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

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Behind Each Breath, an Underappreciated Muscle

Zimmer, Carl. "Behind Each Breath, an Underappreciated Muscle." The New York 
Times. The New York Times, 06 Apr. 2015. Web. 08 Apr. 2015. 

The article “Behind Each Breath, an Underappreciated Muscle” by Carl Zimmer largely focuses on the diaphragm, the muscle between the lungs and abdomen that allows mammals to breath efficiently and effectively. Zimmer starts the article with background on the diaphragm, mentioning that “the diaphragm delivers oxygen to us a dozen times… a minute, a half-billion times during an 80-year life.” Interestingly, all mammals possess this remarkable muscle, yet no other animal does. Instead, they find other, less efficient ways to breathe. By possessing a muscle as powerful as the diaphragm, mammals were able to grow into creatures with massive brains that survived only with the consistent, reliable flow of oxygen provided by the diaphragm. In essence, mammals could not be the creatures they are today without the steady use of the diaphragm. The article goes on to talk about how “one in every 2,500 babies is born with a hole in its diaphragm”, something that carries consequences of death or, at the very least, restricted breathing abilities, a discomforting illness that has pending consequences as the baby grows older. Attempting to diagnose how the hernias develop in babies, Zimmer interviewed a biologist at the University of Utah named Dr. Kardon who specializes in the area. Through their experiments on mice, Kardon and his colleagues determined how the diaphragm specifically develops and progresses as animals grow older, and that if GATA4, a harmful gene, is released/found in a mouse embryo, the mouse is born with a diaphragmatic hernia. Interestingly, a counterargument is then proposed by John J. Greer, another biologist, who disagrees with Kardon’s findings by arguing that most hernias occur “in the back left or right corners of the diaphragm… Dr. Kardon and her colleagues produced many hernias in the middle or front of the diaphragm of their mouse subjects.”
While this article’s practical relevance is not immediately evident, it is easily understood after doing some digging. Overall, the diaphragm is a muscle that we, as humans, could not survive without. 1 in 2,500 babies are plagued with a diaphragmatic hernia, a disability that impacts and limits the rest of their life. If we can begin to understand the diaphragm better, it is realistic to expect medical advances that could heal diaphragmatic hernias in children, which in turn would save the lives of millions. This includes doctors too, but it starts with biologists like Dr. Kardon and Mr. Greer, people who can aid doctors in the fight against this disease. In the end, much is still to be discovered about diaphragmatic hernias, but it is a problem that affects more people than one would initially think and is something that, if fully understood in the future, could result in a positive change in the medical world.

Overall, this article was written remarkably well. Zimmer explained each specific experiment Dr. Kardon performed in detail and still managed to keep the diction strong and succinct, making it an easy read but a powerful one too. Also, the author did a wonderful job incorporating quotes from each of the two biologists he interviewed, added sufficient backing to his original writing. Finally, the author did a good job giving enough context and background information to not confuse the reader. However, there was one main thing the author did that could be improved upon. When the author describes the evolution of the diaphragm, he does a good job explaining how it evolved in humans, yet fails to mention how that evolution affected other mammals or what the consequences could have been had the diaphragm not evolved the way it did. This simple piece of information could help bridge the gap between the background section of the article and the section relating to Dr. Kardon’s experiments, making the article even more understandable, relevant, and easy to read.

1 comment:

  1. Ethan wrote an excellent report on the article "Behind Each Breath, an Underappreciated Muscle." He did an amazing job in summarizing the complicated and information packed article, so that the reader could focus on the most important parts of Zimmer's work. I completely agree with his critique that the article could be improved if the author included information on the evolution and function of the diaphragm in other mammals because Zimmer mentions it, but doesn't thoroughly describe it, which interrupts the consistency and the flow of the piece. Ethan, unlike other students, managed to write a large and almost equal amount for each paragraph. Most students start with a large paragraph that details every aspect of the article, and then only includes a few sentences for the last two paragraphs. Ethan was able to write equally remarkable sections to meet each of the current event report criterions. From reading the article and the report, I learned about the importance of the diaphragm. Before reading this article, I never thought about how significant the muscle is and the complicated evolution it underwent in humans. From Ethan's report, I also learned about diaphragmatic hernias and how this serious birth defect affects thousands of children in the US. The only suggestion I have for this report is that I wish Ethan included information about how Dr. Kardon discovered how the diaphragm is created in humans because it was an important part of the article and her study. Overall, Ethan did an amazing and detailed job with his current event report.