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

Monday, May 26, 2014

Alex Londal
Bio Current Event

            On Thursday May 8th, I attended an event at Sarah Lawrence Collage called “The College Science Symposium”, a collection of posters regarding many different subjects.  Overall, I was surprised at how most of the posters had to do with either earth science or biology.  I saw things from proposed biking trails along the Bronx River to the link between BPA and prostate cancer.  It was a very informative event with a great variety of posters, and even a random drone flying around and hovering over people’s heads.  However, one of the posters really stood out to me.

            Saige Sunier made a presentation about the link of BPA to prostate cancer.   BPA is an artificial coating that is placed on plastics and discs, as well as many other common materials.  Years of extensive research have linked the two, although the FDA has not recognized it as a carcinogen.  However, it has been banned for being included in any baby product.  The University of Chicago has proven that the substance has induced a higher rating on the Gleason scale, which is a scale that measures the cancer rating in the body.  It also was shown to increase tumorous growths in cells, with a 20% chance of cancerous cells.  If a conclusive link can be formed, drug companies may be able to create a more effective treatment for the deadly disease.
            This study really hits home for me, as I hike and drink from Nalgene bottles, many of which contain BPA.  Also, the water bladder company Camelback uses BPA in creating their products.  These studies, which I will look into more in depth, may get me to take more care about what I am drinking out of.  All people who are outdoors hiking, skiing, or otherwise active should research this also.  Thank you Saige for notifying me of this incredibly harmful material. 

            Saige’s poster was well thought out, explaining what BPA is, how it is harmful, and how to identify what products they are in.  She had very credible sources and explained every thing in great detail.  She told me that she could have added more if not for the restrictions created by the size of the poster.  The only thing I thought she could do better is explain how the chemical really affects your cells and how it actually causes cancer.  Overall, Saige’s poster was incredibly well thought out and explained the link really well.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Blocking pain receptors extends lifespan, boosts metabolism in mice

Rachel Bothwell
Current event #2                                                                                            

"Blocking Pain Receptors Extends Lifespan, Boosts Metabolism in Mice." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 May 2014. Web. 25 May 2014.

There was a study done at the University of California, in Berkeley, about the fact that blocking the pain receptor in mice not only extends their lifespan, but also provides them with a more beneficial metabolism. The reason that scientists decided to do an experiment on blocking the pain receptors is chronic pain is known to shorten your life, and as you get older pain tends to increase. "Our findings suggest that pharmacological manipulation of TRPV1 and CGRP may improve metabolic health and longevity," said Dillin, who is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and the Thomas and Stacey Siebel Distinguished Chair in Stem Cell Research. TRPBI is a pain receptor and it stands for, transient receptor potential cation channel subfamily V member 1. One fact that I learned from this article is, that by constantly activating the pain receptor on a nerve cell, will cause the death of neurons. I also learned that mice lacking the capsaicin pain receptor live around 14 percent longer than normal mice; also they retain a more youthful metabolism as well.

This study is useful to society because it reveals a way that humans can stay healthy. This study is not just useful for relieving pain, but for improving lifespan and metabolic health, and in particular for treating diabetes and obesity. Therefore the article can help prevent people from getting diabetes and obesity. Also, this article mentions an anti-migraine drug that is on the market that inhibits a protein called CGRP,calcitonin gene-related peptide, which blocks insulin release, that is triggered by TRPV1. It results in similar effects to that caused by blocking TRPV1. Dillin revealed that when this drug was given to older mice it restored their metabolic health.

I enjoyed reading this article because it helped educate me on a topic I was not familiar with. I like how in the article they give an example about a food that people eat that has a capsaicin pain receptor, chili peppers. Therefore people can understand where this type of pain receptor can be found. Also, it was helpful that when there were any abbreviations they were explained.  Also, this article was very informative, and I was able to learn a lot. However, I felt that the article was repetitive and confusing at times.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Kathleen Conaton
Current Event #2

The MacGyver Cure for Cancer                                

David Walmer went on a volunteer mission to Haiti. He was sent to a hospital in a seaside town and was shocked by what he saw. Walmer, being a fertility specialist at Duke University, saw the local obstetrician-gynecologist names Jean-Claude Fertilien finishing a hysterectomy with the help of a flashlight, when the hospital generator wouldn’t start, or when an anesthesiologist wasn’t available for an emergency C-section. Walmer witnessed a women with undiagnosed cervical cancer go into septic shock and die right in front of him. In the US, cervical cancer is considered a preventable disease.

            In the U.S., screening for cervical cancer is typically done with Pap smears, a quick swab of a woman’s cervix to screen for cellular changes that foreshadow cancer. If abnormal cells are found, a doctor will usually perform a colposcopy, in which the cervix is examined using a specialized magnifying lens, a colposcope, to see if disease is visible. Cervical cancer used to be the top cancer killer among women before the 50’s and 60’s, when the Pap smears were invented. The mortality rate for cervical cancer is relatively low in the US. In developing countries it kills 250,000 women a year.

            David Walmers hope was to create a better way to look at the uterine lining. He bought a headlamp from a bike shop and a green filter from a camera store. That’s when it all began. At first Walmer's device was too uncomfortable and heavy. With the endless hours of work frustration rose and the project was set aside until Bob Malkin, a Duke professor and inventor suggested a new set of eyes look at the project. The students were game and the new colposcope was progressing. It would cost fewer than 750 dollars and help test for HPV. It could potentially end cervical cancer. Mother’s Day is approaching in Haiti, where some women wear flowers: red if your mother is living, white or purple if she is not. Family Health Ministries hopes to establish a new Mother’s Day tradition of cervical screening.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Pancreatic Cancer, Set to be 2nd deadliest Cancer by 2030

Pancreatic Cancer, Set to be 2nd deadliest Cancer by 2030
By Scott Purdy           

Pancreatic Cancer is set to be the second deadliest cancer, ahead of breast, colorectal, and prostrate by 2030, only behind lung cancer. There are multiple reasons for Pancreatic cancer becoming the second deadliest. One of these reasons is an aging population, Pancreatic, like most cancers increases in people that are older so this makes perfect sense. Another reason for the increase in Pancreatic cancer is how doctors/scientists handle it. Current there is an underfunding of Pancreatic cancer research no to mention that it is already hard to detect early. The underfunding is due to it not being so common and it is hard to detect early because there are very few symptoms of it. Also the disease starts spreading very early so it is very hard to contain early aswell, this obviously leads to an increase in deaths for this cancer. It was also discovered that breast, prostrate, and lung cancer will remain where the are today so that will not be changed for they are the top 3 cancers diagnosis- wise. However there is a bright side to all of this, for due to a law passed in 2013 states that the U.S. National Cancer institute must put a renewed focus on improving the diagnosis and treatment of intractable cancers such as pancreatic and lung. Overall for most cancers the death rate is going down, but with the intractable nature and insufficient funding the rate will go up for pancreatic cancer.

            This is big when it comes to the real world for it means that people in general will have to check for pancreatic cancer more although it is virtually undetectable at the start and spreads quickly.  This means the generations to come including mine (I will be 32 in 2030) will have to deal with this cancer and just hope not to get it. This type of cancer hits everyone home due to the death of Steve Jobs, the owner of Apple, and must have raised a lot of awareness for pancreatic cancer although as of right now not much can be done. Hopefully the funding increases and the increase in Pancreatic cancer deaths will not be as big as expected for that will effect me directly for I will be old enough to be somewhat at risk.

            Overall I thought this article was very informative to me. It gave accurate reasons for why there will be an increase in Pancreatic cancer and was clear and understandable. I thought they could have added a little bit on why cancer in general is going down and more importantly I think they definitely could have added more about Steve Jobs’ death and how it affected the funding/research of pancreatic cancer. It was interesting how they did a little explanation of the other deadly cancers and reasons on why they went down.  Overall this is a really good and interesting article that may affect me in the future.

A Theory on How Flightless Birds Spread Across the World: They Flew There

A Theory on How Flightless Birds Spread Across the World: They Flew There
Caroline Dent

This article, written by Carl Zimmer of the New York Times, is about questioning ideas and discoveries of the past.
The article is about an extinct animal called an Elephant Bird. It was the heaviest bird species that have ever lived, weighing up to 600 pound and being almost 9 feet tall. It also, due to its monstrous size, had wings but could not fly. These creatures are generally unknown to scientists, but it can be assumed that they went extinct when earth became human- dominated. A special interest was put into these birds, because they were such an enigma to all people. Until more recently, the only information they could find of these birds was from bones and fragments of their eggshells, and now they have done a more extensive study on the DNA of these birds. From these tests they discovered that the closest living relative of the elephant bird was a 6- pound bird called the Kiwi bird that lives 7,000 miles away in New Zealand, and it made people even more curious about the elephant bird and all flightless birds, or ratites. They are spread out on different continents and the cause was assumed to be because of the continental drift, that is, until recently. Scientists, especially a scientist named Dr. Cooper, have gone farther into looking into the DNA of ratites, especially the elephant bird and another extinct bird called a Moa. When DNA was from the moa was found, it became clear that the closest living relative of a Moa bird was a bird, called a tinamou, and was a flying bird, as opposed to a ratite. This new information made scientist wonder if it is possible that all flightless birds were once able to fly and they lost the ability through evolution. With the new technology scientists were able to learn that the elephant bird when extinct 50 million years ago, and the continent was already separated at that time. Then, it became clear that there is no way to get from Madagascar, the home of the Elephant Bird, to New Zealand without flying over an ocean, disproving the theory of continental drift, for this particular case, and making people think that elephant birds also evolved from birds that used to be able to fly.
This is relevant to today because of how new technology is able to advance science. With new discoveries, theories that were thought to be true are proven in correct and what people think of the world becomes more accurate. It allows people to have a better understanding of what is happening and it lets science become more and more correct as time goes on.
This article was very good because it gave a thorough amount of background information and it explained everything very clearly. The only issue I had with it was it was more about the information side of it rather than the actual science side. Still, the article was very interesting.

Zimmer, Carl. "A Theory on How Flightless Birds Spread Across the World: They Flew There." The New York Times. The New York Times, 22 May 2014. Web. 22 May 2014.

Study Sees Bigger Role for Placneta in Newborns' Health

Grady, Denise. "Study Sees Bigger Role for Placenta in Newborns’ Health." The New York Times. The New York Times, 21 May 2014. Web. 23 May 2014. <>.

            Scientists have been studying the effect of the placenta on babies. If there are the wrong bacteria in the placenta the baby may be premature. The causes of this include periodontal disease and urinary infections. However, scientists are finding the bacteria in the placenta are important to the development of the fetus. A theory is babies born by a cesarean are not exposed to the bacteria in the birth canal. The placenta provides oxygen and nutrients, secretes hormones, and removes waste. Scientists are amazed at the placenta. It is the only organ that the human body creates a totally new one and then discards it. Scientists believe all the bacteria in babies were acquired during birth. However, babies are born covered in a wax to try and prevent bacteria getting to the baby. Researchers collected placentas to study the bacteria inside. About 300 different types of bacteria were inside, most harmless. The closest match with the body was between the mouth and the placenta. The oral bacteria get in the mother’s bloodstream and make its way to the placenta. Therefore women with periodontal disease tend to have premature babies.

            In modern day a pregnant woman can schedule a cesarean section to prevent an unsafe delivery. However, how do we know if a harsh delivery is worse than the baby not being exposed to the bacteria in the birth canal? Scientists will have to study which one affects the baby more. In other words can one form of delivery cause longer term issues to the baby. I was born with a muscle issue in my neck. This was made worse during a normal delivery. Could a cesarean section have made my issue better or worse? I wonder if this would change anything about me today.

            This article described the role of the placenta clearly and understandable. However, when they talked about the oral bacteria making its way to the placenta they never offered how to help this. They should have described how scientists today are trying to help solve this issue. I thought it was smart to show the different types of theories scientists have about where the bacteria in babies comes from. I also enjoyed how scientists admitted they are intrigued by the placenta and still don’t know so much about it. Lastly I think they could have explained the experiment they did more in depth. I didn’t quite understand what they found from it and how it helped scientists advance.

Artist Creates Faces From DNA Left in Public

Angley, Natalie. "Artist Creates Faces from DNA Left in Public." CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 23 May 2014. <>.

Current Event
Celia Haims
5. 23. 2014

This article is about a New York artist, named Heather Dewey-Hagborg, who collects things like, cigarette butts and hairs that she finds in public places. Dewey-Hagborg then takes her samples to Genspace, a community biotechnology lab in Brooklyn, and removes the DNA from the saliva on the end of a cigarette. She practices a “standard DNA extraction protocol to mine the DNA, purify it and use it in polymerase chain reactions.” Once the DNA is pure, Dewey-Hagborg uses the stranger’s DNA for her project, which she calls “Stranger Visions”. Dewey-Hagborg creates 3D faces of what the person would look like, depending on the genes in the stranger’s DNA. Dewey-Hagborg explains that, "From a cigarette butt, I can learn where someone's ancestors likely came from, their gender, eye color, hair color, complexion, freckles, their tendency to be overweight and a handful of dimensions of the face as well with a certain likelihood.” After the sequencing information of the DNA has been retrieved, Dewey-Hagborg inserts it into her computer to begin the process of creating a 3D model of a face, which takes around 8 hours to complete. When the face is first produced it is described as, “What looks like a block of powder,” The face is then, “dug out, baked and hardened with a superglue-like substance.” Dewey-Hagborg explains that the faces will not be exact replicas of the stranger, “They'll have things in common with the person, but they won't look exactly like the person," especially since Dewey-Hagborg is unable to detect the age of the stranger, so all of the faces look around 30 years old.
This article is very relevant today because it increases people’s awareness of privacy issues. When I first read this article I felt a little bit violated because I did not want another person create a 3D model based off of my DNA. However towards the end of the article, it explains that, Dewey-Hagborg understands that some people could consider the 3D faces to be a disturbance of privacy, however, “That's also the point. She wants her work to raise questions about genetic surveillance and privacy issues . . . it's meant to make you aware of these issues and make you aware that this is possible."
I really enjoyed reading this article even though it was very unsettling. It really brought to my attention how much knowledge can be deciphered about another person by decoding their DNA. As I was reading the article I noticed that Heather Dewey-Hagborg could create different variations of the faces with the genes from the DNA and I wondered if these multiple combinations of faces had to do with the crossing over of chromosomes, which we learned about in class. I liked how this article incorporated a lot of dialogue with Heather Dewey-Hagborg because it was interesting to hear that she began this project because of the privacy issues that are present in our world today. I thought one of the main strengths in this article that was at the top of the page because it really showed the reader what the 3D faces looked like. I think the author could have done a better job to explain the technical process of how Dewey-Hagborg removes the DNA from a cigarette butt because the way the author explained it was confusing. Overall, I really enjoyed reading this article and found it extremely fascinating.

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