low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet and placed them in direct comparison with mice fed with high amounts of carbohydrates. The conclusion was that mice on the ketogenic diet fared much better overall in combatting the effects and warding off the influenza virus.

Now, you might be wondering how and why this is the case. It seems as though such a diet is actually capable of activating T-cells in the lungs that otherwise wouldn't have occurred. This then leads to more mucus production, in turn generating more to trap and contain the virus in a more effective manner. They confirmed this finding by feeding mice that were bred to not have these T-cells with the ketogenic diet, and subsequently finding that they did not gain any extra protection against the influenza virus.

These findings are great for the medical community since it is a step towards uncovering just what benefits organisms can gain from something as simple as changing a diet. Although it shouldn't be assumed that these results can be replicated or are applicable to humans, it still demonstrates the great potential of the foods that we eat. What you eat can literally save you from a deadly disease. Crazy!

Posted by Brian Lee (10)

Insulin can increase mosquitoes’ immunity to West Nile virus.

Insulin can increase mosquitoes’ immunity to West Nile virus.

A major health issue these days are a result of mosquito bites. During the summer and even into the fall, mosquitos are out in a full force and it is very common to get bit by them. Even the use of bug spray does not guarantee you will not get bit.  What is scary about some diseases from mosquitos is that there are not known ways to cure and prevent them.  A lot of research is being conducted to hopefully find ways to suppress these viruses that the mosquitos are transmitting. This discovery would help to protect us humans against these harmful diseases.
A research team from Washington State University have been looking into ways to protect humans from these mosquito transmitted diseases. They focused mainly of stopping the infection at the mosquito level. They first began their research with fruit flies due to them having immune responses that are the most similar to mosquitoes. They discovered that there is an insulin like receptor in insects and when it is activated it inhibits replication of viruses. To see if this was effective in mosquitos or not, they fed them blood that had the specific insulin. Once the insulin was in the mosquito, they found that the receptor was activated and suppressed the virus.
As they conducted more tests, they were able to suppress other known viruses such as dengue and Zika that are transmitted through mosquitos. This experiment showed the first time that there was a connection between insulin and a immune response pathway, JAK/STAT. These results are paving the way for more ways to hopefully prevent mosquito spread diseases. If this method proves to continuously have positive outcomes, it can help reduce the chance of getting these diseases. The reason being that if more insulin receptors are activated in more mosquitos, then there is a smaller chance that the disease will be carried by them. As a result, if less of the disease is carried and you are bit by a mosquito, the chance of you getting the disease decreases. I am curious though how this method will be implemented into the mosquito population. This could be really beneficial for everyone. I honestly worry about getting any of these diseases during the summer when I’m out at night so if this method is used more often then I’ll feel a lot more comfortable.  

Posted by Matt Cayer (10)

Eliminate depression ! is that so?

Eliminate depression ! is that so?

         We are now living in a generation that is very conscious of the importance of mental health. Many young people battling with their self images have fallen into the depressions for many years but, today's society recognize these issues and we are working towards advocating for many of those who cannot advocate for themselves. As suicide rates reach new heights, researches have launched a project aiming to eliminate depression. In the past two decades suicide rates have risen by 33 percent. Statistics have shown that only about 65% of adults with depression receive treatments, however only about half get some relief from their symptoms. 

           Scientist taking on this issue figured if they tackle depression on multiple fronts such as; identifying genes that trigger depression, the efficacy of therapies, develop strategies to monitor people with depression to prevent escalated crisis and most importantly continue to encourage openness to those seeking help could be the ultimate strategy to end this fight against depression.This new project will mostly focus on the errant DNA that makes people vulnerable to depression. I think taking the molecular genetics approach to identify specific pathways that makes an individual more vulnerable to depression may be promising results. 

            At first, nailing down the actual gene linked to depression has proven to be elusive for several reasons, severity of symptoms and recurrence vary between men and women which suggest the complexity of this disease. In 2015, two researchers may have found light at the end of the tunnel, they discovered two genetic markers in a study of 2,000 chinese women with severe depression. This study showed that these genes can be found and that this problem is obviously tractable. In addition to this discovery these research will now pursue this issue on a bigger scale, with larger samples and more details. I personally admire the work of these two researchers you can read more about it here. I think if this project in the future may improve many lives. 

posted by "Fredjah Desmezeaux" (10)

Monday, November 18, 2019

Watermelon Heads: 
The “Watermelon” described above is probably not the watermelon you are thinking of. The watermelon in the title refers to the glob of fat known simply as “the melon”, that lies just anterior to the brains of the Odontoceti (toothed whales). Why do these mammals possess this feature? It is not for insulation of the brain in the animal’s surrounding wet and frigid environment. Rather, it acts as a kind of lens, as those you find in eyes, except this lens does not refract and focus EM waves; instead, it refracts sound waves. And not incoming sound waves, but outgoing sound waves!

Where you or I might wear glasses to direct incoming EM waves into our eyes so that images appear more sharply, Odontoceti direct outgoing sound waves from their heads to communicate with other members of their species. They also use their melons to direct sound waves for hunting; this is referred to as echolocation, or more commonly, as sonar. The melon is the integral structure responsible for echolocation in many water mammals, the most famous of these being dolphins. Originating in the head, Odontoceti hum, click and whistle through their melons to find the position of the food they are hunting. An article from Marine Mammal Science describes the design and mechanisms that allow the melon to act as a sound lens. Its shape, size, position in relation to other head structures, and the distribution of adipose tissue and fatty acids all contribute to the melon serving its unique and important function. For peak performance in echolocation, melons set a lower sound limit for whale calls so that the mammals can efficiently transmit high pitched sounds through the aqueous environment. Odontoceti calls are generally very high pitched at levels around 100kHz. 

One of the key components of the melon is its concentration of isovaleric acid (abbreviated iso5:0). Among other acids, iso5:0 makes up about half of the acid composition in the melon and, compared to other tissues in the whale body,  is most concentrated in the melon. This acid is important both for echolocation and also for hearing in toothed whales. In addition to aiding with sonar, some researchers believe that isovaleric acid may have another important function in the melon. Even when Odontoceti whales are in conditions in which food is not available, the iso5:0 concentration remains constant. Their bodies will not utilize this precious bit of fat in their heads even when they’re starving! Isovaleric acid may be the key to a more complete understanding of precisely how the melon operates in toothed whales. 

Odontoceti whales have an additional glob of fat besides the brain that makes them special. These melons in their heads actually transform their voices into a new way of seeing. Imagine singing through your forehead to know where everything is!

- David Frykenberg (Week 10)

Chameleons Color Changing Secre

Do you ever wish you could blend into the background? Be overlooked and unseen? Chameleons are famous for their quick color changing abilities; these lizards are able to generate marvelous patterns and blends that tend to match their surroundings. However, it is a common misconception that chameleons camouflage themselves in efforts to avoid predation. According to this article, chameleons primary motivation to change color is based on infraspecific communication and temperature regulation.

Chameleons are cold blooded reptiles, and therefore cannot generate their own body heat. As reptiles, chameleons depend on the sun and their external environment in order to maintain a steady internal body temperature. Studies have found that changing the color of their skin is a method to help regulate a steady body temperature. When body temperatures are low, a chameleon is likely to become dark to absorb more heat in order to raise it body temperature. In contrast, when body temperatures are high, a chameleon will alter its skin color to more lighter color in efforts to reflect the sun's heat.

Chameleons will aslo utilize their color changing abilities in efforts to communicate between one another. Body language and posture are often the first element of communication for chameleons. However, according to this secondary article, changing their skin color gives off certain desired messages. Territorial interactions usually display the brightest color possible (blues, reds, yellows). When a female encounters a male, a female is likely to adopt receptive or non-receptive coloration patterns in order to indicate her reproductive state to the male.  When a female is receptive to mating, she is most likely to display lighter colors. In contrast, when a female chameleon is not receptive to mating, she will adopt dark colors with negative body movements in order to deliver her communicated message.

So how are chameleons able to pull off all these color changes? What's the science behind it all? The outermost layer of a chameleon's skin is transparent. Beneath the outermost layer, there are several more layers of skin that contain specialized cells called chromatophores. Chromatophores at each level within the skin are filled with sacs of different pigments. Within each layer of skin the chameleon has different specialized cells (melanin-brown, iridophores-blue, xanthopohores and erythrophores-yellow and red pigments) that all contain a distinct, specialized color pigments. When a chameleon experiences changes in body temperature or mood, its nervous system tells specific chromatophores to expand or contract enabling them to produce a whole variety of colors and patterns.

-Eise Babula (10).

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Chevrotain: The "Mouse-deers"


        Video footage of the supposedly extinct species has been captured in Vietnam a few days ago, which was first discovered at Nha Trang in 1910. Weighing less than 10lbs and being the world's smallest hoofed animal, it has the size of a bunny but is distinctively similar to a miniature deer with silver flanks. The Chevrotain (Tragulidae) is on the list of the 25 "most wanted" lost species and hasn't been spotted since a Russian and Vietnamese expedition deep within the forests of the Greater Annamites Ecoregion. This was carried out in 1990 and it happened to be the fifth specimen to ever be obtained (was donated to science). 

        Researchers have suggested that due to snaring (prevalent in mainland southeast Asia) and loss of habitat through deforestation, it has been subjected to near extinction. Because of the sheer low numbers of this species being found, it is a "data deficient", meaning that conservationist has little field research and have no idea of its population status (whether it's truly endangered or nearly extinct). By setting up three camera traps, they caught a few hundred photos of these mammals with the assistance of locals and captured a thousand more 5 months later.

- Foster Marfo

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Benefits of Yogurts

Besides the obvious health benefits of consuming yogurt such as calcium intake and aiding digestion, studies have found links between them and gut health. Yogurts are known to be a great source of calcium and vitamin D, which is essential for promoting and maintaining bone health. In addition, yogurts contain a type of bacteria called probiotics. Probiotics are present in a variety of foods, mostly in fermented dairy products. They are beneficial as they can help with certain gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea, constipation, and other inflammatory bowel diseases

In a recent study, scientists looked further into the connection between the probiotics in yogurt and their benefits on the gut health. Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine suggested that probiotics could help improve mental health, specifically, for depression. They tested their hypothesis by feeding lab mice Lactobacillus. Lactobacillus bulgaricus is one of the two most common probiotic bacterial cultures used to make yogurts in addition to Streptococcus thermophilus. The results of their study revealed a unique mechanism of how Lactobacillus indirectly affects our mood. They have found that as the amount of Lactobacillus gets taken up and diminishes in the gut, the level of kynurenine, a metabolite present in blood, increases. Thus, the overall mechanism leads to the symptoms of depression to set in. The study shows that there is an indirect link between the effects of consuming probiotics, in particular, Lactobacillus, and our mood. Moreover, this study provides a direct link between the health of our gut microbiome and mental health.

This study reveals relatively new information and findings, therefore, this topic regarding the correlation between the benefit of probiotics in our diet and our mental health is still being heavily researched. The researchers from this study are planning to confirm their findings in patients with depression.

- posted by Emily Wong (9)

Female Brains Change in Synch With Hormones

Female Brains Change in Synch With Hormones

Have you ever heard the phrase “she must be on her period” used to refer to an emotional woman, or known someone who experiences mood swings or irritability consistent with premenstrual syndrome (PMS)? A recent study by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences found that there is a regular, underlying shift in female physiology that could be responsible for these misunderstood alterations in behavior and emotion. It is already well understood that the adult brains don’t remain rigid in structure, and that they can experience neuroplasticity. However, scientists at the Max Planck Institute have discovered that the brain is not only able to adapt to changing conditions in long term processes, but that it can also do this regularly on a monthly basis in response to fluctuations in hormone levels. 

The researchers observed that in women, the structures of the Hippocampus (involved in memory, mood, and emotion) vary in relation to the rise and fall of estrogen levels throughout their cycle. Claudia Barth, the first author of the corresponding paper published in Nature Scientific Reports claims that  “... in parallel to the rising estrogen levels leading up to ovulation, the hippocampus also increases in volume- the volume of the grey matter as well as that of the white matter” (Planck, 2016). Exactly how these fluctuations of the hippocampus specifically affect human behaviour and cognitive ability is still unknown. However, it can be speculated based on animal models that because the hippocampus plays such a vital role in memory formation, and regulation of  mood and emotion, increased hippocampal volume and activity could result adversely affect such functions. These findings have laid the foundation for investigating the relationship between hormone levels and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD),  a disorder characterized by severe physical and psychological symptoms including mood swings comparable to depressive episodes. 

Overall, this discovery provides a promising foundation for the development of specialized cognitive behavioral therapies and pharmaceutical therapies that will be able to effectively alleviate the physical and psychological symptoms associated with PMS and PMDD. Therefore, next time you, a friend, or a family member is experiencing emotional irregularities due to hormone fluctuations remember that such symptoms are due to a fascinating shift in female hippocampal structure, not just “that time of the month”.

Works Cited: 

Max Planck Institute “Female Brains Change in Sync With Hormones.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 10 October 2016.

Posted by Kayla Rosiello

Behind Blue Eyes

The physical appearance of humans has many variances from height and hair color to shape and skin color. These are traits that all have a genetic basis in our DNA. our genes determine how these traits will appear in each one of us. The human eye can come in colors such as blue, green, and many variations of brown. This variation of color comes from the amount of melanin in the eye, much like hair and skin color is controlled by melanin. New research has shown that all those with blue eyes have a common ancestor. They have done this by tracking down a genetic mutation. The genetic mutation is estimated to have occurred between 6,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Variation in eye color is very common. From brown to green, there is a large amount of individual variation in eye color. The variation in green and brown eyes is explained by the differences in melanin in the iris. Green and brown eyes have large amounts of variation in the iris, but blue eyes do not. Blue eyes have a very low amount of variation of melanin in the iris. This little variation in all blue eyes led to the conclusion that all blue eyes are linked to the same ancestor. All those with blue eyes have blue eyes because of the same change in the same spot in their DNA.

All humans originally had brown eyes. The blue eye gene came from a mutation of the DNA in the OCA2 gene. The OCA2 gene is a gene that codes for the P-protein. The P-protein is a protein involved in the production of melanin. The melanin produced is what is responsible for giving not only our eyes color, but also our hair and skin. The mutation does not affect the gene completely. The gene is not completely shut off or else the hair and skin color would also be affected. The mutation only reduces the production of melanin in the iris. Without the production of melanin in the iris, it appears as blue rather than brown.

This study was done on individuals with blue eyes from places all over the globe. Places as diverse as Turkey, Denmark, and Jordan. The gene for all of these blue eyed individuals was the same. Blue eyes is a mutation in the genome that was neither a positive mutation nor negative mutation. It was a passive mutation that has allowed for both brown and blue eyes to last through time.

Are Laptops Sperm Murderers?

Attention all men: You might want to keep your laptops, smartphones and other Internet-browsing tools away from the family jewels.

Apparently studies have shows that putting the laptop directly above your "family jewels" is the direct culprit of lowered sperm quality and even sperm death. Laptops were invented around 3 decades ago and became popular in the 90s. I know the more people there are on the planet which means that there are more birth defects occurring but I reckon that laptops were a direct cause of the steady increase in child birth defects over the years percentage-wise. In figure 2 of an article about birth defect rates, you can see the sharp increase in heart disease birth defects. Statistics show that there was a sharp increase of heart related diseases in birth during the 90s, right around when laptops started to gain ubiquity. Who knows? Maybe it isn't just an increase in heart disease defects as the stats showed, it could be many major and minor things or long term or short term things. Although the stats showed a correlation between laptop use and birth defects, the correlation may be due to a variety of other factors such as air pollution. But one thing is for sure, we should keep the heat and radiation from away from the sperm container and be more aware of external factors that may affect sperm quality so that we can make tomorrow's best babies.

- King Wahib

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Artificial Intelligence: Does it have the potential to become alive?

Artificial Intelligence: Does it have the potential to become alive?

When we think of a robot, what comes to mind are machines that are designed by computer programmers to perform certain tasks beneficial to humans. Sophisticated robots are able to do this due to Artificial Intelligence technology. AI is the intelligence of computer systems to perform functions that normally require natural human intelligence. Examples of these functions include visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, as well as translation between languages. AI machines are entrusted to control processes that usually would be governed by humans. But what if Artificial Intelligence could become conscious? What if it could act as its own being without being programmed to do so?
According to a few neuroscientists, Artificial Intelligence may become alive if it's constructed to do so. They hypothesize that once these machines are designed to observe the biological principle of homeostasis, they will gain awareness of their internal state, which would result in the robotic version of feelings and a will for survival. Since homeostasis states how life must regulate itself to remain within a narrow range of suitable conditions, if a robot is built with the ability to sense peril to its own existence, then it will develop feelings to guide survival behaviors.
With this kind of advancement in Artificial Intelligence, a machine may be able to make decisions that differ from what they might be programmed to do. In addition, the robot would be “alive” because it would have a sense of consciousness. I think that this kind of scientific advancement would be very dangerous to society since it gives intelligent machines the ability to make decisions based on their own personal needs. Would you want to live in a world where robots acted as living beings?

Posted by “Lauren Shone” (9)