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

Friday, January 31, 2014

One Step Closer to the Truth About Cancer

The following was a current event report submitted by Tucker Duncan. For some reason it was not posted to the blog. I thought it was very interesting and relevant topic, so I am taking the liberty of posting it for him. 
Bienkowski, Brian, and Environmental Health News. "BPA Exposure Linked to Prostate Cancer: Scientific American." BPA Exposure Linked to Prostate Cancer: Scientific American
. Scientific American, n.d. Web. 15 Jan. 2014. <>.

It has always been rumored that drinking out of plastic water bottles can lead to cancer, and new research strongly backs this point. Men being exposed to low levels of bisphenol A (BPA) during early stages of development greatly increase the chance of prostate cancer later on in life. BPA is mainly exposed to young men through the use of plastic water bottles, being that it is one of the chemicals used to make these water bottles. Along with water bottles, BPA is found in paper receipts, the lining of some food cans, and dental sealants, such as the seal on top of a tube of toothpaste. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, a team of scientists used stem cells to implant the prostate cells of deceased young men. One third of the stem cells came from prostates that had cancer at one point in its life, and forty-five percent of the cells exposed to BPA that had not previously been exposed to prostate cancer developed tumors. Not only can BPA exposure affect a young male during his early years in life, but also a pregnant mother can greaten the risk of prostate cancer for the fetus inside of her. The scientists believe the root cause of the BPA leading to prostate cancer is that the chemical affects the stem cells in such a way that they are not able to replenish the prostate, making it more susceptible to prostate cancer. BPA also led to breast cancer in rats, but has not yet been proven to affect humans in the same way.
            The study of BPA levels leading to cancer is very important to the human race. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancerous death of U.S. men, and research to expand on how to prevent it is incredibly relevant. Fifteen percent of men in the U.S. (roughly 24.7 million men) experience tumors on their prostate at one point in their life. The ability to prevent this would greatly decrease the mortality rate, and not exposing children to BPA could be a successful prevention. To live in a world where humans know more about cancer and how to either cure or prevent it is the dream of young generations right now. Nothing is worse than seeing loved ones die, but of something that we know little to nothing about how to cure? That’s not a world I want to live in and I praise every man and woman trying to fight this.
            Overall I thought this article was beautifully written. I loved how statistics were brought up about how many men were diagnosed with cancer because those are the types of facts that really grab a reader. However, I would’ve liked to read more about how to prevent exposing yourself, or your fetus, to BPA exposure.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Celebrating Deep Freeze, Insect Experts See a Chance to Kill Off Invasive Species

Foderaro, Lisa W. "Celebrating Deep Freeze, Insect Experts See a Chance to Kill Off Invasive Species." New York Times, 8 Jan. 2014. Web. 9 Jan. 2014.

            The recent temperature drop may have been unpleasant for some of us, but entomologists and naturalists are rejoicing. Scientist are happy because certain harmful pests, such as the wooly adelgid and the pine beetle, cannot survive in cold weather. Pests such as these are responsible for killing an immense amount of plant life each year. The emerald ash borer alone has killed tens of millions of trees since 2002. These pests are unable to survive in sub-zero temperatures. As a result, scientists are eagerly awaiting greater drops in temperature.
Although subzero temperatures will exterminate many of these harmful pests, they will not wipe them out completely. Entomologist John Nyrop said, “The weather will give them a temporary setback, but as soon as the weather warms up, they will take off again.”  Certain areas, such as the pinelands of NJ haven’t seen temperatures this low since 1996. Scientist believe that although this deepfreeze will not kill off the insects completely, it will slow population growth for a bit, saving many trees in the process.
            This article is significant because it brings a new meaning to the extremely cold weather that we have been experiencing. The death of these insects is great for plant life. Some scientists are even hoping that this cold will kill off some ticks, which will lower the risk of lime disease. More plant life is always beneficial. Plants produce more oxygen. Cold weather is a great regulator. Basically this cold weather is preparing us for a better spring.

            This article was very good at explaining the technical information, but there weren’t a lot of statistics as to how much these pests affect the environment and how much their deaths will affect the environment as well. There also was a lot of repeated information, only in different areas. This fact made the article a little tricky to analyze because one main idea was stretched over a 15/16-paragraph article. Over all this was a very interesting article. After reading it I had more of a respect for climate change and more gratitude for the cold weather that we have been having.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Why the Brain Prefers Paper

Jabr, Ferris . "Why the Brain Prefers Paper." Scientific American Nov. 2013: 48-53. Print.

The era of new technology has dawned upon the world and now IPads, Kindles and e-books make up more than 20 percent of books sold in the U.S. But it wasn't always like this, in fact studies done in 1992 concluded that people read more slowly on the screen compared to paper. As the resolution of screens sharpened and technology improved, people’s opinion on tablets have changed. More individuals have begun to look towards technology for reading, however, the effectiveness of reading on tablets or phones is debatable. The article Why Brain Prefers Paper by Ferris Jabr explains, as the title suggests, the reasons behind why our mind naturally prefers books and paper over technology when it comes to reading. When we read, the recognition and order of words form a map in our mind, which explains why we can sometimes re-locate a particular passage in a book without noting the page number. When it comes to kindles or e-books, though, navigation of text prevents the mental mapping to occur. Not only that, but Abigail J. Sellen of Microsoft Research Cambridge in England believes that the motion of turning pages and the feel of a book cannot be replicated, “The implicit feel of where you are in a physical book turns out to be more important than we realized. Only when you get an e-book do you start to realize it”. Also, when people look towards technology they usually think about playing games, or surfing the internet, making studying for a test on a computer less effective than from a book. More than ever, children are being exposed to technology from an early age, but studies suggest that stories read from tablets tended to be distracting, and children learnt more from the stories they read from books.
I chose this article because I thought it was interesting how we naturally prefer paper over technology. The reasons behind it may be why many people still prefer reading books over e-books. There are many apps that provide you with free books on tablets and phones, which seems economically smarter than buying a book, or checking it out from the library and risking overdue book fees. As technology continues to improve, more people will look towards tablets to read and the features we enjoy with books may be brought to tablets. Despite society’s transition towards technology, our mind still prefers paper over books for learning, which could be helpful when it comes to studying.
I thought this article explained everything nicely and I could understood everything that was written. However, by the end I felt as if the author was repeating what was said and kept throwing studies and facts at the reader. There was one paragraph at the end, explaining what kindles and e-readers would need to do in order to make people have to same experience while reading books on a tablet. I really liked this, and thought that the article would be more interesting if there was more on the development of reading on technology. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Fish That Could Have Lived in Two Worlds: The Tiktaalik

The Fish That Could Have Lived in Two Worlds: The Tiktaalik

Amos, Jonathan. "Tiktaalik: Iconic Fossil's Rear Parts Described." BBC News. BBC, 14 Jan. 2014. Web. 16 Jan. 2014. <>.

A Summary:
In this endearing article, a key fossil find in last 10 years finally opens its doors to scientists, who are absolutely intrigued by the finding. A creature that is 375 million years old is now named the Tiktaalik (teek-TAL-lik). This newfound fossil is considered essential for its appearance of looking halfway between a fish and a land animal. This helps provide more knowledge on how evolution went from a life in water to a more earthly environment. Early specimens only contained the front most part of the fossil, yet with the new specimens scientists have been able to study the rear parts of the creature, which seem to be vital for research. The PNAS or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has reported an important pelvic bone and tail fin.
This elaborates on how the Tiktaalik moved through water during the Devonian Period of Earth. The creature is known as a tetrapodomorph, a kind of mobile vertebrate. The Tiktaalik was about 2.5 meters, which is about 8.2 feet long. It bares resemblance to a fish, as it has scales and fins with webbing. The Tiktaalik however, also had a flat head, shoulders, forearms, and wrist bones that repeated themselves later.  It was said to be fully-land living, a four-limbed animal.       
The early analysis of the creature was based on fossils in the Canada’s High Arctic on Ellesmere Island in 2004. This research only concentrated on the front most part of the creature. After cleaning and preparing other specimens, that were gathered at the same time as the original specimens, scientists have been able to same something certain about the Tiktaalik’s back region.
They have a thick powerful rear fin with a surprising pelvic “belt” that would have been able to support its rear fins. Although the impressions of these features are limited in the fossil rock, it has been made clear by the size of its pelvis that the creature’s hind fins were large. "The pelvis is as large as the shoulder girdle, and that's not what we would have expected in this finned stage in the fin-to-limb transition. We would have expected the pelvic fins to be smaller," stated Doctor Ted Daeschler, of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia. A team from the PNAS said that the pelvis being larger means that the Tiktaalik’s locomotion depended on a quartet of strong limbs. This feature in the creature was already being emphasized in fish fins long before land animals had “four wheel drive”.
The latest research done, also allows scientists to make a new simulation of how the rare Tiktaalik looked like and moved like in its environment. Its fins were there to be used as paddles to swim, but also could have been used in a leg-like manner in certain occasions. Dr. Daeschler said, "Tiktaalik probably had the ability to use those fins as props to move along, using them to push along the shallow bottom, to work its way through plants; and, who knows, maybe it got out of the water briefly if it needed to move over to another watercourse.” It was not meant to be specialized on land in any way, though. Although the creature has been discovered to have major indicators of being both a land and water animal, the Tiktaalik’s reproduction, its physical senses, its hunting, and its breathing all related back to the water.   

            Although knowing that scientists are making new discoveries about a type of dinosaur creature may seem very cliché in why it’s worth it, I thought there was a huge impact on society on what has been going on here. It’s important to start off with the fact that the discovery alone is already affecting society on how advanced we have gotten. To think that a little while ago, scientists did not know as much about this odd creature and now it has become a revelation for it’s ability to be on land and water. Things we wouldn’t have been able to know without know that it has a large pelvis, giving it speed in swimming and the leg-like fins giving it an ability to walk! Another reason why this is impacting society is that it could lead to more discoveries and theories of evolution. It may not be the most revolutionary discovery, but it is most definitely a start to new ideas on how and why we got where we are today. Whether you are a science fan or not knowing about evolution is something that we all have interest in. We’re all leaning on Darwin’s theory of evolution, which is very airtight, but what if there is more elaboration to his theory? What if there is a missing puzzle piece in all of it? Our knowledge of marine wildlife could advance a lot in terms of their anatomy and maybe ways of their nature. This is a compelling opportunity to start new research on how to help animals in the water is they’re ever in any endangering position in the near future.

            This article from BBC News is almost perfect for me, considering I love their writing style, and they always seem to tackle topics that are very intriguing for me. This was not meaty, yet it contained all the information I could have asked for from the Tiktaalik. It’s vocabulary was not too advanced but also not to past my level of reading. I was extremely impressed that the article didn’t need to use as much quotes as a lot of articles use. It seems that most articles depend a lot on quotes to make it seem real and authentic but what journalists don’t realize is that they need to write an article that the public can enjoy reading.
 I could have chosen a fairly good article from the New York Times that was written with a dull and complicated vocabulary, and had a base built on with quotes from scientists and researchers. But when I started reading this article, the writing of the author instantly hooked me. Even if the topic wasn’t as interesting as it was, I think I still would have enjoyed reading it because of the fluidness that the journalist had to his writing. It wasn’t blocky and very tight with facts and quotes. The article itself ha d a personality of its own that gave me a very strong liking to it.
There are very few ways in which I could put that I didn’t like this article, but I do wish they would have elaborated a little more on the Tiktaalik itself. Although they did have a section to the article describing the creature, I felt it was slightly vague. Other than that, this article was truly enjoyable to read an I strongly recommend you all take a few minutes to at least read the beginning. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Brain, in Exquisite Detail

Gorman, James. "The Brain, in Exquisite Detail." The New York Times. The New York Times, 6 Jan. 2014. Web. 11 Jan. 2014. <®ion=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Science&pgtype=article>.

Deanna Barch is a researcher at Washington University and she is trying to create a detailed, and interactive model of the human brain.  She and a number of other scientists are performing MRI brain scans and many other assessments through cognitive, physical, psychological and a number of other tests on the 1,200 volunteers.  The tests are designed to try to activate every part of the brain, and also to check for physical fitness and emotional states.  On a database called Workbench over the data of over 238 subjects has been released.  They call it the Human Connectome Project.  The brains are put in these databases for neurosurgeons and doctors to use as a reference.  They will be able to see extremely detailed pictures (detail to one and a half cubic millimeters) of all different types of brains.  This project is one of many new attempts at studying and trying to understand the mysteries of the brain.  Recently there has been a major push on neuroscience due to a large amount of government funding.  This has caused amazing advances in the technology used to understand the brain, and what we know about the brain. 

This experiment is going to be very beneficial to the world of neuroscience and will be able to help doctors cure many people.  There are many diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease that cause many serious problems and usually end up causing death.  Hopefully this database can be used to help find out why and where that happens, and what we can do to stop it.  This has already helped many psychiatrists because some of the tests were able to lead to discoveries about depression and what is happening in the brain to cause that feeling.  This database is a way for scientists to truly see the human brain but not just one, over a thousand different, healthy brains.

            I thought that this article was very well written, and thorough in describing the entire experiment.  It was very helpful to have multiple specific examples of how this research has and will help the world.  One thing that I particularly liked was the background of Dr. Barch and her commentary on everything.  It made it that much more credible and interesting.  There was a more personal connection.  One thing that I feel would have made this article better was if they removed some of the unnecessary information about funding and who or where it was from.  It just separated the interesting sections about the experiment and made the article more drawn out.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Beth Finley                                                                                                      1/6/14
Biology IH                                                                                                       D Block Even

“Youth Sports: The Impact of Age, Gender, Pressure, Coaches, Teammates, Parents, and Injuries on Young Athletes”
            The poster that Killian made was about the impact of sports on young athletes and how it affects them in both positive and negative ways. She focused on how increased popularity in sports has affected both male and female athletes, and how the involvement of coaches and parents affects the children.
            To answer the question of how increased popularity and involvement in youth sports affected the lives of male and female athletes, Killian brought up the education amendment, Title IX. This was established in 1972 and it allowed females to participate in team sports at school. Since this Title IX was made, many more parents have encouraged their children to start sports at a young age so they can eventually play at a higher level and continue a sport. Subsequently, starting sports so early in life can ultimately led to pressure or stress for kids and teens, especially if they are playing at a competitive level. This idea of intensity and pressure showed how there are many factors that can help you overcome it and improve as a player, or how the stress can get to you and undermine your ability and confidence level.
            A few factors that she brought up included: your age, coaches and parents. Your age can impact your participation in sports because as you reach a more competitive level, teams will choose you if you are born in the first six months of your birth year because those athletes are usually more mature and developed. Coaches affect your sports life depending on their attitude and coaching style; they sometimes are the reason for too much stress and cause some players to unfortunately quit. An athlete’s parents are also a huge factor since they choose what sports you play and they encourage you to always try your hardest. Killian also talked about the positive and negative affects of being involved in a team sport. For example a positive affect is the important life lessons that you learn from sports, such as, sportsmanship, responsibility, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. A negative affect is the lack of confidence one could gain if they are not able to succeed their parents’ or coaches’ standards.

            Killian’s poster was very well put-together and she presented her information in a clear and concise way without reading off of her poster at all. Also, her poster itself was very bright and inviting, the pictures were specifically interesting and perfect visuals for her topic and were visual proof of her thoroughly searched research. Another special quality of Killian’s poster was that she included a section about her personal experience, which nicely tied, up her presentation. One thing she could have done better was explaining the Title IX; she somewhat assumed that we knew what it was and didn’t tell us that it allowed females to participate in sports until we asked her. I enjoyed the science symposium overall and it was interesting to learn from other students at our school. Another poster that interested me was one about the constellations where the girl made a beautiful painting of her different interpretations of the constellations. Overall, I think the symposium was quite informative and Killian’s poster was very well done.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

"Jumping Genes" Linked to Schizophrenia
By Tia Ghose and LiveScience
Schizophrenia is long term mental disorder, which breaks down the relation between thought, emotions, actions, and reality. The exact cause of this disease is not known, but a new study shows the “Jumping Genes” tie to schizophrenia. Jumping genes, or retrotransposons, they are mobile genetic elements that copy and paste themselves throughout the genome; they make up half of the genome. These genes may alter how neurons, or nerve cells in the brain, form during development, thereby increasing the risk of schizophrenia. Earlier studies showed that a specific type of jumping gene known as long interspersed nuclear element-1 (LINE-1), was active in human brain cells. Dr. Tadafumi Kato was one of the leading researchers in this experiment. He and his team wanted to know if LINE-1 played a role in mental illness. The team conducted a post-mortem analysis of 120 human brains, 13 of which, the patient had been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The team found a higher number of LINE-1 copies in the brains of schizophrenics compared with other groups.
The team also found that stem cells, or body cells that haven't yet become specialized, derived from the brains of people with schizophrenia had a higher concentration of LINE-1 genes than did those from people without the diagnosis. The team also found that people with schizophrenia, LINE-1 concentrations were increased near genes associated with psychiatric disorders that control how neurons in the brain communicate with one another. They concluded that LINE-1 segments could be inserting themselves into genes vital for brain development. When they are triggered by genetic and or environmental factors, they can alter that brain development, causing schizophrenia. A second test was conducted using mice and primates with inflammation meant to mimic schizophrenia. The results showed that these animals had more moveable genetic elements than healthy animals.
Though the results are very convincing, they cannot prove just yet they cause schizophrenia, just that there is a link between the two. But, the LINE-1 gene can help with other gene disorders, because it causes some people to be brilliant, but others to have debilitating diseases like Autism and Schizophrenia.
            These discoveries could improve our understanding of schizophrenia. Also, they could help us prevent the disease and improve medicines. Living with schizophrenia is extremely difficult; people with it cannot control themselves. It not only affects the patient, but also all who have to live with that person. Many times, the patient cannot hold a job or live on their own and they need help from family and friends. These new discoveries can help improve the debilitating lifestyle that comes with schizophrenia.
            This article was very well written. It was easy to read, but a few terms I had to look up, because I only had little knowledge on them. The authors probably could have expanded on these terms making it easier to read through without having to look things up. Otherwise, it was very informative and I learned a lot.