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

Friday, February 28, 2014

Core Biology                                                                           Yasmeen Fahr
Current Event                                                                                   2.28.14

Bryson, Bill. "20 Small World." A Short History of Nearly Everything. New York: Broadway, 2003. 302-20. Print.

            For my current event, I read a chapter out of Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. The book contains various (unrelated) chapters, each with a different focus or topic pertaining to many different branches of science (earth science, biology, biochemistry, etc.) The author explores each topic by giving background and examples of studies done on the given subject, leaving the reader with a basic knowledge of the issue and it’s history. The chapter I read focused mainly on the world of bacteria.
            In the first few pages of the chapter, the reader is given unbelievable fact after fact about the world of bacteria. The most interesting ones for myself were those concerning the unfathomable amount of bacteria surrounding us. I learned that on the average human’s skin alone there are about one trillion bacteria, which is about a hundred thousand on every square centimeter. This, despite being a colossal number, is only a fraction of the total bacteria possessed by a human. There are trillions more inside and all over our bodies. Additionally, I found it very interesting how much we actually need bacteria in our bodies. It is a common misconception that bacteria are negative and we need to rid our bodies of it. Contrarily, they are actually very good for us. They help humans digest sugars, starches, etc. while others fight off bad bacteria that could be invading our bodies. We need bacteria to survive.
            Reading this chapter did raise some questions for me as well as providing me with knowledge about bacteria, though. For example, a large section of the chapter highlights how strong bacteria is. I learned that it can live in almost any extreme atmosphere with no problem and has been doing so since before humans existed. I began to wonder how this was possible. How can something so small be so strong? This seems to be a largely asked question among biologists as well, and is surely something I would love to learn/read more about in the future.
            Overall, this chapter was very interesting and captured my attention from beginning to end. I would definitely recommend the book based on what I have read because the style of writing is so easy to understand without being boring. The great thing about it is that if one isn’t interested in reading about bacteria, each chapter is on a different topic, so there will be something for everyone! I will definitely be reading more of this book in the future.

Kathleen Conaton Current Event

 In Seattle, Washington scientists are undergoing deliberate research on the study of the human brain. Clay Reid, senior investigator at the Allen Institute for Brain Science helped start the mount for an all- out investigation on part of the mouse brain, in 2012. Dr.Reid left Harvard Medical School in 2012 in an effort to be a part of the scientific research that approached science differently than the classic university environment.  The Allen Institute was already mapping the mouse brain in grave detail and specialized in the large scale accumulation of information in atlases and databases available to all of science.
Dr. Reid concentrated on one piece of how the brain works. He tried decoding workings of one part of the mouse brain, the million neurons in the visual cortex from molecules to behavior. In other words Dr. Reid was a part of the big puzzle of the investigation of the brain. Even though that the goal of the investigation is to find out more about the human brain, research on the human brain is very difficult and often can't be done. Work on the brains of mice and even flies is a common substitute for how they share common processes with human brains. The work of Dr. Reid and other scientists at Allen Institute are part of the surge of activity in brain research where scientists are trying to build the tools and knowledge on how brains and minds work. Numerous private and public research efforts in the US focusing on the human brain and nonhumans have been taking place, as well as the Obama's administration's $100 million Brain Initiative and the European Union's $1 billion decade long Human Brain Project.

To Reid, in order to crack the code of the brain is you need to figure out how the machine of the brain works, starting with its building blocks, cell types, and going through its physiology and anatomy. As well as that the problem of how the neural computation creates behavior is another problem at hand witch could help you crack the code. How does the mouse brain decide on action based on that input? The advances made by the Allen Institute are exciting but not yet done. When it comes to the brain there really is no end to figure out the knowledge of what goes on, you can only go deeper.

In the world today, furthering our knowledge of the human brain is important so that we know what goes on inside of our minds. When we further our knowledge of the human body we can help to find out more about ourselves and how to treat illnesses. Hopefully one day scientists can find a cure for cancer with their extensive research and knowledge of the human body.

Learning about how difficult it is to actually learn about our own brains was very interesting. So much money has been put into the research of the brains of humans and nonhumans and it really does make you hope that one day scientists will find an answer for everything in the body. Learning about Dr. Reid and his passion and drive for the knowledge on how the brain works was both interesting and inspiring. Dr. Reid left one of the best institutes in the world to go to a start up research institute all for a change in the view of science. He risked so much for his love and his desire to learn about the brain. Overall I was thoroughly captivated by this article and topic and am inspired to learn more.

Gorman, James. "The Brain’s Inner Language." The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2014.

Improved Nutrition Label

Caroline Dent                                                                                                  February 28, 2014
Biology Current Event                                                                          Improved Nutrition Label

Tavernise, Sabrina. "New F.D.A. Nutrition Labels Would Make ‘Serving Sizes’ Reflect Actual Servings." The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 Feb. 2014. Web. 27 Feb. 2014.
The article I read was on the new nutrition labels that we spoke briefly about in class. In the New York Time, it explained the new ideas and changes of the common food label.
            The F.D.A, or the Food and Drug Administration, has recently announced that a new nutrition label for food items will be coming, in attempt to improve upon the old one. This is a big step forward for food and public health in general, as it will be the first big change to the label in two decades. This new label has many drastic changes about the requirements of it and the display of it. The way that serving sizes are displayed and calculated will change. The font will be bolder and larger, and the serving sizes will be more true to how much a person will actually eat at one time. The percentages, which are currently found on the right hand side of the label, are being moved to the left, so they are more prominent when you first look at the label. Also, the amount of Vitamin D and the amount of Potassium will be put on all the labels, while putting the amounts of Vitamin C and Vitamin A will become optional. The about of calories per serving will be much larger and bolder, so it is easy to see each time you look at it. The most controversial of the changes is a new line that is being added: about of additional sugar that is added during the processing process. With all these changes, a common question asked is why is it necessary? The old food labels were based off of the food portions in the 1970’s and 1980’s, when people ate much smaller portions. Also, the general point of doing this is to make it easier for people to understand what they are eating, without all the complicated numbers. Michelle Obama, the first lady of the United States of America, along with people in the F.D.A., people who study nutrition, and some people who work in the food industry are behind the idea, although it will be a controversial thought. This plan has still only been proposed, and is currently in a 90 day period when people will be able to comment on the idea, but it is assumed to cost almost 2 billion dollars to carry out.
            While most of biology is very relevant to people and all things living, this specific topic is directed at and for the people of this country. These new labels are being created for the purpose of making peoples’ life easier and healthier. The new added sugar line highlights the importance of knowing what is in your food. Also, it is found that this sugar plays a big part in obesity and diabetes, so it is important to realize what you are eating to try and stay healthy. The new sizing is meant to make more realistic to each person, and almost every part of this new label is there to make it easier to understand. Often times with the old label, many people did not know what all the different parts necessarily meant, so this is here to fix that problem. Hopefully, this will help the general health of our country, and with people’s understanding of what is good to eat. This entire new idea is created to be relevant.

            I found this article particularly interesting. After talking about it in class, I was interested when I saw this headline. I generally got the information that I wanted and expected from this article. I enjoyed the specific changes that were being made and why they were necessary. That part was very specific and it helped me to understand the relevant information about this topic. Also, I liked the outsider’s opinions of how this new act will be perceived and their personal reactions to the labels. This was a very well written article, and it was easily understood. The only major thing that I would want to change is to add more of a science aspect to it. While they talked about some of the effects on the body, there were not many references. This article was more a news update about what is happening than a formal report, but it is still important information to know. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rachel Bothwell                                                                                     February 12, 2014
D even                                                                                                   Mrs. McClellan

For an article from an online journal.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. “Solving an evolutionary puzzle: Atlantic killifish thriving in highly polluted water.” ScienceDaily. Science Daily, 12 February 2014.
            In this article it talks about a certain type of fish that can not only tolerate polluted water but actually thrives in it. The type of fish is called an Atlantic killifish, they are only about three inches long, and unlike normal fish they stay in one place for their whole lives. Researchers found these fish in the New Bedford Harbor. At the beginning of the article it asks the question, “How have they been able to adapt and live in such a highly contaminated environment?” The authors states that researchers have found a factor that gives the killifish a resistance to the polluted water, there was a change in receptor protein, aryl hydrocarbon receptor 2 or AHR2. An important fact of the killifish is even though they can tolerate the polluted water the contaminates are still affected whatever eats them such as bluefish, striped bass, and more that are also eaten by humans. Therefore, even though these fish have a special treat it can affect other fish and humans.
I chose to do the article because ever since I was little I have been interested in fish. At my old house we have a big aquarium filled with different corals and fish. Every time we got a new fish I would always watched to see where it would go and all sorts of things. So finding an article about these very different and cool fish just sparked my interest right away. One fact about the killifish that relates to a certain fish I had was that they do not migrate. I had a clown fish and it would always be in the same coral.
I enjoyed reading this article because it had a lot of information. A good part of the article is it asked the question, “How have they been able to adapt and live in such a highly contaminated environment?” I liked that the author asked this question because it asked the question that everyone is thinking and the author does a good job answering it. While reading the article I felt that they used too many abbreviations and I could not remember what meant what. Overall it was an interesting article. 

Modified Corn a Step Closer to Approval in Europe

Castle, Stephen. "Modified Corn a Step Closer to Approval in Europe." New York Times, 11 Feb. 2014. Web. 12 Feb. 2014. <>.

In Europe a controversy is occurring, to use or not to use genetically modified corn. This new breed of corn is insect – resistant and still has the same nutrition as regular, non – genetically modified corn, and is currently being approved by the European Union.
            Some people that oppose the use and production of genetically modified corn failed to gain support to stop the authorization of the European Union’s voting system. Yet Tonio Borg, the European health commissioner, is pushing for a mechanism that would allow individual states to ban the growing of biotech crops, but would permit the sale of authorized products throughout the Union.
            Supporters of genetically modified crops argue that they offer an unequal opportunity to increase yields, but opponents say they pose unknown health and environmental risks.
            The modified corn, called Pioneer 1507, is designed to improve yields by resisting pests and is used mostly for animal feed and had been developed jointly by DuPont Pioneer and Dow Chemical. “DuPont Pioneer said in a statement that its product ‘should be approved for cultivation without further delay,’ adding that the bloc has ‘a legal obligation to itself, to its farmers and scientists and to its trade partners.’ ”
            While the development and cultivation of biotech crops have been embraced by countries like the United States, India and China, Europeans tend to be highly suspicious. Last month, the European Parliament passed a resolution against the approval of Pioneer 1507, and during Tuesday’s debate, ministers from at least 18 nations spoke out against the authorization.
This article is relevant because most of the people in Europe have not been in contact with genetically modified foods, so there is a big controversy, for now most of the people in Europe don’t want or are neutral about the idea of genetically modified foods, in which political leaders are integrating into the market fairly slowly.

I enjoyed reading this article because it shows both sides of the argument about genetically modified foods in Europe in our present day. Even if the genetically modified corn is only being fed to livestock, I feel that it could be very dangerous for people and the environment, other people may have different opinions, which sparked this controversy in Europe in these past few weeks.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Prescription Painkillers Seen as a Gateway to Heroin

Carey, Benedict. "Prescription Painkillers Seen as a Gateway to
Heroin." The New York Times, 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 11 Feb. 2014. <>.

This article is about prescription painkillers and the drug heroin being interconnected and the use of one leading to the use of another. Recently, actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a heroin overdose. He was a recovering addict and had struggling to quit a prescription painkiller addiction last year. Opioid painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin have created problems of relapse for users and former users. When heroin users go through withdrawal, these prescription painkillers can relieve them. Also, former heroin users get cravings for heroin when the consume prescription painkillers.
Sociologist Stephen E. Lankenau said, “Users switch back and forth, to pills then back to heroin when it’s available, and back again.” Prescription opioid use and heroin use have been on the rise and it is now easy to get opioids from many different sources. Many people recovering from heroin abuse are reported to have started on painkillers. Many clinics are now holding overdose prevention courses, which teach the signs of an overdose and teach people how to administer an opioid-blocking drug.
This article is very relevant to the drug abuse issue in today’s world. In so many magazines and newspapers you can find stories about drug use and abuse, and it seems that we hear about celebrities dying from overdoses much too often. The fact that heroin use is linked to prescription painkiller use is a scary realization. It is important that people using these medications know the dangers of abuse and what it can lead to.
I really enjoyed reading this article because it taught me something I did not know a lot about. I found it very interesting and eye opening. Even though this is true with many medications, it is scary to think that doctors are prescribing drugs that can be abused and lead to life-altering, even life-threatening illegal drugs. I liked how the article was written – it wasn’t too long, but included necessary background information and connections to today’s world. I enjoyed reading this article and the topic is definitely something I would be interesting in learning more about.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

500x Magnification Microchip Surface

This is the surface of a computer microchip magnified by 500X. You can clearly see the different connections of the components of the chip, giving the photo a technological feel to it. This photo was taken using Nomarski Interference Contrast, a photography technique used in science photography that amplifies the contrast in transparent or close to transparent objects.
        Some questions tat could be made from this photo are:

  1. How much does the equipment for this kind of technique cost?
  1. Can this technology be used to further observe small cellular organisms?
  2. How else can this technique be used?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Stinger Close-Up

This close-up photo of the stinger of a bumblebee is, to some people who are allergic to stings, a very big threat to their health.  The stinger contains a toxin (which is the drop in the picture) that will only irritate most people, but will make those who are allergic swell up and possibly die.  The stinger falls out after the sting, and the bee dies soon after.

Hippocampal neuron receiving excitatory contacts

This is a picture photographed Dr. Kieran Boyle of University of Glasgow in Glasgow, United Kingdom. He used 63 x magnification. It is a hippocampal neuron receiving excitatory contacts and his technique was Fluorescence and Confocal. I believe it is some sort of important nerve. I’m not very sure what part of the body, but I figured out that it is one major nerve in the brain and falls under the study of neuroscience. 
Fluorescence is the is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation, it also occurs when molecules are excited to higher electric states by energetic states by energetic electron bombardment.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Macrobrachium shrimp at 140x Magnification

This is a highly magnified picture of a "ghost shrimp" at 140x eye magnification. This photo was taken by Miss Vitoria Tobias Santos from the Unversidade Federal do Rio de Janerio, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. The technique used to take this picture was stereomicroscopy. Stereomicroscopy is the method of using light reflected off the surface of the object and is known as the dissecting microscope. Looking at this photo you might have a couple of questions, some questions could be: What is the origin of Ghost Shrimp? What do they look like? Ghost shrimp derive from the USA in freshwater rivers and lakes. Ghost Shrimp have a very glassy look to them with an orange spot in the center.(Planet Inverts) It is interesting to see it up close under stereo microscope.
(Image Source)

Osteosarcoma Cell

The photo above shows an osteosarcoma (bone cancer) cell. Osteosarcoma is a type of bone cancer usually seen in teens, when their bones are growing quite quickly. This mesmerizing photo was taken by Dr. Dylan Burnette of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Burnette took this photo by using Structured Illumination Microscopy (SIM) at a magnification of 63x. SIM is a type of light microscopy that projects a certain light pattern onto the sample. The caption for this photo said the osteosarcoma cell was showing actin filaments, and I did not know what that meant. Turns out, filaments are thin, thread-like fibers in animal cells, and actin filaments are the thinnest filaments, which I discovered after some researching (

Grey Fox Lung Fibroblast Cells

This fascinating picture is of the cell tissue from the lung of a female Grey Fox. These cells are most commonly used in the study of different diseases that have characteristics associated with fibroblast, or the cells in connective tissue that produce collagen and other fibers. This example of the cell has a triplet of fluorophores (the Alexa Fluor 488, the MitoTracker Deep Red 633, and SYTOX Orange) that allow for the F-actin, the nuclei, and the mitochondria to be visible. The F- actin (green) is a multipurpose protein, the nuclei (red) is the center of the cell, and the mitochondria (yellow) is a organelle that is considered a major source of energy for many cellular processes.

Compound Wasp Eye

A magnified wasp eye

This picture is of a Ichneumon wasp eye and antenna base base, taken by Charles Krebs at a magnification of 40x. Ichneumon wasps are parasitic wasps that lay their eggs in a host's body. Visible are dozens of tiny individual photoreceptors. The wasp combines the input from each photoreceptor to form an image. The photographer used reflected light illumination, which involves bouncing light off of an object instead of shining light through the object to illuminate it. The technique is usually used with opaque materials.

Purple Food Dye

This amazing picture is of crystallized purple food dye under a magnification of 640x. I really like all this different colors that are represented in this image. I would have never guessed this was crystallized purple food dye. It was taken by Mr. Waldo Nell in the city of Surrey, British Columbia in Canada. The technique used to take this photo is called dark field. I did not know what dark field microscopy was so after doing so research I discovered it is a type of specialized illumination that focuses on oblique illumination to show the contrast between what it looks like under normal bright field illumination. I am still wondering what the light blue rectangles are for in the back. What is purple food dye make of?

Bat Embryo

Black Mastiff Bat Embryos

This is an image of Black Mastiff Embryos, also known as Molossus Rufu. This photo was taken by Miss Dorit Hockman. It is from Trinity College in Cambridge, United Kingdom, which is part of the University of Cambridge. The technique used to take this photo is known as bright-field. When I researched this technique I found that the image is a dark sample on a bright background. This technique is also one of the simplest of all microscopy illumination. I really like the way it shows multiple embryos, so you can see the development over time. I wonder what stages these embryos are at and what they would look like in the next phase or what they would have looked like in the previous phase. I would think that the photo on the left is when the embryo is getting towards one of the last stages or is in one of the later stages. I also wonder what stages these are. Are they pretty early in the development or later? My guess would be they are somewhere in the middle, but more towards the later stages.  (

Chameleon Embryo

This is an image of a chameleon embryo. In the photo the blue is cartilage, and the red is bone. This photo was taken using the technique, bright-field. The photo is from the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, United Kingdom. This technique displays an advanced method, that allows us to see the development on an embryo, in this case of a chameleon. After researching the technique, bright-field, I learned that it is a very simple yet popular technique; a dark sample on a bright background. I found this photo very interesting because you can see the embryo in such detail. I would really love to see several pictures of the embryo's development over a period of time. I wonder if over a period of time there would be less cartilage and more bone in the photos if the photos were take over a period of time/ development. I suppose that as the embryo matures there would be mostly red shown.  (

Mouse Vertebra Section at 200x

This cool picture was taken of a Mouse vertebra section. This picture was taken by Dr Michael Nelson and Samantha Smith from University of Alabama at Birmingham in Birmingham, Alabama. This picture was taken with the technique of Focus Stacking, and with a magnification of 200x. Focus stacking is a photography technique used to increase depth of field in a picture. After looking at this picture’s vibrant colors I was curious as to what a vertebra section was. After researching, I discovered that a vertebra section is a section of the spine that is made up of nerves that allow you to move your fingers and toes. I thought it was interesting to read about the spine and how every move you make comes from the brain and is transmitted through your spine to allow something to move. (