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

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

"The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food" by Michael Moss
The article “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” by Michael Moss takes a shocking look at the industry and science of junk food.  This article is about how Junk food is very addictive when eaten in large quantitities and the effects that this has on people.  Obesity is a very big  problem in this country and this article analyzes that. It is very important for people to understand what they are eating and how it will effect them personally.  The author of this piece is not saying that people should never have junk food but that it needs to be eaten in moderation and in a lesser quantity.  Some people who eat junk food become obese and clearly they are not heathy but other people remain at a healthy weight but their bodies are deteriorating on the inside.  It is very interesting that this article talked about the addictive nature of junk food.  Even though many people are aware of the harming qualities of junk food it is very hard for them to stop eating it because of the chemicals in the food.  
This article is very important for people to read because every day we make choices not to eat well and it is effecting us.  Parents stock up their houses with junk food because that is what their children want to eat and do not think anything of it.  However, they need to be made aware of what they are doing.  They are giving their kids food that they will become addicted to and give them poor eating habits for the rest of their lives.  People think that if it is in food and put on store shelves that it cannot be bad for consumption.  This is incorrect, however.  In many foods there are more chemicals then real food and people need to be aware of what they put into their bodies.  The statistics for obesity are very alarming, 1 in 3 adults and considered obese and 1 in 5 children are obese.  These numbers are higher than ever and need to be changes.  
I think that this article was very good at describing the industry and their reaction to obesity and what role they have to play with it.  However, as a high school student this article could have been a little shorter and more concise.  Detail is always good but they gave many extra details in this article that were not needed.  Overall I think that this article gives us a good look at childhood obesity and addictive foods.  

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Chemist Comes Very Close to a Midas Touch

ROSNER, HILLARY. "A Chemist Comes Very Close to a Midas Touch." New York Times. N.p., 15 Oct. 2012. Web. 22 Feb. 2013. <>.
            The article I chose was an article on Paul Chirik and his impressive research. Dr. Chirik is a chemistry professor at Princeton who is studying alchemy. Alchemy is a power or process of transforming something common into something special. Alchemists centuries ago tried to change common metals such as iron or lead into valuable metal such as gold or platinum. Dr. Chirik has developed his own version of alchemy as he has learned to make iron function like platinum in chemical reactions crucial to manufacturing. Platinum is a metal used to manufacture every day life products such as denim and beer but it is also a relatively scarce metal with a limited supply and a high price. The science behind this development involves wrapping iron molecules in a ligand, which is an organic molecule that alters the number of electrons free to form bonds and it, also gives the molecule shape and that shape allows the iron to make these reactions. Dr. Chirik has also worked with cobalt to produce different plastics using inexpensive metals but this eventually proved inefficient because of the now high price of cobalt after being needed in Ipads and Iphones. Scientists such as Roderick Eggert support Dr. Chirik’s work with Eggert saying, “There’s a broad appeal and logic to focusing on more abundant elements in designing catalysts.” These catalysts usually use metals such as platinum, palladium, and rhodium but these are all very expensive. In Dr. Chirik’s work with Iron, there have been some issues such as the fact that iron rusts could make iron a challenge to use in manufacturing. One other thing that Dr. Chirik and his researchers are trying to accomplish is finding a way to use catalysts to convert nitrogen that’s in the air into nitrogen that is used in products such as fertilizer and carpet fiber. The research of Dr Chirik if developed could have an enormous effect on human life.

            The development of ways to use inexpensive metals instead of expensive metals could prove immensely valuable. For example, Dr. Chirik replaced platinum with iron which is incredibly efficient because while a pound of platinum costs 22,000$ a pound of iron costs only 50 cents. 50 cents is only .00002273 percent of 22,000 which when thought about is astonishing what using iron instead of platinum could do. For manufacturing companies, that would save them an enormous amount of money, so the price of production would decrease. With a drop in the price of production comes a drop in the price of the product and that would affect society because platinum is used to produce every day items like denim and beer and more. This drop in price of products would increase allow more people to buy these products and would increase the overall quality of life. Also, metals such as platinum are much more scarce then iron and using iron instead of platinum would stop platinum from running out in the long term which would be a problem or if there was ever a problem in using platinum to develop products, it would be good to have another way to produce this product such as using iron instead as Dr. Chirik is. This research is being funded by major companies, as it should because if successful, it would improve human life immensely. I chose this article because I am very interested in Chemistry and was searching for a Chemistry article and this one looked interesting from the preview.
            This article was on the whole well written and a good article. I thought that one thing the article did well was it brought you into the article with an interesting sentence which made me as a reader want to keep reading. It also gave interesting facts that kept you interested throughout the article such as the price of some of the metals used for production now compared to the price of Iron. However, one area where I think the article could improve is the explanation of the science behind Chirik’s scientific development. It gave a brief overview, explaining what the iron mixes with but especially if you weren’t a Chemistry student, it would be very hard to understand the explanation of the Science. This would be an easy improve if the writer just took an extra paragraph to explain the science and some of the terms he used in his explanation. A second weakness in the article was the ordering of the facts presented. The article went from Dr. Chirik’s iron/platinum development to his other developments and then back to the problems in his iron development and that was annoying as a reader. To improve this, I would have everything written on the Iron development in one section and then everything else in it’s own section.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pigeon Gene Mutation

            This article written by Charles Zimmer was about the genetic mutation of pigeons and how their genetic patterns could change the way scientists think about gene mutation. When Charles Darwin was still in the process of creating his hypothesis and now widely accepted theory of natural selection, he was greatly influenced by the patterns he found in pigeon genetics. He kept a coup full of pigeons of all different breeds (pouters, carriers, barbs, fantails, etc.), and interbred them to see how different specimens changed from generation to generation. For a long time up until now, the focus on genetic mutation has been off pigeons and more directed towards other living things like fruit flies and E. coli. A modern scientist named Dr. Michael D. Shapiro has begun new research on pigeons at University of Utah in order to find out more about their intriguing genetics. He has found new evidence supporting Darwin’s hypothesis that the many diverse pigeon species all originate from the rock pigeon. His focus, however, is targeting the mutations that create radical changes in the anatomy. To begin this study, Shapiro targeted the crest of the pigeon. The crest was used, of all parts of the anatomy, because it can change drastically in very few generations and from any breed of pigeon. Shapiro has discovered from his specific study of crests, that all crest mutation comes mutation of the same gene, EphB2. This suggests that there is a consistency in the mutation. When five different kinds of pigeon all grew the same type of eccentric crest, Shapiro realized the EphB2 was the gene mutated in every instance. Similarly, a scientist from Cornell University named Dr. Adam Boyko has found a gene mutation in different dog breeds with short legs. In every change from one generation to the next, the same gene was mutated in the dogs to achieve the end result of short legs.
            After reading this article, I was very interested in the possibility of genetic mutation achieving a consistent end result. Scientists with the ability to find one specific gene, mutate it in a specific way, and end up with one specific desired result could mean the end of many genetic disorders and illnesses. If the DNA of pigeons and dogs can be consistently mutated to a desired end result, why not humans?
            Overall I was really pleased with the way that the article was written. It was well organized and factual, and informed the reader on a difficult topic to understand with success. One problem I had with it, however, was the mention of Dr. Shapiro’s search for the original wild rock pigeon having no final answer. It was said that he was searching for a purely wild pigeon species that was important to his experiment and then no mention if or how he found the rock pigeon was given. With that said, the article was very interesting and promising to the world of genetics.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Genetic Analysis, the Office Edition

Genomic Analysis, the Office Edition 
By Anne Eisenberg
Kendall Beach 
Block C odd

"Genomic Analysis, the Office Edition" an article by Anne Eisenberg, is about a new break through advancement in medical technology. This new technology called knoSYSTM100, created by Knome, is 
essentially a file cabinet sized computer that creates an analysis of someone's genome. A genome is the complete set of genes or genetic material present in a cell or organism. Previously, to analyze someone's genome, there would have to be a team of doctors that would have to take the data and then send it to far away via the internet, making the information public. Not only was this process expensive, but it risked the privacy of the patient. On top of the cost of the teams of doctors, the old process cost 250,000 dollars, now with the new appliance it cost only 6,000 dollars. Not only is it less expensive, but the information stays within the home network, eliminating violating the privacy of the patient. Each unit costs 125,000 dollars, plus an additional 25,000 dollars for tech support when needed. The machine works by having raw data downloaded unto a hard drive, and then transferred into the machine. The machine then classified the data put into it, the software can even tell a difference between a person's genome and the reference genome. Although then new technology has widely impacted the medical profession, it isn't ready for common usage quite yet.

This software helps detect which medications are best for specific people based on their genetics. The knoSYSTM100 turns tedious jobs, into quick and effective results. This software can now help identify mutations that are typically present with certain diseases. Or it can compare children's and parent's genomes to search for inherited diseases. It can even help with cancer genetics to look for specific disruptions that are driving a tumor. Once this machine becomes more common, it will save hundreds, if not thousands of lives. 

I thought that his article was quite informative, and intriguing to read. Although it did not describe exactly how the machine worked. It also did not define many medical terms, which made it a bit hard to follow. That being said, I thought Anne Eisenberg did a lovely job writing an educational piece that stated fact and followed it with the professional opinions of many noteworthy doctors from the most prestigious schools in the country. 



Eisenberg, Anne. "NOVELTIES; Knome’s New Machine to Aid Labs in Genomic Analysis." The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Feb. 2013. Web. 05 Feb. 2013.

Bacteria Found Deep Under Ice, Scientists Say, Opening New Antarctic World

Matthew Bettino                                                                                                                                                2/6/13
Block C Davies

                  The Antarctic ice sheet is the largest single piece of ice on the planet. Recently, the National Science Foundation of America invested $10 million into ice drilling in the Antarctic. The goal of these drilling expeditions is to locate and drill to lakes under the thick sheet of ice. About half a mile under the surface of the ice sheet is a system around one hundred lakes. These lakes are wedged in between the continental crust and the ice sheet on top. Lake Whillans was one of these lakes. Lake Whillans spans about 23 square miles and is about 5 feet deep. When the US drills finally reached this lake, scientists discovered mind-changing things. Half a mile below a pure sheet of ice lives bacteria. The inhabitants of Lake Whillans were chemically tested and were found to be fully alive. This discovery changes the way scientists understand the possibility of extraterrestrial life forms. Down in these deep, cold conditions, the bacteria have no access to light. Therefore, to obtain the necessary energy to metabolize, the bacteria are forced to rely on another source. Scientists determined that these bacteria were consuming the decaying remains of microbes found in the receding glaciers. However, Chris McKay of NASA said the bacteria would be of even more interest if they were consuming another body of energy. One clue of life that led to the discovery was the location of DNA in cells they observed. The DNA that has been collected is still to be analyzed. Scientists are hopeful that the DNA testing will shed even more light on the topic of sub-ice creatures and their relationship with extraterrestrial life.
            This discovery is important to science because it gives scientists more evidence that life can thrive under extreme conditions and without sunlight. An example similar to this discovery was one made under the ocean. On our trip to the Museum of Natural History in Earth Science, we came across an exhibit about black smokers or underwater sea vents. These vents are located so deep in the ocean, scientists believed that the pressure, temperature, and lack of light would not allow for life to survive. However, a whole ecosystem was discovered around the smokers. The life living down there used chemosynthesis, a process of using the chemicals produced by the black smokers to create necessary energy. This discovery showed scientists how life could survive without access to things humans and other surface organisms need to survive. This discovery of bacteria living deep under ice depicts another way life can survive under extreme conditions. The ability of life to adapt and survive based on its environment has led scientists to believe that life could survive on other planets in or solar system or beyond. I chose this article because I am very interested in astronomy and the possibility of life beyond our knowledge. This topic has limited information available to use as proof. It is exciting when I hear that scientists took another step in the direction of determining how extraterrestrial life could survive.
            I thought that this article was well written. The author explained details in understandable terms and clearly showed how the discovery was important to science. However, the article was written in a way that the facts and data collected were presented first, while the actual process came second.  I think that the details about funding and set-up of the operation should have followed the brief summary of what was discovered. The more pinpoint details should have followed. Also, the description of the DNA found in the lake was jammed in at the end of the article. This information seemed to be relevant and interesting. I wish the author would have spent more time discussing the discovery and possible importance of the DNA collected in Lake Whillans. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this article. It enriched the knowledge I already possess on a topic I really enjoy.

Gorman, James. "Bacteria Found Deep Under Antarctic Ice, Scientists Say." The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 Feb. 2013. Web. 06 Feb. 2013.
Bacteria Found Deep Under Ice, Scientists Say, Opening New Antarctic World
Published: February 6, 2013
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For the first time, scientists report, they have found bacteria living in the cold and dark deep under the Antarctic ice, a discovery that might advance knowledge of how life could survive on other planets or moons and that offers the first glimpse of a vast ecosystem of microscopic life in underground lakes in Antarctica.
Dr. Alberto Behar, JPL/ASU; underwater camera funded by NSF and NASA
The first view of the bottom of subglacial Lake Whillans in Antarctica.
A network of hundreds of lakes lies sandwiched between the continent’s land and the ice that covers it, and scientists had thought that it could harbor life. The discovery is the first confirmation.
“It transforms the way we view the Antarctic continent,” said John C. Priscu of Montana State University, a leader of the scientific expedition.
After drilling through a half-mile of ice into the 23-square-mile, 5-foot-deep Lake Whillans, the expedition scientists recovered water and sediment samples that showed clear signs of life, Dr. Priscu said, speaking from McMurdo Station in Antarctica on Tuesday. They saw cells under a microscope, and chemical tests showed that the cells were alive and metabolizing energy.
Dr. Priscu said that every precaution had been taken to prevent contamination of the lake with bacteria from the surface or the overlying ice. In addition, he said, the concentrations of life were higher in the lake than in the borehole, and there were signs of life in the lake bottom’s sediment, which would be sealed off from contamination.
Much more study, including DNA analysis, is needed to determine what kinds of bacteria have been found and how they live, Dr. Priscu said. There is no sunlight, so the bacteria must depend on organic material that has drifted into the lake from other sources — for instance, decaying microbes from melting glaciers — or on minerals in the rock of the Antarctic continent.
Chris McKay, a NASA senior scientist, said in an e-mail that such analysis could determine if the bacteria in Lake Whillans have implications for the possible discovery of extraterrestrial life. “If it was using a local energy source, it would be interesting,” he said. “If it’s just consuming organics carried in from elsewhere, it is of much less interest.” The reason, he said, is that elsewhere in the solar system where there is good evidence of liquid water under thick ice sheets, life would have to depend on minerals alone. “There is not going to be oxygen on other worlds,” Mr. McKay said.
Slawek Tulaczyk of the University of California, Santa Cruz, another leader of the science expedition, said that samples were drawn from as deep as four feet in the sediment, and that oxygen decreased with the depth of the sample.
The scientific project, called Wissard, for Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling, was years in the planning and is one of three efforts to investigate the lakes that lie under the Antarctic ice.
A year ago, a Russian expedition penetrated the surface of Lake Vostok, under two miles of ice. They found hints of life on samples from the drill bit, but contamination from the kerosene drilling fluid was a possibility. This year they recovered samples of frozen lake water that are yet to be analyzed.
A British effort to reach Lake Ellsworth, under a mile of ice, was called off in December because of equipment problems.
The American effort, supported by $10 million from the National Science Foundation and other grants, focused on Lake Whillans, which is quite different from the other two lakes. It lies under a half-mile of ice, less than the others, and its water is replenished in about a decade, scientists believe, with meltwater from overlying ice. Lake Vostok is much more sealed off from the surface and is thought to take 10,000 years for its waters to renew. Lake Ellsworth may turn over in about 700 years.
Although Lake Whillans may be more reachable than the other two, doing anything in Antarctica is enormously difficult. It took a tractor convoy 12 days to take the drill and other equipment more than 500 miles over the Ross Ice Shelf to the drilling site from the American research station at McMurdo.
The scientists had four days to collect samples and obtain images of the lake. Several lines of evidence convinced them that they had found microbial life in the lake. First, they saw cells under the microscope and confirmed that DNA was present.
Then they measured evidence of an enzyme that is important in metabolism and a chemical called ATP, for adenosine triphosphate. Molecules of ATP are essentially packets of energy, and their presence was a further indication that the bacteria were living. Further, they found that concentrations of ATP were higher in the lake water than in the water in the borehole, which, Dr. Priscu said, meant that there was more life in the lake and argued against any contamination.
Much further study will be done before scientific results are published and other scientists can look at all the data. Dr. Priscu said that new tests were being done each day, but that DNA tests would have to wait until the scientists returned to the United States.
“Our stateside DNA sequence work will tell us who they are,” he said of the microbes, “and, together with other experiments, tell us how they make a living.”
But he said he was confident that the researchers had achieved the first glimpse of an ecosystem that had been completely unknown. “It’s the world’s largest wetland,” Dr. Priscu said.