Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Bit of a Personal Rant.

As I've made known, I'm an avid follower of Dr. Isis and her latest post was not one that I hadn't previously read from Adventures in Ethics and Science. Well I guess I'm at fault of "skimming and not really reading" Ethics and Science. But I do read On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess and she told me to re-read Ethics so I did. And...REALLY? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Protesters targeting the local school where Dario Ringach's children attend to "expose the other students what their father does for a living?"

Have people lost their minds? According to Dr. Free-Ride, protesters have showed up at Ringach's home in masks at night traumatizing his family. I couldn't find how old his children are but can you image (if they're younger) the damage this could have emotionally, mentally and socially on his children? How is targeting one man's entire family for what they believe to be "corrupt action on HIS part" not equally brutal and gruesome? They refer to the primates as "innocent beings..." HELLO?! Are CHILDREN NOT innocent beings?!

Sober up!

The big 21. Traditionally, youths turning 21 in our nation enjoy having a little fun once they reach the legal age. Unfortunately, sometimes we go a little too far and need to sober up.

That didn’t happen for me. In fact, nothing happened at all; I completely missed my 21st. I was so busy studying for two exams, writing a paper, and finishing a lab report that I worked right through mine. I didn’t catch on until two days later when I checked my mail and found the birthday card from my mom:
Why did my mom send me a…oh.

Intent on rectifying this on my 22nd, I realized I would need a way to sober up quick to be ready to help run the sign-in at a high school math competition at 8AM the next morning.
I was wracking my brains, and then five minutes ago, I remembered the Sober Up Techniques episode of Mythbusters.

We’ve all had an occasion where we need to sober up. But what is the best way?  Is this it?  Have I found the magic bullet?

Unfortunately, if I’m remembering correctly, this wasn’t the best method. I guess I’m stuck with black coffee.

Science is fun again.

Well as I sit here with yet another case of insomnia, I was trying to think of something interesting that I have seen lately that has something to do with science. The other day I was browsing through YouTube and found a few videos from a group called Household Hacker. One of the posters for this channel does videos every Tuesday that has something to do with science. The videos generally show a simple science experiment that can be done by any one with simple household materials. Now most of these videos seem to be aimed at a younger audience, but if it gets people interested in some sort of science i guess it is good. I found this one kind of entertaining so check it out and check out some of their other videos.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Polar Bears like to play

Finding a video about something interesting in science was kind of challenging for me. So when all else fails I like to research my high school mascot the polar bear. Polar bears are large creatures that appear very scary. How scary can these somewhat cute animals be? Well it depends if your a husky trying to have some fun with a large bear. When I saw this video it was unbelievable.

Avian Flu Concerns

After learning about an disease called Q fever in microbiology this past weak, the topic of virulence and pathogenicity arose. Some people believe the two words are synonymous, but in fact they have two different meanings. Pathogenecity is how well the disease can be spread, while virulence is how much damage the the disease can cause.For example, the recent outbreak in swine flu. Swine flu was very pathogenic and spread between millions and millions of people, whereas the virulence of swine flu was very low. The avian flu on the other hand is just the opposite of the swine flu. The avian flu is very virulent when it infects humans, but the avian flu was not as widespread as the swine flu. The avian flu is a zoonotic disease that was first spotted in Hong Kong in 1997. The avian flu is gaining more attention because it is very potent and brings a high mortality rate to those who become infected.  Current outbreaks in Southeast China has led to widespread culling of birds. The avian flu also known as H5N1 is becoming more widespread and can be found throughout Europe and Africa. From 2003 to 2008 the highly pathogenic H5N1 has infected nearly 400 humans. Although the avian flu has not been spotted in domestic or wild poultry, the Center for Disease Control is worried a pandemic may be nearing. If the avian flu evolves and becomes more virulent, the  flu can become more widespread and more dangerous. Of the 400 people that have been infected with H5N1, nearly 60% of them have died. Those most at risk are poultry farmers, travelers, and people who may consume uncooked meat from infected birds. Some symptoms include a high fever,headaches, diarrhea and trouble breathing. A vaccine is being developed that can be deployed if the avian flu becomes more pathogenic and spreads from animals to humans more easily.

Monday, February 22, 2010


An article in The Chronicle Telegram (a local paper for northeast Ohio) had an article in Sunday’s paper titled, “The ethics of paring genes.” Naturally, my mom cut the article out and mailed it to me…she’s good at mailing anything with the word gene in it.

In summary, the article is exposing the recent rise in genetic testing as part of routine prenatal studies and how it’s almost eradicating many inherited diseases like Tay-Sach’s, dysautonomia and cystic fibrosis.

Marilynn Marchione, the author, looks at many numbers—the number of babies born with these diseases, percentages of decreases, amount of couples being tested. One huge factor she stumbles on (really it’s a minor note in the article) is screening embryos. I’d never heard of this and a description in the article is lacking (that’s issue #2) so I did some research. In-vitro fertilization is performed and when the embryo reaches the eight-cell mark, a single cell is removed and the DNA analyzed. If one or more disease-associated genetic alteration is found, that embryo is terminated. Only embryos without mutations are implanted into the womb. In some rare cases, individuals who choose to screen decide to go “all-out” choosing not only a mutation-free embryo but also one with a particular hair or eye color. Legal? Yes. Ethical?... Marchione briefly mentions eugenics and selective breeding after addressing “hot button issues” like abortion and embryo destruction which she returns to later in the article. But not eugenics. Not only does she not revert back to it later, she never describes what it is, so here goes: eugenics is the study or belief in a master race; undergoing “…measures to improve the innate humankind…solv[ing] the problems which face our species” as the Future Generations website claims. But is it right? Sure, eradicating diseases like cystic fibrosis and thalassemia may be a good thing but a “master race?” Improving future generations through genetic screening for higher intelligence and moral character? Can you screen for that? Regardless, is it ethical to select for particular traits, say, blond hair + blue eyes (shameful Hitler reference, sorry). I think Dr. Barron Lerner, a Columbia University medical historian hit the nail on the head: “If a society is so willing to screen aggressively to find these genes and then to potentially to have abort the fetuses, what does that say about the value of the lives of those people living with the disease?”

My mom highlighted a number of things in the articles and sticky-noted questions she had. Most of her questions asked what the author was talking about—genetic testing and embryo screening, which had little to no description of how these procedures were being done. At the very end, my clever madre stickey-noted, “wouldn’t there just be different mutations later on?” STOP. THINK. If the world eradicated the aforementioned inherited diseases, would there just be different, potentially worse mutations later on? Better yet, how would we test for them? Are we selecting for a master race or a race of potentially worse, undetectable mutations? What is considered a mutation worthy of abortion?

Looking at a personal example: Red hair. There’s less than 5% of natural redheads left in the world. Perhaps it’s our higher rate of anemia (losing iron to our hair?) or the need for a higher dose of anesthesia (survival of the fittest)? Regardless, in 2005, many scientists believed that by 2100 a natural redhead would be hard to come-by, if not extinct. UNTIL eugenics. Selecting for red hair? Selecting for anemia? I’m not saying I agree or disagree with this process. Eradicating inherited diseases sounds great but will it have more horrible consequences? Better yet, are we selecting for things without knowing how they’ll effect society as a whole? Will the world end up Blond haired and blue eyed like Hitler wanted?


The Wonders of Caves

Last week I had received an invitation to go to the longest cave system in the world: Mammoth Cave in Kentucky (too bad it's for after spring break). The invite was not for one of those dismal tours (sorry, I'm biased now) where you walk along man-made paths and view the small, tight, and dark places you cannot go, but it was for the Wild Cave Tour. I went on the Wild Cave Tour two times last summer. It was, hands down, the most amazing thing I have ever done (I'm still upset that I'm not able to go again in March...). This tour, unlike the others, actually takes you into the depths of the cave. The tour guide takes you on a 6 hour, 6 mile tour through the depths of the cave. Luckily they supply you with hard hats, lights, and knee pads because for the majority of the tour, you are on your hands and knees crawling through tight spaces, dirt, and water. However, if you are claustrophobic or have a fear of heights, I would not recommend it.

Caves are such an interesting part of our world. Some can be totally dry and some can be totally full of water. Some also have streams, some have large rooms, and some are just tunnels. They are certainly fascinating. In a way, I like to think of them as the universe we are able to explore. They house many different types of creatures (although I'm not fond of the large cave crickets) that can be sorted into three different categories. The three categories are Troglobites (permanent cave dwellers), Troglophiles (live in the cave and on the surface), and Trogloxenes (cave visitors). There are some Troglobites such as the Calcina cloughensis (a spider), that are unique to only one cave in the world (1). Certain millipedes and spiders can be classified as Troglophiles. More recently, bats (which are Trogloxenes) have been falling victim to a vicious killer known as the white-nose syndrome. This gives bats white noses, as the name suggests. The fungus actually makes them behave abnormally. It has been said that they hunt during the cold winter and fly during the day. This is when most of their food is not available, thus probably being a cause for death. This disease is actually threatening bats; when the disease hits, it strikes hard. Approximately 90-100 percent of the bats that are in hibernation with this disease die (2).

You may be wondering if going into the depths of the cave can actually be bad for the creatures. Well, in reality it is. However, the tour guides do a wonderful job of letting people know where to walk and where not to walk. For example, there was some water we were able to walk through, but they did take us near water that was not allowed to be touched due to the unique species living in the water. The guides even ask people who may have been to other caves that have the white-nose syndrome to not go on the trip. As of now, Mammoth Cave bats do not have the syndrome that is killing their relatives. I think that in situations like that, people respect where they are. The guides also love the environment they are in and I think that if their system did not work, they probably would not still have the tour. It normally seems like people don't have respect for their environment until they see it hands-on.

Anyway, I found a cave diving video that I think is really cool. I want to see the entire episode!  If you're a BBC fan, I think you'll enjoy it.

If you want more information on the biology of caves or the white-nose syndrome, check out:



Look At That Tongue!

I. Hate. Butterflies.

I know it sounds crazy because what American-born female hates butterflies but keep in mind I'm a biology major and Ashland requires you take zoology (or botany) and this is forever my image of butterflies:

What you're looking at is a scanning electron microscope image of a pyralidae moth. Moths and butterflies belong to the order Lepidoptera meaning their wings are covered with scales.(1) Both have similar physical appearance and life cycles, however moths are more active at night, typically more boring in color and tapered, straight antennae.

Almost all Lepidoptera have the coiled proboscis (seen above) as a feeding mechanism. The tube extends into the flower for sucking up nectar and is controlled by a sac inside the head. Through contraction and expansion (similar to the human diaphragm) the butterfly can suck up nectar.

If I hate them so much why am I researching them? Because Observations of a Nerd tackle my intrigue. A recent post as can be seen at the link at the bottom addressed the parasitic wasp, which if anyone reading this was in Evolution you'd know Dr. Greene made quite the to do over them. These wasps lay their eggs inside other animals which then hatch and grow, feeding on the host from the inside out. Finally, like something from alien they burst out of the host to go spread their evil. Two particular species mentioned Trichogramma brassicae and Trichogramma evanescens smell the chemicals used during butterfly mating to stalk and murder their prey. Butterflies secrete chemicals during mating to ward off other males from a recently impregnated female. These wasps sense those chemicals and stalk the butterflies to their egg location where they attack. The most amazing part is that they stalk so incredibly closely. They actually climb aboard the disgusting mouthparts of the butterfly and ride with them to their egg-stash. Clever little "spies" as they're popularly called. I guess it doesn't pay to have a long gangly-tongue?


Saunas: good or bad?

After pumping iron, I love to cool down with a few laps in the pool and end with relaxing in the hot tub. Last time though, my friend convinced me to give the sauna a try. At first, I didn’t want to since I was hungry and wanted to just go hit Subway, but when he said “You’ll feel like a million bucks in the morning” I was sold.

Fast forward by fifteen minutes. There I was, sweating my Charlie Browns off. As my eyes started to feel like eggs frying on the sidewalk, I started wondering what possible benefit this legalized torture could possibly have. That was when I decided that I would use my fourth blog post to get some answers. Which was difficult to do, since the next morning I had a massive migraine. I blame the sauna.

First, I tried Youtube and found this subtly creepy video about sauna health benefits.

All he mentioned was that saunas are good for people with Arthritis and your immune system.
Since that wasn’t much help, I kept searching. Then I found this website by the North American Sauna Society.

They mention these health benefits:
  • Improved circulation
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular health (gives your heart a mini-workout)
  • Increased resistance to illness
  • Relieves congestion
  • Removes toxins and impurities
  • Reduces pain from sunburn
  • Relieves tension, stress, and mental fatigue
  • Better and more restful sleep
  • Burns calories
  • Maintains clear and healthy skin
  • Helps with kidney function

You should avoid using the sauna if you have any of these complications:
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Asthma
  • Skin condition
  • Running a fever
  • Inflammatory disease
  • An injury
  • Contagious disease

Other notes:
  • Moderate sauna use is safe for pregnant women
  • Sauna use will not cure a hangover (damnit!)

Well, that’s all I found. I see why people use the sauna now, but I think I prefer the hot tub, thanks.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The History of Denialism

Denialism is something that has been going on in science since the beginning of recorded history. The ridiculous part is that denialism isn't just towards science. It is towards politics, disease, and even events of war. Scientists used to be considered heretics by the denialists and were made martyrs to try and prevent future findings of science, but science prevailed.

Even if there is sufficient data and facts to back up scientific findings there will always be people who will deny these facts.

One thing about science though is the backing that it has, or lack of backing that it has. With all the scientific publications and resources out there how can the general population not believe the facts. Sometimes in life and in science its not what you know, but who you know. A perfect example of this is the O.J. Simpson trial. Honestly how many people think that he is innocent. But O.J. did have a good backing team consisting of a very good legal team.The moral to this story is that even if something is the truth people sill still believe what they want to believe.

So back to science now.

One of the unfortunate things about the time we are living in is that if there is something that has facts or proof behind it, there will always be another person out there to try and disprove these facts. One of the bad things about denialism is that we as scientist use probabilities and statistics to achieve our final conclusions in a certain subject, but the denialists will try to find a loophole in any statistical data. It may be that this statistical method is insufficient compared to this one...blah blah bla, but in my opinion a fact is a fact.

One way that scientists have recently tried to communicate our findings is through not only the Internet, but also through television. A prime example of this is Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Now if you don't know much about Dr. Gupta he is an medical correspondent for CNN news and a general neurosurgeon. I'm not sure if any of you have ever seen any of the shows that this guy has been on, but he generally reports the facts on the particular issue at hand during the time of the report, but he is continually criticized by not only the public, but other journalists criticize him for oversimplifying subjects even though it is one of the few ways that the general population can understand the subject.
I think one of the best ways to communicate science without all the denialism is to get a trustworthy spokesperson which hundreds of activist groups and government agencies have succeeded in doing. If the scientific community could get an actor or high profile musician to work with us that the denialists could understand and trust, it would be a great leap towards the proper communication of the facts to the general population without all the criticizing and denial of all the proof.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Denialism or Insanity

  Denialism or "disbelief" is where you will not accept what is reality. Denialism plays a major role in science because some people believe that scientifically proven data is incorrect. For instance, not accepting a vaccination that can help prevent women from contracting a virus that has been proven to lead to cervical cancer.So why wouldn't people vaccinate their young girls? Is it because they don't love them? Or is it because they have heard  that the vaccine may cause some unfavorable, non-life threatening side effects?  There is a fine line between denying something and just being irrational or irresponsible. In my opinion from living around non science majors, people just don't want to hear the facts about science. People will hear one side of the story and not listen to the other side. As human beings this is natural for us. Everyone has heard something that they believed was true, but it turned out to be false. The feeling that you get when someone says no you are wrong leaves a sour taste. No one wants to be proven wrong. People just ignore facts and think irrationally to make their situation better for themselves. As with the two Ivy league schools that watched controversial calls in a rivalry game, each college favored the calls that helped their team the most. People believe what is convenient for them and not always what is true. Whether its denialism or irrationality, people can be stubborn and accept what they have heard as truth even when data clearly shows their truth is inaccurate.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Denialism and Global Warming

Denialism: Choosing to deny a reality that has been proven by an overwhelming amount of empirically verifiable data, for political, personal, or religious reasons, or as a defense mechanism against an uncomfortable truth.
- Wikipedia

The topic this week in our Biology Senior Seminar course is Denialism. More specifically, Science Denialism. As the all-knowing Wikipedia stated, this is when the obvious truth, supported by evidence, is ignored or deemed false for a variety of reasons, or as a natural defense mechanism against what makes us uncomfortable.

Many days went by as I tried to think of something to post that would address the topic of Science Denialism. Then Friday night rolled around and I took the night off at my favorite pub. Around four in the afternoon on Saturday, I felt up to the task of doing deep thinking and research again.
Unfortunately, I got sidetracked because my car was barely visible under all the snow from the past two snowstorms. Since I’m not dumb enough to drive to/from the pub (I walk instead), multiple snow plows to clear the parking lot had all but buried my poor car.
As I went to work with nothing but my window scraper to aid me, I realized just how much time and effort it was going to take to free my car. An hour later and deeply annoyed, I wondered aloud, “I thought Al Gore said it was supposed to be getting WARMER!
That was when I realized I had found the topic for my third blog post:
The Denialism of Global Warming.

I admit that, up to about two years ago, I too thought that Global Warming was just a bleeding-heart scare tactic cooked up by the Hippies. And movies I couldn’t stand such as An Inconvenient Truth, when viewed alongside stats about Al Gore’s house, didn’t help their case in my mind. Then about two years ago, I actually started looking at the scientific evidence for Global Warming, and was reeling in shock. I mean, 677079 pieces of evidence? My entire world was shattered – why had I not listened to the wise scientists, when I myself aspired to be one?

One aspect of the Science Denialism problem that I see constantly is that our society is VERY divided on the issue of science. There is a group of people out there who absolutely refuse to listen to scientists or scientific reasoning. One group sees science as a group of people diligently working on ways to help improve and explain parts of everyday life. The other group sees science as an evil group of corporations and government agents working with crazed, labcoat-wearing loonies who delight in abusing animals and stabbing us with sharp syringes.
The first group views scientists and their work as helpful to the general welfare of mankind (see Jonas Salk).
The other group sees scientists as soulless fiends hell-bent on destroying the world along with everything we hold dear, and scientific ideas as immoral doctrines of evil (see the controversy around genetically modified foods).

Needless to say, the first group openly accepts science, while the second group vehemently rejects and opposes it.

The problem of Science Denialism comes in when we refuse to listen to EVERYTHING scientists are saying solely because we disagree with them about ONE thing they say. Take my example: Since I believed Al Gore to be a hypocrite and saw An Inconvenient Truth as his accidental claim to fame, I immediately dismissed everything he was associated with (such as Global Warming) as a crock.

The best way to correct Science Denialism is to explain the benefits of science in a way anyone can understand. That is, after all, one of the reasons we started this blog in the first place: to communicate what science has to offer to the common net-surfer. People won’t freak out as much about science if we communicate its ideas in an effective way. By making it more easily accessible and understandable, it won’t be as scary to people who oppose it as some faceless evil that must be fought and destroyed. And we should also put some effort into having a credible spokesperson, too.

The best way to communicate science effectively would be to follow this handy list:
  1. Use popular media (such as blogs or Wikipedia) to discuss and explain scientific facts, history, and concepts. Ever since we started our blogs, I found that I enjoy reading them more and more. And the more I read, the more I learn. For me, blogs are a treasure-trove of untapped scientific news and information. If we keep science to ourselves, locked away in the Ivory Tower, no wonder people know nothing about it. And what we know little about, we fear and reject. We avoid the dark, scary basement…until we turn on the light and realize it is very beneficial to go down there (especially if we have three weeks of laundry to do that we ignored).
  2. Use recognizable, trustworthy spokesmen to make the personal study of science more acceptable. Who would you believe when told how great the pursuit of scientific knowledge is: Adolf Hitler or LeBron James? Paris Hilton or Steven Hawking? I’m an avid fan of Mythbusters (When in doubt, C-4…because if it’s worth doing, it’s worth OVERdoing). Did you see the episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air where Will raps the Table of Elements? I thought it was the coolest thing ever; my mom had to hide my dad’s Periodic Table until I stopped mimicking that scene (she was not amused…and still worries about me to this day). And if Angelina Jolie says to look into Polymerase Chain Reactions, you can bet your house, your dog, and your car that by the end of the month I’ll know more than you would ever want to know about it.

Displaying and explaining scientific information and ideas in a common area where everyone can participate, rather than only amongst ourselves, will make science more understandable and accessible.

Seeing a familiar, trustworthy face promote science will allow us to accept scientific ideas as common and good, rather than out-of-place and suspicious.

Combine the two, and we’ll see more people embracing science instead of trying to throw it away.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Oh the Agony of Waiting...

While staring out the window and watching the snow pile up (and dreaming of graduation), I was reminded of an episode of South Park where Cartman can't wait for the new Nintendo Wii game system to come out. He has to wait a whole 3 weeks (while we have to wait a whole 3 months) for the Wii to come out. The Wii (and the new Super Mario Bros. Wii game) has been a necessity in my life recently so I can understand his anticipation. However, as much as Cartman wanted to avoid those 3 weeks (and I these next 3 months), I don't think freezing himself was the best choice, but it is a cool concept.

Cryonics, which deals with the preservation of organisms, has been featured in many movies and television shows. However, they do not do the topic justice. Cryonics could one day lead to human hibernation or suspended animation. This would mean that humans would be able to travel to the depths of outer space and still live to tell the tale 50 years later. By freezing a live person, all of their metabolic processes would come to a halt, meaning that they would be preserved and would barely age. One website claims to be on the way of suspended animation, which Cartman would be happy to hear about. I will let people decide the legitimacy of this for themselves.

Cryonics can also be used to preserve people who have just passed away in hopes of reviving them later in the future when immortality or a cure for the disease they had is found. A recent article states that one institute already has 94 people who have been frozen in hopes of coming back to life. However, as great as cryonics may sound, I have many concerns. First of all, extreme freezing can damage cells. This, as you can imagine, would not be good for human hibernation. It could actually kill the person. Secondly, if the person has passed away and was frozen because they had high hopes of immortality being discovered, they would probably regret their decision. I know immortality seems like the best thing in the world because it gives you more time to live life, but think about it. If everyone on earth were to have immortality, the earth's population would rapidly increase, which we all know would be mass chaos. I know I wouldn't be able to deal with it. Personally, I like my bubble. It could however, provide a great tool for astronauts who wish to explore the vast universe we call home. Cryonics would be an amazing asset to science. Just imagine the possibilities! As for now though, I think I'll keep pushing through these next 3 months while watching Cartman struggle for his Wii.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Am I crying yet?

This past week Observation of a Nerd posted a blog about Botox. Considering that I have a mother reaching a particular age (that I won’t mention here, you’re welcome, mom) and she’s been rambling about getting a face-lift and not being able to afford it “like those rich celebrities” yada yada, I decided to read it before “mark[ing] as read.” Apparently Botox, by altering the muscles in your face that control frowning can help manipulate your emotions.

Botox is a prescription medicine; it is a purified protein that temporarily improves the look of moderate-to-severe frown lines between the brows. It is administered through a nonsurgical treatment: injections directly into the muscles between the brows. It works by blocking nerve impulses to the injected muscle which prevents activity that causes persistent lines to form. Regardless of whether or not my mom has wrinkles or needs this, mind you is of lesser importance. The experiment however, was incredible. What these scientists did was give randomly chosen participants (at their will) different sentences to spark reactions—sad, angry and happy, to which they measured reaction times. They then gave them Botox treatments and did the same. Apparently, when reading the happy sentences the reaction times did not vary, however sad or angry comments showed a slower reaction time. While it is common that Botox prevents muscular action (as is the point) could it be true that it alters emotional reactions as well. Further, is this a bad thing? I guess the bigger problem is as follows: your reactions are delayed because your muscles are temporarily paralyzed. So you got your Botox, looking 27, working it down the street and a psycho pulls a gun on you. Are you so enthralled with your lack of facial abilities to realize you’re in danger and react properly? (Assuming your firm, youthful new face doesn’t immediately sway your attacker, that is). Rather, a child being kidnapped in your witness…and you don’t realize the danger in the situation until much later. I realize these scenarios may be extreme but who’s to say that’s not the case? Is it worth putting mental functionality on hold to look 23? I don’t think so. I guess I’m “too young” to understand but I don’t see the necessity in injecting your face (of all places!) with something to paralyze your muscles and slow reaction times. I’ll probably re-visit this opinion in about 20 years; let’s see how I react then.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The genetics of cancer

“Is cancer passed down through our genes?
If a relative has cancer, is my risk of getting cancer any higher?
If it is genetic, and I get cancer, what are the chances that I will pass it on?
Are there any tests out there for these things?”

These are all questions I found myself wondering last weekend as I worked on capsule slides in the Microbiology lab, while all the cool kids were out getting wasted.

That was when I realized I had found the topic of my second blog post for Senior Seminar.
I also realized I could really use a liquid cocaine shot.

So I started searching for answers as the snow began to pour down outside.

According to this informative website by the National Cancer Institute, “all cancer is genetic”.
What they mean by that is that all cancer arises from mutations in DNA, or altered genes. When the genes that regulate and control a cell are messed up, the cell is unable to stop replicating. It takes many steps, but if subsequent mutations occur and certain conditions are met, the cancerous cell will progress from normal, to malignant (dangerous), to metastatic (spreading).

Cancer usually arises in a single cell. The cell's progress from normal to malignant to metastatic appears to involve a series of distinct changes in the tumor and its immediate environment, and each is influenced by different sets of genes.”[1]

But disease inheritance is very complex. Altered or damaged genes do not always get expressed in harmful ways. Different mutations, or the same mutation at different locations, will have different effects. Some will be expressed by severe symptoms, some as mild symptoms, and others will not be expressed at all.

As it turns out, cancer can be passed down if that specific damaged or mutated gene (disease-linked gene) gets passed on. If careful records are kept, a family tree mapping the expression of the disease-linked gene can be constructed. This is helpful in determining your chances of inheriting a disease-linked gene.

The good news is, most cancer is NOT inherited.
Even though all cancer is genetic, just a small portion--perhaps 5 or 10 percent--is inherited.” [1]

This means that out of ten breast cancer patients, only one of them may have a known inherited factor. The other nine also have cancer, but due to unknown factors that are not inherited.

The Human Genome Project has successfully mapped the chemical bases of all 25,000 genes, as well as the spaces between them.
This information can be used to determine where gene mutations occur in specific diseases.”[1]
For example, here is a chart of disease-linked genes located along the X chromosome.

With Microarray analysis, complete patterns of gene activity can be captured.
A DNA microarray is a thin-sized chip that has been spotted at fixed locations with thousands of single-stranded DNA fragments corresponding to various genes of interest. A single microarray may contain 10,000 or more spots, each containing pieces of DNA from a different gene. Fluorescent-labeled probe DNA fragments are added to ask if there are any places on the microarray where the probe strands can match and bind.” [1]

I also found that genetic tests for a wide array of disorders, not just cancer, are already widely used. For instance, newborn babies are commonly screened for a variety of disorders with genetic tests.

There are three different genetic test methods:
  1. Chromosome test – detect changes to whole chromosomes.
  2. DNA test – examine short stretches of DNA within genes.
  3. Protein test – look for protein products of genes.

The only downside to genetic testing is that they find mutations, not the disease itself.
For instance, having an altered gene may increase your chances of getting the disease, but that does not mean that you absolutely, positively WILL develop that disease. It is entirely possible that you will live the rest of your life without ever developing that disease, while someone with a non-altered gene does develop it.
If all I did was confuse you more, this slide may help.

All my questions had been answered.
Since alcohol is banned in the dorms, I celebrated by slamming back a glass of Ocean Spray’s Cran-Grape juice and went to bed.

{For the original slideshow by the National Cancer Institute (where I got this information), click here.}

[1] National Cancer Institute website.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Legal or Illegal that is the question.

Well I guess there isn't much introduction necessary for the blogs since most of the former posters took care of that, but my name is Zach and I am a senior at Ashland University and I am a toxicology major. At first I was having some difficulty coming up with what to make this first post about. Well I finally thought of something that has been a huge question for many people in the U.S. over the past decade or so. Should marijuana be legal or not?
I mean don't get me wrong I have never been a user of drugs and don't ever want to be, but I do know many people who used marijuana and many people who still do use marijuana not just as a recreational drug, but also as a medical drug. I do not condone the use of drugs in any way at all, but for some people this is the only way to relieve some common health issues. Currently there are 14 states that allow the use of medical marijuana and 2 states that have passed laws that favor the use of medical marijuana. Statistically marijuana is one of the safest drugs to use and helps relieve symptoms of many common medical problems such as glaucoma, pain relief, and has shown to be beneficial in the treatment of MS and depression.
Back to the point of marijuana being safe, in 2006 there were 0 reported deaths due to the use of marijuana, and as far as some browsing that I have done on the Internet 0 cases of overdose on marijuana. So that being said, the big question is should this be legal giving all the benefits that this illegal drug may have. Personally I think that it should be legal, but there still needs to be some sort of regulations for the drug. If we can some how find a way to isolate the active ingredient in marijuana that helps with all these different disease and problems we could completely eliminate the need for regulation and medical use of marijuana completely.

My favorite drug just got better

In the back of my mind I was trying to come up with an awesome first post for our Senior Seminar blog. (The front of my mind was being used to surf Facebook.) So there I was, using Facebook to creep on people instead of actually talking to them in person, when I finished my third cup of coffee that day and it hit me. My first blog post would be about my favorite drug. (That would, of course, be coffee.) I did some searching and found some interesting information. Not only does coffee give you a boost of energy, but it also has added health benefits!
Most of these effects increase as you drink more coffee:
  • Less likely to develop Parkinson's,
  • Reduces risk of colon and skin cancer,
  • Reduces risk of liver cirrhosis,
  • Halves the risk of gallstones,
  • Counteracts the effects of smoking and heavy drinking on the heart and liver damage,
  • Manages asthma and controls attacks,
  • Helps manage diabetes (improves insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism),
  • Stops headaches (in my book, this translates to "cures hangovers"),
  • Prevents cavities (bitter antibacterial properties),
  • Boosts athleticism (greater endurance and performance).
All those great benefits are thanks to the caffeine and antioxidants packed into a single 8-ounce cup of Joe.

Of course, drinking too much coffee can be a bad thing.

You may be drinking too much coffee if:
  • You have increased nervousness,
  • Your hand or leg keeps trembling,
  • You have a very rapid heartbeat.

I had thought it was impossible to drink "too much" coffee, but about a year ago I found out I was wrong. After a few weeks of waving away my friends' concerns that six cups of coffee was overdoing it, I started to notice that I had the last two symptoms plus a lovely ominous, recurring pain in my chest.

Taking the hint, I quit coffee cold turkey for a whole two weeks. After the first week, my body got used to making its own energy again instead of relying on a constant stream of caffeine, so I no longer thought I was dying. After the second week, all of the symptoms were gone. When I decided to pick up drinking coffee again, I decided it was best to limit myself to three cups a day.

And coffee isn't for everyone. Some people should be very careful about drinking coffee.

People who should avoid or limit coffee:
  1. Pregant women,
  2. People with heart conditions  

Well, there you go. Now I can get back to killing this last cup of Joe.

Check out this website for the original article.

Witness the Inncredible

Hi, my name is Greg. I am a senior biology major at Ashland University. After graduation I aspire to become a Physician Assistant. Science and particularly physiology have caught my interest. Since, I am a big time sports fan I think it is absolutely amazing how trillions of cells can work together to perform such a task as to running 100m in 9.58 seconds. Or how about watching Vince Carter jump over a seven foot two French center in the 2000 Olympics and “throw the hammer down”. Watching the human body achieve what many people thought once was impossible shows how truly remarkable the human body is. In order to understand how humans and organisms became to be, one must have to look at single celled organism to understand how life on Earth evolved into something so perfectly designed for life. As Darwin could explain but not prove, new species did arrive from pre-existing life. Darwin also explained how species evolved and became better suited to live in certain environments. Life on Earth began as a singled celled organism and now has given rise to incredible minds and spectacular athletes. Here is a video of Vince Carter dunking a basketball on a 7’2 man.