AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: jackalantern926

Eat Your Breakfast!!!

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I was always told that Breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and I thought that was because breakfast gave me the brain food I needed to be able to function in school. While this is a big reason to eat breakfast, The New York Times has just posted an article describing another reason to eat breakfast. Lowering your risk for Type 2 Diabetes !

Diabetes is a disorder concerning metabolism. More specifically, Diabetes refers to a “malfunction” in the way that our cells react to insulin produced by the pancreas. Type 2 Diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, and occurs when the pancreas is either not producing enough insulin, or our cells aren’t reacting correctly to the insulin our pancreas is producing.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition conducted a study in which 29,000 men were followed for 16 years, with their eating habits being closely watched. Over the course of this study, about 2,000 of these men developed type 2 diabetes. The researchers concluded that those who skipped breakfast had a 21% higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than the others.

There are two theories as to why this may be. First, some scientists believe that a morning meal helps stabilize blood sugar levels throughout the day. Another theory claims that by skipping breakfast, people partake in increased snacking throughout the day, and their intake of sugary snack food dramatically increases.

So think about it! How many of you have skipped breakfast, only to run to the college office scourging for any food you can find? Rather than eat tons of junk throughout the day to compensate for all the real meals you’ve been skipping, try starting your day just a little earlier to fit in a healthy breakfast. You’ll notice the benefits immediately!

For More information on Healthy Breakfasts, Check out this link:

Statins Cause Muscle Pain!

Credit: Me

Do any of you know someone (a friend, a family member) who was prescribed statins? In a recent article , scientists discover a new side effect!

Scientists already knew that statins  can cause muscle aches and fatigue. However, scientists are now theorizing that these side effects are more pronounced in athletes.

Scientists in Stasbourg, France, tested this theory using lab rats. In the test, half a group of lab rats were given the drug, lipitor , and the other half were given nothing (the control group). These rats were then put onto a treadmill to see how much they could run. The medicated rats became exhausted than the rats that were not given lipitor (a statin). In addition, the muscle tissue in the medicated lab rats contained a 60% increase of oxidative stress . These results were mirrored by those of human athletes on statins, who showed a 226% increase in oxidative stress. The medicated rats had less glycogen or stored carbohydrates in their muscles, and their mitochondria  were showing signs of dysfunction; their respiratory rates decreasing by about 25% (than average).

These results were enough to convince the FDA to add “muscle pain” to the list of side effects on all statins. Of the (+)20 million Americans taking statins, at least 10% of them will experience some form of muscle achiness or pain.

This doesn’t mean that people should stop taking statins, “Statins save lives” (Dr. Thompson). However, people should at least take caution, and understand that this muscle pain will go away as soon as they go off the statins.

Want to learn more about statins? Check out this website:

All Procrastinators Must Read!

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Have you ever found yourself procrastinating? As a High-School Student, I find that there are only two types of answers a person can give to this type of question. Yes (the truth), and no (a lie). Procrastination  is a big problem faced by students of all ages, and is a very prominent symotom of senioritis  . It can also lead to health issues, such as insomnia . After doing research, I came up with an article that can help explain procrastination, and come up with ways to help self-regulation .

In this article , Julie Morgenstern (productivity consultant in New York, author of Time Management From the Inside Out) provides an explination of procrastination, saying that people tend to put off their work because they are overwhelmed. Maybe there’s something going on at home? Or maybe your workload just looks way to big that day? Whatever it is, it is messing with your ability to get your work done (or even start it!). Procrastinators tend to waste their time by responding to trivial emails, or cleaning their workspace because accomplishing these stress-less tasks gives the person a “momentary sense of accomplishment”.

The psycology behind procrastinating presents a theory that procrastinators “would rather be accused of lacing effort than lacking ability; the idea is: If I never finish, I can never be judged” (Mr. Vaden, author of Take the Stairs: 7 Steps to Achieving True Success.). In addition, procrastinators present a fear of failure . That is, the idea that “if I do well, you might expect more from me next time, and I don’t know if I can come through”(ibid).

Procrastination is also a method used by perfectionists . Morgenstern comments that “perfectionists often tend to need the pressure of the deadline to force themselves to finish”. Have you ever found yourself doing better “under pressure” than just working in advance?

The solution: break it down. If you have a major project due find a way to break down the steps required to complete the project, and focus on completing each step. Also, try setting up a reward system. For example, let’s say I have an AP Lit essay due next week. In my reward system, if I complete the task of finding all the quotes I plan on using, I reward myself with 20 minutes of internet-surfing. If I finish my basic outline, I reward myself with one full episode of The Office (etc). If a reward system down’t work, trying altering your surroundings. Bring your work outside, or just go work in a different room.

For more info on procrastination (and how to cure it), check out this website:

Brain Stimulation Improves Spatial Memory!


Credit: taod Flickr

In a recent article, the NY Times discusses scientists’ new findings on how to improve memorythrough electrical stimulation. In a study covered by the New England Journal of Medecine, epilepsy  patients were stimulated by getting electrodes inserted into their brain as they were being prepared for surgery. Although these tests are nonconclusive, these patients showed an incredible improvement in spatial memory .

In addition, scientists recently concluded that damage associated with Alzheimer’s Disease beings in the entorhinal cortex , the same area of the brain from the electrode-stimulation study. This is very big news because, with more tests done, this could be a big step towards treating (or curing) memory disorders, such as Alzheimer’s.

Researchers and scientists immediately jumped into another study that takes place in the University of California (Los Angeles). Foccused on the entorhinal cortex and hippocampus , the researchers inserted more electrodes into a small group of epileptic patients, and had them play Crazy Taxi. So as you know, Crazy Taxi is a video game where you have to drive up to people “hailing a taxi” on the sidewalk and drive them to a certain destination on the map in a limited amount of time. After the brain stimulation, the patients’ scores were dramatically higher, being able to navigate the map more easily, due to their improvement of spatial memory.

Whether this answers the question of Alzheimer’s or not, finding a way to improve memory is extremely beneficial in many other cases or disorders. All scientists can do now is take advantage of this recent finding, and perform as many more tests as they can, and hopefully they will come across even more cures to many more memory malfunctions.

Zoos Killing Elephants?

Credit: xrayspx on Flickr

According to a study conducted by zoologists, elephants that are kept in captivity die much earlier than elephants that remain in the wild. Wouldn’t you think that elephants being kept at a zoo would be more likely to live longer? After all, they are getting regular feedings that require little to no effort on their part, and they are purposely kept away from any predators . So what’s the problem?

Ironically, most of these elephants end up dying of obesity (can you imagine how big an obese elephant might be?), because they eat and eat and eat, but don’t get any exercise in their limited spaces at the zoo. In addition to that, the elephants die from the stress of being transported to a zoo, and being separated from their mothers.

According to a study led by Ros Clubb (wildlife scientific officer at the RSPCA), African elephants lived (on average) 16.9 years in captivity, while free African elephants lived (on average) 35.9 years.

In another study, led by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural affairs, seventy-seven elephants were studied in thirteen UK zoos. The results showed that the elephants spent 83% of their time indoors, 71 of the 77 elephants were overweight, and only 11 could walk normally.

That doesn’t mean that zoos are horrible for all animals, just read this article, but they certainly aren’t helping out the elephants!


You Have The Power!

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Do you have willpower? Are you able to resist the temptation of a cookie while on a diet, or checking your facebook while you should be doing homework?

The theory that has been misleading people is that willpower is connected to a person’s biological makeup, and that the reason they don’t have the willpower to walk away from temptation is purely because of biology. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, and the only thing that has the power to override your willpower, is you.

In a recent study, psychologist Veronika Job proved that willpower and self-control are actually related to working hard and exercising certain parts of your brain. “When you work hard, you’re energized to work more; that when you’ve resisted one temptation, you can better resist the next one – then people successfully exert more willpower” (Job). Job took two groups of people, giving one group a simple task that required no self-control (crossing off every e in a typed text), and the other group a task that required little self-control (crossing off some e’s according to complex rules). After these two tests, the groups were required to perform a tricky cognitive test that involved a lot of self-control to avoid making mistakes. The first group performed well, believing that their “supply” of willpower had not been used up yet, while the second group felt that theirs had depleted, and performed poorly, except for a few people that felt willpower is not limited and performed well.

This study shows that anyone can believe that willpower is unlimited, and if some people can believe it, and prove it, then why shouldn’t you?

In another study, Job followed 153 college students, taking note of them over 5 weeks (including finals week). During stressful times, the students who believed in unlimited willpower ate less junk food, procrastinated less, and earned better grades than their “pessimistic” friends.

The sign that people generally look for to tell that their willpower has been limited is fatigue. If people begin to feel tired, they start to slack off because they believe their “battery” has just run out and they need to wait for it to “charge”. People who believe in unlimited willpower simply dig deeper to better recourses, refusing to give up.

So the next time you have a test coming up, and you start to slack off, think of what kind of person that makes you. Are you the type of person who can be so easily defeated by fatigue? Or are you the type that refuses to give up until the task at hand is done? Because only you have the power to make that choice!

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.

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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.

Don’t Blame Me, Blame the Involuntary Remodeling of My Brain!

Credit: Susánica Tam

How many of you have found yourself doing something stupid, knowing that there will be major consequences for this action but doing it anyway? And how many of those people have found themselves getting yelled at by an adult for these actions? What those adults don’t know is that none of this is really your fault. Of course a teenager has to take responsibility for their decisions, but the fact that we are teenagers automatically makes us more inclined to take risks and get that adrenaline rush. So really, does the teen deserve to be blamed?

As reported in recent studies, according to an N.I.H. (National Institutes of Health) project, the brain reaches 90% of its full size by the time a person is six years old, and goes through intensive rewiring and remodeling between the ages of 15 and 25. What is happening during that time period, or adolescence, is that the brain’s axons gradually become more insulated with myelin. But that’s not all that’s happening. Dendrites are becoming thinner and heavily used synapses are becoming stronger (the rarely-used synapses become gray matter). That all happens to make your brain faster and more sophisticated.

How many times have you heard that “making mistakes are a part of growing up”? Well, it’s true! And (as I’m sure you are very well aware) learning from your mistakes is a BIG part of adolescence. In the brain, stronger links between the hippocampus and frontal areas are developing. The result from this type of remodeling is that teenagers become better at incorporating past experiences (or mistakes) into their future decisions.

At the same time, our frontal areas are developing greater speed and richer connections. This gives a teen the ability to balance out impulse, desire, goals, self-interest, rules, and ethics on a day-to-day basis. However, our brains are just getting used to this rewiring, so the average teenager can only help but slip up every now and again.

As if all this rewiring wasn’t enough, risk-taking and a need for excitement reaches a peak at around age 15. This can best be explained through two factors. One, teenagers are more receptive to dopamine and oxytocin; chemicals that make us LOVE winning and HATE losing, as well as make us prone that feeling of excitement when we are with all our friends and other kids our age. Two, it’s not that teenagers don’t understand how much damage a certain action will cause, it’s just that teenagers weigh the reward of completing this action much more heavily than the consequences if things go awry. The high levels of dopamine also explain why some teenage boy can’t seem to handle losing his soccer game, and why some 15-year-old girl becomes inconsolable after not being invited to that party.

So the next time you get in trouble for speeding down 25A, remember that you’re just a teenager and you’re going to make mistakes, due to the changes in your myelinated axons and high levels of dopamine and oxytocin. So everyone relax, because teenagers aren’t young adults, we’re just works in progress!


But I Just Looked That Up!


credit: crystaljingsr user on Flickr

Did you ever look something up on Google and forget it five seconds later?

Recent studies show that the use of online databases (Google) is affecting the way people remember information. Because everything is displayed on the Internet for maximum public consumption, more people are finding that they can easily recall where they have found certain information rather than what the information actually said. In other words, databases like Google have become a primary form of human’s Transactive Memory.

This is a sign that our brains are adapting to our environments. As technology becomes more of a vital part of humans’ every day life, our brains begin to alter the way we handle the information, and find ways to adapt. Memory works through levels of processing, which can be summed up in Organization, Distinctiveness, Effort, and Elaboration. The problem with having information at our fingertips using Google or Yahoo is that people simply don’t have to exert the effort to find this information and understand it anymore.

This new information may change the way professors teach certain classes. Rather than ask for memorization of facts, professors should require a certain level of understanding and a more thorough way of thinking information through.

What about you? Have YOU ever looked something up on Google or yahoo, maybe for a test that started in two minutes, and totally forgotten it?

For more information on the cognitive consequences of Internet databases on our memories, click here.

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