Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Kelly Mayo Seminar and Gulf War Syndrome

So, come to LR4 on Thursday @ 5pm! It'll be a sweet talk.

In sadder news, a new report announced that Gulf War Syndrome has officially been termed a real (and not simply psychological disease). Gulf War Syndrome probably affects 1 in 4 of the ~650,000 vets, with symptoms ranging from gastrointestinal problems, headaches, concentration difficulties, and other neurological problems. The prime suspects for this disease are pesticides and pills taken to provide protection against nerve gas.
Here's a link to the pills:
pyridostigmine bromide

Nerve agents work by blocking ACh-ase, slowing the breakdown of ACh in the synaptic cleft. The inability to breakdown ACh results in constant muscle contract, leading to death. PB works by preventing this blocking. It is taken in conjunction with other drugs to increase survival chances after exposure to a nerve agent, such as soman or sarin.
Read the CNN article: (article)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Drosophila Diseases

I spent a couple of hours today counting flies, so here's a cool article about them:


A bacteria known for its sex-regulation abilities has been found to confer protection against viruses in Drosophila. In some species, the bacteria ensures that infected and non-infected and non-infected flies cannot make viable young.

Cool bacteria like that in humans? (Bacteria are pretty important in several of body systems).
A good excuse for having all your flies die in BioLab. Bonus points if anybody can type that fly.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Articles of the Week

Most of these are from NewScientist, because it is my favorite.

What's the best cruising speed for life?
Reference Note: Humans have a metabolic rate of ~4 W/kg

So exhausted from studying Orgo/Bio that you might've lost the ability to communicate with humans? Practice on this robot!

Desiring to be pessimistic about research?

Like to drink?

Think you are too vicious to be a bonobo? Think again.

And... new crabs!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lethal Alleles and Cool Animals They Create

A lot of you (well, a lot of the few people who are bored enough to read this) are familiar with the Manx cat example of lethal alleles: in feline genetics, having one copy of the gene gives you no tail, having two copies means you have no cat. The picture shows another example, which I had not previously heard of: the Chinese crested dog. Again, one copy of the bald and ugly gene will result in an ugly dog. Two copies of the bald and ugly gene will result in an ugly expired dog fetus. That being said, here's a genetics problem I adapted from a classic probability problem:

Two Manx cats have 4 babies, of which dies at birth due to combination of fatal alleles. The 3 surviving kittens are placed into boxes by the owner, who noted whether each kitten had a tail or not. You really like cats with tails. In fact, Manx cats freak you out. The owner allows you to select one unopened box, and he selects another box that he knows contains a Manx cat. He opens the box and shows you the cat. Should you open the box you selected, or select another box?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Shirt Idea

So, I'm planning on distributing shirts at the Activities Fair and I need some help! The design is mostly plagiarized off of other shirts on the internet. So, PLEASE feel free to comment on the following:

Yea or Nay?
STAPH, Biology Students Association, or nothing on the back?
Color: should I go another color? Do we have too many purple n' white shirts? Maybe invert the colors?

What would you pay for the shirt on the range of $5-10? (Answer on the poll!)

What ratio of S, M, L, XL (XXL??) should I get?

Is this even a good idea?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Obama/McCain Science Policies

For those folk who happen to be both politically- and scientifically-minded, here's a pretty thorough and even-handed look at McCain and Obama's records, plans, and opinions on science policy:

McCain: http://sharp.sefora.org/people/presidential-candidates/john-mccain-presidential-candidate/
Obama: http://sharp.sefora.org/people/presidential-candidates/barack-obama-presidential-candidate/

For European viewers, the map above shows how genetic markers can be used to find your ancestors' countries of origin. The accompanying article: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn14631-human-geography-is-mapped-in-the-genes.html?DCMP=ILC-hmts&nsref=specrt11_head_Gene%20geography

Monday, September 1, 2008

One Heart, One Ho, Two Dead Husbands, and Major Histocompatibility Complexes

Between painting benches and going to the paint store three times (I managed to get the wrong spray paint three times), I ran across an interesting article on CNN:


For those of you too busy enjoying your lonely summer to check out this wild story of heart transplants, high expectations, and suicidal love (but not too busy to read this post), here’s a short, gritty summary:

Girl wants money. Girl meets boy. Girl marries boy. Boy can’t get her enough money. Boy off’s himself. Boy’s heart goes to old dude. Old dude meets girl. Old dude marries girl. Old dude can’t take it either. Bang!

So, what’s this have to do with biology? Well, there’s this segment of the genome found in all people that codes for proteins that identify self and non-self. Known as the Major Histocompatibility Complex, this gene family codes for proteins that play a big role in immunity. Interestingly enough, these genes also influence mate selection: having a different MHC is a huge turn-on for most animals. The evolutionary reasons behind this are pretty straightforward, as mixing up MHCs can result in offspring with tougher immune systems, similar to the way having a horse breed with a donkey results in a mule (who will be smarter, stronger, and less of a burden on daddy’s banking account—no need to buy mule condoms…which are probably huge and not biodegradable—I digress).

Anyways, due to its role in determining self and nonself, a donor and receiver’s degree of MHC similarity is also important for successful matching of transplant organs. Similar MHC’s correlate positively with high success rates. Since the transplant was a remarkably good match (Suicidal Spouse #2 survived for over a decade), we can guess that Suicidal Spouse #1 and #2 had similar MHC’s. A little math can show the rest of the story:

Let the MHC’s of Suicidal Spouse #1 and #2 = α and β, respectively.
Let Twice-Widowed Chick = ♀

By Law of Organ Transplant Success: α = β
By Law of Attraction: α ≠ ♀
Transitive Property: β ≠ ♀
Observed: α + ♀ = Death
Therefore: β + ♀ = Death

So, the moral of the story is: be careful.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Is it an ADHDaptation?

Apparently easy access to Ritalin isn’t the only benefit of ADHD. I read a report on a study looked at a mutation that causes impulsive behavior linked to ADHD in Kenyan nomads. The study, in which NU Ph.D. student Dan Eisenberg took part, found that carriers were way more ripped than those lacking the mutation. Researchers surmised that the mutation tended to make carriers more spontaneous and meaner, personality traits which are apparently great for moving to the front of the Kenyan cafeteria line.

While anything concerning ways to get ripped will usually tend to catch my eye, I’ve always found genetic studies like these interesting because they show how some common traits which seem so adverse in today’s society actually possess adaptive value in some habitats. A classic example of this is the gene for sickle cell, which if heterozygous, provides resistance against malaria. However, in areas where malaria isn’t common, being homozygous (and thus affected by the trait) trait really blows, as it drastically reduces lifespan and causes a host of other really lousy effects. Yet, due to its heterozygous advantage, the gene prevails in frequency in malaria-infested regions such as sub-Saharan Africa, the Mediterranean, and India. Fun.

Another sad example might include Huntington’s disease, an autosomal dominant trait that leads to death by middle age or so. I’ve heard that the frequency of the Huntington’s disease gene increased pretty steadily in the last century. The popular assumption is that carriers, knowing that their lives are short, tend to engage in riskier lifestyles which could potentially produce more offspring. However, the gene might somehow increase fitness in some other way. Those of you “House” fans who know about Thirteen might have some idea of what I’m getting at…

Hope this post wasn’t too speculative, but what’s a mind to do on a boring summer day? By the way, here’s the ADHD report on New Scientist:


Saturday, August 30, 2008

NU-BSA Blog Launched!

Howdy! This is the official Northwestern Biology Students Association Blog! We hope to have interesting biology-related news, commentaries, cool "how to" setups, meeting and event notifications, and all kinds of useful/crazy stuff here. Thanks for coming! Expect new posts soon!