Friday, March 23, 2012

Get the Facts Before you Judge

As a biologist, I am an advocate for increasing the knowledge about women's health issues. In the wake of the very controversial Obama birth control mandate (which states that all employers must provide insurance that covers birth control), I've decided to write about the use of birth control. And guys, don't turn off on me here, because you need to know about these facts as well! Chances are the woman in your life would like you to be informed of this issue.
To begin, the birth control that is being talked about is "the Pill". If you are not a biologist or someone familiar with how birth control works, please visit the Discovery Health news link provided here: Birth Control Overview.  It is ignorant to have an opinion on something without knowing how it works/what it does, and birth control is no exception. Discovery Health News does a wonderful job at explaining in simple terms the biology behind the pill. Here is just a quick summery: the pill works by mimicking the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which prevents the follicles from releasing an egg into the ovary. Essentially, the body "thinks" it's already released an egg. Thus, they have been long used to prevent pregnancy.

However, pregnancy prevention isn't the only use of birth control. I am saddened to see how many people are ignorant of the many medicinal application of "the Pill". The fact is that doctor's are now prescribing birth control to treat a variety of women's health issues. I am going to list and explain just a few conditions which can be treated with birth control:

  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: this is a condition in which (as the name suggests) cysts form on the ovaries. It is often associated with excess androgen and irregular menstrual cycles. Birth control helps balance hormones to normal levels so that the menstrual cycle is stabilized.
  • Endometriosis: This condition occurs when the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) grows in other places in the body, such as the pelvic lining, ovaries, and rectum. It often results in infertility. Birth control is often used to stop periods in women who have this condition. 
  • Menstrual Cramps, PMS, and Dysmenorrhea (Painful Periods): These are all unpleasant side affects of the menstrual cycle. Sometimes, they can become so severe that they become debilitating. Birth control works by thinning the uterine lining, which in the long run decreases uterine contractions associated with cramping and pain. 
  • Acne: By regulating the hormones the occur during the menstrual cycle, birth control helps prevent hormonal break outs. 
There are more conditions, but these are the most prominent. As you can see, birth control access is a crucial life line for many women. It is no longer just for pregnancy prevention. Today we live in an age where a woman's body is under her control. Women of all races, age groups, backgrounds, and income levels should have full access to the birth control they need. If it is against your belief, don't take it. Every woman should have the choice of whether she takes birth control or not. The Los Angeles Times published a statistic from the National Institute of Health that states 62% of women (out of an estimated 62 million women) use some type of contraception, with 28% using the pill. This is a staggering amount, and it shows that the pill is extremely relevant in the life of a modern day woman. Why are the men of this country deciding women's health issues? Maybe it's because they have their viagra covered by their health insurance. Which is something to think about....


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Red Meat Death Sentence

I hate to break it you all, but there is another study out on the consequences of eating red meat. This time, it can really impact you, as consuming red meat is now linked to shaving years of your life (Red Meat Consumption Linked to Increased Risk of Total, Cardiovascular, and Cancer Mortality).  As shellshocked as you may be at this news, this isn't the first time red meat has been found unhealthy. Hot dogs have been notoriously pegged as bad for heart disease and cholesterol.  So put down that salami and pepperoni sandwich and consider this study from Harvard School of Public Health.

Researchers followed 37,698 men and 83,644 women who were free from Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and cancer at the the start of the study over a period a certain period of years (22 years for men and 28 years for women). The diets of the participants were assessed every 4 years through a survey. The study took into account disease risk factors, such as age, family disease history, body mass index, and physical activity. 
Here is a quick run through of the results:

  • 23,926 deaths were documented in the studies ( 5,910 from CVD and 9,464 from cancer).
  • Regular consumption of one  daily serving of red meat increased mortality risk by 13%
  • Regular consumption of one daily serving of processed red meat (hot dogs, bacon) increased morality risk by 20%
  • CVD disease mortality risk increased by 18 and 21% (for unprocessed and processed meat respectively)
  • Cancer mortality risk increased by 10 and 16% (for unprocessed and processed meat respectively)
  • Here is the scary one: 9.3% of deaths in men and 7.6% in women could have been prevented if all the participants had consumed less than 0.5 servings per day of red meat.

Why such a high risk factor? Red meat, especially processed meat, contains ingredients that increase the possibility of contracting CVD and developing cancer. These include saturated fat, nitrates (for all you hot dog and bacon lovers out there), and sodium, not to mention the carcinogenic compounds formed during cooking processes.

So the secret to a longer life? Cut down the red meat consumption! Instead substitute healthier sources of protein, such as poultry, fish, legumes, and grains. So the next time you order that cold cut sandwich at Subway, think that you may just be eating the years of your life away....

Original Paper:
An Pan, Qi Sun, Adam M. Bernstein, Matthias B. Schulze, JoAnn E. Manson, Meir J. Stampfer, Walter C. Willett, Frank B. Hu. Red Meat Consumption and Mortality.Archives of Internal Medicine, March 12, 2012

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Wiles of a Woman in Red

Women wearing the color red. This seems to be a common "stunner" stereotype for men. She is so distractingly gorgeous that he can't but feel helpless.  Now, there is an actual scientific explanation for this mysterious phenomenon. According to an article on Science Magazine, (The Red Dress Effect) men rate women wearing red clothing as more interested in sex.
A simple experiment was done by Adam Pazda et al (an evolutionary psychologist from the University of Rochester), in which 25 men were shown pictures of a woman wearing red or white t-shirts. They were then asked to answer how they gauged her receptiveness to sex. The results? Men rated the woman dressed in red about 1-1.5 points higher in respect to being sexually receptive. Simply stated, men find that a woman wearing red is a "come hither" signal, thus she would be more readily accepting of any type of romantic advance.

Well here is finally an explanation for all the red and pink we see at Valentine's Day. And now we understand why lingerie is so popular around Christmas and Valentine's Day. Where does the preference come from? Scientists believe it passed down from our own evolution. When many female primates become fertile, their estrogen levels peak, opening blood vessels and flushing their faces. This "cue" is enough for the males to make their move.

So ladies, looking for some attention? Wear red on your next occasion. And guys? At least you are now aware that a lovely lady in red will probably catch your attention. Just be careful how you pursue, as the red may be a misleading clue.


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why your mother was right about eating your broccoli

We all remember those days in our childhood when vegetables were oh-so-yucky. We'd push them around our plate and would be denied our dessert if we didn't finish them. One of my least favorites was broccoli and cauliflower, yet my mother insisted I needed to eat as many as my age. Well, she was right.
Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables (such as cauliflower, cabbage, horseradish and turnip, among others) contain a compound known as sulforaphane that works through epigenetics to prevent cancer (Eat Your Broccoli: Another Mechanism Discovered by Which Sulforaphane Prevents Cancer). Epigenetics is the study of how genes are turned on/off or expressed beyond the obvious genetic code. DNA is effected by the addition of methyl and acetyl groups, as well as enzymes known as histone deacetylaces (HDACs). In terms of sulforaphane, it acts as a HDAC inhibitor, and it prevents the deactivation of tumor suppressor genes affected by HDAC.

However, a new mechanism for sulforaphane has been discovered, and it works in conjunction with HDAC inhibition, according to a new study by the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University. Sulforaphane has been seen to provide DNA methylation.
DNA methylation turns off genes, thus it controls what genetic material gets transcribed when cell replicate, as well as the cellular components present inside the cell during cell to cell communication. When working in conjunction with HDAC inhibition, it helps prevent the perturbation of the cell cycle (A perturbation that cancer readily exploits). Disruption of DNA methylation also causes general havoc, such as neurodegenerative disease, cardiovascular disease, and even immune function. 

So mom was right. Eat your broccoli and help your DNA remain methylated and HDAC free!

Original Paper: Anna Hsu, Carmen P Wong, Zhen Yu, David E Williams, Roderick H Dashwood, Emily Ho. Promoter de-methylation of cyclin D2 by sulforaphane in prostate cancer cellsClinical Epigenetics, 2011; 3 (1): 3 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Know your blood type? Think again.

I have not abandoned you, dear readers! Nor has the amazing world of biology had any shortage of wonderful new discoveries! I have simply been away on a European holiday, and was too busy sight-seeing to sit down at my computer.

When I opened up my favorite science websites today, a story popped out at my in less then 20 seconds. Two new blood types, Langereis and Junior (+ or -), have been identified (Blood Mystery Solved: Two New Blood Types Identified). These blood types reside mainly in Japanese populations, as well as in certain European gypsies. As many of you know, the most common blood types are A, B, AB, and O. These refer to the specific proteins found on the surface of your blood cells.

The February issue of Nature Genetics presents a study by Helias et al that identifies two new proteins, ABC6 and ABCG2 (proteins responsible for Langereis and Junior blood types). This is significant as the last blood proteins were discovered ten years ago, and this brings the total surface protein number to 32.
While these two blood types are rare, the proteins have been found to carry cancer drug resistance. This may have large implications in how we prescribe cancer treatments.

You may be surprised to learn that beyond the typical blood types, there are 8 others, which have names such as Duffy, Diego, and Lutheran. Langereis and Junior now will join this list. Knowing the exact blood type is important for transfusions, as well as knowing the compatibility of a fetus with the mother. Rejection makes organ and tissue transplants difficult, as the immune system will attack the "non-self".

I cannot stress it enough how important it is that everyone know their blood type. Transfusions are as common as colds in medicine, especially if trauma is being treated. One does not need an auto-immune attack that could result in death on top of the injuries one is suffering. Please be as aware as you can about your own biology to avoid any unpleasant side effects.

Original Paper:
 Virginie Helias, Carole Saison, Bryan A Ballif, Thierry Peyrard, Junko Takahashi, Hideo Takahashi, Mitsunobu Tanaka, Jean-Charles Deybach, Hervé Puy, Maude Le Gall, Camille Sureau, Bach-Nga Pham, Pierre-Yves Le Pennec, Yoshihiko Tani, Jean-Pierre Cartron, Lionel Arnaud. ABCB6 is dispensable for erythropoiesis and specifies the new blood group system Langereis.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Some advice for Valentine's day: Save the Best for Last and Always Protect Yourself

Well my dear readers, Valentine's Day is just around the corner. But before you run out the door for flowers and chocolate and sweep your sweetie off their feet, I have some scientific advice from the biological world. You follow these, and I am sure your valentine's day will be awesome.

First piece of advice: Save the best for last.
We all have heard that saying. The best thing should be last. Humans experience pleasure from things that are last, such as the graduation ceremony, the dessert after dinner, or a goodbye hug. A recent study done by University of Michigan psychologist Ed O'Brian was aimed at seeing if this phrase has some psychological truth (What kind of chocolate is best?). And how exactly did he test this? By having participants eat chocolate and rate which one is best (I wish I was in this study!). Participants drew out 5 different flavors of chocolate from a bag. Some participants were told "Here is the next one" until the last piece was drawn. Once the last piece was obtained,  some participants were told "Here is the last one". Participants were then asked to rate which one was the best. Those who were told there was a "last piece" marked it as being the best 65% of the time over those who weren't told there was a last (who marked the last piece as being the best only 22% of the time). So for valentine's day, if you have several surprises/gifts/activities planned, SAVE THE BEST ONE FOR LAST! Have I said it enough?

Second Piece of Advice: Always Protect Yourself
Everyone should be aware of the serious nature of STDs. In July 2011, the CDC released a report of a a strain of gonerrhea that is resistant to cephalosporins, the antibiotic currently being used to treat it. Recently, the New England Journal of Medicine has called for action to prevent this strain from spreading further (Scientists sound alarm over threat of untreatable gonerrhea). According to this article, gonerrhea is the second most communicable disease in the US. The bacterium, Neisseria gonerrhoeae, is already resistant to penicillin, tetracycline, sulfanilamides, and fluorquinolones. SO this Valentine's Day, don't become a victim.  Be smart and protect yourself.
Don't Let Gonerrhea Ruin Your Life

Enjoy your Valentine's Day!
Original Papers:
E. O'Brien, P. C. Ellsworth. Saving the Last for Best: A Positivity Bias for End ExperiencesPsychological Science, 2012; 23 (2)

Gail A. Bolan, P. Frederick Sparling, Judith N. Wasserheit.The Emerging Threat of Untreatable Gonococcal InfectionNew England Journal of Medicine, 2012

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Getting close to Real Life Skele-Gro? Harry Potter was onto something...

Fans of the Harry Potter books know that in the second book, The Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter loses his bones when his bumbling professor tries to repair his fracture on the Quidditch field. The school nurse had to use the magic potion, Skele-grow to regrow his bones. This scenario would be great in real life, as bones from severe breaks could be repaired effortlessly.

Skele-gro is a great fiction solution, however, scientists have now developed a "fracture putty" that allows bones to repair themselves faster. A study conducted by Steve Stice through the University of Georgia is aiming at studying the regenerative capacity of large animals (Discovery Uses 'Fracture Putty' to Repair Broken Bone in Days). A major challenge of healing large bone fracture is the ability to both stabilize the defects and induce high levels of proliferation to replace the damaged tissue. Stice's previous study helped answer this challenge by formulating mesenchymal stem cell that were able to survive in the bone environment long enough to initiate proliferation.

To make the "fracture putty", the team used adult stem cells to produce a protein involved in bone regeneration, which was then placed in a gel-like substance. The putty was subsequently injected into rat hind leg fractures. Two weeks later, the rats were observed running and standing on their hind legs (with all the damage healed)! The putty is being tested in pigs and sheep as well. The next steps would be testing it in larger animal models. In terms of human applications, this putty would be very useful in battlefield situations, where a lot of amputations occur because a fracture is too complex or will take a long time to heal.

Ever thought Skele-gro was a stretch? Perhaps, but now it's been replaced with the realities of "fracture putty!" How maddening!


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Here's an excuse to visit your massage therapist!

While we all love the seldom occasion of a great back rub, few of the people I know utilize or go to get a professional massage. Many say it's too expensive, or they can't find time to get to one. Those are some excuses not to go. However, today I have a pretty good reason for you all to head to your favorite massage therapist ASAP.

A new study has revealed that massage regulate DNA expression, particularly down regulating genes associated with inflammation and up regulating healing genes (Massage's Mystery Mechanism Unmasked). Massage has long been thought to squeeze out lactic acid and other cellular waste products, but this study by Mark Tarnolpolsky at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada contradicts this claim. Tarnolpolsky and colleagues tested the effects of massage by having 11 volunteers perform a grueling cycling session followed by a massage on one leg. Tissue samples were collected before the workout, ten minutes after the massage, and three hours after the workout and their genetic profiles where compared.

There was a clear difference between the massaged legs and unmanaged legs. The massaged legs at a 30% increased expression of PGC1-alpha, a gene that helps cells increase the number of present mitochondria (the energy center of the cell). They also expressed 3 times less NFkB, a gene that turns on the inflammation response. The study found no evidence of removal of lactic acid in the muscles.

This is exciting! This first study legitimizes massage therapy as a scientific treatment, not just a feel good activity. No wonder one feels so good when one gets a full body massage! So today's piece of biology advice: Get to your massage therapist and go often!

Original Paper:
Massage Therapy Attenuates Inflammatory Signaling After Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage

  • Justin D. Crane
  • Daniel I. Ogborn
  • Colleen Cupido
  • Simon Melov
  • Alan Hubbard,
  • Jacqueline M. Bourgeois
  • and Mark A. Tarnopolsky 
  • Sci Transl Med 1 February 2012 4:119ra13

    Thursday, February 2, 2012

    The Lowdown on Mad Cow

    There are several diseases which strike concern in the human population, particularly diseases that are obtained by eating contaminated food (such as Salmonella poisoning) or  that can cross species (such as the flu). They are feared because of their ability to affect a wide number of people. One such disease is Mad Cow (or as my favorite microbiology professor would say, bovine spongiform encephalopathy), a disease that is caused my malformed proteins called prions. This disease can cross species, and a prime example is humans consuming infected cow meat. (To read up on Mad Cow, refer to this link: Mad Cow Disease)

    Prions are malformed versions of the protein PrP. They not only are themselves deformed, but encourage other PrP proteins to malform. The main location of this perturbation is in the brain, with symptoms being observed often when it is to late.  Vincent Béringue from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research is challenging this view. His study has found that prions not only lurk in the brain, but are also found to hide in the lymphatic system (Prions enter stealth mode in the spleen, causing silent infections). In particular, the study has found that the spleen is a gateway organ for species transfer of prions. 

    Species transfer mechanisms have been disputed, as species transfer is rare. It is rare because it is difficult for prions of one species to effectively convert PrP of another species. Béringue's study genetically engineered mice to express sheep prions, then exposed them to prions that cause chronic wasting disease in deer. The mice showed no or little symptoms of disease in the brain, but the spleen was found to have a very high prion content. Béringue also engineered the mice to express human prions and exposed them to the strain that causes bovine spongiform encephalopathy, as this would enable the study of animal to human transition. The results were the same as before, with the spleen containing a high amount of prions while the brain was relatively clean. Signs of disease was non existent, and only 10% of the mice had prions in the brain. 

    This is a very interesting result, as Mad Cow disease could be diagnosed earlier than when symptoms manifest. Once the symptoms are present, often there is nothing that can be done to treat the patient. It shows that the spleen is the gateway organ, and hides within the body. What a "maddening" discovery!

    Original Paper: Béringue, Herzog, Jaumain, Reine, Sibille, Le Dur, Vilotte & Laude. 2011. Facilitated Cross-Species Transmission of Prions in Extraneural Tissue. Science

    Sunday, January 29, 2012

    A grisly aspect of biology

    While a lot of biology is manageable and relatively pain free to study and perform, there are certain aspects that make it uncomfortable to study. For example, when you induce disease in animals, you often have to "sacrifice" them in order to study them. Studying the rate of decomposition is also one topic that is unpleasant. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville is one such place where this type of study occurs. The forensic anthropology department housed there has 1.3 acres of land to study the rates of human body decomposition in varying conditions (If anyone is interested in seeing further details, see this link:

    Recently, a study has been conducted at Texas State University (which has a human decomposition laboratory similar to the "body farm" of the University of Tennessee) to study how fast vultures would pick a human body clean, and how far uneaten remains would be scattered from the original site (Vultures skeletonise corpse for the sake of forensics). How could this information possibly be used? There are many times when human remains are found in dry, desert like conditions such as the ones found in Texas.  These remains make it hard to pinpoint the time of death and the cause of death. Was it an animal attack? Or was it picked apart by vultures?

    Scientists were able to videotape the work of vultures when they found a decomposing body after 37 days. The body was picked clean to the bone in 5 hours. This surprised scientists, as they had previously thought this process would have taken much longer. Scientists also tracked the dispersal of remaining body parts as the vultures came back to the site over 15 weeks, and hopefully this mapping will help in further understanding for future forensics.

    No one ever said biology was clean and pretty. However, each aspect is important, even when it is one of decomposition.


    Wednesday, January 25, 2012

    In the Land of the Dinosaurs

    What is a blog about biology without some dinosaurs? I know that as a child, I was always fascinated by them. How reptiles could grow to be so big and be the major fauna for millions of years, only to be wiped out by some environment phenomenon boggles me. I have two interesting dinosaur stories to share with you today! Birds are known to be the modern descents of dinosaurs, with the Archaeopteryx being the intermediate link. It has both reptilean (teeth, clawed fingers, bony tail) and bird (feathered wings and a wishbone) It is a winged and feathered dinosaur, but scientists have long debated whether it actually had the ability to fly.

    A new study of the specimen has revealed the color of its feathers (Winged Dinosaur Archaeopteryx Dressed for Flight). Why does the color matter? The color and the pigment cells indicate that the feathers themselves were durable and rigid, characteristics needed for flight. Closer examination of the feathers also revealed that the structure is identical to that of modern bird feathers. This may seem like an elementary finding, as melanosomes (pigment cells) have been found in many fossils. However, these have previously been misidentified as bacteria. They were visable only with a power confocal microscope. Scientists are still not sure how the melanosomes in the archaeopteryx were used. Since the feathers were found to be black, functions  could range from camouflage, to body heat regulation, to even flight. However, the presence of melanosomes pushes flight to the forefront, as melanosomes provide strength and protect from abrasion during flight. 

    The second dinosaur story deals with the discovery of a nursery in South Africa that contained ten nests (Fossils in South Africa Reveal Dinosaur Nesting Site: 190 Million Years Old). This nesting site was found to be 190 million years old, and it belonged to a prosauropod named Massospondylus. 

    The authors of this study site that this nursery is 100 million years older than any previous find. The nests contain up to 34 eggs, all in tightly clustered arrangements. What is significant about this find is that it gives insight in the behaviors of Massospondylus. The clustered arrangement of the nests indicate that mothers returned to the site repeatedly and often came in groups to lay eggs. The highly organized nature of the nest itself also is evidence that the mother moved and organized her eggs. The nesting ground was found in sedimentary rock from Early Jurassic Period in the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in South Africa. This site also yielded some of the oldest found embryos, which is extremely important to the study of reproductive biology. All in all, this discovery is a boon to understanding dinosaur behavior. Isn't it all so maddeningly interesting??


    Orignal Papers:

    Ryan M. Carney, Jakob Vinther, Matthew D. Shawkey, Liliana D'Alba, Jörg Ackermann. New evidence on the colour and nature of the isolated Archaeopteryx feather.

    Robert R. Reisz, David C. Evans, Eric M. Roberts, Hans-Dieter Sues, Adam M. Yates. Oldest known dinosaurian nesting site and reproductive biology of the Early Jurassic sauropodomorph Massospondylus.Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2012; 

    Sunday, January 22, 2012

    The dreaded flu season...

    I am not sure how many of you have heard about this, but I thought it would important to put up a short post on the topic. Scientists have created a new avian flu bug in the lab, termed H5N1. This has raised many concerns, as an escape could lead to a flu pandemic. Also, the strain in the wrong hands could be used as a bioterrorism agent. Nature has published a statement that confirmed a 60 day"pause" from the research (Scientists call for 60-day suspension of mutant flu research). The US government has asked the journals set to publish this research to only include the main conclusions, and not to offer any details. The WHO is working in conjunction with the government to develop a plan to disseminate the information to other flu researchers. During the 60 day period, a series of discussions will be held to explain the benefits and risks of this type of research. While I understand that national security and national health are a concern, I believe that the information be available to scientists in a quick and painless manner. Science hinges upon the sharing of information, and even a 60 day delay could halt the valuable research being performed.

    So my readers, it is my time to ask you this: Do you agree with this type of research (i.e. creating potentially lethal strains of bacteria in order to understand it's mechanisms and possibly begin crafting a vaccine)? And do you think the 60 day pause is advisable? Comments are always welcome!


    Thursday, January 19, 2012

    Need another reason to hit the treadmill? Do it for your cells!

    It has been proven time and time again that exercise has many benefits. It decreases your risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other metabolic diseases. But how deep do the benefits of exercise go? According to a study by Levine et al at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical school, the benefits and effects of exercise can be seen at the cellular level (Exercise Triggers Beneficial Cellular Recycling).

    This study reveals how cells use exercise to promote autophagy, the process of breaking down "junk" cellular contents and proteins. Autophagy occurs once a double membrane forms around the unwanted parts of the cell and joins with a lysosome. The lysosome contains many enzymes that break down the materials, thereby creating a burst of energy for the cell. Starvation and increased autophagy have long been linked, but the effects of exercise on autophagy is a new development.

    Mice were genetically engineered to produce green protein (most likely GFP but it didn't say in the article) whenever an autophagy event occurred in the cells. These mice were then subjected to 30 minutes of treadmill running, and upon inspection of heart and muscle cells, green dots were found throughout the tissue. Autophagy was also observed in the pancreas and the liver, which are both involved in glucose metabolism.

    Although it was seen that exercise triggers autophagy, but what purpose does autophagy serve? To test this question, mice were engineered to undergo autophagy, but due to a mutation in BCL2 protein (A protein that inhibits cells death and regulates autophagy), were unable to increase autophagy during exercise. When these mice were placed on a treadmill, they were unable to run as long as the normal mice because they were unable to metabolize glucose properly. To look at long term effects of exercise, Levine fed the mice a high fat diet for 4 weeks. Naturally these mice gained weight and developed type 2 diabetes. They were then placed on an exercise schedule while still on a high fat diet. The normal mice lost weight, gained back their ability to metabolize glucose, and their diabetes disappeared. The mutant mice lost some weight, but still had high blood sugar and diabetes. What does this mean? It means that autophagy in cells is essential to their continued viability and metabolic processing ability. And exercise increases the rate of autophagy in all of your cells, thereby promoting their healthy functioning.

    So today's maddening idea? Get on your treadmill for your cells!


    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    LADIES, Want your man to spend more on you? READ ON!

    Every lady loves to be pampered and spoiled-dinners, shows and concerts, and even an occasional piece of jewelry. Even a small gesture of flowers and chocolate can make a lady feel special. But can science prove what makes men spend money on a woman? According to a study by Griskevicius et al published on ScienceDaily (Scarcity of Women Leads Men to Spend More, Save Less), when men perceived that women were scare, they were more likely to spend money. This was tested by allowing participants to read articles that described populations as having a higher ratio of men then women, and then asked to describe their spending habits (including how much they would save per paycheck, amount they would put on their credit card etc). It was found that men who perceived that women were scarcer in the population saved 42% less and borrowed 84% more money.  In a second experiment, participants viewed a group of pictures that had more men, more women, or were even. They were then offered a $20 gift card now, or a $30 gift card next month. The group that saw fewer women in the photos, men were more likely to take the $20 gift card rather then waiting for the increased amount. 

    According to this study, three important things were observed:
    1). Sex ratios affect expectations of women: when women were presented with population estimates that showed a higher ratio of men, they expected men to go further in their courting endeavors (aka Spend the Moo-la!).

    2). Population data supports this finding: Communities with higher numbers of single men showed increased debt and credit card ownership.

    3). The research implications on marketing: Advertisers should focus on whether a women is surrounded by a group of men, and not rely solely on the image of a beautiful woman to sell a product. 

    So the key to pampering, ladies? Find a city with a higher male to female population! This would seem like a no-brainer, but now we know that it is backed by scientific research! It would seem to me that there is still a lot sexual selection going on in our species, and just how far a guy will go to get your attention depends on the number of available mates! A maddening idea? No, just simple biology principles at work!


    Actual Research Paper: 
    Vladas Griskevicius, Joshua M. Tybur, Joshua M. Ackerman, Andrew W. Delton, Theresa E. Robertson, Andrew E. White. The financial consequences of too many men: Sex ratio effects on saving, borrowing, and spending.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2012; 102 (1):

    Sunday, January 15, 2012

    A magnifying look at your genes

    I have always been intrigued by the extensive complexity which lies within us. Organs, circulation, waste disposal, metabolism, and tissues all function together. The smallest unit of life is the individual cell, with each housing their own set of DNA. DNA is the instruction book which makes every part of the body, every cell, and every protein. It is a stable molecule that exists in every living organism.

    In 2003, Craig Venter announced to the world the he and his team had succeeded in mapping out the entire human genome. From his efforts, it was found that humans only have 20,000-25,000 functional genes, which was a surprise to all. To better understand human genome sequencing, refer to this video (How to sequence a Genome: An introduction).

    My topic today is not to give a history of sequencing methods or even to explain the molecular dynamics of such an enterprise. Rather, I would like to introduce the idea of personalized genome sequencing and genetic testing. I was browsing Scientific American, and found this article: The $1,000 Human Genome: Are We There Yet?. Life Technologies, a biotech company in California has announced that they are creating a new machine that will be capable of sequencing an entire human genome in one day for the premium price of $1000 (Of course we are talking about a sequencer machine here, not a personalized genome service. However, such a machine could make personal sequencing more popular and affordable). The sequencer machine, called The Ion Proton, will cost $149,000 with an additional $95,000 for a server and a prep service. This is actually very affordable, since biotech equipment can range into the millions.

    With sequencing machines becoming more efficient and affordable, personalized sequencing will also continue to expand. Why on earth should you consider getting sequenced? Because your data will give you markers for genes associated with diseases. For example, you may find you have a marker for diabetes or even a predisposition for breast cancer. Where can you have this done? The company 23andMe offers two branches of DNA genotyping: one for ancestry and one for health. A kit can be obtained for $99 and all it requires from you is your spit and cheek cells from a simple mouth swab. I am very inclined to have this done, just to see what is in my genes.

    Ancestry is also a popular sequencing option. FamilyTreeDNA allows you to follow your matrilineal side with mitochondrial DNA sequencing and your patrilineal side with Y-chromsome DNA sequencing. Kits range from $159-289. The National Geographic Genographic project had a similar objective. It sequences your mitochondrial DNA and places your migration out of Africa into distinct lineages (This being an example of the study of population genetics). This kit is also $99, and makes a great present for science nut in the family.

    I am now sure that you are ready to jump onto one of these website and enthusiastically spit in a vial to take a look at the code manual that is your DNA. I certainly would, which is all part of a Biologist's Madness.


    Saturday, January 14, 2012

    Explanation as to why you like your burgers and fries...

    As we all know, we are constantly bombarded with the fact that America is the most obese nation in the world. We are all addicted to our french fries, burgers, and supersize milkshakes. We live for convenience. Today, I would like to share with you a study by Pepino et al in The Journal of Lipid Research. In the study, a novel receptor gene, CD36, was found to detect the presence of fat! Participants were given a fatty oil and a control non-fat oil and asked to determine which was which. It was found that people who produced a high level of this protein were more sensitive to fat than those that produced less. But wait! There is a catch! Diet affected the sensitivity of the protein, as it affects the amount of protein made. So that means that a high fat diet = less CD36 = decreased sensitivity to fat. Such a vicious cycle!
    CD36 was activated by fatty acids, and not triglycerides, although humans can taste both. 
    So what does this mean? My interpretation is simple: the overabundance of fat in our convenience food has overridden our bodies natural response mechanisms. This study shows only one protein that is knocked off balance. I can only imagine havoc that is caused when holistically considered. So the next time you pick up that burger, think of the simple protein CD36. As for me, I think I will be sticking to my vegetarian diet. Stay tuned for further madness!

    ~ LD

    Article discussed:
    Blame your tastebuds for liking fat: Receptor for tasting fat identified in Humans found at

    Full Research Paper: 
    M. Y. Pepino, L. Love-Gregory, S. Klein, N. A. Abumrad.The fatty acid translocase gene, CD36, and lingual lipase influence oral sensitivity to fat in obese subjects.The Journal of Lipid Research, 201

    Friday, January 13, 2012

    Biological Art

    My official topic for my blog is this: consider biology as art. Quite honestly, I had not thought of it as so until I saw some magnificent scanning electron and confocal microscope images. I am myself guilt of having a picture or two that look like abstract art but are really experimental images.  Above my reading window, I have framed a confocal picture of stained fruit fly ovaries which I had dissected. People are often interested in the picture, but are taken aback when I tell them what the image really is.

    Biological art reminds us that the world around us is limitless and our power to understand it is minute. It always astounds me when I look at some of these images how lucky we are to live in such an interesting world. I realized this during my summer internship at the University of Michigan, where I learned to dissect and study the fruit fly. At the the University of Michigan’s Center for Organogenesis, they have a website dedicated to Bioartography ( On this webpage are beautiful pictures that one may purchase. Each has a catalog number that gives a description of what is shown in the image. One of my particular favorites is #20, (, which is mouse embryonic stem cells that over express the protein Geminin. 

    Websites such as Etsy also have an impressive array of biological art. The shop Breathe Decor has many prints which I am drawn too. In particular, this montage of three marine prints ( Another particular favorite shop of mine is called MicroBioArt, and specializes in print montages and tapestries of bacteria and viruses, such as Polio, Influenza, and Ebola. ( Wouldn't that be quite a conversation starter?
     "I love this print! What is it?"
    "It's actually Ebola!"

    In essence, beauty in the world can be found in just about anywhere. From your backyard, to the sky, and even under the microscope. Viewing the biological world in terms of art has given me another way to appreciate and think about what I and countless others study. So next time someone presents you a picture to view, think that it may not be what it seems. Until the next madness strikes!


    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Madness Beginnings....

    Well this is a new experience for me. My dear friend, Chase, has suggested I begin a blog about my adventures outside college. I have just recently done the "cap and gown" twirl dance to receive my bachelor's of science in Biology. So why am I blogging? I graduated a semester early, and now I have a whole semester to recoup from the undergraduate madness.

    My Plan? I hope to attend graduate school for Stem cell and Developmental Biology. Currently, I have heard from only one school, the University of Michigan. The official interview is in two weeks, and I am extremely excited.

    This blog is named Biologist's Madness. I hope to share with you some awesome things from the biology world. And hopefully with some humor and an artistic flair. This blog will highlight new articles, advances, and news from the Biology side of life. Stay tuned for next dose of madness.....