Saturday, May 31, 2014

Chemotherapy Induced Peripheral Neuropathy

I work in the Feinstein lab on campus, and one of our current projects is about chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy so I thought I'd share a bit about it! I found this lovely little article that goes into detail about this kind of neuropathy:

I mostly work with microscope images of mouse sciatic nerves and the effects of drugs such as paclitaxel and vincristine. When viewing the images, it is immediately obvious that these drugs destroy the myelin sheath surrounding the axons. This is a huge problem, as often the painful neuropathy forces cancer patients to stop taking these very effective drugs. As a result, their course of treatment must be completely altered, or they may be left with little or no effective treatment at all. The grad student I work under is organizing a conference specific to chemotherapy induced peripheral neuropathy sometime in the near future, so if anyone is interested I can get more details!

Mouse Party!

During AP Psychology our teacher had us visit this website called "Mouse Party" which is an interactive tutorial on how different drugs affect the brain. It's a great teaching tool, and it's absolutely hilarious. Little stoned/drunk mice in a lab. Check it out. You won't regret it.

Stupid Juice Diets

I brought this up in class, but I thought I'd go more into detail about the ridiculousness of the "cleansing" juice the people at the farmer's market tried to sell me. They claimed it would make my body more alkaline and oxygenate my blood therefore getting rid of bacteria, which is complete nonsense. Despite the erroneous nature of these claims in the firs place, we need that bacteria just as much as it needs us. In researching the new craze of "cold pressing" juice, no one could really confirm the supposed health benefits of juice diets and juice cleanses other than the fact that it will make you lose weight, which is pretty obvious when you're on a liquid diet. Oh, and you gain that lost water weight back when you start eating food again. Some good points were brought up in the following articles, including the lack of fiber, protein, and fat in juice diets, all of which are necessary for a properly functioning body.

This article talks about the juice industry from an economic perspective:

This article talks about the ridiculousness of juice diets:

And here is the website for the juice company that I had the "pleasure" of interacting with:

Oh, and the juice tasted disgusting too.

Friday, May 30, 2014

World Ocean Day!!!

If amidst your finals cramming next weekend, you feel an overwhelming desire to take a trip down to the beach, you won't be the only one. World Ocean day is one day a year where thousands upon thousands of people gather on beaches worldwide to learn about, protect, and appreciate our beautiful oceans. Here in Santa Barbara, there a few cool sounding World Ocean day events going on.

1) Ocean Festival Saturday, June 7, 2014 at West Beach, Santa Barbara from 11:00 am – 6:00 pm

2) UCSB Adventure programs World Ocean's Day Paddle Tour  June 7, 2014 , 9:00 am - 5:00 pm

If you want to learn more about world ocean day and the events going on, look here!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Animation of the Cocaine's Effect on Dopamine Receptors in the Brain

Claudia was talking about some animations on how dopamine and the receptors work in the brain and what the effect cocaine has on that system. I found a pretty basic animation that explains this and allows you to see the system with and without cocaine present.

Dopamine Animation

Strange Dolphin Behavior

In one of my classes today, someone mentioned a video they recently saw in which a pod of dolphins stranded themselves on the beach. She went on to talk about how several people on the beach immediately leapt into action and attempted to return them to their ocean home. Interested, I watched the video and was extremely impressed by the immediate response of the onlookers.

After watching, I started to think about why dolphins strand themselves, so I decided to look into it. Apparently, group strandings like the one in the video are not extremely uncommon. However, researchers still do not know why they do it. When 30 dolphins beached themselves in Brazil last year, proposed ideas included that the head dolphin was sick and beached itself, while the others followed; or that the dolphins were following a school of fish and didn't realize how close they were to the shore. However, this idea did not seem to be a possibility in 2008, when several pods beached themselves along the Cornish coast. At the time of the article, none of the post-mortems of the animals showed an illness, implying that the blame fell onto sonar. Yet another incidence of mass strandings, this time all over the world in 2012, caused researchers to believe that the weather was the primary cause of the unusual cetacean behavior.

My conclusion from this search is that humans really have no clue why dolphins strand themselves in groups. An interesting research area for one of us CCS Biology students perhaps?

A Relationship Between Heart Disease and Inflammation

The topic I researched a few weeks ago considers the relationship between heart disease and inflammation. It was mentioned in lecture that while the buildup of plaque and fatty deposits in the arteries (atherosclerosis) is quite significant in the occurrence of heart disease, inflammation may act as the "lethal factor" that results in the complete blocking of the arteries in question. In my research, I came upon an two articles that considered the abundance of several different proteins (C reactive protein, serum amyloid A protein,serum albumin, ect.) and their relationship to the probability of heart disease. These proteins are indicative of inflammatory response, and their levels tend to remain constant at some level unless inflammation occurs and leads to a spike in their concentrations. The papers study the resting level of the proteins, checking to see if a higher average protein level correlates to an increased probability of heart disease. This was indeed the case. The findings "suggest that some inflammatory processes [...] are likely to be involved in coronary heart disease" (Danish 2000).

The papers can be found here, and here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ocean Acidification Explained

Curious where carbon dioxide ends up after we send it to the heavens?

One major place is the ocean.

You can read my shpeal to have an in depth explanation or watch the inspiring video which covers the important aspects.  Plus, you can read (or skim, or pick out sections that interest you) the Royal Society report on the issue.


The Chemistry

Where the ocean and atmosphere meet, carbon dioxide can enter the surface waters.  Carbon dioxide interacts with water forming carbonic acid.

CO2+H2O <--> H2CO3

Carbonic acid can dissociate into hydrogen ions and bicarbonate ions.

H2CO3 <-->  H+ + HCO3-

With that increase in hydrogen ions, the water will become more acidic or have a lower pH (-log of hydrogen ions)

However, the ocean has a natural buffering system.  Carbonate ions either in the water or pulled from the sediment, bind the excess hydrogen forming bicarbonate ions.

H+ +CO3(2-)  <--> HCO3-

The ocean doesn't have an unlimited supply of carbonate ions (especially region specific) to sustain an ever increasing carbon dioxide concentration so the buffering capacity of the ocean is diminishing.

Biological Implications

Now to clear up why acidification is a problem for calcifying organisms (corals, urchins, sea butterflies, certain plankton, crustaceans, most larval stages-a popular strategy in the ocean).

General Calcification (as understood today):

2HCO3- + Ca2+ <--> CaCO3 + CO2 + H2O

So most calcifyers are using bicarbonate, why is less carbonate ions a problem??

Calcium carbonate dissolves into calcium and carbonate.

CaCO3 <--> Ca2+ + CO3(2-)

When chemical reactions occur in an equilibrium instead of a one direction reaction, removing a substance from one side will drive the reaction in that direction to balance out the removal.  Thus, calcium carbonate shells will be dissolved in the corrosive (high CO2, low pH) waters.  It will be more energetically costly to maintain a calcium carbonate shell.  Organisms will have to direct that energy away from other metabolic pathways (growth, reproduction, movement) putting them at high risk for not surviving.

CaCO3 --> Ca2+ + CO3(2-)

Some of these organisms are phytoplankton (like Coccolithophores) which provide us with around half of the oxygen we need for survival.

We are all connected directly or indirectly to the organic and inorganic substances of the Earth.  If we want to protect our own lives we need to be considerate of the Earth.  Burning dead material for energy is not the answer.

Interesting Predictions

Another aspect of calcification is that organisms create two different structures of calcium carbonate: aragonite and calcite.

Aragonite, because of its structure, is more readily dissolved.

Coral skeletons and pteropod shells (sea butterflies which are a large component of the Southern Ocean ecosystem) use aragonite.

It is predicted that with current levels of CO2 emissions, the Southern Ocean's aragonite saturation horizon (the depth below which aragonite dissolution is chemically favored) will be at the surface by 2100.  Basically, all aragonite forms of calcium carbonate will dissolve.

What we can do:

- promote sustainable energy sources (powered by wind, light, tides, and geothermal heating)
- buy sustainable fish
- use/buy less plastic  (reuseable water bottles and bags)
- bike, board, or walk
- use transportation powered by renewable sources
- properly dispose of trash (compost or recycle too)
- be less wasteful!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Wedding Crasher

A few days ago news broke out that this exquisite leatherback sea turtle came ashore and stole the show from a marrying couple in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. No news on how the bride took the intruder, but locals deemed it a good omen, particularly in the fertility department.  They probably came to this conclusion because leatherbacks only come to shore to lay their eggs, and that is exactly what this turtle proceeded to do. Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtles alive, getting up to 7 feet long and exceeding 2,000 pounds.  They are also extremely endangered. Additionally, these turtles usually lay their eggs at night under much more private conditions.  Were I this bride, I would definitely take the turtle's surprise appearance as a good omen!
Read more here.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Hugh Herr: The new bionics that let us run, climb and dance

This TED talk about biomechanics is definitely worth watching. It discusses how biomechanics can be utilized to improve people's lives and how advances in biomechanics have improved the comfort, sensitivity, and function of biomechanical limbs.

Video: The new bionics that let us run, climb and dance

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Tired of the doom and gloom

If you just want a couple laughs about climate change (mainly global warming aspects) and about society's apathy for "preservation of resources for future generations," check out this short video clip.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

An interesting paper published last month argues that there may be a correlation between mobile phone use and brain tumors.

Any possible negative effects could have dramatic impacts, given the frequency with which phones are used. The paper cites the statistic that there was "a startling 6 billion [cell phone] users worldwide in 2011." That is, the vast majority of the human population has at least used a cell phone.

There has been, in recent years, a variety of papers detailing different potential negative effects of cellphone use ( for example, see here, here, and here).

The effects of prolonged exposure to cellphone radiation is still unknown, but could be very significant.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Defying Trophic Levels

Urchin eating baby cormorant bird.
You might have gotten this email too, but just in case I wanted to share this strange phenomenon.  In ecology we often look at a fixed trophic structure or even a complicated food web.  I think this proves that the food web is more dynamic than we realize.  Urchins have a pretty adaptable diet. Maybe birds are not a preference, but I'm sure this meal was nutritious!  (It still gives me the creeps though.)

 Check out the article for video proof:

This is a link to the paper recently published from a study in oregon:

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

"16 and Pregnant" and the Impact on Birth Rates

Remember back to a few weeks ago at the beginning of the quarter when we talked about what might be impacting the birth rates? Well, you probably would never guess it, but the MTV show "16 and pregnant" might actually be causing a lower rate of teen pregnancy. I just came across this interesting NY Times article from January which talks about how young people watching this show are more likely to see it as a cautionary tale and thus it's influencing teens to NOT get pregnant. I thought this was so interesting, who would've ever thought a trashy show like this could have some positive impact by promoting safer sex!

Check it out here:

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Mantis Shrimp Will Knock Your Socks Off... Literally

I recently heard about this really cool shrimp. It is unreal how adapted it is and what physical characteristics it has. It has the best color vision of any animal with 16 color receptive cones (humans have 3 and butterflies have 5.) It can punch with the force of a .22 caliber bullet (1,500 newtons of force in 3/1000 of a second.) If we could move our arms that fast we would be able to throw a baseball into orbit. With that punch they can boil the water and make a shockwave that kills their prey even if they miss it. It pretty interesting. I'll attach a very easy-to-read link and a wikipedia article if you want to read about them.

Mantis Shrimp Easy-To-Read
Mantis Shrimp Wiki

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Should we destroy our remaining smallpox stockpiles?

On May 8, 1980 the WHO endorsed the statement that smallpox had been eradicated.
Now, more than 30 years since its eradication, only two high security labs hold the remaining samples of the smallpox virus. The samples are only used for research purposes to create vaccines and drugs in case of the return of the virus. It has also been revealed that researchers are able to use synthetic biology to create a version of smallpox from scratch. Currently, the WHO is debating as to whether or not the live virus is needed anymore. This article discusses the debate and some issues that need to be taken into consideration before a definite decision is made.

Friday, May 2, 2014

MERS comes to America

MERS stands for Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome: It's pretty much SARS that you get from camels, except it;s more deadly and less contagious.

NBC Article
Information about the Virus from the CDC 
Early paper talking about transmission of the disease 
Flying Camel