AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Printing More Than Just Pictures

3-D printing is an increasingly accessible technology that is bringing manufacturing into the home. Now these marvels of technology are being used in medicine. With children growing rapidly, expensive prosthetics are not an option for most families. Customized 3-D printed prosthetics are becoming more common and are helping out these families by making prosthetics less expensive.



3-D Printed Prosthetic Hand

Usually, 3-D printers only print hard material such as plastic and metal. This is very useful while creating bone replacements and customizable prosthetics, but is not ideal for printing organic tissue.

Bioprinting, or the printing of organic tissues, is a rising and feasible option in medical treatments. This advance would be a huge improvement to many practices such as medical testing and organ transplants. The ability to print organic tissue would eliminate the need for long donor list that many people wait on, but never receive an organ. With bioprinting doctors would be able to test their medicine on organic human tissue rather than animals. This all may sound like science fiction, however it is happening right now.

Carnegie Mellon recently bought a commercial 3-D printer for around 1,000 dollar and after some modifications began to print soft materials. Associate professor at Carnegie Mellon Adam Feinberg and others have developed a way to print soft materials in-expensively. The main problem with printing soft materials is the prints would collapse on the weight of itself. To prevent this the researchers at Carnegie Mellon created a process they now call FRESH (Freeform Reversible Embedding of Suspended Hydrogels). In this process the nozzle prints with a gel inside a petri dish filled with a supportive gel. Then they heat up the petri dish and the supportive gel melts away leaving the print.

As this technology is open source and inexpensive, hopefully many patients will be receiving their very own custom printed organs soon.


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Only the Small Survive

Small fish featured in its natural niche

Small fish featured in its natural niche

With many large species such as giraffes and sharks threatened with extinction, we might not see the likes of them for millions of years.  History has shown that evolution cannot restore large species for tens of millions of years.  Intrigued by this concept, paleontologist Lauren Sallan of the University of Pennsylvania sought to know why small species are able to bounce back much quicker than larger species.  Looking at aquatic life of the Mississippian Period, from 359 to 323 million years ago, she observed that most fish were significantly smaller than their ancestors.  This idea that certain species generally shrink over time is known as the Lilliput Effect, named after an island indigenous to tiny people in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels.  The fossils used in Dr. Sallan’s project fit this description as their ancestors probably perished perished in the deep freeze brought on at the end of the Devonian Period which wiped out an estimated 96 percent of all vertebrates.  However, the Lilliput Effect does not apply to all species.  One species, known as the rhizodontids, included fish that grew to the size of modern day killer whales.  Dr. Sallan concluded that the painfully slow recovery of large species on this planet is due to the ecosystems decimation during mass extinction events.  Although this particular article does not go into depth on why small animals have an easier time “bouncing back” than large ones, Dr. Sallan examined many fossils which prove that creatures shrank dramatically after large-scaled extinctions.  For example, the average size of a shark shrank from about a yard in length to only a mere few inches.  However, later in the article, Dr. Sallan cites her study by saying how smaller vertebrate species produce and diversify more easily contrary to large vertebrate animals dwindling in diversity until species extinction.

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Degenerative Evolution?

Myxozoa are tiny parasites that infect fish stock and other aquatic life. Once thought to be unicellular, these multi-celled organisms have recently been analyzed more closely. Containing more than 1300 different species, these highly unusual microorganisms had their DNA sequenced by researchers at the University of Kansas.



Triactinomyxon stage of Myxobolus cerebralis

Myxozoa show many similarities to cnidarians, a phylum that contains jellyfish, corals, and sea anemones. One of the key similarities is the presence of the nematocyst, a weapon or defense mechanism that members of the cnidaria phylum possess. This and other traits were once attributed to convergent evolution. However, this theory was debunked by their gene sequences. On further inspection, these microorganisms are actually tiny jellyfish living on other organisms.

The average cnidarian contains 300 million base pairs. However, Myxozoa have been stripped down to about 20 million base pairs, 15 times less. Despite this reduction in genome size, Myxozoa still contain the genes to express the creation of a nematocyst. These microscopic organisms have one of the smallest animal genomes reported.

The categorization of these organisms is shaking up the foundation of what we can call an “animal.” In the past, animals were classified by whether they had certain genes instrumental in their development such as Hox genes, genes that influence body structure. Myxozoa have no such gene. Since organisms are also classified based on their ancestors, this fumbles the system.

Because of this discovery, scientists are questioning whether this type of backwards evolution from a macro-organism to microorganism is more common than we think. Other microscopic organisms could potentially become “animals” as a result.

This also opens a gate to greater understanding of the organisms in our aquaculture. Many fish are affected by the parasitic nature of Myxozoa.

Next time you eat salmon, notice that you could also unknowingly be eating tiny parasitic jellyfish.

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New Research Sheds New Light on Cancer Preventing Proteins

Cells in the human body are constantly dividing. Whenever cells divide into two, the DNA within them must be copied as well. Most of the time this process works as planned, but some times the DNA can be copied incorrectly. Other factors such as UV rays and radiation can damage DNA and lead to problems like cancer. While these errors in DNA copying can cause significant mutations, they are usually corrected by certain proteins within the cell. New research at the University of Michigan is allowing scientists to get a better idea of how these proteins go about finding the damaged sites and repairing them.

Mutación ADN

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In this study, researchers at UM examined the MutS protein in bacteria. According to Lyle Simmons, associate professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology at UM, it has been known for a long time that the MutS protein could find and repair errors in DNA. “MutS is the first protein involved in DNA mismatch repair and is responsible for detecting rare errors that can predispose people to certain types of cancer, a hereditary condition called Lynch syndrome or cancer family syndrome. If a person’s mismatch repair system is hindered, the mutation rate increases 100-to-1,000 fold” says Simmons.  Despite knowing what these proteins do, it remained unclear as to how they perform these tasks.

To see how the protein works, researchers “fused the MutS protein to a fluorescent tag and activated fluorescence with a laser.” They then studied the protein’s actions inside of a bacterial cell. Tagging the proteins with fluorescence allowed researchers to track its movement through the cell. Scientists observed that MutS moved quickly through the nucleoid but slowed down at DNA replication sites. This indicates that the proteins look for sites of replication rather than individual mismatches. The protein then searched the new DNA being created for errors. Mismatches occur when the wrong nitrogenous bases are paired with each other. “The mismatched pair kinks the DNA at the replication fork where DNA is made. MutS positions itself at that fork so it’s ready to catch any mistakes. As an added bonus, this positioning likely tells MutS which side is correct and which side is the new, altered DNA.” says Julie Biteen, assistant professor of chemistry.

Despite the study being performed on bacteria, it is very likely that the same process occurs in human cells.  This discovery is very important because it provides information that will be essential to learning more about how the body responds to mutations.  Further advances in this area of study could possibly help researchers understand cancer better.

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A Cup o’ Joe a day keeps the doctor away



Photo by Unsplash

An extensive new study on the health benefits/risks regarding the consumption of coffee over a 30-year period suggests that a few cups of coffee a day has proven to actually be good for you.  Overall, the study looked at three different groups that added up to a total of about 168,000 women and 45,000 men between the ages of about 25-75 (when the study began) who recorded how much coffee they drank and what they ate to the best of their knowledge every four years.  After the 30 years were over, Dr. Frank B. Hu found that those who drank coffee on a moderately regular basis (1-5 cups a day) were less prone to dying of chronic diseases, had a slightly reduced rate of mortality, and that its consumption (moderate) showed little to no signs that coffee causes heart disease or cancer.

Hu found that coffee contains antioxidants, vital minerals like magnesium (which plays a role in a person’s resistance to chronic pain, fatigue, and diseases related to stress and aging), and that it actually improved insulin sensitivity which refers to the body’s ability to maintain blood glucose levels.  When someone has low insulin sensitivity, they are unable to take in proper amounts of insulin and therefore their body compensates by producing more insulin which in turn leads to serious health problems like high blood pressure and heart disease.  Hu also theorized (but did not have enough evidence to claim) that coffee might also act as an antidepressant and had a small effect on suicides and neurological issues.

Overall, the study indicates that because of the health benefits of coffee- it can be incorporated into a healthy diet.  However, this does not mean that non-coffee drinkers should start consuming it as a means of prevention against illness and increasing one’s life span.  In fact, many people could have bad reactions to caffeine and it is known to stunt growth in children and adolescents as well as endanger pregnant women and their fetuses.  Also, overconsumption (over 5 cups a day) can lead to heart disease and other illnesses. All this study goes to show is that moderate consumption of coffee is not dangerous and unhealthy as the world has pegged it for many years.

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Wait… Smoking is bad for you???

Thinking back, it’s pretty hard to believe that at one point most people thought smoking was good for you. Up until about 60 years ago, advertisements preached that smoking cigarettes was not only the cool thing to do, but was also in some ways beneficial for your health.


Cigarette ads used doctors and scientists to preach that smoking helped alleviate social anxiety, dry mouth, colds, and headaches. Although in some cases the menthol used in many cigarettes did have a positive effect on cold symptoms, in many cases the ill symptoms were caused by smoking withdrawal itself. (i.e. social anxiety and headaches)

To much of 1940’s doctors’ demise, enumerable amounts of studies have come out proving that smoking is one of the leading causes of lung cancer, gum cancer, tongue cancer, throat cancer, and most of all emphysema. Now, the tobacco is not always the cause of all these diseases; all the other fun chemicals that the cigarette companies put in the cigs to “enhance the experience” and help them burn faster, are the culprits. Just a few of the chemicals in modern cigarettes are as follows:

Acetone = commonly found in nail polish and many paint removers

Ammonia = highly toxic; usually found in household cleaners

Arsenic = found most in rat poisons

Butane = found in lighter fluid (helps cigarette to burn faster)

Cadmium = component of battery acid

Carbon Monoxide = found in car exhaust fumes

Formaldehyde = embalming fluid (used to preserve dead bodies)

Need I go on? Okay!

Lead = decreases function and activity of the nervous system (brain, spine, etc.)

Methanol = main component of rocket fuel

Nicotine = main component of insecticide but has a very addicting side-effect

Tar = used for paving roads

Toluene = found in dynamite (TNT = Tri-Nitro Toluene)


It is obvious to me why cigarette companies have stopped running their ads that depict doctors, scientists, teachers and other professions often lauded as some of the most intelligent in society, smoking and promoting cigarettes. Even so, what troubles me, is how 17% of America’s population still chooses to smoke. With 8% of that 17% being teenagers, the number of smokers has steadily declined over the years, but not at a rate rapid enough. The common sense that goes behind just not smoking is maddening to those who watch smokers constantly spending $15 (NY) per pack.

PS: Up until 1978, Camel Cigarettes actually contained minute particles of camel. The company used the fat because it burned very quickly, was odorless, and gave the cigarette a more mild taste.

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Fossils of Massive Rats Found

Attention fellow biology lovers: it appears our biggest fears have been realized. In East Timor, in Southeast Asia, researchers have found fossils of rats up to ten times larger than modern rats. Fear not, however, as these rats are long gone. Researcher Dr. Julien Louys said that the rats lived tens of thousands of years ago, and that there is evidence of humans actually using them as a source of food. Many of the fossils were found with cut and burn marks. The findings came as a part of a project called From Sunda to Sahul. The purpose of the project team that found the rat fossils was to find when humans started moving through Southeast Asia.

Dr. Louys believes that the rats actually lived in Southeast Asia until about one thousand years ago. He cited their extinction as being cause by the introduction of metal tools into society in Southeast Asia, enabling the inhabitants to destroy forests faster and more completely. The team is working to find the impact of humans on the Southeast Asian Ecosystem, which is directly correlated to the rats. Once they find the exact conditions that existed in the area before the rats extinction, they will have a more exact idea of what happened that left the rats extinct.

The rats themselves are characterized as mega-fauna. Mega-fauna is a term that refers to animals that are abnormally large, and these rats fall under this category. The rats are part of a movement that has seen a mass extinction of mega-fauna animals across the globe. Although the most common explanation for this unfortunate trend is human influence- which undoubtedly played a role- the reality is that hard evidence points to climate change as having a larger impact. As more research takes place, it will become clearer as to the exact reason for extinction of these massive rats in Southeast Asia. What do you think caused the extinction? Feel free to comment!

A sketch of a Deinotherium, a mega-fauna species that went extinct about 12,000 years ago. Image from Wikipedia Commons.



Just Because My D1 Neurons Are Excited, Doesn’t Mean My Risk of Alcoholism Increases…Does it?!

Alcoholism can now not only be studied and analyzed at the psychological level, but also at the molecular level, thanks to researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. They recently conducted a study that found how alcohol influences the dorsomedial striatum, the part of the brain that participates in decision-making and goal-driven behaviors.

The dorsomedial striatum is composed of medium spiny neurons, neurons that have many branches, or spines, protruding off their dendrites.


Spiny neurons have receptors for dopamine, which is further categorized into dopamine D1 and D2 neurotransmitters. D1 neurons have receptors for D1 neurotransmitters. They send excitatory postsynaptic potentials and encourage the action potential/signal to continue. D2 neurons counteract D1 neurons; they send inhibitory postsynaptic potentials and discourage further actions. In this study, D1 neurons prove to be a major part of alcoholism and addiction.

High consumption of alcohol, scientists learned, excites D1 neurons. The more excited they become, the more compelled one feels to perform an action…in this case, the action is drinking another alcoholic beverage.

More drinking induces more D1 neuron excitement, which leads to even more drinking.

Not only does it affect a D1 neuron’s excitability, alcohol also makes physical changes to the neuron itself at the molecular level, and consequently affects the neuron’s function.

In their study, researchers divided their test subjects into two groups: one that’s exposed to alcohol and one that’s not. Analyzing their spiny neurons, scientists saw that though the number of spines in the neurons of the individuals of each group didn’t change, the ratio of the difference between mature and immature spines was dramatic. The subjects that drank alcohol had notably longer branches and a high number of mature mushroom-shaped spines. The abstainers’ neurons had shorter branches and more immature mushroom-shaped spines. Mature, mushroom-shaped spines are involved in long-term memory; activation of long-term memory through alcohol underlies addiction.

However, there’s promising news! The study also showed results that blocking, or at least partially blocking, D1 receptors via a drug can inhibit and reduce the desire for consumption of another drink.

This is a huge step towards finding a cure for alcoholism. Alcoholism is a disease that affects not only the individual, but also his or her family, relatives, friends, etc…With this study, the scientific community has more of an understanding of how to go about creating new drugs and combating alcoholism.

If we suppress this activity, we’re able to suppress alcohol consumption. This is the major finding. Perhaps in the future, researchers can use these findings to develop a specific treatment targeting these neurons.

-Jun Wang, M.D., Ph.D., the lead author on the paper and an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics at the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

What do you think? Do you think this study promotes a viable option towards curing alcoholism and addiction, or is there another method out there that we should be pursuing? Leave a comment below!


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Elephant Trunks: The Most Convenient Way to Reach Food

New studies have indicated that elephants are using the air that they blast through their trunks to grasp for food in hard-to-reach areas. Way back when, Charles Darwin had even suggested that elephants might manipulate their breath to reach food. Scientists from Kyoto University and SOKENDAI decided to research this behavior in elephants. They predicted that the farther away the piece of food is, the more frequently the elephants would use their breath/air through their trunks to bring it near them. To test their hypothesis, they observed two captive, female elephants, Suzuko and Mineko at the Kamine Zoo. The researchers created this virtual grid in a ditch, enclosing the elephants. They placed food in different areas of the grid. The various types of food included: apples, bamboo, fallen leaves, potatoes, and hay. After spacing out these foods, they filmed the elephants trying to reach for them. 128 trials took place over 32 days; each trial started when it was audible that the elephants began blowing and ended when they finally got the food or gave up. Many other factors played a role in this experiment such as the position and shape of the elephant trunks, the frequency and duration of blowing, and the ability to track the movement of food across the area.

The scientist’s research concluded that on average, it took 3 blasts of air for an elephant to obtain inaccessible food and was less likely to use this technique if the food was nearby. Mineko was the dominant female who was much more skilled at altering the position of her trunk to aim more specifically at the food to push it in the correct direction. This particular behavior has brought up discussion of whether an elephant’s breath can be defined as a “tool” or not; similar to how chimpanzees use sticks to catch ants. It’s been concluded that this study creates a new possibility to rethink the term “tool” and to possibly redefine it. For this behavior to be defined as a “tool,” it shouldn’t solely be debated as whether it’s a physical object or not, but more of how it is a physiological process that promotes problem-solving. I thought this new finding was very interesting because I was unaware at how proficient an elephant can be with its breath. Furthermore, I love how this study promoted discussion on a different topic: what can be defined as a “tool” for animals nowadays. Do you think an elephant’s breath can be referred to as a “tool?” Please share your thoughts! In my opinion, I think it can definitely be referred to as a tool because it aids in carrying out a particular function. If only humans had this type of tool… we wouldn’t have to awkwardly reach across the dinner table ever again!

The original article can be found here.

For more information about the study, check out this article and video: Elephants Use Their Trunks as Leaf-Blowers to Reach for Food.

Music In Your Head 24/7?

Have you ever experienced a song just playing constantly in your head? Well the consistent music playing in your head is known as an INMI, involuntary musical imagery, or earworms. There is new research on what happens to the brain when INMIs are formed. There have been several theories about INMI and how it affects the brain. 90% of people reported that they experience INMIs at least once a week. Within the 90% there was 25% of people who have INMIs several times a day. For the most part people find INMIs to be fairly pleasant. However, if you are somebody that feels as though INMIs are fairly irritating well you’re not the only one.  A third of the 25% of people found INMIs to be irritating. The people who find the INMIs to be more unpleasant their brain has a slight difference structurally and has more gray matter in the parts of the brain that are associated with emotional processing.



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Studies also show that when you are doing actions that do not require much brain power: washing dishes, getting dressed, brushing your teeth, etc., then the brain would most likely form INMIs. The brain forms these INMIs due to lack of entertainment. Therefore, these INMIs will form in order to keep your mind busy. This theory worked during a certain study when a scientist, Dr. Stewart, tested how many INMIs would occur for certain workloads. Dr. Stewart would give a group of people two different working environments. One environment required less brain power while the other environment had a workload that required more thinking. The environment that required less brain power would cause people to form INMIs while the more intense workload would have no effect. Therefore, the more challenging the activity the less likely you will form INMIs.


Symptoms of INMIs are similar to symptoms of OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder. INMIs deal with intrusive thoughts, which draws a connection to the intruding thoughts people with OCD tend to have. There was a period of time people considered symptoms of INMIs to be similar to schizotypy, which is a disorder that can result in schizophrenia. However, when people were treated with neuroleptic medicine, which is used for people who are schizophrenic there was no change in the amount of INMIs that occurred. Therefore, it is more likely that INMIs are connected to OCD rather than schizotypy. There is still a lot more research needed in order to understand how connected INMIs are to OCD.

Although INMIs can be irritating there is a simple way to stop them for occurring. The simple way of stopping them would be to keep yourself busy with an activity that requires more brain power. This could be as simple as talking to a friend, watching a movie, or reading a book. More research is to come about what types of people are more likely to acquire INMIs. Do you think there is a certain group of people who are more likely to acquire INMIs or do you believe that INMIs occur based solely on the environment and intensity of brain power?

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New Findings Uncover Clues to Mars’ Watery Past

Mars used to have flowing water, a thick atmosphere, and a magnetic field. But now it is only covered with dusty riverbeds and its air is practically a vacuum. Now how did that happen?! In order to uncover what happened to the planet’s lost features, a spacecraft MAVEN was sent out to search for clues. The probe was able to fight through the red planet’s turbulent lower atmosphere and witness a shimmering aurora and solar storm. The data the probe brings back gives scientists a glimpse into Mars’ past and scientists have now presented the mission’s first findings.


Mars was a different planet in a different solar system billions of years ago. Scientists believe the planet was stripped of its water and atmosphere because the sun was much hotter and radiating then. As Dave Brain, atmospheric physicist at the University of Colorado, said, “Imagine you have a pot of water on the stove and that represents the atmosphere. MAVEN is orbiting Mars at a time when the burner is at a low setting. And by looking at the steam, scientists can extrapolate back to a time when the burner is at a low setting.” The probe is jammed with instruments that count charged ions, measure solar wind, scan for ultraviolet energy, detect magnetic fields, and collect dust.

Thus far, the most impressive findings came from watching the effects of essentially a monster solar storm on the planet’s atmosphere. This was highly significant because, as Brain said, “solar storms are really windows to the past. We got to see what happens when a lot of energy hit all at once.” Solar storms can potentially strip away a ton of atmosphere and they are what most likely happened all the time billions of years ago.

One reason the red planet’s atmosphere is so susceptible to solar activity is due to its lack of a strong magnetosphere. When the sun gets riled up and fires dangerous and energized “blobs” at Earth, our planet’s electromagnetic barrier shields the attack and redirects it towards the poles. While traveling along the magnetic lines towards the poles, the solar particles pick up charge, which they release when encountering particles in Earth’s atmosphere, thus emitting light—an aurora.

Scientists were surprised when MAVEN witnessed an aurora on Mars since the planet does not have a magnetosphere. The aurora lasted five Martian days and potentially even enveloped the whole planet. This is a new kind of aurora for scientists as it doesn’t require a magnetic field. Unfortunately the team doesn’t have any noteworthy pictures of the aurora since the probe only caught it on its ultraviolet imager.

There were other impressive findings as well. “Mars has pretty significant topography,” says Stephen Bougher, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Michigan and MAVEN co-investigator. Surface winds bend over features like Olympus Mons, and those disruptions propagate upward into the atmosphere. “Just like a wave coming onshore would crest and break, atmospheric waves crest and break,” says Bougher. But those winds don’t even explain the presence of heavy dust particles high up in the Martian atmosphere. MAVEN collected dirt from more than 600 miles up that defied the dynamics of Martian gravity. “The puzzle is how did that dust get up so high,” says Brain.

These findings aren’t just flashy—they’re scientifically major. They will help scientists understand more about how and why Earth’s atmosphere is so stable, and give interplanetary scientists a better idea of what to expect in future Martian expeditions. “You can figure out what dosage of radiation astronauts would be getting as they set up shop on the surface,” says Bougher. “You don’t want to send astronauts to certain death without exploring the risks.”

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Attention all penicillin-allergy victims, you might not actually be penicillin-allergic!


Photo of antibiotics (licensing information here)

I am someone who is allergic to penicillin, amoxicillin, and a bunch of other “cillins”. So, when being prescribed with antibiotics, penicillin is always ruled out as an option for treatment. However, new findings at the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (ACAAI) show that people, like me, who were told after a single allergic reaction to penicillin that they were penicillin-allergic, may not be penicillin-allergic after all!

At the Annual Scientific Meeting at the ACAAI, a study was presented where 15 students who were supposedly penicillin-allergic tested negative for a penicillin allergy and were in fact treated with intravenous penicillin medication multiple times. Dr. David Khan and Dr. Roland Solensky, both allergists, are both majorly involved in this research. They each stated that people who are found allergic to a medication such as penicillin are then prescribed with more expensive and dangerous medications to take the place of the medication they are allergic to. In fact, almost 10% of Americans are labeled penicillin-allergic and have no choice but to use more complex medications, when they might not even be allergic to a simpler medication, such as penicillin, in the first place!

To attempt to resolve this problem, Dr. Solensky is going to present “Drug allergy: options beyond avoidance” at the next Annual Meeting at the ACAAI. This presentation is designed to discuss different treatment options for patients suffering from allergies to certain medications, as well as patients who were told they are allergic to medications that they are in fact not allergic to. Dr. Khan encourages everyone who is penicillin-allergic to get tested and see if penicillin is a medication they should actually avoid or if the allergic reaction they once had to penicillin was a fluke. This study can help people avoid medications that are overly expensive or that can be dangerous, and just in general help people find more appropriate medications. I sure know that I’m interested to see if I’m actually penicillin-allergic, or if that allergic reaction I had in second grade was a one time thing!

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Tardigrades and a New Species!

If you’re a biology lover like myself, you probably spend a good chunk of time before you go to bed every night wondering, “When are we going to find a new species of tardigrade?” Well, you’re in luck, because recently a new species of tardigrade, the Echiniscoides wyethi, was discovered. For those of you who don’t know what tardigrades are, they are water-dwelling micro-animals with eight legs.  Tardigrades are incredible creatures because they can survive in some of the most extreme environments, including temperatures ranging just above absolute zero to over 100° Celsius. These tough creatures are often called “water bears”, and many scientists will tell you they look similar to a hippopotamus- although on a much smaller scale. Tardigrades also can survive for over 10 years without food or water. When they go into these long periods of not eating or drinking, called desiccated states, their water contents can drop below 1% of normal. They are able to do this because of their high trehalose levels. Trehalose is a disaccharide sugar, which protects their cell membranes. This state is known as a cryptobiotic state. Tardigrades in this state are known as Tuns. Tuns have been sent to space; the European Space Agency once conducted an experiment in which they sent Tuns to space and exposed them to harsh solar radiation as well as the vacuum of space- two thirds of the tuns survived the conditions. The new species of tardigrade was found near Allen Island in Maine. It is named the Echiniscoides Wyethi, named after the artist Andrew Wyeth and his family, who own the island. The species measures about one-sixteenth of an inch, and has been described as looking like a “gummy bear” under a microscope. Delicious, however, due to its size, it can’t be too filling! Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 9.08.28 PMImage from Wikipedia


Additional Articles:

The Tardigrade: Practically invisible, Indestructible ‘Water Bears’

Researches Discover New Tiny Organism, Name it for Wyeths

The Not-So-Sweet Truth

Trick-or-treaters excitedly hoard candy every Halloween, aware of its dangers to the extent that sugar causes cavities. However, sugar’s stealth effects extend far beyond tooth decay. Research shows that consuming high-concentrations of sugar slows down brain function and is detrimental to both physical and mental health. Continuing overindulgences in sugar-laden products may even lead to Alzheimer’s disease. Children, teenagers, and adults need to understand the damages that a high-fructose diet could cause in order to avoid sugar.

For consumers, sugar is extremely difficult to avoid since it is found in most processed foods in the form of honey, sucrose, and high fructose corn syrup. As soon as sugar is consumed and absorbed into the body, it causes the brain to release hormones, such as dopamine, that generate good feelings. The good feelings from the release of dopamine are temporary. Once the high sugar level in the bloodstream drops, feelings of depression, irritability, or fatigue take over. Sugar thus stimulates the body to intensely crave for more sugar intake.

In addition to affecting the hormones, research shows that sugar-heavy diets causes changes in gut bacteria, which makes the brain’s ability to adapt and switch to new concepts more difficult to comprehend. The gut bacteria influences the way the brain functions, so any change in this type of bacteria is unhealthy for neurological health. The level of sugar intake and cognitive abilities are interconnected; therefore, restricting sugar from entering the bloodstream is an intelligent dietary choice.

The negative consequences of diets high in sugar have been studied and the conclusive evidence shows that sugar is toxic to good health. Scientists conducted experiments on a group of rats to prove that sugar consumption hinders the ability to effectively think. One group was given normal water to drink, while the other group was given a fructose-infused water to drink for six weeks. After the six weeks, the rats were timed to see how fast they could escape a maze. The group that drank the sugar water took thirty percent longer than the group that drank plain water. The researchers ultimately concluded that fructose disrupts plasticity: the brain’s ability to retain short-term and long-term memories and generate new ideas using new information.

It is important for everyone to be aware of the harmful effects that sugar has on the human body. Cavities should not be the thing people worry about when they eat candy, as they are petty compared to the dangers sugar has on the brain. Sugar weakens mental and physical health, and should be avoided like the death it could cause.

Original Article 


Did You Know Stress Could Cause…

Sorry! I got distracted. ADHD. Stress can cause ADHD. Many drug companies and family physicians blame ADHD on a chemical imbalance. It is so common in the US to simply get drugs to pacify children’s hyperactivity. In fact, kids as young as “4-year-olds can be diagnosed and medicated with amphetamines like Ritalin

6296020485_1130d59586_m.” (Huffington Post) This is great news for the drug companies… but is this idea that ADHD is solely form a chemical imbalance completely true?

Many people are starting to oppose this idea. Marilyn Wedge, family therapist, found in her cases that a lot of times children’s crazy or abnormal behavior can be attributed to stressful or changing situations. More times than not we forget that everyone from infancy to retirement is affected by stressful situations. Whether they show it or not, or are conscious of it or not, people’s actions are known for being dependent on situations. Though this can be the situation at any age, my article refers mainly to children. Family therapists found that children are like sponges, they soak up the feelings and emotions in any situation and reproduce them in their actions. Marilyn said “Some people may be amazed that a 4-year old child could be so tuned in to his father and have behavior problems because of a father losing his job. To a family therapist, however, this kind of situation is business as usual. We see it every day.” (Huffington Post) So, rather than a simple chemical imbalance, ADHD might be from a stressful environment, and there is no pill to fix that.

This debate brings us back to the nature versus nurture argument. The nature versus nurture argument can be applied to every situation, and it is; and there is almost always people fighting for both sides. The truth is, we may never have a clear answer. In fact, I would argue that most situations are influenced by both nature and nurture. In relation to ADHD, a child could truly have a chemical imbalance or have lack of blood flow to certain regions of the brain. Or, he or she could just as easily be immersed in a stressful situation and have “learned behavior”  from their parents, siblings or anyone that they are near. Do you find that it is much harder to work when you are stressed or something else is enveloping your mind? Do you maybe work best in these situations? Do you, in whatever situation, feel hyperactive and count it as part of your personality? Maybe you don’t have ADHD, or maybe you do. Regardless, you can look at yourself and see the effects of stress on you.


Here are some websites for further research:




The Immaculate Conceptions: Smalltooth Sawfish Experiencing Virgin Births


From Flickr

Chances are you have never heard of the Smalltooth Sawfish, an endangered species most commonly found off the western cost of Florida. These creatures grow to be as long as 25 feet, but their is more that is impressive about these fish than their shockingly large size. Recent studies have shown that around 3% of Smalltooth reproduce asexually, a virgin birth. This is the first hard evidence that birth of parthenogens, offspring born of asexual reproduction, happens in nature. This speaks to the adaptability of life, scientist Demian Chapman, says that it makes sense that endangered species would be the ones most commonly reproducing asexually, “that life finds a way”. This discovery was made when researchers tagged and sampled DNA from around 190 Sawfish, which lead to the discovery of 7 parthenogens.

Scientist hypothesize that during meiosis, sex cells fused together to form offspring. Incredibly, all seven of the parthenogens are fully healthy and functioning, and seem to be viable sexual partners. This “suggests that parthenogens are not a dead end” that this “extreme form of inbreeding” does not lead to any serious defects. Unfortunately, Smalltooth Sawfish are on the verge of extinction due to human interference in their natural habitat. Although the Sawfish are able to reproduce asexually, the occurrence rate is too small to sustain a viable number of Sawfish to save them from extinction, but raising awareness of the issue could be the key to saving these magnificent creatures.


Original Article

Sawfish Extinction

More Examples of Parthenogens in Nature

Protein: A Cell’s Hero or Villain?

The function of the endoplasmic reticulum is to fold and secret transmembrane proteins. Proteins in cells provide a variety of functions; such as speeding up chemical reactions through enzymes, protecting the cell against disease through antibodies, and coordinating organism activities with hormones. Proteins are obviously crucial to cells.

However, recent research shows that although proteins are supposed to help cells run efficiently, in some cases, under stress, proteins can cause cell suicide, or apoptosis. Apoptosis is part of the natural cycle of a cell, but in this case, proteins are truncating the cell’s normal cycle, which can even be disease-inducing.


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When environmental conditions or genetic factors around the ER go awry, a cellular stress reaction called the Unfolded Protein Response (UPR) either triggers or deactivates DR5, Death Receptor 5 Protein, which can lead to cell suicide. The two main factors which control the UPR are IRE1A and PERK. By activating XBP1, which drives expression of cell-survival genes, IRE1A promotes cell survival. PERK actives CHOP, which in turn activates DR5.

The ER activates UPR in order to alleviate cell stress and return the ER to homeostasis, but this instead can lead to apoptosis.

ER stress is central to many diseases, including neurodegeneration, type II diabetes, cancer, atherosclerosis, and liver disease. This finding is so important because now that scientists have found that IRE1A and PERK are the causes of this response, they can better study the phenomenon.

The idea that an organelle can be stressed is very interesting. I usually think of organelles as having clean structures and clean results, but this story shows that the ER can be overstressed through changing conditions and its actions will reflect this stress.

Another interesting part of this article is that when the ER activates UPR, this will either activate or deactivate the DR5, the cause of cell suicide. In science, we usually think of things as reliable and consistent, but this response to the ER can either save the kill or destroy the cell.

Finally, Cancer is a diseased caused by the over-multiplication of cells. If cell stress leads to cell suicide, then maybe scientists can use their new found understanding of the proteins involved in UPR to figure out a way to destroy cancerous cells.

Original Article


Portabella Batteries

People are always complaining that their cellphone batteries are inefficient. Our current industries use a lithium ion battery in many consumer products. In these batteries, synthetic graphite is used as the anode in the chemical reaction that supplies power to our devices. However, the production of these anodes is very cost inefficient and harmful to the environment.

Diagram of Lithium Ion Battery

Researchers at the University of California Riverside Bourns School of Engineering have found an alternative anode in the form of Portabella mushrooms. Using the mushrooms’ initial ribbon-like structure, researchers heat the samples up to 500 and 1100 degrees Celsius to create strips of porous carbon. These strips have a very high surface area as a result of these pores and are very useful for the storage of energy.


A Portabella Mushroom

Portabella mushrooms have the potential to be better batteries than our current graphite anode counterparts. When the graphite anodes are mass produced, massive amounts of sulfuric acid and hydrofluoric acid are needed which creates hazardous waste. On the other hand, the Portabella mushroom is an easily grown biomass and has little to no impact on the environment.

In terms of energy efficiency, users usually complain about the decreasing capacity of current batteries with graphite anodes. Portabella mushroom batteries may feature capacities that increase over time. Mushrooms have a high concentration of potassium ions. As these batteries are used, more pores can activate creating an anode with increasing electrolytes.

Now, it is up to the researchers to introduce this product to the world. They are currently filing for patents and will hopefully bring a more environmentally friendly solution to our energy storage troubles.

Original Article

You can find the abstract and published research here:


The Real Scoop on Artificial Food Coloring

Although artificial colors and dyes have been used in foods since the early 1900’s, the FDA has banned many of them due to health concerns. Thirty-seven artificial colors still remain approved for general food use in the USA, many of which are now prohibited in some European countries. Many of these chemicals have been researched and found to have harmful side effects, but they are still used in popular candies, soft drinks, cereals, and other processed foods.

Americans are now consuming more processed foods and drinks than ever before, and therefore more artificial colors and dyes. Many scientists have researched these common chemicals and found shocking results. The most common blue 1 & 2, citrus red 2, green 3, red 3 & 40, and yellow 5 & 6, have been found to cause a wide degree of side effects. Some have been found to cause cancer, ADHD, neurochemical and behavioral effects, allergies and more. Because of link between artificial dyes and the frequently seen side effects of cancer and ADHD, many European countries such as Norway, France, Finland, The U.K., and Sweden have banned a number of these chemicals from their foods.

It is no secret that these additives have harmful side effects, so why do companies still choose to use them? It is a very simple marketing tactic. “You eat with your eyes”, therefore companies will try to make their food look visually appealing to convince you to buy their products. Using artificial dyes and colors is just one method companies use to attract buyers. Artificial dyes like Yellow 5 have more vibrant and concentrated color than natural ones like saffron or turmeric. They are also much cheaper than natural dyes because companies do not need to use much in order to get the color they want. Artificial colors are also easier to use and their results are more reliable because they are much less sensitive to heat than naturally-derived food dyes are.

Silly Rabbit

(A bowl of Trix cereal made with artificial colors and flavors. The new Trix will go on sale later this year, without its blue and green puffs.)

This news may seem very alarming and upsetting to the average consumer, but there is hope. The FDA requires that companies put their ingredients on the food labels, so you know which foods are organic and which ones have artificial coloring. Research on artificial food dyes has led many consumers to cut out harmful processed foods and sodas from their diet and led to more awareness among buyers. And although there are companies such as Coca-Cola that use harmful cancer causing dyes such like 4-MEI, there are brands like General Mills that are promising to soon cut out all artificial dyes from their cereals by 2017. The new direction American consumers are taking now towards organic and health foods is slowly leading the food industry to change their foods in a healthy way. No longer are some food companies looking for the most vibrant look with their presentation, but rather the healthiest.



Global Warming can alter the shape of the planet

Climate change is an element in our world which has been around for many years. It has been believed to cause warmer oceans and erratic weather, but a new study, according to scientists, declares it also has the potential to alter the shape of the planet we live in. Global Warming is a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants. (read more about Global Warming) Michele Koppes,  assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia, conducted a five year study in which she compared glaciers in Patagonia and in the Antarctic Peninsula. Koppes and her team discovered that glaciers in warmer Patagonia moved faster and caused more erosion than those in Antarctica, as warmer temperatures and melting ice helped lubricate the bed of the glaciers.

global warming

 Glaciers erode 100 to 1,000 times faster in Patagonia than they do in Antarctica.   “Antarctica is warming up, and as it moves to temperatures above 0 degrees Celsius, the glaciers are all going to start moving faster,” states Koppes. These ice sheets are apparently beginning  to move faster and should become more erosive. As a result, this will dig deeper valleys and shed more sediment into the oceans. The outcomes of this erosion add to the already complex effects of climate change in the polar regions.  “The polar continental margins in particular are hotspots of biodiversity, If you’re pumping out that much more sediment into the water, you’re changing the aquatic habitat,” Koppes states.  The Canadian Arctic, one of the most rapidly warming regions of the world, will most definitely feel these effects. These glaciers are on the verge of a major shift. The Canadian Arctic is becoming warmer in temperature more than four degrees Celsius spanning over the last 50 years. These glaciers will be flowing up to 100 times faster if the climate continues to shift and shifts above zero degrees Celsius. The findings by Koppes settle a scientific debate about when glaciers have the greatest impact on shaping landscapes and creating relief, suggesting that they do the most erosive work near the end of each cycle of glaciation, rather than at the peak of ice cover. If global warming continues to occur, change in formation of landscape due to higher water levels from melting glaciers is a strong possibility and may already be taking place. This will significantly affect all forms of life on earth.


Original Article:



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