Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It's Solar Powered!!

A recently studied species of hornet has been found to be able to produce electricity. You may ask yourself, “How does this work?” Well it is in the pigment found in the Oriental hornet’s (Vespa orientalis) exoskeleton. Groups of scientist from Tel-Aviv University have been studying the species for some time now and were unable to determine how this electricity was being produced. They concluded that the pigment in the hornet’s yellow tissues trap light, while its brown tissue generated the electricity.

The majority of wasps and hornets that you commonly see are most active in the early morning. But entomologists have long known that Oriental hornets get most of their work done in the middle of the day when the sun is brightest. A typical day for an Oriental hornet involves digging out and expanding their nest. Scientists believe that the extra energy produced by the electricity may be used for the grueling labor.

The hornet’s brown tissues contain melanin, which is the pigment that protects human skin by absorbing ultraviolet light and ultimately changing it to heat. Further investigation of the brown tissue shows tiny groove that are able to capture light by channeling damaging rays into the tissue. The yellow tissue that is trapping the light contains a pigment called xanothopterin, which is crystalline solid that is found in the wings of butterflies and in the urine of mammals. Scientists were able to isolate the crystalline solid and were able to place it into a solid cell electrode. When light was shed on it, the pigment generated electricity!

Plotkin, M., Hod, I., Zaban, A., Boden, S., Bagnall, D., Galushko, D., & Bergman, D. (2010). Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis) Naturwissenschaften, 97 (12), 1067-1076 DOI: 10.1007/s00114-010-0728-1

Dosen't Take a Rocket Scientist to Light a Cigarette

That’s right! In fact most scientist know better than to light up. Of course, everyone knows that smoking has a negative reputation. It turns your teeth yellow, makes your breath smell terrible (your clothes too), makes you look old, oh yeah and it causes cancer. I think it would be safe to say that the general population is aware that these cancer-causing sticks have something in them that does not belong in a human beings body. Yet 24.8 million men and 21.1 million women continue to ignore the risks and burn one (NHIS, 2008). It is shocking to me that with the proven side effects that cigarettes cause people continue to use them. Maybe its because people want to know the specifics? They don’t care that it is the cause of at least 18 types of cancer, or that lung cancer takes a global toll of at least 3,000 lives each day. Maybe they want to know how.

Well researchers are well on their way to giving the people what they want (or what I think they want?). A sir Stephen S. Hechet and a bunch of his scientific sidekicks were able to pinpoint one of cigarettes dirty little culprits that weasels its way into your blood stream, latching on to your DNA and wreaking havoc. Science News.

DNA yeah, yeah, everyone has heard of THAT before, something about it being the genetic code and making us who we are. That’s right! It is pretty key to sustaining life, in fact all living animals have some and its what distinguishes the way we look from the way the star nosed mole looks (and trust me those aren’t pretty). DNA is not only good for our looks; it is also important to our health. There are tons of diseases that are a result of a mishap in DNA. You know how when you go to zip a zipper and one of the zipper teeth is broken or ‘mutated’ and your hand flies off cause it gets stuck and you have to go back and yank it, to get it all the way zipped? Well a genetic disease is a lot like that. One little mutation can throw the whole system off,causing major problems. This is why we do not want tomess with our DNA because isn’t a broken zipper the biggest pain?

Any way,what I’m getting at here is this team of scientists found a villain to our DNA, in cigarette smoke. It goes by the name polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, PAH for short. This evil chemical has the ability to transform into an even eviler version of itself, PAH diol epoxide. PAH transforms almost immediately in the blood of smokers and its target is DNA. It can cause mutations in DNA that cause cancer. The effects of PAH diol has been shown to take place fast, as little as 15-30 minutes after inhaling cigarette smoke.

This is the first time researchers have been able to pinpoint a cancer-causing substance found in cigarette smoke, with out other factors such as exposure to air pollution or the smokers diet. PAH is found in the smoke of cigarettes, harmless until it reaches your blood where its evil plans to attack your DNA begin to unfold, when it transforms into PAH diol epoxide and becomes a toxic chemical. Now that its identity has been uncovered, there is no denying its involvement in causing cancer, your best bet to dodge this villain is to avoid setting it free from its cigarette encasement. DON’T SMOKE.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Bacterial Assassins: From trying not to die to nanotechnology...

So, what seems to be the problem?? Cholera? Staph infection? E. coli infection? ... Ok. Take two of these once a day, and call me if they don't work in a week. Nothing you say? Ok. Take three of these today, two of these tomorrow, four of the blue ones, six of the red ones, and wait a week. If that doesn't work, drink this, inject that, and take five more of these. As a last resort we may have to operate and remove the infected limb, or worst case scenario, you may want to get right with God...

This dialogue can't seem too far fetched can it? We have all been victims of the medical guessing games that are required to effectively treat harmful bacterial infections. You may start with a one week prescription of a mild antibiotic only to find that it didn't work to clear up the infection, which ultimately could end in hospitalization, or even death. So, the problem is, how do we treat a bacterial infection effectively, especially one such as the recently rampant MRSA, which has developed numerous antibiotic resistances. The answer is, we send in the big guns...

Except that the biggest of the "big guns", the T4 bacteriophage, is only about 200 nm long and 100 nm wide. But, don't let their size fool you. These viruses are microscopic powerhouses that are able to infect, inject, and destroy very specific host bacterial cells by adsorbing to receptor proteins surrounding the cellular membrane and inserting, or injecting their genetic information into the cell. The phage then rely on the cellular energy of the host to make and process new proteins and genetic information that will be packaged into new phage progeny. The final step to infection is the lysis, or "popping" of the host cell, in order for the progeny to be released and infect more cells. There is potentially endless variety of naturally occurring strains, as well as the possibilities to engineer designer strains with modified receptors which would allow for more diverse host ranges. The bottom line, so it seems, is that if there is a cell, it can be infected by something, and it has become very clear that we are getting closer to being able to selectively infect cells for a variety of purposes.

The medical advantages of these delicate little killers are immense, aside from a few minor setbacks. The biggest is the idea of trying to convince the general public to "dose" themselves with a biological organism, i.e. a virus, and also to convince governmental agencies of the tremendous benefits and scientific progressions that could be achieved if these organisms were brought to the forefront of scientific research, and to ultimately provide adequate funding for their research. Bacteriophage have already proven to be effective against Cholera, E. coli, K. pnemoniae, acne, staph infection, and many other medical annoyances which are constantly developing resistances to the methods and medications we are using. Now, calm down if you are getting too excited about this news because the worlds largest proponent of phage therapy is located in Tbilisi, Georgia. Not exactly next to Atlanta, but a bit closer to Russia!!! So, travel may be a bit of a hurdle when seeking therapy of this sort...

Oh, and did I mention that after the proteins are processed inside the cell, they assemble automatically in a very exacting, ordered structure, and we are able to genetically modify these proteins with insertions and deletions? Now, I don't want to give away all of the surprises, but can you say nanotechnology and gene therapy???

Bigger is Always Better Right???

As the years roll by science is explained not from the macrosystem, but rather the microsystem...and recently the "nano-system." One of the most interesting topics in science is that of nanoparticles. These tiny, extremely tiny particles, have been used in many ways such as antimicrobrials in food and specifically silver nanoparticles have been used as antimicrobials in clothes. There is even discussion about using nanoparticles as a way to deliver pharmaceuticals with the possibility of enhancing cancer therapy. With such an interesting and potentially useful method to combat many issues driving today's world, nothing could go wrong...right???

Well, I want to say that nanoparticle research is needed, especially within research and development, but I just want to remind everyone that these small particles may in fact have some toxic effects as well. In fact these tiny particles have been shown to have a much different toxicity than other toxicants because their size allows them to cross membranes that other toxicants are unable to cross. Even more alarming is that most of these nanoparticles do not show a toxic effect until much later than the individual has been exposed. So end story is nanoparticles are dangerous...right??? Well the answer in my opinion is NO and yes. Nanoparticles are just a topic that needs more research both in regards with developing beneficial uses as well as understanding the possible negative drawbacks. Luckily both sides are being dealt with, and it just comes down to the general public being aware of the research. Another big benefit is that there is no scarcity of information available to everyone if you look on the Internet.

So what is the take home message of this whole nanoparticle rant besides me hopefully wanting you to get interested in it? Well I hope whenever you read a news or scientific article you look at in two different ways: the microsystem level and the big picture level. How does this small piece of the puzzle fit into the big picture of it all? What is that little detail that I see? Those are the questions you should be asking, and many times I feel like they get lost in the discussion sometimes. So these nanoparticles, sure they may cure cancer, but is there a possibility that these may cause cancer too?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Link to the glorious google doc

Hey Troops. Here is the link to the google doc we are supposed to make, just in case the e-mail notification didn't work. See you Wednesday.

Google doc

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I'm about to diffuse the situation...

AAAAHHHHH!!! You just had an action potential.The concept of membrane transport is one of the fundamental concepts of cell biology, and is the foundation for human physiology. Our cells are responsible for setting up and maintaining the concentration gradients of ions and molecules, which in turn provide the resting membrane potential that is essentially a charge differential from the inside of a cell, to the outside. All of this is done while maintaining osmotic equilibrium. So, how do all of these molecules and ions pass through the phospholipid bi-layer? There are several different mechanisms for transport, that can be broken up into active processes, and passive processes. The active processes require some sort of cellular energy (i.e. ATP), and move substances against their concentration gradients, while the passive processes move substances along the concentration gradient, and do not require the input of energy.

Passive transport can be further subdivided into simple diffusion, osmosis, facilitated diffusion, and filtration. Simple diffusion is the passing of substances through the lipid bi layer along the concentration gradient without the use of a membrane protein. Facilitated diffusion differs in that a trans-membrane protein acts to "carry" the substance through the lipid bi layer via conformational changes protein. Osmosis is the movement of water through fluid filled channels, or aquaporins from an area of lower relative solute concentration to an area of higher solute concentration, until osmotic equilibrium is reached, where the relative concentration of solutes is equal on each side of the membrane. Filtration  makes use of a pressure gradient, which acts to allow for selective passage by allowing only some particles through the channel. This especially useful in organs like the kidneys, which are responsible for filtering waste from our bodies.

Active transport is the movement of a substance against the concentration gradient, and makes use of specific transport proteins. Active transport may be primary, as with the sodium-potassium-ATPase "pump", of secondary, like the SGLT transporter, which relies on the energy created by diffusion of sodium to allow the passage of glucose as sort of a hitchhiker.

Both of these types of transport combine to provide antagonistic, and cooperative effects that are essential to sustaining life. One must remember, that sometimes the smallest things are responsible for the most amazing processes.

In this blog, I attempted to "arouse and fulfil" by using a creative subject heading, and first line. I wanted to try to also speak to a more broad audience by eliminating a great deal of jargon, while still explaining an important concept. Lastly, I attempted to read my writing aloud, which when I was working in the lab didn't make me look the most sane, but I digress.

Hogwarts enrollment soon opened up to scientists?

Watch out Harry Potter you may be "the most powerful wizard of this time" however, some of the "most powerful scientists of this time" are right on your tail. They have created a cloak of invisibility of their own!

Okay, okay, okay. So, This team of scientist weren’t able to make Daniel Ratcliff disappear for real, but they can make things such as a grain of sand and even an ant disappear. Those things aren’t people but hey, that is pretty darn impressive for the average human being to accomplish! (Average meaning muggles or non-wizards). I'd say they’re on the right track to creating a life size invisibility cloak that we could all use.

Obviously they did not create these "carpet cloaks" using wizardry, so how did they? This team gathered calcite prisms, which are a type of naturally occurring crystals to build the carpet cloaks. Understandably, the carpet cloaks don't truly make things vanish in thin air, but what it does is manipulates the optical properties of the calcite prisms, with the help of a small mirror notched into the base of the device. Anything at the bottom of the carpet cloak, hiding behind the bent notched mirror 'disappears'. It appears to ‘disappear’ because at the right angle the bent mirror can look like a flat plane.

The chance that all of us will be tip-toeing around invisible any time soon, is not high considering the carpet cloaks only work on objects as big as 1-2 millimeters, and it is definitely not made of magical cloth. Someday though, maybe we'll uncover another secret to the world of wizardry, turning science into a kind of magic itself.

"Carpet Cloak"

Analysis of post:
In attempts to arouse and fulfill, I used a title where people would have to wonder what on earth I was talking about, and want to read my blog. To fulfill the arousal I made sure the title had to do with my blog was composed of, in a sense. I used pictures to show what I was trying to explain so that the reader could visualize exactly what I was describing.