Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mystery Tug on Spacecraft is Einstein's 'I Told You So'

Malysses Moy                                                                                                      October 15th, 2012
Core Biology H 10                                                                                  C Block Odd, Mrs. Davies

Overbye, Dennis. "Mystery Tug on Spacecraft is Einstein's 'I Told You So'" New York Times Online. 14 Oct2012. 23 Jul2012. <>

In the early summer of year 2012, scientists found the answer to a problem that had been troubling them for decades. The travel of two space probes, dubbed Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 had gone rather awry, putting Einstein's theory of relativity into question. The travel of the probes had slowed considerably more than they should have, given Einstein's theory. It was put into question whether there was an asteroid or a comet, or if perhaps Einstein simply wasn't right, because they were slowing down more than the gravity of planets should have allowed for. The probes were slowing down at roughly 300mph per year, and although it was slight, this was more than the speed should have been decreasing. Russian physicist Slava G. Turyshev took it upon himself to discover what was causing this phenomenon, and so he did. Light, a form of heat radiation can carry momentum, almost like solid particles. If light is fired at a solid object, it will cause a recoil with collision. Just as with walking against the wind, if something has light shining in front of it while it travels, the light will push back, slowing it down. This is what happened with the space probes, proving Einstein's theories safe and sound.

Space, being so vast and silent has always been intriguing to me. It seems to stretch on endlessly, and there are new things to be discovered in every corner. Albert Einstein had the good fortune to understand more about outer space and the laws in motion that most other people, managing to further deepen the mystery, for the more we understand the more there is to learn. The fact that Einstein's theories were thought of as unsound interested me, as well as how sound they truly were after all. Society can benefit from knowing why the space stations were slowing down, so in the future they can prevent that from happening, so the stations can go further faster and revolutionize our knowledge of extraterrestrial places.

As informative as this article was, it could have stood to be slightly more relevant to the immediate situation. The analogy about the neutrinos in springtime was interesting, but unnecessary in the context of the article. It seemed to draw away from the scientific factor of the article and focus more on Einstein and the other physicists on a personal level instead. When the article read strictly factually and to the point, it was extremely informative. However, there was a bit too much of a personal spin on it. Overall, this article was a quick and easy read, and very interesting. It would have been better if it was a bit simpler and more to the point, but the writing style was fluid and I feel I've learned a lot.

A Grand Expedition to Rein in Climate Change

Lea Tanenbaum                                                                                                         10/14/12
Biology                                                                                                              C Block Odd
Barringer, Felicity. “A Grand Expedition  to Rein In Climate Change.” The New York Times, published October 13, 2012                       
            Global warming is a serious problem which is affecting the world we live in, and although we are trying to help in ways such as, recycling and the conservation of water and energy, there’s always more to do.  … California embarks on its grand experiment in reining in climate change. On Jan. 1, it will become the first state in the nation to charge industries across the economy for the greenhouse gases they emit. Under the system, known as “cap and trade,” the state will set an overall ceiling on those emissions and assign allowable emission amounts for individual polluters…” In addition to putting a maximum on the amount of allowable emissions, “Over time, the number of allowances issued by the state will be reduced, which should force a reduction in emissions… The outsize goals of California’s new law… are to lower California’s emissions to what they were in 1990 by 2020 — a reduction of roughly 30 percent — and, more broadly, to show that the system works and can be replicated…” At first, timber management, the destruction of coolant gases, cuts in the methane emissions from livestock waste and tree planting projects in urban areas, will be the only four means of approved carbon reduction. Considering that we produce many cows for dairy and meat purposes and they emit gases, such as methane, which has been polluting our air, certain states like Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, will capture methane from livestock waste.
            Hopefully the outcome of this will not only have a positive affect on our environment, but it will “show that the system works and can be replicated.” If this were to work we would be considerably helping our environment. Who’s to say if we could “fix” it or not, but this would definitely be a step in the right direction. If we could get our emissions to what they were in the 90s in about 8 years, who’s to say what we could accomplish in 20 years? This could also be a gateway to new resources. Maybe scientists will find a way to use livestock waste as a type of energy.
            Although I found this article extremely interesting and revolutionary, I thought the author could have done a better job explaining certain things. For example, how are they planning to capture the methane waste from the livestock and further more what are they planning to do with it? In addition, instead of the destruction of coolant gases, could they be put to better use? I would have just appreciated simpler and more detailed explanations in order to further my understanding on the topic and the problems at hand.

Laboratories Seek New Ways to Take a Look Inside

Christian Welch                                                                                    
Core Biology 1 Honors/ C Block, Ms. Davies

Current Event Report: Laboratories seek new ways to take a look inside

Markoff, John. “Laboratories Seek New Ways to Take a Look Inside.”  The New York Times, published October 8,2012

            This article by John Markoff is about the new technologies in modern science and how it affects our knowledge of medicine today. The article starts off talking about Christopher Contag, a microbiologist who works at Stanford. He had just created something called a virtual pathologist. This device travels down the esophagus and stomach to help probe for cancer. The instrument makes the pathologist life easier by letting doctors see three dimensions below the skins surface so the pathologists don’t have to examine the tissue samples and can make a faster on the spot decision for their patients.  This scientific tool is also able to view internal organs by using different optical and acoustical techniques to virtually “punch holes” in hundreds of cells deep within the human body, while comparing the data to a healthy body to find abnormalities. Many doctors are now using magnetic imaging to help solve   diagnosis quickly and inexpensively. Contags is tying to develop biomarkers that are injected to the body and directly attach on to lesions. Then the doctors could tell which cell are health or not. Different technology all over is enhancing our ability to help the sick. Matthew Putman from Columbia medical center has created a imaging software that will speed up the process to analyze cells.  In a project that doctors observe cells they could only check one cell a day. However the software alone can observe and check 12 cell samples in just 15 minutes. This software fortunately will not put pathologists out of work but it will save money on time spent analyzing cells. There are many other discoveries in the medical world, which can improve science. Dr.Contag had developed a ultrasound that is sent through the esophagus and creates a clear picture of the heart in the ribcage based off of the vibrations. This process is called 3D- TEE, which can often provide 3D videos of beating hearts when used with. The final discovery is called magnetic particle imaging or MPI for short. The MPI injects a metal tracer and helps doctors find tumors. This machine is extremely helpful for surgeons because it uses technology from CT and PET scans to help find the cause of the sickness quicker and less painfully. Overall these inventions and ideas will be the future of modern medicine and they will help our lives become easer and stop illnesses before they spread.
            All of these inventions can adjust the futures life span by finding illnesses quicker. This will help society because it will save time spent on searching for the problem and figuring out what it might be. Although these machines aren’t perfected yet they will have a huge influence in every hospital. Patients can now have the best care possible and they don’t have to wait around wondering what is wrong with them. Also people can take care of their life threatening disease before it kills them. These devices are said to be so fast that “The patient can walk out of the hospital immediately after being treated,” said Bert van Meurs, senior vice president and general manager of Philips’ Interventional X-Ray group. With all of the new technology people can be aware of their tumors and other problems and treat it immediately. I chose this article because I wanted to know what the new era of medical technology would be. I wanted to learn about how we can help the human body faster and more effectively.
            I enjoyed this article a lot however it had too many ideas. I would have liked it more if The New York Times split the articles content in half. The article would have been better if it talked more about just Dr. Contag and shared about just his ideas. With all of the different inventions it was very complicated and made me curious about the first one and I wanted to learn more about the details on his new invention.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Prospective Alzheimer's Drug Builds New Brain Cell Connections, Improves Cognitive Function of Rats

Jack Boyd
Bio Honors/Davies C Block

Sorensen, Eric. "Prospective Alzheimer's Drug Builds New Brain Cell Connections, Improves Cognitive Function of Rats." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 Oct. 2012. Web. 11 Oct. 2012. <>.

            Researchers at Washington State University have successfully synthesized a drug that could possibly help repair some of the damge done to the brain by Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s is a form of dementia and affects cognitive thinking and brain function. It is severely traumatic for the brain and can often result in the death of the victim. It affects 1 in 85 people worldwide, including 5.1 million people in the US. It is caused by plaque buildup in the brain which affects how cells in the brain communicate with each other. This lack of blood flow not only slows the cells functions but also damages it. This drug is a protein molecule small enough to pass through the blood barrier of the brain. The protein helps to rebuild brain cells damaged by the disease. It had a 90% success rate on the lab rat, hopefully it has a similar effect on humans although it is still far from clinical trials. This drug doesn’t necessarily slow down Alzheimer’s but it does repair the damage done by the disease.

            The article is describing how much potential this drug has and the hopeful future it brings to many people suffering from Alzheimer’s. This drug will have a huge effect if it proves successful in clinical trials. It provides a beaming ray of hope in the medical field as somebody learned how to make a small enough molecule to break through what was thought to be the nearly impossible blood barrier of the brain which is meant to keep out foreign chemicals such as drugs. I chose this article because this is a disease that affects millions in our nation, but also around the world. It is one of the most severe diseases in my opinion because this disease takes your mind before it takes your body.

            I thought the article was well written although has a few discrepancies. It was loosely written. There wasn’t a lot of cohesiveness between paragraphs in my opinion. The author could’ve countered this by developing bridge sentences between paragraphs in order to set up the next paragraph. Other than that, I’d say that the author did a fine job at explaining a difficult topic in ways that can be understood by people without knowledge of neurofunctions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Just Around the Corner

Katherine Segarra                                                                  October 10, 2012
Biology- Miss. Davies                                                                   Block C Odd

Kluger, Jeffrey. "Just Around the Corner." Editorial. Time 2012: 16-23. Print.
The article I read is called “Just Around the Corner” by Jeffrey Kluger. The article was talking about the recent discoveries that scientists have found in space involving the planets and their moons. Some of the planets and moons discussed are Mars, Europa, and Enceladus. The article talks about how there have been discoveries of water on, not only Mars, but on Jupiter’s moon Europa and Enceladus, Saturn’s moon. There is a belief that on Mars there are underground ice deposits that melt during the Martian summer and then solidify during its winter. This is believed because on Mars water is salty and salt lowers its freezing temperature. Also discussed is, on Europa, it is assumed that the moon contains a deep ocean of water just beneath its surface and that it is kept a liquid due to the gravitational pulsing that generates heat. Another point talked about is the discovery that Enceladus may possibly have water on the inside. The highly reflective surface suggests that fresh coverings of ice crystals are regularly deposited. Some other points are made in the article about some things that have just been discovered. In recent years people have noticed that the sun has been in an energetic phase and it has gone through a filament eruption, a major flare, and a coronal mass flume eject. This article is full of the very recent discoveries and observations that have happened in space from the past year to now. I would suggest this article to people who really have an interest in space and the planets.                                                                                                                                            
This article is important to me because I have always loved learning about planets and space. This article is important to society because every day new things are found in the universe and about our planets, and this could affect our lives. For example the sun and how its going through its energetic phase, this could have something to do with the raise in temperatures. I chose this article because space has always fascinated me and I find it interesting that many new discoveries are being made about the universe. For example the new moon that was found next to Pluto. I find that really fascinating because it means the new planets and moons could be forming or just starting to become noticeable to us.                                                                          
I enjoyed reading the article a lot and I found it very interesting. There were some points that I was confused because the author wouldn’t explain something very well. In paragraph 7, I felt that the author was just talking not really expanding on what he was talking about. One thing that I really liked about the article was all the pictures that were shown. This helped me to understand what was being talked about. Besides the few minor things that didn’t help the article, I found it very interesting and insightful to what is going on out in space.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Laboratories Seek New Ways to Take a Look Inside

Isabelle Shinsato
Current Events Report

            Markoff, John. “Laboratories Seek New Ways to Take a Look Inside.”  The New York Times, published October 8,2012

            Christopher Contag, a microbiologist, at Stanford University in California has just developed a wide range of new tools that can travel down the stomach, intestines, and esophagus and virtually see three dimensions below the skins surface to allow pathologists to probe for cancers. These new devices are also able to virtually “punch holes” into hundreds of cells and using acoustic and optical techniques are able to use color contrasting to identify abnormalities in the cell. These new pathology tools provide doctors with an instant diagnosis and at the same time are able to make it inexpensive and can usually be based on smart phones. These advances are mostly possible because of the declining cost of computing and the rising availability of other miniaturization technologies such as nanotechnology. Another developing product was made by Mathew Putman, from Columbia University, and it is an advanced ultrasound system that is put in through the patients mouth and goes down to the esophagus. The technique is called three-dimensional transesophageal echocardiography, or 3-D TEE, this takes a picture of the heart from the patients rib cage and turns them into high resolution 3-D videos of the patients beating heart.

            These new technologies are able to give the patient a diagnosis in a much faster and cheaper way than ever before. The fact that new pathology tools are more affordable means that they can be used to help sick people in poverty stricken countries, which is an amazing accomplishment. Since doctors can make a diagnosis faster it means that diseases that are fatal if not caught soon enough, such as cancer, can be detected faster and with more precision.

            I thought this was a very well written and descriptive article. My only criticism is that I think this article could have been split into two separate articles because the author touches upon many different new technologies but some are in different fields of medicine. I think the author did a great job explaining each new technology and made sure that the reader could understand all the scientific terms and didn’t leave any gray areas.

Monday, October 8, 2012

High Stress Can Make Insulin Cells Regress

Saige Sunier
October 7, 2012
Core Biology 1 Honors/ C-Block, Ms. Davies

Current Event Report: High Stress Can Make Insulin Cells Regress

Schaffer, Amanda. "High Stress Can Make Insulin Cells Regress." The New York Times. The New York Times, 02 Oct. 2012. Web. 07 Oct. 2012.

            Researchers at Columbia University have been discussing a possible treatment for Type 2 diabetes by fixing the problem at the molecular level. This form of diabetes occurs when your body loses the ability to produce enough insulin, a hormone that helps move glucose from the bloodstream to individual cells so it can be used as energy. It was previously believed that these beta cells died, but this new research has shown that the cells do not die; they revert to a “progenitor” state. This means that they change to a form that they would have been in during early development. Dr. Domenico Accili, the director of this research thinks it possible to find a way to restore the beta cells back to their original form and produce insulin. In order to reverse this process the reason for it needed to be discovered. Dr. Accili found that the protein FOXO1 disappeared as the beta cells stopped working. Testing on genetically engineered mice that lacked FOXO1 he was able to discover that when under stress, for example, old age or pregnancy, the mice developed high blood sugar and became Type 2 diabetic. Protein cells that were normally seen during fetal development were also found, leading Dr. Accili to the conclusion that the beta cells were losing their identities. It is not yet clear why this is happening but from this research doctors have been recommended not to push the beta cells of diabetics to produce more insulin but to try and relieve the stress of them. The beta cells are able to change into different types of cell, “why not become beta cells again?” – Dr. Accili. Research continues for the cure to Type 2 diabetes, using these new facts a cure is on its way.

            This research is groundbreaking. Knowing that insulin cells change into an earlier development of themselves gives scientist something to work off of. They were able to conclude that what doctors currently are doing isn't helping and have formed an idea of what needs to be done. People all over the world are personally affected by diabetes, me included. I chose this article because my grandfather has diabetes and I wanted to learn about the work that people are putting into fixing this serious problem. A cure to this disease would improve the lives of millions of people. For those who have it they have to be on strict diets, and if it gets really bad can constantly be suffering from fatigue, blurry vision, hunger, etc. For the people who don’t have it chances are someone it their life does. It is important that there are always scientists out there trying to solve the common problems, improving lives everywhere. The results from this research take us one step closer to finding the cure to diabetes.

            In general I thought this was a well-written article with great points. However, I would recommend that the author, Amanda Schaffer, talk more about the purpose of this research. Diabetes is a topic that affects thousands of people and I think this article would be better with a section explaining what diabetes is and why this research is so important. The article, also did not mention why lacking insulin was bad. The entire article was talking about needing to restore insulin but the author failed to mention why that needed to happen. This article seems more geared towards fellow scientists and not to people who want to learn about diabetes in a simple way. All of the details about the molecular problem were good but adding a simple part would have allowed the article to be understood by greater groups of people. I did like that this article ended on a positive note that the cure to diabetes was a challenge but there were a lot of people working on it, implying that in time we will see an answer.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Why we need insects - even the pesky ones

By Harry Pyle
Why we need insects – even the pesky ones
This article discusses the importance of insects to the world’s ecosystem. If insects were to disappear, many plants and vegetation would lose their defensive properties originally intended to fight off insects. This would result in plants that wouldn’t be able to defend themselves and if a famine was to arise, even a small one, the effects would be devastating. It was proven that these effects could settle in in the short period of three or four generations, which shows how dependent plants are on insects. This article also talks about how with the loss of capable defensive plants, many preferable traits would be lost as well such as good taste and medicinal properties. The article closes on a note suggesting that future farmers are trying to breed more defensively-adept plants and decrease the use of pesticides. This is becoming more and more necessary as plant’s genes are being tampered with. “’One of the things farmers are trying to do is breed agricultural crops to be more resistant to pests,’ said Agrawal. ‘Our study indicates that various genetic tradeoffs may make it difficult or impossible to maintain certain desired traits in plants that are bred for pest resistance.’”

This is a very insightful article as it describes an important part of future human life. If insects ceased to exist, there would be a big change in the ecosystem of the world and it would take effect very quickly. It would affect pharmaceutical and herbal medication industries because their plants would become weak and stop producing some of their medicinal properties. On top of that, every plant would become much more prone to famines as they would stop producing defenses. If insects did not exist, these industries would eventually be hit hard with problems. They are not the only industries that would be affected. The grocery store business would be in jeopardy as well. With their plants being on a success-failure existence with little reliability, they would lose much revenue provided from that business which would result in many people losing jobs. This wouldn’t happen gradually over time; it is a very quick process. “’This experimental demonstration of how rapid evolution can shape ecological interactions supports the idea that we need to understand feedbacks between evolutionary and ecological processes in order to be able to predict how communities and ecosystems will respond to change,’ said Alan Tessier, a program director in NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences.” While insects seem like a very small part of our lives and are generally viewed as an annoyance, without them the ecosystem of the world would be disrupted and would send many aspects of society into turmoil.

            My thoughts towards this article were generally positive. Alan Tessier and Anurag Agrawal backed up their points with reliable experimental evidence. Each point they made was relevant to the subject at hand and had important real-world application. The article offered interesting insights about something I had never even thought of before and gave me a reason not to wish insects didn’t exist. However, this article did not discuss the effects that insects already have on the environment (the reason pesticides were invented in the first place) and how decreasing the use of pesticides will initially affect the yields of crops. However, the overall essence of the article was well-written and it is definitely worth reading.
NSF Staff. "Why We Need Insects - Even 'pesky' Ones." Why We Need Insects -- Even 'pesky' Ones., 5 Oct. 2012. Web. 07 Oct. 2012. <>.