AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Month: November 2011

New HIV Prevention Technique

CC licensed by photo Micro World (flickr)

An exciting, cutting-edge approach to HIV prevention is quickly gaining support, as researchers  have been learning about special antibodies that have destroyed HIV in the lab.  Now, biologists at Caltech have taken the next step, as they have discovered a way to insert these antibodies into mice, thus protecting them from HIV infection.

This new approach to HIV prevention — called Vectored ImmunoProphylaxis, or VIP — is outlined in the November 30 advance online publication of the journal Nature.

This new technique in HIV prevention is revolutionary, as supposed to traditional methods that centered on developing a vaccine that would provoke the formation of antibodies or T cells in the body, VIP provides protective antibodies directly.

Mice treated with VIP have been shown to produce high concentrations of the protective antibodies throughout their lives, and remain protected from HIV when it is administered intravenously.

Still, researchers must make the next step and show that the antibodies produced from VIP work to destroy HIV in humans.  According to researchers however, the problem will not be whether the antibodies work, as they are relatively sure of its effectiveness.  Rather, experiments will have to be conducted to see if VIP produces enough of these antibodies.  According to Alejandro Balazs, lead author of the study and a postdoctoral scholar, “In typical vaccine studies, those inoculated usually mount an immune response — you just don’t know if it’s going to work to fight the virus.  In this case, because we already know that the antibodies work, my opinion is that if we can induce production of sufficient antibody in people, then the odds that VIP will be successful are actually pretty high.”

For more information on this revolutionary new technique, visit the page 

What do you think?  Will the VIP method be successful in humans, and will HIV and AIDS finally be conquered?










Aging, a side effect of preventing Cancer?

Nobody wants cancer and about 50 years ago scientists found the body’s natural defense against cancerous cells which was either to kill the cells or to turn them into senescent cells. But in a recent study by The Mayo Clinic researchers they found that if you destroy these senescent cells then the health of the mice improves as the mice get older such as longer lasting fat deposits which would cause wrinkles if they had gone and prolonged development of cataracts. The original mice they had tested had shorter life spans than normal mice so they have started to test normal life span mice to try and replicate the results. The only problem is that the method used to destroy the cells in the mice is not applicable to humans because it requires altering the cells so that any cell which turns into a senescent cell destroys itself. The scientists have gotten around this by saying that people could develop drugs to block anything produced from the senescent cells so that they won’t actually affect the rest of the body. The have already been approached by people who are interested in these results and who want to start development on these drugs. The scientists say this does not actually extend life but it does extend the healthy part of life.

Caffeine- helpful or harmful?

CC licensed photo by Manny Hernandez

As we all know, the highly addictive drug, caffeine, found in our coffee, tea, soda, etc… simulates us. Many people use caffeine to stay a wake which works really well. But it also causes a build up of fatty acid in the blood, raises blood pressure,  stimulates the heart, respiratory system, and central nervous system, causes stomach to produce more acid, harder to digest food because muscles surrounding the intestinal system relax, increased urination, and many other symptoms.

Is caffeine more helpful or more harmful? And where does caffeine really affect our body?

Recently, scientist have been testing caffeine on lab rats to figure out which part of the brain caffeine stimulates the most. In the first trial, they gave the rats more caffeine than what a human would normally ingest. They then decided to use  smaller amounts of caffeine which affected the hippocampus. The hippocampus is part of the brain which allows for long term memory and spacial navigation. In humans, the hippocampus is located inside the medial temporal lobe. Damage to the hippocampus may cause oxygen starvation and/or amnesia. The rats received caffeine equivalent to two human cups of coffee which is two milligrams per kilogram of body weight. The scientists measured the nerve cell’s electrical messages but examining different parts of brain tissue.

The region that had the most response to the caffeine was called CA2. CA2 showed a burst of electrical energy, while other brain regions in the hippocampus showed no sign of stimulation. The then tested the rats giving a greater dosage which caused an even greater stimulation to CA2. After that the scientists directly injected caffeine into nerve cells in a dish and the results were the same as before. About 5 minutes of caffeine intake allowed for the synapses to stay amped for three hours.

The scientists believe that when humans use caffeine the same area, CA2, will be stimulated and may strengthen a persons ability to learn and memorize, but this is just a hypothesis since they only tested on rats. So you decide… is it helpful or harmful?

Doing Nothing is Still Doing Something

If you’re like me, you hate taking medication: it’s at times completely unnecessary, and who wants the hassle of having to remember actually take the meds?  Well, I have good news for us “lazy” ones: at times when we’re sick doing nothing is actually the best medication!

Have you ever noticed that whenever we have a problem, we tend to think that it can be fixed with some type of medication? Headache? Tylenol or Advil.  Tummy hurts?  A lovely dose of the horrendously pink Pepto should do.  Sore throat? Oh it must be the early symptoms of strep throat–here’s some antibiotics.  Let’s just forget about all medications that exist today–it’d be like how cavemen lived.  They had no medications, no drugs, simply their bodies which kept them alive and healthy for most of the time.  We need to give our bodies more credit–after all, they are made to maintain homeostasis.

According to an article written my Dr. Danielle Ofri, a professor of medicine at NYU, sometimes not taking any medication to alleviate a “medical condition” is actually the best medication for our bodies.  Doctors have the tendency to prescribe medication when they find that something is “wrong” with a patient, and patients likewise want something done when something is “wrong.”  Like everything else in the world, every action a doctor makes has a reaction.  Most frequently, this reaction that occurs from the physician prescribing an additional medication is a reaction within the body of the patient.  Often, especially in elders, there are multiple doctors to one patient, as a result, prescribe multiple prescriptions which sometimes causes detrimental affects to the health of the patient because the medications react with each other and create further problems for the patient, which leads to the prescribing of even more medications.

So, rather than acting immediately, let’s just stop and think for a moment…is it perhaps better to just chill and see what happens? Uh, yeah.  There are some doctors (the super smart ones) who practice this “doing nothing,” and believe “If the patient is doing fine right now, why rock the boat?”  This method is called clinical inertia, which is generally looked down upon, but why?  Dr. Ofri wrote “doctors who tend toward inertia might actually benefit their patients by protecting them from overzealous medical intervention.”  In an article from the American Medical Association, which focused on diabetes, cholesterol and hypertension, it was found that in these three diseases, it is perceived that “lower” is better, but it was found that lower levels in sugar or pressure are associated with higher death rates.

So…what’s the lesson?  Of course not all patients are the same, but when it comes to “fixing” a “problem,” your doctor should understand that there is room to stop and think for a second.  We’re all like balances, and little illnesses act as stones put on one side of the scale creating a bit of an imbalance, and rather than balancing the scale out with medication, we should sometimes allow our bodies to do their thing and balance it out themselves.

Photo taken by Gianluca Neri



Pass Me My E-Cigarette Please…

First the world switched from cd’s to iPods, and then books to e-books. This time we’re ditching the cigarettes and buying E-Cigarettes.

Photo Credit: momentimedia

A new invention that is gaining popularity throughout the world is E-Cigarettes. E-Cigarettes is a fake cigarette that when you treat it like a normal cigarette and take a breath from it, releases nicotine vapors into your body. It is designed to rival the experience of an actual cigarette, while still promoting a healthier option. But is it actually healthy? In this article, scientists and other advocates of cigarette abstinence say no.

Traditionally, the usual ways of quitting smoking can vary from cold turkey to using FDA approved products that also include Nicotine gum. However, these E-Cigarettes have been shown to dramatically aid the quiting process, as seen in a study done by the University of Catania. “After six months, more than half the subjects in Dr. Polosa’s experiment had cut their regular cigarette consumption by at least 50 percent. Nearly a quarter had stopped altogether.” 

Not everyone is so thrilled by E-Cigarette success. The FDA, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, Action on Smoking and Health, and the Center for Tobacco-Free Kids have banded together against E-Cigarettes. “They argue that the devices, like smokeless tobacco, reduce the incentive for people to quit nicotine and could also be a “gateway” for young people and nonsmokers to become nicotine addicts. And they cite an F.D.A. warning that several chemicals in the vapor of e-cigarettes may be “harmful” and “toxic.””

In many ways E-Cigarette science must still be studied, along with the potential harms it could have on someone’s body. However the incentives to encourage the use of E-Cigarettes instead of normal Cigarettes are clear: “On a scale of harm from 1 to 100, where nicotine gums and lozenges are 1 and cigarettes are 100, he estimated that e-cigarettes are no higher than 2.” 

So what do you think? Should major anti-smoking agencies oppose this potentially safer cigarette substitute? Do you think that smoking is okay? How do you think people should quit if they choose to do so?

It Seems that Our Eyes are Quite Similar to Our Skin

Credit: Jules.K. Flickr

A breakthrough has been made in how our skin absorbs energy from the sun, as it has been discovered that ultraviolet receptors in the skin react to UV light much faster than previously believed.

UVA light, which accounts for approximately 95% of the ultraviolet radiation that reaches Earth’s surface from the sun, causes pigment producing cells in the skin to create melanin, which protects the skin by absorbing the UVA radiation.  As the melanin pigment is created, calcium is released.

What has been particularly interesting is that the discovery has found that the human skin uses a similar mechanism to that used by the retina to detect light.  It seems that the eye and the skin, the only two organs that are constantly exposed to solar radiation, use similar molecular mechanisms to decode light.  Additionally, according to Elena Oancea and colleagues at Brown University, the process occurs much quicker than what was previously known.  The discovery of the quick biological reaction that takes place in the skin in the absorption of light can have an important application, as new sunscreens can be designed that will be more effective.

“We hypothesize that the early melanin production triggered by rhodopsin activation provides a first line of defense against ultraviolet light-induced damage,” says Oancea. “If this is the case, then this pathway and its protective capacity should be taken into consideration in the design and use of broad-spectrum sunscreens.”

What do you think?  Will this discovery have an important impact, and lead to the creation of more effective sunscreens?  I hope this means that I won’t ever get another sunburn again.

For a detailed look at Oancea’s data, check out her research report,  Identification of Light Sensing Receptors from Skin    ,  and this link:


Have you ever been hypnotized ?

Mostly in cartoons and fiction stories, the writers and authors display animals and humans being hypnotized by swirly and crazy eye movements. As strange and ridiculous as this sounds, there is new evidence to prove that this might actually be true. Although the writers and authors might take the effect to far, there is still evidence to prove some sort of truth behind this.

Scientist studied a young, healthy woman who was being hypnotized. Her eyes experienced some eratic change during this time such as “appearance of a diffuse, unblinking stare, the researchers measured a series of involuntary eye features, such as pupil reflexes and quick movements.”  Also when she was being hypnotized her pupils were smaller than usual. After watching the video, the woman even thought that her eyes were scary.  Just to prove that there was no way of faking the eye movements, a group of 14 people tried to mimic her odd eye behavior and could not successfully do so. Do you really believe that after all these years that the TV shows and movies had the right idea all along? Its weird to think that something can take control of our bodies without us even realizing it. Hypnotics is defiantly an interesting subject to study but in order to come to further conclusions it will take a lot more research. Can you be the one with all the answers?

Conjoined Twins Separated!!!

Angelina and Aneglica Sabuco were so close that they were connected at the hip, literally! (Well, actually, they were connected at the chest and abdomen). On tuesday at Stanford University Children’s Hospital, the girls underwent 9 hours and over 20 doctors assisting in the surgery.

The twins had been preparing for this surgery ever since July, getting weekly sterile saltwater shots into balloons beneath their skin. This was done in order to stretch their skin and produce more skin. “Dr. Gary Hartman, lead surgeon on the case, had said keeping the girls connected carried bigger risks for their health than the separation procedure.” If the twins were to have remained connected there would have been serious risks. “If one conjoined twin dies, the other will die within hours. Muscular and skeletal deformities can also worsen with time.”  However, the surgery is also risky. Since 1950, when siamese twins are surgically separated, one twin survived at least 75% of the time.

As if the first surgery was not enough, the girls had entered the next phase, reconstruction. The second surgery involved concealing holes created by the separation. After the reconstruction the girls  “were moved to the intensive care unit, each with a scar stretching from her chest to her belly.” The mother of the girls, Ginady Sabuco, was overjoyed. She wants her twins to be able to live a normal life.


Eek! I hate that sound!

Do you get goose bumps when you hear nails dragged across a chalkboard? Do you have to cover your ears and wonder why this sounds makes you so uncomfortable? If you have, fear no more!

A recent study was conducted by scientists to discover why certain noises make people cringe. The study consisted of 104 people who listened to six different chalkboard squeaks. After listening to the squeaks, the people had to rate their discomfort level. The researchers then measured changes in the listeners’ vital signs and skin conductivity, indicators of stress, while replaying the two most annoying squeaks. The sounds contained frequencies that ranged up to 12,000 hertz (Hz) and beyond. The scientists thought that maybe filtering out the highest frequencies would make the fingernail-scraping sound less chilling. Yet, they found that cutting out the lowest or highest frequencies did not change the listeners’ level of discomfort. They did, however, find that removing all tones between 2,000 and 4,000 Hz made the experience a little less painful. The researchers are not completely positive why this sound range makes the experience worse, but they believe that maybe the ear canal naturally resonates with those frequencies more than others. The sensitivity to this sound range can very well be why people with noisy jobs tend to lose hearing in this frequency range first.

Ouch! That hurts!

Scientists concluded from this study that sound waves alone are not the only factor that makes for this distressing experience. Knowing that a screech comes from a chalkboard, instead of something pleasant, adds to the listener’s irritation. The fact that the brain associates hearing squeaks on a chalkboard with an unfavorable experience triggers the listener to react negatively when such sounds are heard. Scientist Randolph Blake at Vanderbilt University believes that vision is another factor that adds to the painfulness of the experience. He said, “I’m convinced that watching somebody scrape their nails on a chalkboard will make the experience even more unpleasant.” Thus, our reactions to certain sounds are part psychological and part physical.

These findings help illuminate why people react badly when they hear unpleasant sounds. Although the study has not found a solution to making these experiences somewhat more enjoyable, these findings have helped scientists determine which sound frequencies people are more sensitive to, which could help researchers learn more about our the complexity of our hearing and its sensitivity. What other types of sounds give you the chills? Do you think that researchers and scientists can find a way to make unpleasant noises more enjoyable? What do you think their ideas and methods would be? As for now, try to stay away from fingernails dragging across a chalkboard, because although you may know why your body does not like hearing it, you sure don’t want to have to go through the pain!

Is Type 1 Diabetes Curable?

Right now, on Grey’s Anatomy, one of the plot lines involves Type 1 diabetes and mice. Dr. Miranda Bailey is performing a trial, attempting to create a device with a molecule that can be placed in humans to cure diabetes. She is using mice as the trial guinea pigs. This sounds crazy! However, this same trial is being done in real life!

“Type 1 diabetes is characterized by the body’s inability to manufacture insulin because its own immune system is attacking it.”

Diabetes has doubled in our population in the last ten years. In fact, doctors have found themselves able to predict if someone has or will have Type 1 diabetes ninety percent of the time. The experiment that physicians are now doing on mice started two and a half years a go. Testing different molecules on mice, the doctors have tried to find which molecules will stop the production of Type 1 diabetes. The doctors look for particular structural pockets in the mouse’s body that are lining areas of proteins, and they then place the molecules in those particular pockets. It seems that doctors have tried this experiment on mice with hundreds of molecules in the past, but the one that works is glyphosphine. When the glyphosphine is entered into the mouse’s body, it “enhances insulin presentation”

Mice at the Louisville Zoo, Taken by: Ltshears

and kills the chances of early signs of diabetes in mice becoming Type 1 diabetes. However, if the mouse already has Type 1 diabetes, the treatment is not as effective in getting rid of it, for it has already found a home in the body. In reality, this molecule called glyphosphine is only a preventative molecule, one that can save people who have had diabetes in their family history, or are just unlucky with symptoms of a future diagnosis. This trial has been published in the Journal of Immunology and gives hope to doctors working to fight Type 1 Diabetes.  The clinical trial is to be performed on humans throughout the next five years.

I Got it From My Mama . . . and My Papa

Photo Credit: By Me

Ever wonder why Justin Timberlake could belt it out or how come Usain Bolt is so fast? Well the answer’s pretty unexpected, but not too surprising: genetics. Now while genetic prowess is not the sole key to these superstars’ successes, recent studies have shown that certain genes are attributed to superior athletic performance and feel of rhythm.

Recent studies have show that babies are born something called beat induction, the ability to follow a beat. Prior to this study, it was thought that basic music skills like rhythm were solely learned or an offshoot of language. However, scientists were able to study two and three-day-old babies’ reactions to changes in rhythms and they found that babies brains experienced  a momentary disturbance, known as a mismatch negativity (caused by the failure of an expected stimuli to occur), when the beat changed. It was impossible that the newborns could have learned beat induction in a few days, so it was obvious that it is an ability passed down genetically. Beat induction is a relatively new genetic trait , one only found in humans; even our closest primate relatives do not have this skill. It is even thought that beat induction may have been an adaptation gained to help humans with conversational communication.

Geneticists have been doing more and more groundbreaking research about the connection between inherited traits that may cause offspring to be more athletic or suited for competition at a higher level. For example, in 2003 Australian geneticists identified a gene called Actinen A (ACTN3), which codes for a protein that helps build fast-twitching muscles and muscle fibers that move with greater force, thus speeding up leg movement. The more fast twitching muscles an athlete has, the better they are at burst energy sports like sprinting, football, and baseball. Recent reports show that 70% of Jamaicans have the ACTN3 gene, which could explain Jamaican sprinters like Usain Bolt’s success at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Similarly, Olympic swimming champion, Michael Phelps, may have also inherited advantages for movement in the water. Phelps has many characteristics commonly attributed to Marfan Syndrome. Marfan Syndrom is a connective tissue disorder that strengthens the body’s structures and could possibly explain how Phelps swims faster than any other human being. Researchers are also currently studying the gene which codes for slow-twitch muscle fibers that are advantageous for endurance sports. By identifying these genetically inherited advantages could radically change athletic competition, allowing athletes to create specific training regiments beneficial to their unique genetic composition.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

So research tells us that both beat induction (musical rhythm)  and athletic prowess can be inherited, but the question is how crucial are these inherited traits to success in a given field? What other factors like environment, mentality, mental endurance, or determination play into the molding of a virtuoso or olympian? What really makes a superstar a superstar?


For more:

Are bad bacteria really bad?

That moment you finish pumping your gas and you think about all of the other hands that may have touched the same nozzle, so you become so disgusted until you remember that there is a bottle of Purell in the car. You suddely have the urge to open the cap, squeeze half of the bottle into your hand and rub them until your hands have never felt cleaner. The soothing idea that only .01% of bacteria may still lay on your hand rushes upon you and then you are able to go about your day picking up food with your fingers and proceeding to place it in your mouth.


Funny thing is, studies show that using Purell is not good for our hygiene. Does this mean that using Purell and  other anti-bacterial creams, sprays and medicine have actually been the cause of some of our ailments? Purell should not  be used on a day to day basis because it removes 99.99% of germs that means that you are not only killing the bad germs but also the good germs, and maybe leaving just .01% of them behind. Anti-biotics have a similar affect as Purell.


The hypothesis:

H. pylori in the stomach- photo taken from

Dr. Blaser, a profesor of microbiology at NYU, decided to research what are the consequences of killing all of the bad bacteria in the human body by using anti-biotics and anti-bacterial creams. He came upon the hypothesis that “the overuse of antibiotics increase the risk of obesity.”  He discovered that anti-biotics have been prescribed to patients with ulcers and gastric cancer, even when the patients showed no symptoms. These anti-biotics actually kill a bacteria called Helicobactor pylori (H.pylori). Studies show without H.pylori, a hunger hormone ghrelin, increases its secretion after a meal, when the hormone is actually suppose to drop in secretion levels. Thus by removing H. pylori the person is actually eating more frequently and consequently gaining more weight. It is also shown the children who have been treated with regular doses of anti-biotics to treat throat and ear infections had a marked increase in body fat while maintaining a constant diet. So can it be blamed on doctors that what they say is so-and-so “baby fat” is actually a result of their over prescription of anti-biotics when we had ear infections? Ok. maybe I went a bit to far, but it seems simple, some bad bacteria is meant to be in our system, not only to keep us healthy but also so that we can form some resistance to the bad bacteria.


By overusing anti-biotics we have created superbugs such as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. What a big word, what does it mean? Methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus is a bacteria better known as MRSA and is derived from a bacteria that was known to create staph infections. That bacteria was able to be treated through an assortment of anti-biotics but this new superbug does not respond to most anti-biotics. Thus more and more anti-biotics are being given to MRSA patients resulting in a large concern for obesity in these patients.

Back to the Hypothesis of Dr. Blaser: 

Yu Chen, an epidemiologist at NYU, has agreed with Dr. Blaser that the overuse of anti-biotics and the correlation to H. pylori has also been the cause of many childhood infections such as: hay fever, asthma, and skin allergies. Peter Turnbaugh, a Harvard University geneticist, and  Dr. Jeffrey Gordon, a gastroenterologist at Washington University in St. Louis have also agreed with Dr. Blaser that the use of anti-biotics alter the healthy ratios of bacteria in the stomach, which results in an on-set of weight gain.

This is just the start of Dr. Blaser’s studies, he was granted over 100 million dollars from the National Institute of Health and plans on researching more bacteria, not only H.pylori. SO, what does this mean? Can anti-biotics be killing too much bacteria? Should we be waiting until our sickness has reached its peak before we take an anti-biotic? What about Purell is that creating superbugs?

A solution may be to wash our hands before we eat, but not be too narcotic and kill all of the bacteria that may lay on our hands, what do you think?


For more information please go to:,33634.asp






What CAN’T Exercise Do?!

As I’m sure you’re all well aware, exercise makes you stronger. This is because exercise increases the amount of muscle mitochondria and basically the more mitochondria you have in your muscle cells, the more durable and fatigue-resistant (strong) your muscles are.

Credit: PictureYouth Flickr

Well guess what? You’re brain is a muscle too.

Studies show that brain cells are also fueled by mitochondria, and therefore also get stronger through working out. This is because “the brain has to work hard to keep the muscles moving” (J. Mark Davis, University of South Carolina Professor).

J. Mark Davis and his fellow scientists at the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina conducted a test with mice for 8 weeks to figure out how this actually works. There was one group of mice that exercised every day, and one group that just lounged around. At the end of 8 weeks, the group that exercised performed extremely well on an endurance test and had a huge surge of “newborn mitochondria” in their brain cells. Of course no improvement was seen for the lounging mice, because they were lazy and didn’t exercise!

This is extremely good news, especially for neurologists studying Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, which are believed to be caused by mitochondria deficiencies in human brain cells.

Credit: Jules.K. Flickr

But the benefits don’t stop there! By working out, you are decreasing bodily or mental fatigue. That’s why the more you work out, the longer you can spend working out. Also, by decreasing mental fatigue, you’re making your brain sharper.

So the next time you stay up all night studying for your AP Bio test, don’t forget to take a casual 30-minute jog or just do some yoga. It will really help (plus it’s always good to take a break from studying)!

For more information about the benefits of exercise, please visit the following site.

Make Sure You Are Getting the Full Health Benefits When You Eat Your Vegetables



My parents always told me eat my vegetables, but after reading a recent article, those vegetables they served me may not have provided all the health benefits my parents thought they would.

The article talks about how for broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (examples: cauliflower, cabbage, kale) one must eat the “real thing”, not a supplement. There are some cases where supplements, like in the form of pills and vitamins, are recommended because they are better absorbed as a supplement than through food (example would be folic acid for pregnant women). This is not the case for vegetables, which is not surprising to me. I was a little surprised at the fact that the way broccoli is cooked also affects the actual health benefits you receive from the vegetable.

Since we are studying about enzymes I thought this article was good to look at because the researchers concluded that the reason broccoli and related vegetables need to come from the complete food to maximize their health value is because of an enzyme: myrosinase. This necessary enzyme is missing from most of the supplement forms of “glucosinolates” . Without myrosinase the research found, that the body actually absorbs five times less of one important compound and eight times less of another important compound (the article does not specifically address the names of those important compounds). By intensely cooking the broccoli at very high temperatures, essentially this important enzyme is lost and health value decreases greatly. So if you are eating very mushy and soft broccoli, the actual health value is very low. This makes senses because at boiling temperatures enzymes are  denatured. Essentially to maintain proper levels of the enzyme you want to cook the broccoli lightly for two or three minutes, or steam the broccoli until it’s still a little crunchy.

Broccoli was of particular interest in this study because it contains the highest levels of certain glucosinolates (defined in the article as: “a class of phytochemicals that many believe may reduce the risk of prostate, breast, lung, and colorectal cancer). When you eat real broccoli instead of a supplement and do not cook it until it is soft, enzymes in the broccoli help to break down the glucosinolates into valuable compounds: sulforaphane and erucin. Both compounds are important, but  in particular sulforaphane is relevant because it may help detoxify carcinogens and activate tumor suppressors genes. So if people want the real health benefits of broccoli and other vegetables like it, two simple guidelines to follow are: eat the real vegetable, and it either raw or very slightly cooked. For our next family meal I will probably ask to cook the vegetables.




This Blog Post is Rated R for Cannibalism

How many Bones fans are out there? For the dedicated few who know, the telivision show Bones took a major plot turn in it’s third season. Basically, Zach, the endearing, yet oddly intelligent forensic anthropologist admitted to killing a man so that another man could eat him! Wow is right! Cannibalism is a disgusting yet intriguing topic that not only appears throughout history, but in modern day books, shows, and movies. Now, scientists are saying, the trend may also be increasingly taking place in different animal groups.

Everyone’s first reaction to cannibalism is ew! But are there certain valid ecological reasons why some animals eat their own kind? In this article, these scientists and researchers say yes. Certain animals, such as cane toads, Caecilians, and Tamarin monkeys, have recently been showing cannabilistic behaviors.

Cane tadpoles have been sighted feeding on similar Cane toad eggs,

Photo Credit: Doug Greenburg

even when given the choice to eat other types of eggs. The researchers defend this behavior by proposing these reasons: “The practice speeds up maturation; it eliminates future rivals who, given a mother toad’s reproductive cycle, are almost certainly unrelated to you; and it means exploiting an abundant resource that others find toxic but to which you are immune.” Regardless if the behavior is validated, the cannibalism is shocking researchers and scientists, prompting them to even come up with a name for this increasing behavior in animals: “extreme or uncanny cannibalism”.

The cannibalism, unfortunatly, doesn’t stop there. The article goes on

Photo Credit: Scott Kinmartin

to talk about a certain kind of Black Widow spiders whose males have been studied to sacrifice themselves to their mate. This particular cannibalism in these particular spiders is perhaps too disgusting to explain here, but basically the male donates his gametes to the female spider, in order to ensure that he can help father many, many more spiders in the future.

Let’s move on from spiders shall we? I mean cannibalism is already bad, but add in creepy spiders and Halloween and

Photo Credit: teague_o

you’re just setting your self up for nightmares. The next animal that has cannabilistic factors are the caecillians. Caecilians are limbless amphibians, whose mother’s feed themselves to their young. In another astonishing, gross manner, that I will not go into in great detail, the mother Caecilian goes through skin changes soon after giving birth that allows her young to feed on her skin in order to stay alive.

Photo Credit: momopeche

The mother, needless to say, dies.

The last animal I will talk about today is the Tamarin monkeys. The article paints a picture of the kind of cannibalism found among these seemingly innocent monkeys.”A mother tamarin holding her infant son was foraging for fruit with her adult daughter. One moment the charming tableau looked fine, baby monkey clinging adorably to mother’s fur. The next, the researchers watched as the mother bit through the baby’s skull and ate out its brain.” I doubt anyone reading this article will ever look at monkeys the same, but keep this in mind. The adult daughter was pregnant, meaning that if the already born baby monkey was to live, the daughter’s baby would be doomed, due to the raising of a Tamarin monkey being a group affair. It is unknown why one baby was better than the other, however it can be reasoned that the mother Tamarin was, by eating its own child, making a pact with her adult daughter that they would care for the next baby together.

Okay, if anyone is still reading up to this point, props to you. Truly, you seem to have no problem reading gruesome stories about disgusting animal cannabilistic tendencies. However, I do not wish to ask you, person who does not mind reading about this cannabilism, whether you think cannabilism is a valid life choice, because truthfully I do not wish to know your answer. Instead I will ask whether you have heard of any other seemingly innocent animals that have turned to cannibalism. Are their actions validated by ecology? Alright, off you go now. Go read about happy animals, or better yet, unicorns. Happy, non cannibalistic, unicorns.

Ever wondered why your GPS speaks in a female voice?

iPhone 4S is "Female"

Ever since the new iPhone came out just last week, Siri has become the newest technological innovation on the market. Siri acts as an assistant: “someone” iPhone users can talk to, who can book reservations, and who can even schedule appointments. It seems like the first step toward electronic friends!
Before Siri was purchased by Apple it spoke in a “gender neutral” voice: a voice that was neither male nor female. However, Apple changed that setting. In five of the seven countries that offer the iPhone 4S the voice is female. GPS devices also default to a female voice- except in Germany where a BMW GPS was recalled because men refused to “take directions from a woman.”

But did you ever wonder why your Siri and GPS systems speak in a female voice?

Studies have shown that female voices are preferred over male voices. This preference starts before birth. Fetuses react when they hear their mother’s voice. However, fetuses do not react when they hear other female voices or their father’s voices.

Furthermore, stereotypes play a role. In American history, female voices have been the radio operators. It was women who gave directions to pilots in World War II. Similarly, women have conventionally taken on the role of secretaries and communicators. As a result, GPS systems and Siri systems are taking on a female voice for roles that have been traditionally female. Furthermore, in American movies woman usually take on the role of the “good witch” or other positive character, while evil characters often have a deeper, more masculine voice. However, when the culture is different the stereotypes change, the voice gender may change too: as exemplified by the masculine GPS default language in Germany.

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