AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: paige2994

Breathing to create energy

New research has shown that in the future, batteries may not be needed to operate many of the small devices in your body.  Can you imagine simply breathing and being able to power a device that will keep you alive. Researchers have found that breathing can create enough energy to power a small medical device that is already in your body.

Currently the devices that are used to keep us alive are powered by batteries.  Batteries are currently the best and most efficient way to power these devices but they can cause problems for the human body. Also, these batteries do not last forever and when they need to be replaced, the patient must go through extensive surgery. Surgery is risky and every procedure that is made is a risk to the body. Every incision is a risk for infection so by reducing these procedures by finding alternative ways to get energy, lives can be saved. Dr. Wang, has come up with a solution where a battery can gather its own energy and not have a need for a battery.

Dr. Wang believes that the device could use the energy that is already around it. A battery in a vein could use the energy from blood cells colliding, a battery in the foot could gather energy from the foot hitting the ground, a battery in the nose or throat could gather energy from the air that passes over it. Dr. Wang’s idea comes from an idea known as “piezoelectricity.” These materials are able to take very small movements and turn them into energy.

Tests have been done on this idea and scientists have been able to create a device that uses the force of the air from a human breathing to create a strong enough electric current to continue to power a small device. This is a major advancement in technology. The team uses PVDF which is a light flexible material to create a bridge that connects to two larger parts of the device.  When the air passes over this bridge, it is able to convert it into energy. While this is still a work in progress the advancements that has been made are very promising and can lead to many new opportunities in medicine.

Healing power of the mind

Credit: taod

The brain can be a powerful, and mysterious tool.  It is capable of so  much more than we are even aware of.  A recent study has shown  that people have the ability to hallucinate colors just by the power of  suggestion. This may seem like something very minor but this  research has the potential to create significant change in the medical  field.

In this recent study, a group of scientists asked a group of eighteen  people to look at a pattern of grey shapes and try to visualize the  pattern in color. Eleven of these people were highly susceptible  to hypnosis and the other seven were not. This was a very important  part of the experiment because all of the people who were determined  to be susceptible to hypnosis were able to visualize the color whit no  problem even while not being hypnotized. The scientists decided to  test the patients to see if they were actually able to see the color or if  they made themselves believe that they saw it. The scientists conducted the same tests while the participants were in an MRI machine. The MRI showed that the parts of the participants brain that are linked to color lit up when they were told to imagine the color pattern.

These results were part of an earlier test that was conducted in 2000.  In this first test a group of people under hypnosis were asked to imagine a series of grey squares to be in color. The scientists used PET scans to look at the participants brains and saw that the color regions were lit up.  This means that those subjects were able to hallucinate seeing the color and make themselves believe that it was actually there.

Scientists were excited by this discovery because they believe that this may lead to advances in being able to treat a large range of conditions.  Scientists believe that hypnosis can be sued to treat things that range from phobias to pain.  The brain can be the ultimate healer.  If you believe yourself to be better or no longer scared the brain can allow that to happen. Suggestion can be the most powerful medicine.

Bad day? Just sleep it off

Credit: Cami Marlowe

Have you ever had a bad day and woken up the next morning in a good mood?  This is because a recent study has shown that while dreaming at night during periods of REM sleep, the brain is in an environment where the is a low amount of stress chemicals.  The brain being in this state helps to take the strong emotion out of sad or hurtful memories. Matthew Walker, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Berkeley has said that “we feel better about the [memories] because we feel that we can cope.”

Walker wanted to figure out if he could use this logic to help people suffering from PTSD.  These peole are unable to recover from their painful experiences even after years of being away from the trigger.  Researchers have found that the overnight therapy does not work well for people with PTSD because there may be many triggers that occur during the day such as a car backfiring that bring back the emotion that was unable to be fully wiped away with sleep. It has also been found that people with PTSD and other mood disorders are not able to get a full night of uninterrupted sleep.

In order to try and help those with PTSD, Walker wanted to learn more about the curing power of dreams so he conducted a study in which 35 healthy adults were divided into two groups.  Both of the groups were shown a series of 150 pictures that were meant to evoke emotion.  While they were looking at the pictures there brain was being looked at with an MRI.  One of the groups were shown the series of pictures in the morning and then again at night without sleeping for anytime between the two viewings. The other group was shown the series of pictures at night and then again in the morning after a

full nights sleep. The results of the MRI were very interesting. The MRI showed that the people who were allowed to sleep between viewing the pictures had a much less significant emotional reaction to them the second time. The part of the brain that processes emotions was much less active which allowed the rational part of the brain to control the emotions.  While the participants slept researchers noticed that there were less stress chemicals in the brain then while they were awake.  This could mean that the emotion from seeing the images was being diminished.

So what does this mean for those suffering from PTSD? Walker found out that a type of blood pressure medicine was able to suppress the stress chemicals found in the brain. When less stress chemicals were present, the PTSD patients were able to have more REM sleep and therefore, reduce the night mares and have a better quality sleep which allowed them to begin to recover.

iPhone, what’s next?

Credit: creative tools

It seems like every year technology is becoming more and more advanced and phones and computers are becoming capable to do some pretty interesting and exciting things. What is the next thing that your touch screen phone smartphone will be able to do? Some people may find the answer shocking…diagnose your illness! A recent study shows that many people have previously believed that a “USB-stick-sized throwaway device called a lab-on-a-chip” could be used to send tests to a lab without leaving your home but Hyun Gyu Park and Byoung Yeon Won, two scientists at the Korea Advanced Institute for Science and Technology, think that they can take that technology one step further.

Park and Won believe that the super sensitive touch screens on your phone could replace the lab work that would be needed for the lab-on-a-chip device. Park’s idea is to take the lab-on-a-chip with the sample and press it against the phone’s touch screen in order to be analyzed.  The analyzation would take place in an app that would be able to tell whether you have food poisoning, strep throat or the flu just from a small drop of saliva placed on the chip.

Park and Won have begun to do tests on the touchscreen to see if they are able to help in diagnosing our sickness.  In order to do the tests, they took three solutions containing different amounts of DNA from the bacteria that causes chlamydia and put small amounts onto a touch screen the size of that found on an iPhone. They found that the touch-sensing electrodes on the screen were able to tell the difference between the solutions even with the smallest quantities. Park says that this is the first step to creating this new piece of technology.

While this technology is still many years off with many more modifications needing to be made, the development is exciting and the idea of a phone diagnosing an illness is something that would change the lives of many people. What will our iPhones be able to do next?

Virtual eating: Can it really work?

Credit: vernhart flickr

Have you ever had a strong craving for a food that you know is bad for you?  For many of us, we experience strong cravings for some type of food on a daily basis.  Sometimes these cravings are so strong that the particular food we are craving becomes all we can think about or focus on until that food is consumed.  These cravings are usually triggered by something in our environment that reminds us of the specific food and they can lead to overeating.

A recent study, conducted by Carey Morewedge, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University, concluded that by imagining yourself eating a specific food, you can reduce your interest in that food and therefore eat less of it. This is known as habituation and is thought to occur naturally when we eat.  Habituation was previously thought to only occur while you are actually eating but Morewedge’s study has found that this can occur through the power of your own mind.

The answer to stopping a food craving does not come by thinking just about how the food tastes, smells and looks, but rather forcing yourself to actually imagine eating the food repeatedly.

Morewedge conducted five different studies and they all ended with the same result.  The people who imagined eating more of a specific food would want to physically eat less of that food.  In one of the experiments, 51 people were divided into three different groups. One group had to imagine inserting 30 quarters into a washing machine (this is simulating the motions of eating an M&M) and then thinking about eating three M&M’s.  The second group had to imagine putting three quarters into a washing machine and then think about eating 30 M&M’s.  The third group acted as the control and they had to imagine putting 33 quarters into a washing machine and eating no M&M’s.

The people were then given a bowl containing 1.5 ounces of M&M’s and were told to eat as many as they wanted.  When all of the participants said that they were finished the bowls were taken and weighed.  The results showed that the members of the group who virtually ate 30 M&M’s ate less actual M&M’s then the members of either of the two groups.  This proves Morewedge’s theory that thinking about eating a food has the same effects on your body as physically eating the food with none of the consequences.

If more people become aware of this study, dietary problems such as obesity and type 2 diabetes could be greatly reduced.  This study may also be the key to helping people quit smoking.

The next time you have a craving something sweet or unhealthy try imaging yourself eating it first.  You may be surprised with the results.

You aren’t always that good

Credit: newwavegurly flickr

Have you ever been to an athletic event where everyone gets a trophy no matter how well they do?  This is done so kids will not feel like they are not as good as their peers.  It teaches kids that it doesn’t matter if you come in first or last as long as you try your hardest you will be rewarded.  This may not sound like a big deal but a recent study  has found that this undeserved positive reinforcement can actually lead to depression.

Young-Hoon Kim and Chi-Yue Chiu, two scientists from Singapore, conducted a research project that involved over 3,000 students from ages 12 to 22.  The students were placed into four groups.  In the first two experiments, two of the groups were given age appropriate academic tests and were asked to rate how well they thought they did compared to other participants their age.  The participants were then given a questionnaire that is used to measure depression .

In the third and fourth experiments, the two remaining groups were also given age appropriate academic tests but this time the students were not asked to rate their performance.  Instead, the students were given false information about their scores.  The students who had very high results were given negative feedback and the students who did badly were given positive feedback.  A control group was formed and when they received their scores they did not get any feedback.  After receiving their scores, these students were given the same questionnaire as the first two groups of students.

The results show that students who rated their performance higher then it actually was were much more likely to feel depressed then those students who more accurately rated their performance.  This proves that falsely telling yourself that you are good at something does not benefit you. By telling yourself you are good at something that your not good at, you are actually making it harder for yourself to succeed.

We are taught from a young age that we will be rewarded for putting in a good effort and trying our hardest.  This is not always the case and can lead to us believing that we do not have to try hard to get what we want and our performance level may decline which could cause depression and low self-esteem.  

Remember to be honest with yourself and those around you because even though you may think you are doing a good thing by telling others that they are good you could be setting them down a road to depression.  Honestly truly is the best policy.

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