BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: race

Does Your Race Affect Your Health?

Over the years, people of color have been fighting for equality in human rights. You see all over the news of people such as Black Americans fighting for justice over potential acts of racism in areas such as police brutality. As well as hearing these types of stories on the news, you hear Black Americans talk about their experience in job interviews, claiming that they were fully qualified, if not even more qualified than the other candidates, but were not selected for the position because of their race. Now, who would have ever thought that your race would have an impact on your health? According to a recent study from the University of Michigan health team, Black Americans are more likely to have worse health and are more likely to contract diseases than White Americans.

In this Michigan University study, it covers multiple factors as to how Black Americans experience health inequality. To start, Black Americans have a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 because of their higher rates of hypertension, diabetes and obesity, which can make COVID-19 more harmful to you if you have one of these things. Although the argument is made that anyone can have these types of diseases, however, there are a significantly more Black Americans who have diseases like this, giving them a higher risk of dying from COVID-19. As well as being able to get COVID-19 easier, Black men also have a higher mortality rate from prostate cancer. This is because Black men generally do not have health insurance, generally get fewer PSA (Prostate-specific antigen) screenings, have less access to high-quality care, which overall can be linked to having a low socioeconomic status. After doing some research on the different incomes of Black and White Americans, I found that the mean household income for a white person in America is a little over $30,000 more than a Black person living in America. After examining these numbers, health insurance would most likely be much more difficult to obtain in a Black American household compared to a White American household. If the United States is able to find a way to provide affordable and equal health insurance for all races, it would likely benefit the majority of the population of the United States.

 

The Truth Behind Health Disparities: COVID-19 Edition

As the coronavirus continues, there have been some notable statistics that highlight pre-existing health disparities for many. In an article written by CDC, the terms “health disparities” and “racial and ethnic groups” are connected to one another. In this blog post, I’m going to dig deeper into the “social determinants of health” and discuss correlations between certain factors of these determinants.

It’s been noticed even before COVID-19 that certain racial and ethnic groups have an increased risk of getting sick and dying. Now with the global pandemic, the factors that cause this increased risk need to be addressed before more thousands of hundreds of people contract the virus.

We first need to understand what discrimination means, as it plays a huge role in the spread of COVID-19 in these groups. Discrimination comes in many shapes and forms including but not limited to these factors: health care, housing, education, and occupation/ finance. When particular racial and ethnic groups are discriminated against for all of the above, they are placed in social and economic situations that are more prone to falling at the hands of COVID-19. Inequities in access to quality education for some racial and ethnic groups can lead to lower high school completion and issues with college entrance. This may limit future job options and lead to lower-paying or less stable jobs. People may not be able to afford the proper healthcare (this can be due to income or even direct discrimination from healthcare companies). This leads to segregated spread due to geography and demographics. When these ethnic and racial groups are discriminated against when it comes to housing, this creates a lot more issues than realized. In this article, there are comparative data studies that highlight certain parts of many states that are known to be predominantly a certain ethnic or racial group. Having compared neighboring towns of majority race and ethnicity, these areas have been proven to have higher deaths from COVID-19. This is because these ethnic or racial groups may have not had access to the proper health care or live in crowded conditions that make it more challenging to follow prevention strategies. It may also be the case where some ethnic families live with their elders as part of their culture. These dangerous conditions of living together as a grouped town will increase the infection rate and spread of COVID. As seen, all of these factors are connected not only to racial and ethnic groups but also to each other. These factors all add up to the thousands of deaths that fall to COVID-19.

To conclude, this leaves us with the question of what can we do? Of course, as we learned from some of our peers’ COVID-19 portfolio, there are traditional and effective COVID-19 precautions that include social distancing, sanitizing, protection (masks), etc. As science grows, we need to learn to be less prejudiced against those around us. This issue of health disparity of racial and ethnic minorities has been occurring for years. COVID-19 did not create this health disparity, it only emphasized how much needs to be actually changed. This article, which I stumbled upon, really went into depth more on the pre-existing health disparities that we have chosen to ignore. COVID-19 has now opened the eyes of many to see that these health disparities range from the differences in racial and ethnic Breast Cancer treatment, maternal care, and even dental care, which most have incorrectly deemed insignificant in the world of health.

We must change. We can find ways to support everyone, even when physically apart. We need to stop the discrimination that has occurred and start empowering and encouraging the community and the people within to protect themselves and their loved ones. We can care for those who become sick, keep kids healthy, and learn how to better cope with stress. Of course, community- and faith-based organizations, employers, healthcare systems and providers, public health agencies, policymakers have their work cut out for them as well. The key is the promotion of fair access to healthcare now. Much can be done to ensure that people have the resources to maintain and manage their physical and mental health. Suggestions include making information on COVID-19 more accessible, more affordable testing, and medical health care. We need to start paying more attention to fix our society and our health disparities to prevent the spread of COVID before more lives are lost.

 

Melanin: Breaking Down Barriers

In a post written by Susan Eckert (teacher) and Shannon Huhn (student), the complex and complicated construct of race is broken down to reveal the true essence of society: genetics and the genetics of the skin. 

Skin is one of the most important parts of our body. Firstly, as we studied in our immune system unit, we know that the skin protects us from sickness and from possible foreign invaders through the non-specific/innate bodily response. Specifically, however, our skin protects us from damage caused by UV light all because of melanin. 

Although we may be familiar with this term as it is oftentimes involved in the conversation of race, research shows that the concept of race is not actually backed by science and the genetics of melanin. Before we can get into this conversation, we must learn about the science behind melanin. Importantly, our bodies contain cells called Melanocytes that produce the pigment called melanin. Through the process of melanogenesis, tyrosine is oxidized, which as we know from class means that it is losing electrons, and enzymes are utilized to produce two kinds of melanin: eumelanin which causes the skin to be dark, and phaeomelanin which causes the skin to be light. Although all of our bodies have the same amount of melanocytes, our skin color is determined by how much eumelanin and/or phaeomelanin is produced. 

 

With this knowledge, it is easier to engage in conversation on race. Throughout history, skin color has been used to fuel general racial inequalities. Darker skin, whose genetic purpose is to be able to absorb more light, has been wrongfully associated with inferiority while lighter skin, whose genetic purpose doesn’t involve absorbing a lot of light, has been associated with superiority, both based on the grounds of their appearances. Making these assumptions based solely on the physical color of the skin without acknowledging or thinking about the explanatory science should automatically negate these wrongful and incorrect accusations. According to Tiskoff and Kidd, “Humans are ∼98.8% similar to chimpanzees at the nucleotide level and are considerably more similar to each other”. Of course, we must take into consideration the confidence level and margin of error in this statistic, but nevertheless, the percentage is high, showing that race doesn’t make one inferior/superior as we are all essentially the same except for minor genes which produce specific skin colors. In general, it comes down to the production of pigments all based on necessary function.

We must combine what we know about melanin, genetics, skin, and race to move forward in our society. Although all are socially and genetically unique, we are all human on a genetic and molecular level. Conducting research and getting down to the science of various topics carries the necessary substantial weight to create change. What would you like to research next?

The Biology of Skin Color

It’s a hot summer day and you are relaxing by the pool. Ever wonder why your skin gets darker or tanner when doing so? It’s because of melanin! 

Melanin is a skin pigment that can be found in humans, animals, and most organisms. It is responsible for making hair, skin, and eyes appear darker. Melanin exists in two forms: eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin is black or brown pigment and pheomelanin is red or yellow pigment in one’s skin tone. 

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Different Skin Colors

When you are exposed to the sun, more melanin is produced. “In human skin, melanin pigments are synthesized in organelles called melanosomes that are found in specialized cells called melanocytes in the skin epidermis.” In order for melanocytes to produce melanin, a receptor protein called MC1R, found in the melanocyte cell membrane must be activated by melanocyte-stimulating hormone (MSH) which is secreted by the pituitary gland in response to exposure from UV light. Once MC1R is activated, it triggers the production of release of cAMP and as we learned in class, this triggers a cell signaling pathway ending with the release of eumelanin, making our skin appear darker. 

A short additional fact is that melanin protects us from skin cancer. Melanin can absorb the UV rays and block them from reaching and damaging the DNA within one’s melanocytes. In this case, melanin acts as “a protective agent in the skin” joining your first line of defense to protect you against pathogens or in this case to protect you against the damaging UV rays. There are three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. 

A person’s skin color depends on the amount and type of melanin (eumelanin or pheomelanin) present in one’s skin. Genetically speaking, “people with naturally darkly pigmented skin have melanosomes that are large and filled with eumelanin” (biointeractive.org). As discussed above, there is a huge biological importance of melanin; without it, humans wouldn’t have a protective skin barrier against the UV rays emitted by the earth, but throughout history the importance of melanin has been placed to the side due to the idea of race or more specially racial superiority based on ones skin tone being introduced into the conversation. 

In short, while there is a biological basis of skin color, there is no biological basis or scientific explanation of race. Although it has been attempted, by Samuel Morton in the 1800s when he compared the brain sizes of the five racial groups or by Dr. Menegele during WWII when he measured facial features of the Jewish people, it is challenging to use science to support the concept of race. In fact, there are more differences within the “determined” races (African, European, Asian, Oceania, Native American) than between them! No specific amount of melanin, or any trademark alleles for that matter, specify a race. It is important to look at and understand science and evolution- looking at where people come from and why they have that skin color that they do based on melanin and weather conditions around them. It is important to take into account how we have evolved into unique humans, even though 99.6 – 99.8% of our genetic material is identical. It is important to educate ourselves about why we are the way we are and how evolution has impacted that, not how groups of people throughout history have tried to give an racist explanation for it.  

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Skin Colors Found Around the World

 

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