Tuesday, October 26, 2021

The Effects of Ivory Hunting on Elephants

In areas where ivory hunting is most popular, an increased number of African elephants have evolved towards being tuskless due to this high demand activity. Since the 1970s, poaching started gaining more popularity to finance a civil war in Mozambique that lasted until the early 90s, which has created an intense decline in the number of African elephants. Before this war, there were ~18.5% of females who naturally didn’t have tusks, but among the mere 91 female elephants that have been born since then, 33% of females have been born tuskless. A big issue with this rise in tusklessness, is the fact that tuskless animals and tusked animals eat different types of plants. A shift in plants being consumed could drastically alter an ecosystem, and landscape.  


An interesting find is that natural tusklessness has only been seen in female elephants, along with the inheritance of the trait. This suggests that this traits is caused by a mutation in the X chromosome, either the AMELX gene or the MEP1a gene, which are genes involved in the growth of human incisor teeth (our equivalence to tusks). While both female and male humans have this gene, the gene for tusklessness is fatal in male offspring, which is why there are only female elephants seen with this trait. Since there is an increase in this gene mutation, less elephants may be seen overall, since female elephants will be the only ones able to survive under these conditions. It’s very eye opening to see how largely humans affect the other living beings, and systems of the world.




Posted by Emma Alderman-Shapiro (4)

Why are Flamingos “Pink”?

Have you ever thought about why flamingos are pink and not any other animal? Me too. Most of us think that flamingos get it from the shrimp they consume, but actually flamingos and shrimp both get their pink color from something else. They get their color from algae that contains carotenoid pigments. 

Flamingos are not able to make their own pigmented color like other birds that we see such as parrots, macaws, or even birds we see everyday. When flamingos are born, their feathers are actually a grey dull color. They don’t get their pink pigment until they start consuming shrimp.

This is because shrimp consume algae that have carotenoids. Carotenoids is an organic chemical that mainly gives off a yellow, red, or orange fat-soluble pigment. It is also what gives autumn leaves that we see every year. 


Basically what happens is, the shrimp eat the algae that contain the carotenoids, which also give shrimp their pink color. Then flamingos eat the shrimp. The enzymes in the flamingos digestive system then break down the carotenoids. After it's broken down, the red-orange pigments are then absorbed by the fat in the flamingo’s liver and those fats are then secreted from their glands, giving their feathers and skin their pinkish color. But they can also lose their pink color depending on the amount of carotenoids they consume. So a flamingo's color really depends on their diet, whether they are able to consume an abundant amount of carotenoids or not.


-Selena Yim (4)



We’ve All Heard of Quarantine Making People Crazy, But Can Covid Really Cause the Onset of Psychiatric Effects?

Many patients who have been infected by Covid-19 reported having prolonged side effects even after fully recovering from the virus. There have been many cases of people experiencing a loss of smell or intractable headaches long after their recovery. However, in recent studies it is thought that the extended side effects go beyond neurological impacts and can actually influence the patient on a psychiatric level. 

According to research done by UCSF, there was a five-month period where eighteen children and teenagers were hospitalized due to Covid-19. Three of the patients experienced a sudden onset of paranoia, delusions and “foggy brain”, all symptoms that they have never experienced prior to being diagnosed with the virus. Although it may seem like a coincidence, doctors and scientists working alongside the patients disagree. Researchers at UCSF Weill Institute for Neurosciences and the UCSF Department of Pediatrics have theorized that the antibodies that these patients developed in response to the virus is actually attacking their brain tissue rather than antigens from the virus. 


Doctors took samples of the cerebrospinal fluid from the patients and discovered that two of them contained antibodies indicating that SARS-CoV-2 may have invaded the central nervous system. The samples surprisingly contained anti-neural antibodies, which is indicative of a disfunction in the immune system. In response to the psychiatric symptoms and the discovery of anti-neural antibodies, the two patients were each treated with intravenous immunoglobulin. This is an immunomodulatory therapy that curbs inflammation in autoimmune disorders. The patients reported having more organized thoughts, decreased paranoia, and improved insight five days following the treatment. The third patient with psychiatric symptoms who did not test positive for antibodies and anti-neural antibodies in their cerebrospinal fluid were speculated to be caused from recreational drug use and they made a recovery with only psychiatric drugs.


Michael R Wilson, MD of the UCSF Department of Neurology stated that it cannot be ruled out whether or not immunotherapy played a role in the patients’ recovery. The passage of time as well as conjunction with other psychiatric medications could have influenced the recovery of the patient independently of the immunotherapy treatment. Samuel Pleasure, fellow MD of the same department also stated that it is completely unknown whether or not these patients were predisposed to neuropsychiatric illness or if COVID acted as an independent trigger for these neurological effects. All of the doctors involved agree that more research must be done to come to an affirmative correlation. However, studying this correlation in future patients seems unlikely due to the fact that it is rare that children with Covid are sick enough to warrant a lumbar puncture (the method used for extracting and examining cerebrospinal fluid). Because of this, the correlation between a Covid diagnosis and lasting psychiatric effects are likely to remain unknown.

Source: https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2021/10/421666/3-teens-covid-19-developed-sudden-severe-psychiatric-symptoms-why


“Angela Baily” (4)

A Cleaner Energy Source?

With climate change on the verge of doing irreversible damage to our planet, many scientists are looking towards cleaner alternatives for producing energy. They are looking for ways that can match consumers needs without destroying the world. At the current rate we are going, there isn’t much time left to make changes. 


This article is written about how scientists have recently discovered a way to produce more energy by using algae. This is done through an artificial photosynthesis process that can be used to generate electricity. This is very promising as it could be the potential solution to our reliance on fossil fuels. The specific protein that allows this process to happen is called phycobiliprotein. Its job is to absorb light within algae cells to start the process of photosynthesis. 


To increase the efficiency of the artificial photosynthesis, researchers have developed a method to encase the red algae within small liquid crystal micro-droplets that are 20 to 40 microns in size and exposed them to light. Through this process, light is being trapped inside of the droplet for a longer period. This allows for more opportunities for photosynthesis to take place. One challenge of this process is the current efficiency rate. Right now, it is only approximately 1/3 as efficient as solar panels. However, if this process is done at a larger scale, it could help close the gap in efficiency. Larger droplets are one way this process can become more efficient. Another example of a larger scale would be algae farms. Here algae could be combined with larger liquid crystal droplets to create floating power generators in bodies of water.


Additionally, the use of algae as an energy source is one that is being explored by large fossil fuel producers such as Exxon Mobile and Shell. One challenge that still present is how little investment there is in this category of research and development. These large firms need to be more focused on doing their part rather than the profit margin of producing fossil fuels. We must come together as a global society to enact the change that needs to be done.  


Zachary Conant (4)


Sources: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/10/211018105926.htm


A Bacterium Solution to the Plastic Pollution Crisis

The plastic pollution crisis is one of the most pressing issues that needs to be tackled for the future wellbeing of our planet. It was found that up to 23 million metric tons of plastic end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans each year and this amount has the potential to be doubled by the year 2025. It's clear that a solution needs to be addressed, however in reality it’s likely our reliance on the convenience of plastic use won't be abated anytime soon. Researchers from the Nara Institute of Science and Technology have been studying a bacterium that holds the potential of efficiently degrading difficult-to-recycle petroleum-based plastics- Ideonella sakaiensis

I. sakaiensis is an example of a bacterium that possesses the necessary enzymes to degrade poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET). The bacterium converts PET into poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) (PHB) which is a type of poly(hydroxyalkanoate (PHA) biodegradable plastic. Senior author Shosuke Yoshida explains that the PET-degradation and PHB-synthesis pathways are functionally linked in I. sakaiensis. This finding could provide, “a novel pathway where a single bacterial species breaks down difficult-to-recycle PET plastics and uses the products to make biodegradable PHA plastics."  Right now there are two major issues involving the sustainability of plastics: degrading the most persistent form of petroleum-based plastic and simultaneously producing sustainable biodegradable plastics. Plastics are polymers which have long repeating chains of molecules and they’re exceptionally durable. This makes them difficult to decompose naturally. An easy way to understand the molecular process in which I. sakaiensis could benefit is that by secreting the specific enzyme, the chemical bonds of the chains within PETs are degraded and the molecules are broken down into their smaller components. This allows for them to be more easily recycled.

Due to its widespread, essential use in daily human life it's reasonable to assume that plastic won't be going anywhere at this point. It’s for this that a biodegradable solution like the use of bacteria is crucial to slowing the plastic pollution crisis. More research will be conducted in the upcoming years, but the enzymes and molecular pathways within bacterium like I. sakaiensis are more than promising. It’s fascinating to think that our large-scale ecosystems will potentially be saved by molecular-scale bacterium. 


Posted by Declan Downing (4)





Have you ever heard of skin grafting in human surgery? If not, it is usually when a healthy piece of skin is applied on a wounded site of the body. The skin then meshes and over time it produces healthy looking and acting skin. This same concept can be seen in plants. Plant grafting is a propagation technique in which a severed plant is attached to another severed plant that is rooted and bound together. 

A picture containing plant, bamboo

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In an article, titled, “Grafting and Budding Nursery Crop Plants” by Ted Bilderback, et al, they discuss what plant grafting is, how it is done, and different types of grafts. They discuss that this practice is not new, it has been around for a long time, ancient time. The main purpose of doing this is for propagation of vegetation. The stages of different plants have the same steps but different specifics. Plant grafting has the step of preparing the two different plants by cutting them in half, this results in the scion, the upper part of a plant, and a rootstock, a bottom part of another plant. Then a person sticks the scion part into the root part and seals their attachment. It will grow to look like the plant that the scion came from. One reason they do this is because if the plant that was attached has a poor root system, such as drought resistance and disease resistance, and it gets attached to a stronger root system, it will propagate and thrive much more efficiently. This process can only happen with the right weather conditions and when the plant is at its best stage. 

This process is very useful for farmers because it allows different plants of the same genus to grow faster and more fruitful. So, plant grafting is kind of like surgery since there is cutting and fixing together of different parts. Not many people know that this process can be done but is more common than one might think. Plants benefit from this because they can have more fruitful bearings in a shorter amount of time, they can fight off diseases and drought resistance. Humans benefit from this because they can have access to quicker vegetation and in a world where the population is growing faster than the food produced, this process might be a great option to combat that. 

Posted by Kristina Baldeo (4) 

Can Medical Cannabis be Used to Reduce the Effects of Chronic Migraines?

 Although only 1-2% of the global population suffers from chronic migraines, the disorder is known to be debilitating and there isn’t much known about the exact causes of these migraines. Migraines are also hard to treat as they don’t respond to most acetaminophen-based headaches medications. One treatment that is currently on the rise is the use of medical marijuana. 


Marijuana has been transformed from an outlawed drug in the 1970s to a drug used to aid in many medical treatments. Such benefits include reducing anxiety, helps to slow tumor growth and kill cancer cells, it helps to stimulate hunger spanning from cancer patients to those suffering from AIDS or eating disorders, and even helps relax the muscles of those suffering from MS. With that being said, there is no doubt that marijuana has some outstanding medical benefits. But what about migraines?


A study that was published in Brain Sciences, was conducted in Israel testing the effect of medical cannabis on chronic migraine patients. The results of this study shown that medical cannabis was successful in reducing the long-term migraine frequency in 60% of treated patients. Furthermore, researchers explain the potential reasoning as to why medical cannabis produced these results in migraine patients,” …Mechanistically, endocannabinoids have been shown to have an inhibitory effect on serotonin receptors in vivo, which is shown to modulate pain and emetic responses,”.


Although more trials need to be conducted to eventually transform this study into a clinical setting, there is a lot of strong evidence that medical cannabis can be used to treat migraines. 


Source: https://www.ajmc.com/view/study-assesses-impact-of-androgen-levels-on-male-migraineurs

Briana Bailey (4)

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme Some Negative Feelings by GA(A)BA

If there was a button to turn off pain, would you press it? A study published in Nature Neuroscience may be nudging us down a path where this is possible. The paper, eloquently titled, “Pain induces adaptations in ventral tegmental area dopamine neurons to drive anhedonia-like behavior” explains it all in the name. Well, it might not if you don’t speak the scientific language the title is written in, so I’ll translate to standard english. The title is, in essence, ‘pain makes the pleasure center of the brain produce less pleasure’. This may seem self explanatory, but the reasoning is more complex than you may expect.

Now, most people know that pain and pleasure are separate feelings. If you don’t, there might need to be an article written about you. So it seems obvious that when you’re in pain you probably won’t be feeling good. But why is that, I mean, besides the obvious? So not only are pain signals causing you to feel pain, but it turns out that they have another job. The pain signals are also activating the rostromedial tegmental nucleus, which in turn produces the neurotransmitter GABA. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which can block dopamine receptors. So the pain makes you feel bad, and stops you from feeling good.

The researchers discovered all of this by doing animal studies on rats. The rats were able to press a button that would give them a sugary reward. Half of the rats were injected with an irritant in their paw, and the other half were injected with saline as a control. When the rats with the irritant pressed the button they felt pain, whereas the control rats did not. The irritant injected rats felt pain and, analysis of their brains showed, experienced less pleasure and motivation. Hopefully this research will be able to help deal with chronic pain, mental health issues, and who knows what else.



Posted by William Sobchuk (4)

Monday, October 18, 2021

A Glass of Warm Milk for Sleep

When I was a child, I used to drink a glass of warm milk before bed every night! After that glass of milk, I was sound asleep which explains why my parents made me drink milk anytime my bedtime was approaching. About one third of the adults in the U.S are not getting enough sleep. Insomnia is a sleeping disorder that can make it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. Sedatives, like benzodiazepines and zolpidem, are prescribed to treat insomnia but they can cause side effects and even risk addiction. These sedatives work by activating the GABA receptor, which is a protein in the brain that suppresses nerve signaling. Cow milk contains an amino acid called tryptophan that promotes sleep and is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, and scientists have discovered peptides in cow milk that also have this seductive effect. 

Lin Zheng, Mouming Zhao, and their collegues treated a protein found in cow’s milk called casein with a digestive enzyme to discover casein tryptic hydrolysate (CTH) which are sleep enhancing peptides. A peptide found in the mixture that was identified as α-casozepine (α-CZP). Researchers compared the effects of CTH and α-CZP in mouse sleep tests, and they found that the effects of CTH had better enhancing properties. These results suggests that there were more peptides in CTH that increased the overall sleep enhancing effect. Researchers then used mass spectrometry to identify other peptides that exist in CTH during a stimulated gastric distention. Researchers screened these peptides and observed them binding to the GABA receptor and crossing the blood-brain barrier. YPVEPF was found to be a strong candidate because it was able to increase the amount of mice that quickly fell asleep by 25% and increased the sleep duration by more than 400%.

Natural peptides can be used by binding to the GABA receptor to enhance sleep and produce anti-anxiety effects. The natural peptides in CTH should be further explored to develop other remedies and solutions to enhance sleep and treat insomnia. On that note, if you find yourself struggling to go to sleep, try a warm glass of milk.

Source: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/10/211013104610.htm

Posted by Morianna Saint-Cyr (3)

Are We Fishing Up Our Coral Reefs?

Overfishing is currently the most pervasive threat to coral reefs, impacting over 55% of the world’s populations. It is depleting keystone species and damaging coral reef habitats that many other organisms rely upon. Not only are coral reefs important to the animals living in them, but they also provide economic, cultural, and social benefits to us humans. Coral reef fisheries are an important source of food and wellbeing for many of the coastal communities across the globe. If well managed, these fisheries can be a great sustainable resource for all. However, recently as demand for seafood products increases, overfishing has become more and more prevalent. 

NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) explores the impacts of overfishing on the general marine populations. Overfishing produces an excessive amount of bycatch. Bycatch is the accidental catch and release of an untargeted marine species while fishing. Unfortunately, that marine animal often dies as a result. Fishing gear such as nets, hooks, and other traps are often the culprit of this. As the rate of fishing goes up, so does the number of organisms that die from becoming bycatch. According to NOAA, “Losses often have a ripple effect, not just on the coral reef ecosystems themselves, but also on local economies that depend on them.” In other words, these losses will eventually come full circle, causing damage to the economy and ultimately us humans.


There is a large variety of fishing methods, with some being more harmful than others. Two types of lesser known methods that are used in commercial fishing include cyanide spraying and explosive fishing. Both methods are incredibly detrimental to coral reefs as they shatter growing coral colonies and kill coral tissue. Other methods include indiscriminate fishing- using nets and traps to catch larger amounts of fish, and fishing with a rod. The main problem with these methods is that they leave behind garbage and debris that is damaging to coral reefs. Metal fishing traps can get entangled in animal habitats, and fishing boat anchors tear through coral reef nurseries in shallower waters.


Although the future fishing industry is looking quite grim due to the ever-rising demand in seafood products, there are still some things that we can do to try and slow the process. Educating yourself on fishing rules and regulations can help keep fishing rates under control. Cutting down on recreational fishing is also something that can be hugely beneficial since bycatch can result from all types of fishing. By working on more sustainable methods, we can take steps to preserve our future.






Posted by Charissa Yu (3)

FDA Recommends Booster Shots to Anyone Who Has Had the One Dose of the Johnson and Johnson Vaccine

Originally the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was found to have the highest efficacy rate over time compared to Pfizer and Moderna epically with the delta variant, but new research has shown that it has the lowest vaccine efficacy. Researchers are now saying that 2- 6 months after receiving the Johnson and Johnson vaccine people should receive a booster shot. The reason a booster shot is now being recommended is because after 6 months the Johnson and Johnson shot has been found to be much less effective in reducing serious illness or hospitalizations than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. With the J&J original one dose and booster shot there is 94% increase in effectiveness of the vaccine, and with just the original dose there is only a 68% effectiveness of the vaccine.

Researchers are calling for Johnson and Johnson to be rebranded as a two-dose vaccine rather than a one-dose vaccine with a booster shot. With the original dose and the booster shot, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine will be just as effective as both mRNA vaccines, but not have their fading protection, overall making it the most effective vaccine for protection against Covid-19. As of now one shot of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is still considered full vaccination in the eyes of the CDC, but most likely that will soon be changed very soon. Although, people with either mRNA vaccine and its booster shot have a higher vaccine efficiency than two doses of J&J, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines efficiency fade overtime and the J&J remains mostly the same making it the strongest vaccine.

Furthermore, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is currently considered the weakest vaccine out of the three available vaccines. With a Johnson and Johnson booster shot, it will be considered the most effective vaccine because it does not fade in effectiveness overtime like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Johnson and Johnson will most likely be changed to a two-does vaccine, since the FDA is recommending a second shot for anyone who got the one-dose. Sources:

https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2021/10/15/fda-panel-supports-booster-all-adults-who-got-j-j-covid-vaccine/8459008002/ <https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2021/10/15/fda-panel-supports-booster-all-adults-who-got-j-j-covid-vaccine/8459008002/> https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/fda-advisory-group-recommends-2nd-jj-shot-rcna2987 <https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/fda-advisory-group-recommends-2nd-jj-shot-rcna2987> https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/so-you-got-jj-vaccine-here-s-what-you-should-know-about-delta-variant-boosters-and-more <https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/so-you-got-jj-vaccine-here-s-what-you-should-know-about-delta-variant-boosters-and-more> Posted by: Jess Ross (3)

Resurrecting the Wooly Mammoth, is It Dangerous?

The wooly mammoth is a creature that has been extinct for years. They were creatures that thrived in the tundra. Their fur and fat storage system allowed for them to survive in the cold. Their tusks and size allowed for them to easily defend themselves from predators. They were also said to coexist with early humans and were almost necessary for human survival. These creatures could possibly be brought back with the technology of CRISPR. This technology uses the Cas9 protein attached to a genomic DNA sequence, then the DNA sequence is cut off and a programmed DNA sequence is attached to change the original DNA.  

In an article titled “
Scientists Say They Could Bring Back Woolly Mammoths. But Maybe They Shouldn't” the idea of the wooly mammoth being brought back is debated. The project the author is talking about is led by George Church and is predicting to take 6 years. There are multiple reasons that wooly mammoths should be brought back but this article counters those reasons. The author suggests that the technology being used to revive the wooly mammoth might be better used for current endangered species. This could help the species create more genetic diversity. The authors also suggests that the wooly mammoth might not even be able to change the effects of climate change and instead could damage current ecosystems. 

Wooly mammoths are fascinating creatures that left a clear impression on humans. They were important for the old artic tundra and are said to help with climate change. The CRISPR technology has advanced and made this and much more possible. However, this does not mean that the planet needs wooly mammoths. Jurassic Park gave people a clear warning on what the effects of resurrecting extinct species could do. The wooly mammoth went extinct for a specific reason. Resurrecting the creatures will reverse this. Will bringing the wooly mammoth back cause a terrifying effect or will it be the best decision people have made?



Jackelyn Raymundo Santizo (3)


How Chronic Vaping Effects Overall Wellbeing

What starts as a playful, curious puff can quickly snowball into a crippling addiction. Electronic vaporizers, originally invented to help wean cigarette smokers off of their nasty habit, have become a new nasty habit of their own. Due to their sleek design, enticing flavors, and social prevalence, many find themselves addicted to nicotine via these seemingly harmless devices. Now, what makes these devices “seemingly harmless”? Many believe that they are inhaling solely water vapor, flavoring, and nicotine into their lungs when they take a puff of an electronic vaporizer. Even if that were the case, anything other than true oxygen is unideal for inhalation. 


What are vapes really composed of? Aside from the highly addictive nicotine chemical that toys with the reward system of the brain, ultrafine particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, as well as diacetyl which has lineage to severe lung disease, volatile organic compounds, and even heavy metals. Nickel, tin, and lead have all been found in e-liquids. 


The seemingly harmless puff of a vape has severe consequences in the long run. Due to the popularity of this drug amongst adolescents, we will focus more on the effects for users under the age of twenty-five. For starters, brain development is not complete until the age of twenty-five. Nicotine and other drugs toy with the decision-making cortex of the brain otherwise known as the prefrontal cortex. The poor decisions as a result of the damage to this portion of the brain could lead to further drug use in the future. Also, nicotine addiction, mood disorder, and lower impulse control are all consequences of damage to this part of the brain.  Aside from diacetyl, formaldehyde, and acrolein are also found in vapes. Formaldehyde can cause lung and heart disease. Acrolein, commonly used as a weed killer, also causes immense damage to lungs. 


What can happen to your lungs?  Popcorn lung is a term for bronchiolitis obliterans, which results in the damage of small airways within the lungs. Popcorn lung got its name from factory workers getting sick from inhaling diacetyl. The symptoms of popcorn lung include coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Pneumonia is also a possibility with vaping, which can also turn into a chronic issue over time. On the more extreme sides, vaping can cause collapsed lungs and lung cancer as well. It would be a real shame for your eye opening experience to quit having a collapsed lung and being rushed to the hospital.  


What has been done to help fix the vaping phenomenon in adolescents and what is the best advice? The FDA has banned the sale of flavored e-juices and vapes in many states to halt the appeal to younger audiences by the means of fruity, or candy-like flavors. This does not help much due to the everlasting accessibility of these drugs amongst our society. The best advice is to never touch these drugs due to how addictive they are - some believe harder to kick than heroin. If you are addicted, find a method that works for you whether it be a nicotine patch, cold turkey, or even a rehabilitation program. Quitting is in everybody’s best interest for the long term. 





Edward Khouri (3)

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

How Chronic Alcohol Use Impacts the Amygdala

The amygdala is a part of the brain that plays a vital role for our emotions, our memory, and drives our “fight or flight” response. The amygdala also seems to be strongly related to the emotional response to pain, as well as positive emotions and aggression. When a person’s amygdala is damaged or destroyed, the person tends to exhibit no fear, little to no sense of personal space, and trouble remembering emotional stories. There are a variety of psychiatric disorders that cause dysfunction in the amygdala, but looking at substance use disorders, alcohol use tends to cause the greatest dysfunction of the amygdala. What exactly does chronic alcohol use do to the amygdala though? Marisa Roberto at Scripps Research Institue posed this question and found some promising results that may help combat alcohol use disorder. 

The researchers found that chronic alcohol exposure compromised brain immune cells, which is key in maintaining healthy neurons. The study at Roberto’s lab looked at a specific immune protein called Interleukin 10 (IL-10). IL-10 is linked to anti-inflammatory properties. Anti-inflammatory properties make sure that the immune system does not react too much to diseases. For the brain, IL-10 makes sure that the brain does not inflam too much to disease or injuries, now it has also been linked to chronic alcohol use disorder. In those with this disorder, IL-10 was reduced in the amygdala and did not properly signal neurons causing a higher alcohol intake. Chronic alcohol use also seems to change the brain's immune landscape. On an overall basis in the brain there were more microglia and T-regulatory cells which both produce IL-10. In the amygdala, though, IL-10 levels were lower and compromised which suggests that the amygdala responds to chronic alcohol use differently.        

Roberto’s Lab has also found that chronic alcohol use disorder affects the GABAergic and glutamatergic systems. They have found that by taking an anti-epileptic drug gabapentin it can reverse several behavioral aspects of alcohol dependence. Different labs have also linked the rise of anxiety in alcohol use patients to the amygdala due to the fact that it plays a crucial role in anxiety. Those with alcohol dependancy, and those who have an extensive family history of alcoholism show a reduced amygdala volume which predicts alcohol cravings, this may also result in disinhibition of downstream brain regions. As said before the chronic use of alcohol affects GABAergic transmission in the amygdala. Alcohol  increases presynaptic GABA release. By releasing too much GABA it means that there is not enough brain activity and can cause anxiety, hypersomnia, and daytime sleepiness. Alcohol obviously affects the amygdala in a variety of ways. There is still the question of what role chronic alcohol use plays on the amygdala and though we may be able to answer it we still do not know the full picture. 

As more studies start to come out hopefully we will be able to understand chronic alcohol use disorder more and thus provide therapies that could help those affected by it. These studies, and many others like it, are crucial in understanding addictions on a physiological level. 

Sources: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201116132248.htm 



Sara Dunn (2)

What Makes Skunk Spray So Effective?

The notorious skunk smell has long had a bad reputation, but what truly makes it so powerful? Skunks have developed, through evolution, a potent spray which they use to defend themselves as a last resort. Local to north america and being easily distinguishable by their black and white pattern, skunks are known to spray dogs, cats, and even humans at times. When a skunk feels threatened they will have initial warning responses such as hissing, stomping their feet, or scratching the ground, and if all those fail a foul smelling spray is sure to follow. 


The skunk spray, which is generally only used on predators, is produced in the skunk’s anal glands and can take up to ten days to fully replenish. Although produced consistently, the spray accumulates slowly, being able to potentially leave the skunk vulnerable if it were to use it all up in one spray. This long period in which a skunk is practically defenseless against predators such as coyotes or wolves is the reason why they are so careful about when and how much of the liquid they use. What makes the skunk spray so prominent and effective is the components within it, and more specifically thiol. This organic compound is primarily composed of sulfur which is what gives the spray its rotten egg smell. Thiol is so easily identifiable that it is often added to relatively odorless natural gas in order to bring awareness to any potential leaks. In the case of skunks, the odor caused by the thiol is so strong that it can be smelled up to a half mile away. Skunks are also known to have decent aim with many being able to spray accurately for up to 10 feet. In terms of toxicity, the yellow sticky substance is harmless unless directly ingested or if it comes in contact with the eyes, with its real danger being how well it’s able to stick to clothing and fur. As described in the article, the skunk uses “two nipple-like independently rotating squirters” (1) to dispense the liquid and scare away any potential dangers, leaving behind a horrible stench that can linger for 3 weeks on dog fur without proper treatment. 


Being organic compounds with a powerful smell allow thiols to be very useful and effective tools against potential danger. The fact that the substance accumulates very slowly in the animal’s anal glands makes it an absolute last measure, as without it they have no means to protect themselves. Despite being generally harmless, the very accurate spray from a skunk will send a clear message across.


Source: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/ask-smithsonian-what-makes-skunk-spray-smell-so-terrible-180955553/

Posted by David Miropolsky (2)

Exercise Maintains Normal Heart Rhythm in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation

 Atrial fibrillation is a condition of the heart that affects its rhythm, causing it to beat irregularly and quickly. Patients often experience heart palpitations, difficulty breathing, fatigue, and symptoms associated with asphyxiation. 

In this trial, conducted by ACTIVE-AF, patients with atrial fibrillation were prescribed six-month exercise programs to maintain their heart rhythms in an attempt to increase quality of life and reduce the severity of the symptoms associated with atrial fibrillation. Exercise rehabilitation is often prescribed to patients with other diseases of the heart. ACTIVE-AF’s program had its 120 patients undergo an intervention of supervised (weekly for 3 months, every other week for 3 months) and unsupervised (week based scheduled) aerobic exercise for up to 3.5 hours per week. The six-month follow up only included patients who had restorable rhythms.


As a result of the study and 6 month program, the severity of the atrial fibrillation and proportion of recurrence after 12 months was observed. At 12 months, the atrial fibrillation of the exercise group was lower than that of the control group that underwent no exercise intervention with 60% and 80% recurrence proportions respectively. Those in the exercise group also reported less severe symptoms of the condition. With these findings, we can associate the higher aerobic fitness of performing aerobic activity for 3.5 hours a week over a six month period with a higher chance of maintaining normal heart rhythm alongside prescribed medications.


With this trial, and with other similar trials that demonstrate the importance of aerobic fitness with reducing all-cause mortality, it becomes even more clear the need for people to be healthy and active in their day to day lives. Being active does not have to be painful, annoying, or time consuming. Being active and increasing your heart rate for just half an hour a day would meet the 3.5 hours a week requirement as imposed in the ACTIVE-AF trial. I believe that all people should at least consider becoming fit, not only for health, but for enjoyment and for improving quality of life. Improving cardiovascular fitness should especially be considered if you have preexisting conditions like atrial fibrillation and other ailments of the heart. 


Alan Papenfuhs (2)



 Animals have strange and unique ways of ensuring their survival and reproduction of their species, seahorses have one of the most unique ways of reproducing as they have males conceiving and delivering offspring. This method of reproduction goes against the traditional method of reproduction which has the female conceiving and delivering offspring, making seahorses very unique. 


The National Geographic article below dives deeper into the process of reproduction that seahorses partake in. It states that the female seahorse transfers her eggs into the males pouch and the male fertilize the eggs. A seahorse pregnancy usually lasts between 10-25 days and shortly after birth, the seahorses are ready to reproduce again. Unfortunately, only approximately 5 out of every 1000 seahorses survive due to poor parental support and harsh environmental factors


Due to the fact that so many newborn seahorses don’t survive, this method of reproduction seems to be the most effective way to reproduce in order to ensure seahorses survival. The fact that eggs are already ready to be fertilized right after the male gives birth, means that they’re constantly reproducing, in turn increasing their chances of survival as a species. 




Tikweze Namadzunda (2)

Astrobiology: Biology That Is Out of This World

 There is a longstanding debate between those who do not believe in extraterrestrial life, and those who believe that we are not alone out in the universe. Our movies and tv shows include references to alien life and humans making contact with these lifeforms, and our fixation with aliens has leeched its way into pop culture (remember the Area 51 raid?). Whether little green men exist beyond Earth or not is completely up for debate, but the question is, if these Martians exist- whose job is it to study them? 

Astrobiology is defined by NASA as “the study of the origin, evolution, and distribution of life in the universe,” so before you ask yourself if this is a legitimate field of science or not, NASA says yes. Joshua Lederberg is considered to be the Leeuwenhoek of Astrobiology and is a former molecular biologist who pioneered this relatively new field back in the 1960’s, falling within the timeline of the ongoing Cold War. The Launch of Sputnik bolstered the start of the Space Race, which did not exclude Astrobiology. This field encompasses preexisting scientific disciplines, including but not limited to microbiology, organic chemistry, physics, and geology. Astrobiology is good in the sense that we can finally piece together the age-old question, “does life exist outside of Earth?”

Topics like these that are out of the ordinary and not the run-of-the-mill regular science that we are used to seem very appealing and like they may benefit us, but at times we have to remember “Frankenscience” and the outcome that that type of science has. Astrobiology, while it may lead us to discovering a new and habitable planet, may also lead us to new species and new diseases on that planet, potential space pollution from abandoned rockets and spacecrafts, and unavoidable accidents. Who’s to say that furthering the study of astrobiology won’t open up another Space Race can of worms? So just because we can, does that mean we should go on with funding Astrobiology? 

One could also argue that with the way things are going on Earth right now, with climate change and new, harsher diseases, maybe it is best that we start fresh if given the opportunity. On a new planet, we could start over and learn from our current climate mistakes from the past; Perhaps this new Earth 2.0 could be our potential Planet B. 



Hannah Krzyszton (2)

Cyborg Grasshoppers Engineered to Sniff Explosives

The grasshopper spiritually resembles traits and symbols of abundance, courage, achievement, happiness, intuition, patience, wealth, virtue, and longevity. Alongside the mystic aspects, like many other invertebrates, grasshoppers are known as insects with no backbone that have hard shells called the exoskeleton to protect their body. Grasshoppers receive sensory signals through organs located in various parts of their body, including their antennae, and palps on the head, cerci on the abdomen, and receptors on the legs. More specifically, grasshoppers have prominent olfactory receptors located on their antennae, which they use to sniff for food and predators. 


Biomedical engineers from Washington University in St Louis selected the American grasshopper as the subject to their experimentation due to its favorable olfactory system. The receptors in the grasshopper’s sophisticated olfactory system transmits 50,000 neurons to the part of their brain called the antennal lobe. According to one professor associated with Washington University’s biomedical research, the grasshopper is more suitable for detecting explosives than any other device. After implanting electrodes into the brains of grasshoppers, the enhanced grasshoppers could detect and distinguish explosives correctly for several hours. A single grasshopper was able to detect explosives with an accuracy of 60%, and a group of seven grasshoppers had an average accuracy of 80%.


This experiment demonstrates that biological olfactory systems can be utilized to develop a cyborg chemical sensing approach. This study, funded by the US Office of Naval Research, is possibly the first step to the distribution of cyborg grasshoppers for homeland security purposes. This means we can feasibly witness a swarm of grasshoppers with olfactory weapons that deploy a scene of bomb threats in the future. 


References: https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2020/02/cyborg-grasshopper-engineered-to-sniff-explosives/


Tugba Kahveci (2)

How Humans are Endangering their Most Beloved Breeds

Humans domesticated dogs over 30,000 years ago. Dogs once served to protect families, work on farms, and hunt, but now people depend on dogs for companionship. Over the course of the evolution of dogs, the last tens of thousands of years were heavily impacted by humans. Artificial breeding has created over 450 dog breeds recognized around the world. This selective breeding has created faster, bigger, smarter dogs, but what about the dogs bred simply for looks? Popular breeds such as French bulldogs, pugs, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels have all been bred by humans over time to achieve an eternal “baby face”. While the characteristics of having a big head, pushed in snout, and bug eyes are undoubtedly cute, they come at a cost. 

Eschner explains in her article, “The Evolution of Pet Face”, the dangers of artificial breeding and how humans are the number one contributor to declining canine health. Most notably, humans manufactured the condition called brachycephaly. Dogs with this condition have wide and flat skulls. Although this may be cute, it is deadly. A 2017 study found that dogs with brachycephaly are 100 times more likely to have corneal ulcers, heat strokes, and cases of pneumonia. Additionally, the study found dogs with brachycephaly are also 80 times more likely to suffer from skin cancer and fungal skin disease. All of these comorbidities are directly linked to humans selecting for dogs with the highly desired smushed in “pet face” common to pugs and French bulldogs. Dogs with brachycephaly also have breathing problems due to their shorter snouts and elongated palettes crowding the back of their mouths. These problems often lead to sleep apnea or respiratory infections. It is not uncommon for dogs of this stature to have surgery in order to correct their long-term breathing problems.

Although brachycephaly leads to breathing problems and discomfort, there is an even scarier development to this phenomenon; now, some breeds are unable to procreate on their own.  The presence of brachycephaly has evolved larger and larger heads in such breeds. Additionally, it is not uncommon for the large heads to be paired with narrower hips. Mothers with narrow hips make birthing to large headed dogs almost impossible. The 2010 UK Kennel Club survey of 13,141 dogs found that 80% of Boston terriers, bulldogs and French bulldogs needed a cesarean section in order to birth their puppies. In other words, due to artificial selection, humans have effectively ended the natural reproduction of multiple breeds for purely aesthetic reasons. 

Now just because the general public is becoming more aware of this phenomenon does not mean that these types of breeds will go away. They are some of the most desirable and expensive breeds because they do make wonderful pets despite their health conditions. However, it does show how important it is for people to do their own research before buying a dog. Additionally, it is worthwhile to take a look at your puppy’s parents and their physical characteristics to determine if your puppy has the genes of a healthy and happy companion. 




Shannon Gray (2)


Tuesday, October 5, 2021


 If you’ve ever owned a pet, you know how difficult it is when the time comes to say goodbye to your special friend. Grieving the loss of a pet is a heartbreaking, grief-stricken process that used to be inevitable for most pet owners. Fortunately, for wealthy pet-owners that neglect the ethical implications of pet cloning, there is a way to postpone the mourning process. Developments in pet cloning have revealed that cloning animals to create an identical specimen is not only possible, but is becoming a service that companies are capitalizing on. 

Viagen is an American based company that offers pet cloning services and charges $25,000 and $50,000 for cloning cats and dogs respectively. These prices are very demanding on grieving pet-owner’s wallets, but the process of cloning is more demanding on other species, such as the ones being used in these highly scientific puppy mills. With every successfully cloned pet, many animals have to suffer at the expense of one synthetic birth. The cloning process begins by collecting cultured cells from the desired pet to be cloned. Then unfertilized eggs are extracted from a surrogate animal and the nucleus is removed to wipe any DNA from the host cell. One of the somatic cells from the preserved culture is inserted into the blank egg with a needle and fused together with an electrical current. The egg is then inserted back into the surrogate, completed with a full copy of DNA, in hopes that it will develop and yield a clone of the desired pet. This process is only successful about 20% of the time, and it is repeated until a viable clone has been birthed. 


Because of the low probability of a viable offspring being produced with each attempt, many animals are exploited for this business. In the early developments of pet cloning, one of the first cloned dogs took 1,000 embryo implantations and 123 surrogates. That’s roughly 8 miscarriages per surrogate. This is more than enough to cause lasting emotional and physical damage to any of the dogs involved. This information proposes a very interesting ethical question to the pet-owners who are considering this procedure. If you truly care for animals, is ten more years with your pet worth the suffering of dozens? 


Source: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-cloning-your-dog-so-wrong-180968550/


“Angela Baily” (1)

Genotyping and Slavery

Genotyping and sequencing are two ways of reading information from DNA, but the technology and the results you get are very different. Think of your DNA as a book, genotyping would be like choosing a specific word from a single page. Once you choose a word, you are limited to gaining the information that the one word on that one page can give you. If you ever want to learn about a word on a different page that you didn't choose to have genotyped, you would need to be genotyped again. By contrast, sequencing is like reading whole sentences. We get more information and more context, all 22,000 genes and then some. So from one small sample, we can get insight on family history, health, and even fitness and nutrition. 


The famously known 23andme biotechnology company, specializing in obtaining insight on personal genetic information through genotyping, has turned their attention to the African American genome and if it holds any information on slave practices. An article (1) explains that they obtained genetic samples from consenting customers who lived in African and South American countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean, specifically focusing on the West Coast of Africa, and the eastern coastline of North, Central and South America. With these samples, they compare the IBD (identity by descent) distinguished by the chromosomal similarities in Americans of African descent and Africans. With each passing generation, these IBD sections get split, but with technology they can calculate who the most recent common ancestor is. What they found through this was that enslaved women contributed a lot more to the gene pool of modern day African-Americans than enslaved women, which suggests that there was a history of sexual exploitation of enslaved women. The data collected shows that in some regions “roughly 15 African women had children for each African man”, even though men were the majority of the population. The ratio isn’t as high in other regions with a high slave population, but it is still skewed heavily toward women having more children.


As 23andme uses genotyping (2), we can only read into a small part of the story regarding slavery and its lingering effects. If sequencing the entire human genome is made available at an affordable cost, we can reveal more information on what occured back then and furthermore how epigenetics can still affect African Americans today.



Posted by: Timinte Abraham (1)                       



  1. https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/african-american-genomes-yield-insight-into-slavery-practices-67766