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

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

One Sinkhole Killed, and Many others opened, but experts counsel not to panic.

Ariel Sachtjen
Bio current event

Sinkholes seem to be occurring more and more everyday.  A sinkhole is a natural depression hole in the Earth’s surface cause by sudden and severe shifts in the earth’s surface. Sinkholes can vary in size from 3.3 feet to 2,000 feet both in diameter and depth. However, sinkholes usually only occur in large landscapes shaped by the dissolution of a layer or layers of soluble bedrock. The most recent sink hole occurred in Waterloo, Illinois.  On the fourteenth of March, forty three year old Mark Mihal was golfing and got swallowed into a sinkhole. The sinkhole was no bigger than a Hula Hoop, but it was more than ten feet deep. Fortunately he was able to get out with the help of his friends, but dislocated his shoulder. Sinkholes don’t only happen in Illinois. In Massachusetts a seventeen foot sinkhole was discovered early  in the morning.  The most dramatic and alarming sinkhole appeared two weeks ago in Florida.  While a man was sleeping in his bed a giant sinkhole opened up under his home’s foundation.   Before he was able to react, the man and his bed were swallowed up into the sinkhole, which collapsed around him before help could arrive.  Despite these scary and dramatic examples, one scientist was quoted as saying “ I don’t believe we’re having anymore today that we’ve had before.”

Sinkholes have a huge affect on humanity. Scientist have been trying for years to figure out a way to determine when they happen. However, sinkholes usually occur in layers of soluble bedrock. Most of this bedrock is located around the southern states. It is very scary, and unusual that a sinkhole occurred in Massachusetts. It would be very rare that a sinkhole could occur in New York due to our rock soil composition.  Sink holes generally occur in urban areas like New York due to water main breaks or sewer collapses when old pipes give way. However, if i lived in Louisiana there would be a greater chance that there could be a sinkhole. Sinkholes can also form from human activity. For instance a collapse of abandoned mines. 

I thought this article was really interesting. However, I think the author could have elaborated more on the different sinkholes. The author would only state one or two facts about the different incidents of the sinkholes. I had to do outside research for the causes and the different occurrences.  I did think there were some good points to the article. For instance, I  thought it was interesting how the author interviewed a scientist. It was interesting hearing his point of view on the sinkholes, and how he thinks that they are not typically a big deal nor are they occurring more often than in past years.  

Wines, Michael. "One Sinkhole Killed, and Many Others Opened, but Experts Counsel Not to Panic." One Sinkhole Killed, and Many Others Opened, but Experts Counsel Not to Panic. N.p., 15 Mar. 2013. Web.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Global Temperatures Highest in 4,000 Years

Gregory Mo
Block C - Davies

Global warming may seem to some people like just a little recycle symbol on your water bottle or some blue bins, but really global warming is a global event that is occurring as I write this. Everyday our environment becomes warmer and warmer and is at its warmest point today than it has been in the past four thousand years. It has been recently predicted that our earth is getting so warm that in the next few decades it will become the hottest temperature levels ever seen on earth. Unfortunately, even with the lowest possible human activity we could do, the temperature will still increase and be warmer than hottest time of the Holocene, or the modern geological era. Scientists like Shaun Marcott of Oregon State University and other earth scientists, have studied the global temperatures over the past nearly 10,000 years, nearly the whole Holocene  period. The climate change of earth is not all because of human as the temperature depends on the distribution of sunlight, the earths orbit and other events that have happened in the past and are out of our reach. However, we are definitely to blame for a portion of global warming. Interestingly, without humans the Northern Hemisphere probably would have frozen over in the next few thousand years but the large amounts of greenhouse gases from people might stop that. However, graphs of the climate change that scientists are studying show that the modern rise has recreated old temperatures and on the time scale, temperatures like in the Holocene time are expected to be felt again. Even though there are geological affects on global warming, humans still have their part. You should still recycle your bottles and take care to follow all of the rules we now have had hammered into us for years, such as walking when you can to avoid gas and using public transportation, because what you do, no matter how little for climate change, can still matter.
            Life is affected by global warming and how global temperatures are rising and are at their heights since thousands of years in the past is frightening. With high climate change comes struggle for life as plants and other types of species will be injured from the changes in temperature. Also mentioned in the article is how past climate changes have been steady and slow allowing different organisms to evolve and adjust to the new climates, but the new changes in temperature expected will be fast and put tension on numerous species including humans as we are a part of nature as well. Plants and animals we eat or use for food goods or other material might die out due to these severe changes in climate and ultimately there is no good to come out of these fast climate changes.
            I found the article to be fairly clear and concise which I praise. It is definitely hard for a scientist or someone who is familiar with a scientific study to put it into terms the every day person could understand as you need to put it into words that make sense and also make sure the topic makes sense. This article mostly did this well as I was able to follow along with the article and understand what it was talking abut but eventually the article moved too quickly and started jumping around with what it was talking about. An example of this is when it mentions the Northern Hemisphere and how it is destined to freeze over again, which seems like a very big topic someone could study for years and is just passed by in a few sentences. I feel like the author should have elaborated more on this as well as when the article mentioned at the end how life would be affected. I feel the biggest reason why most people would stop and read this article is because they know it will affect life and change our environment and this article really only mentions that as an afterthought which somewhat leaves the reader hanging.

Gillis, Justin. "Global Temperatures Highest in 4,000 Years." The New York Times. N.p., 7 Mar. 2013. Web. 12 Mar. 2013. <>.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Allergy Buster: Can a Radical New Treatment Save Children With Severe Food Allergies?

Thernstrom, Melanie. "Can a Radical New Treatment Save Children With Severe Food
Allergies?" The New York Times.7 Mar. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2013. <>.
Kim Yates Grosso is the mother of a girl named Tessa who has very severe allergies to milk, wheat, eggs, nuts, shellfish, and other foods. Her allergies are so serious that if she gets a drop of milk on her skin she will go into anaphylactic shock, an allergic-immune response that causes tissues in the body to swell until the windpipe closes, the lungs collapse, and the heart fails. Kim had a strict diet for Tessa that the whole family followed, but she decided it wasn’t fair, so only Kim and Tessa kept to the diet. Lunches were made from complete scratch and Tessa never spent the night at friends houses and didn’t like going to birthday parties because she felt unsafe. Kim got a job at the Menlo Park, California, school district so she could shadow Tessa throughout the day. Tessa came very close to dying due to her allergies in 2011 when she was seven years old because of rye toast and spring rolls that turned out to have traces of wheat. Instead of having hives, her body internally shuts down. A week later, Tessa began having panic attacks and stopped eating because she was so afraid of dying. Psychiatrists did not work and treatment for obsessive-compulsive disorders such as germ phobia was useless because the invisible traces can kill a severely allergic child. Kim realized that her daughter was not the only person with serious allergies.  However, Kari Nadeau, an M.D./Ph.D. and an associate professor of allergies and immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, was giving a lecture at Stanford in 2009 that Kim heard about. She told Kim to continue strictly avoiding the foods Tessa is allergic to. However, Tessa’s case does not show much hope because her blood work showed high quantities of an immune protein called IgE, which is used to show how severe allergic responses are.
          The rate of food allergies has more than doubles over the last decade, with an estimated 5.9 million children and 2.3 million adults in the US. That is 1 in 13 children in every classroom, and this number may rise. Allergies are most common in three to five year olds, or nearly 1 in 10 preschoolers. Children don’t seem to be growing out of their allergies as fast as they have in the past. If Dr. Nadeau and other doctors can find a way to treat and overcome allergies, it will save many lives because many people die from allergic reactions when they do not know that they are coming in contact with small traces of whatever sets off a reaction. I do not personally have any allergies, but I know that when someone has allergies as severely as Tessa does, it is hard to relax, and you don’t get to have the same experiences as other children your age. If the method that Dr. Kari Nadeau is working on is constantly successful, other children with allergies can have more normal lives and kids with extremely severe allergies might be able to make their allergies less severe.
            I did not like how the title of this article made it sound like the article would say some examples of kids with allergies being cured and how only avoiding the foods that caused allergic reactions would help, especially because there are a few photos on the side that implies that a few kids have overcome their allergies. Another thing I did not like was that most of the article was about Tessa, with only the last two paragraphs out of seven about allergies in general and treating them. Otherwise Melanie Thernstrom did a very good job writing this article, describing the severity of Tessa’s allergies, and giving details of how the family coped with it.

Major Grocer to Lavel Foods With Gene-Modified Content

Fiona Staunton                                                                                                March 11, 2013
Core Bio / C-ODD                                                                                          Ms. Davies
Strom, Stephanie. "Major Grocer to Label Foods With Gene-Modified Content." The New York Times. The New York Times, 09 Mar. 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. <>.
            This article talked about a major step forward in the food marketing business. Whole Foods, one of the largest food markets , with 339 stores throughout the United States and Canada, recently agreed to start labeling food that is genetically modified. In Europe, GMO foods have to be labeled by law. Recently in the United States, the topic of genetically modified foods has been a hot topic. Many debates have taken place, and some groups are even going into supermarkets and putting labels on foods that may or may not be genetically engineered. The article calls this move a “game changer,” and related it to how Wal-Mart stopped selling genetically modified cow’s milk a few years ago.  This new move for Whole Foods has many people happy. 90 percent of voters in a 2012 poll were in favor of labeling foods with GMOs, or Genetically Modified Organisms.
I believe this article is important to humans throughout the world, especially in North America. Knowing whether or not the food you are putting on your table to eat will impact many choices people make in supermarkets. There is a study in rats that bioengineered food can be harmful. However, Karen Batra, who is a spokeswoman for a company representing the biotech industry said, “without scientific evidence showing that genetically modified foods caused health or safety issues, labeling was unnecessary.” I think giving people the choice whether or not to buy GMO foods will hopefully make people more conscience of the food they are putting in their body, even if there isn’t a lot of evidence out there on GMOs being a potential risk. I believe this is the first of many steps being made by America to help peoples health and start combatting the weight issues going on.
I do think that there could have been some improvements in this article. For example, the writer did not go into depth on whether or not GMO are actually dangerous or not. There was two points, one saying there was a test showing that they were harmful on rats, but another point said there was no evidence to back it up. I believe hard facts about whether or not GMOs are dangerous would help readers understand why the labeling issue is such a big deal to many people.

In Study, Past Decade Ranks Among Hottest

AIK, GAUTAM. "In Study, Past Decade Ranks Among Hottest -" The Wall Street Journal - Breaking News, Business, Financial and Economic News, World News & Video - Wall Street Journal - N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2013. <>.

        This article discusses how new research has been found on the raising temperatures on earth. This research says that global temperature have been higher in the past decade than most of the 11,300 years. The purpose of this research is to give a global overview of the temperatures. The decade 2000-2009 had been the hottest, but it is believed if this research is correct that 2100 will the warmest that it has been in 11,300 years. With this reasearch scientists came across a certain question, "is the spike in global temperature recorded in the past 150 years unusual—the result of greenhouse-gas emissions from human activity—or can it be explained as part of natural, long-term variations in temperature?"For most scientists the answer to this question would be human activity. This new research will become part of the debate of rising temperatures. Not all reasearch can please all scientist speciffically Dr. Anderson, "It's a weakness to look at the world 11,000 years ago, because those were sunlight-driven changes and not CO2-driven changes," According to the article sunlight-related changes are gradual and vary across different parts of the globe while, greenhouse-gas emissions trigger warming everywhere.
        This is article is important to society because without new research people in our modern world today would not be as motivated to continue to help our environment. Anytime new research is found it should be taken seriously because people will become aware of the danger of these rising temperatures. Not only is the article important to society, I find it to be specifically important to me. The environment is a big interest of mine, and I always try to help the environment in anyway I can.
       I found this article to be intriguing, but one thing that I disliked about this article is that it did not go into specifics on how the research was collected. I find this to be an important factor to the reader because it would've given me an overall better understanding of what was going on.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Baby With H.I.V. Is Reported Cured

Jr., Andrew Pollack And Donald G. Mcneil. "Baby With H.I.V. Is Reported Cured."The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 Mar. 2013. Web. 05 Mar. 2013.

         The article talks of how a baby with HIV is deemed “cured”. The baby was born prematurely. The mother did not go to a doctor during her pregnancy, and it was only discovered while she was in labor that she was HIV positive. They then tested the baby, finding the levels of the virus quite low. However, they didn’t take any changes and immediately proceeded to attack the virus aggressively using a different concoction of three drugs. Normally, a baby would be treated with only one or two as a safety measure. They continued this treatment for five months. When the baby’s blood was once again submitted for testing, they found out that all the viral numbers for the tests were negative. They initially thought it was a mistake but later confirmed that it was NOT a lab error.

This new finding could be massive towards develop for some sort of vaccine, at least for younger kids. They found out in this case that rapid, aggressive treatment was the key to preventing the illness in this particular child. This could lead to better concoction of drugs aimed towards curing a young child’s HIV. This is a better solution because the only other known person before to be cured of HIV was a man who had gotten a bone marrow transplant from someone HIV resistant, but not everyone can do that, so we needed a miracle where someone survived using a simpler method without going under the knife.

The problem I found with this article was although they said the baby was technically HIV positive, they still lacked definite evidence that he was infected. He also had surprisingly low viral count in his test, maybe rendering the treatment useless to other babies who may have a higher count. Also, even after, they still found some viral genetic material in his body, even though they didn’t replicate, and stayed dormant. Is it possible for the virus once again “wake up” and start replicating? Also there has been scattered cases where babies fight off this virus even without the aid of medicine, making this case a bit of a fluke.