Author Archives: Cassidy Heiserman

Low Carb Vs. Low Fat

Bread-and-pastaAs a major carb lover, I could never imagine my life without breads or pastas. However, low-carb and no carb diets seem to be increasingly common in our current society. A low-carb diet is completely out of the question for me, I mean who wants to give up bread? Recent diet crazes lead me to wonder which type of diet is more beneficial: low-carb or the traditional low fat?

Metabolism researcher at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases, Kevin Hall, recently conducted an experiment on the low carb versus low fat battle. Hall and his fellow researchers found 19 obese people who averaged around 35 years old. In order to test the effects of a low-carb diet, the participants had to first undergo a baseline diet. Throughout this five-day baseline diet, the participants had to consume 2,470 calories per day. 50% of these calories were carbs, while 35% were fat and an additional 15% was protein. After the five-day period, the participants had to obey this same diet for the six following days while cutting 30% of the total calories of carbs. After the six days, participants took a week-long break in their diets. Following the hiatus, the subjects resumed with the baseline diet for five days, and then moved onto the 30% less diet for the next six days. Throughout the periods of dieting, the participants stayed in the laboratory in order to allow the researchers to oversee what they ate. I think that that is a very good method because monitoring the participants eliminates the potential for third variables, which we discussed in class.

Through the aforementioned study, the researchers found that “although following a low carb diet did increase the breakdown of fat, these changes did not translate into an increased loss of body fat, compared with the amount of fat the participants lost while M13db269503ee06cb258b43d69dd59e15following a low-fat diet.” However, the study does not show the average weight lost, the regulations of those on the low-fat diets, or the complete duration of the study. Furthermore, I am curious as to whether either diet has any significant health effects.

In contrast, another study conducted on low fat versus low-carb diets was a meta-analysis, in which researchers gathered data from roughly 50 studies that contained nearly 7,300 participants altogether. The results of the meta-analysis “showed that there was little difference between low-fat and low-carb diets in terms of weight loss.” On average, people who followed either diet lost an average of 18 pounds over 6 months when compared to those who did not abide by any particular diet. However, relative to a typical lifespan, six months is a very short time. Therefore, I believe there may be a difference in these diets over the long run.

Those who suffer from obesity are typically the participants of diet studies, which may skew joke_3the data results. Usually, those who are obese can lose more weight at a faster rate since they have more weight to lose. If you took a 100-pound person and a 300-pound individual and put them on the same diet and exercise pattern, the person who weighs 300 pounds would generally lose weight much quicker. Also, obesity tends to create multiple health issues and therefore, I wonder if either diet can increase the negative health problems. According to Livescience, reducing carbs reduces insulin levels, and therefore, low-carb diets may be harmful to those who suffer from diabetes.

Within each study, there are many third variables. As we learned in class, third variables can only be ruled out in experiments and as a result are very common in observational studies. Something that could make a large difference in weight loss is exercise. While participants were monitored in the first experiment, the meta-analysis does not suggest supervision. As a result, I believe many individuals may have exercised more vigorously and frequently since they knew they were a part of a study.f201ecd3482c5dbff4218fa0fafba234

Researchers involved in both the experiment and the meta-analysis suggest that any diet is effective, and that success depends on the individual’s drive to accomplish their goals. Therefore, it is important to pick a diet that you can stick to, and not one that you believe will cause you to lose weight the fastest.

Twin Telepathy

For as long as I can remember, I have always dreamed about having a twin. I mean, who wouldn’t want an extra closet and a constant best telepathy500afriend to turn to? Identical twins look like each other, act like each other and share the same DNA. Similarities such as these cause many to wonder if twins can understand what each other are thinking without communicating, and if they can speak telepathically. The concept of twin telepathy has been researched for centuries and along with many others, I have always wondered: is twin telepathy real?

Twin telepathy is the belief that without communicating by mouth or body, twins can understand and process information transferred mentally with one another. They can experience this to all different extents, ranging from knowing each TWINS1other’s thoughts to feeling the physical pain of another person. From experience, I have learned that if you spend enough time with someone, you can often tell what he or she is thinking. With this in mind, how do we know identical twins have something special? Furthermore, the stories that are publicized by the media regarding twin telepathy tend to be over-dramatic anecdotal stories, therefore skewing the public’s perception of telepathy.

One study conducted by Adrian Parker, PhD, used four pairs of identical twins. The London-based study tested for “synchronous responses that occurred in the physiological data of one twin during the period when the other twin was exposed to shock and surprise stimuli.” Each twin tested under went five separate stimuli, and they were presented in a random order for each set of twins. Each stimuli or trial took place over a five minute time period, therefore creating a 25-minute session for each set of twins. Six of these trials showed signs of telepathy. Three of these six trials were expected to occur by chance, and a single pair of twins made four of the telepathy indicators. Therefore, with a p value greater than 0.05, the results of this test were not statistically significant.

If Parker had used hundreds of pairs of twins instead of just four, I believe that his results would be considerably different. Also, the report on this study failed to explain exactly what types of stimuli were displayed, as well as the ages, genders, and geographical locations of the participants.

Another study that showed no positive results was a series of experiments conducted by Samuel Soal. From 1941 to 1943, Soal conducted more than 128,000 trials of 160 participants. Through all of these trials, he found no evidence of telepathy.

Additionally, in 1993, Susan Blackmore attempted to prove the existence of telepathy. The parapsychologist experimented with six sets of both male and female twins, all between the ages of 11 and 20 years old. The experiment was carried out in classrooms, and consisted of one twin being the sender while the other twin was the receiver. The sender “was given selected objects, photographs or numbers and would attempt to psychically send the information to the receiver.” The receiver then attempted to draw what the sender was mentally describing. Form this experiment, no statistically significant results were found a18487c0c009257d15a0b12719e9f937therefore resulting in a lack of evidence proving the existence of telepathy.

Through all of these studies, none have proven the existence of twin telepathy. Numerous additional experiments have been performed on telepathy in general, between spouses, friends, and siblings. None of the results from these experiments show any signs of telepathy. As we learned in class, everything can happen due to chance. Therefore it is likely that at some point in time, you will be able to guess what someone else is thinking. I am sure it has happened to you before, and I am nearly certain that it will happen again! If you spend enough time with someone, it gradually becomes easier for you to pick up on his or her thoughts and inner feelings. Therefore, twin telepathy, or telepathy of any kind may simply be pure coincidence and the reading of the other person’s body language.

I hate to burst any bubbles here, but next time you correctly guess what someone is thinking or feeling and therefore think you have telepathy, it is likely only due to chance. Since hundreds of studies conducted on twin telepathy are black-guy-telepathic-force-pizza-1283813581Tconsistent with the null hypothesis that telepathy does not exist, any experiment that finds evidence that it does exist would likely be due to a fluke. However, as modern science improves, conducting experiments will become much easier and who knows, maybe we will end up proving the existence of telepathy in the future.

Ear Piercing to Relieve Migraines?

Through conversing with any migraine sufferer, you would find that a majority of them would do anything to ease the pain that raids their heads. 58e2b469b7236d068771cc1bb6afc134Fortunately, new evidence (and purely anecdotal evidence) gives a possible permanent solution to the issue: an ear piercing, specifically a daith piercing. I am sure most of you are wondering: what the heck does an ear piercing have to do with migraines? According to the research, it relates to acupuncture. Though the only data so far is anecdotal, I believe this could be beneficial to our species.

First, let’s get one thing straight: what is a daith piercing? Daith piercings are 2BBB72EE00000578-3214013-image-a-5_1440756033278ear piercings that pass “through the ear’s innermost cartilage fold, the crus of the helix.” All I have to say to that is, OW! As far as migraines, according to the Mayo Clinic, they are a severe type of headache that results in a pulsing or throbbing sensation. Nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound are other common effects of migraines. Some migraines last for hours, while others last for days. Everyone who suffers migraines experiences them differently, and severity and cause of migraines varies. Most people are unaware of what specifically triggers their migraines.

The method behind the madness relates the placement of daith piercings to the pressure point “targeted by acupuncturists to relieve chronic headaches.” Acupuncture has been heavily tested in order to find a link to curing migraines. One randomized control trial conducted by Ying Li MD, PHD found 175 males and females with migraines and randomly split them into three groups: one was treated with acupuncture and the other two received shams. After the acupuncture was performed, the 2BBC27A700000578-3214013-The_theory_that_daith_piercings_help_ease_migraines_is_based_on_-a-10_1440756446131participants were monitored and scored based on their symptoms. Researchers found “significant differences in pain relief and relapse” among those who were treated with true acupuncture. Specifically, 79.6% of those who received the acupuncture did not experience recurrence of pain. This experiment produced a p-value of <0.001, proving the results to be significantly significant. Furthermore, a meta-analysis conducted in 2012 of 29 studies and nearly 18,000 patients showed that acupuncture is “effective for treating chronic pain.” If a daith piercing occurs in the same place acupuncture would, does this mean that it is a reliable alternative?

Sheri Utecht, a 44 year old from Washington, suffered from chronic migraines for years. She spontaneously decided to get an ear piercing, and it happened to be her daith. After her piercing, Sheri has been cured of nearly all of her migraine related pain. Her story has inspired many to get their daiths pierced as well. This shows how strong personal anecdotes can be, like we discussed in class. Another migraine sufferer, Kimberly Glatz became motivated to get her daith pierced after hearing Sheri’s story. Glatz says that she notices an extreme difference in her headaches, and that the piercing is “worth trying.” The stories do not stop there, as hundreds of other migraine sufferers have been motivated to get their daiths pierced, and have seen significant results. While these stories are anecdotal, they seem intriguing enough to warrant a true study regarding daith piercings.

Benefits of getting the daith piercing as opposed to acupuncture include time and money. The typical cash price for acupuncture is $124 per session. On the other hand, daith piercings generally cost between $40 and $50. The piercing is a potential one time permanent solution to migraines. daith-piercing-migrainesFurthermore, a daith piercing takes around 10 minutes from start to finish, while acupuncture takes 30 minutes to an hour each session. If I suffered from migraines, I know I would definitely give the piercing a try.

While there are numerous success stories regarding the daith piercing alleviating migraines, they are all personal anecdotes, and therefore we cannot prove causation. There are many experiments that could be performed that would allow us to claim causation. The experiment could not be blinded because the participants would know if they received a piercing. However, researchers could gather a large group of migraine sufferers and split them into a control group and an experimental group. After piercing everyone in the experimental group, researchers would follow up with both groups in order to track and compare the number of migraines they’ve had. After a year’s worth of data was collected, I believe the findings would be solid enough to make a statement of causation.

However, one question of concern I have is whether the ear that is pierced 60416623matters. Does this relief from migraines only work when the right ear is pierced, or when the left ear is pierced? Does piercing both ears decrease the chances of suffering from a migraine? Furthermore, would the stimulation of the pressure point from a faith piercing eventually wear off? While these findings are merely personal anecdotes and lack data to support the hypothesis, I believe that outcomes are likely to be true. If you suffer from migraines and like the piercing, I think that getting it is worth a shot.

The Truth About GMOs

In our current world, it seems as though everything is modified and nothing is natural. GMO_TomatoGMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are taking over the world of food. With cancer rates on the rise, everyone is trying to take preventative measures to decrease their risk of falling subject to cancer. GMOs are widespread throughout the food industry, and therefore are challenging to avoid. While the FDA approves genetically modified organisms, many people are still skeptical. Since the study of effects of genetically modified organisms are relatively new science, people want to know: do GMOs cause cancer?

To get a base down, GMOs are organisms whose genetic makeup is altered in a laboratory. This is done through gene splicing, which is where genes of one species are inserted into another species. This is widely used in order for plants to develop resistance to pests, what_is_gmoweeds, and other diseases. What effect do these GMOs have on our bodies?

Currently there are no restrictions on genetically modified organisms and therefore, farmers and scientists are free to produce and distribute as many GMOs as they wish. When comparing regular crops to genetically engineered crops, The University of California, Santa Cruz found that GMOs use the land more efficiently. Furthermore, genetically modified food has a longer shelf life, which therefore makes distribution easier. I believe that a longer shelf life could lead to a sustainable way to feed people across the world. While these gains seem great, the fear of cancer tends to overpower the benefits. Additionally, I think that all of these benefits and a lack of regulation on GMOs may cause scientists and farmers to abuse genetically engineered organisms.

Though scientists have been manipulating the genomes of food for several decades, connecting GMOs to cancer is remotely new research. As a professor in New York and a crop and soil scientist at Washington State University, Dr. Philip Landrigan and Charles Benbrook believe that while GMOs may not directly cause cancer in humans, the herbicides used to treat these crops may be a threat to our species. This is an example of correlation not equaling causation, which we discussed in class. I think that many Americans previously believed that since cancer rates rose along with the consumption of GMOs, that genetically modified organisms were causing cancer. However, a 2012 study shows that there is a third variable involved, which is the herbicides. Because these herbicides only kill the weeds and not the crops, the crops endure a fair amount of herbicides and RatTumorSidepesticides when farmers attempt to exterminate the surrounding weeds. The well known weed-killer, Roundup, was commonly used in farms throughout the world. This herbicide contains glyphosate, which the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified as a “probable human carcinogen.” While it has not been tested on humans, Gilles-Eric Seralini tested the effects of glyphosate on 200 male and female albino Sprague-Dawley rats in a laboratory for two years. He found that exposure to the glyphosate lead to tumors in the rodents. Therefore, scientists assumed that it could have the same effect on humans.

With genetically modified corn being such a strong base in American’s diets, it seems surprising that we are not dying from cancer at a much higher rate. This thought attracted scientists to reexamine the results of these former studies, which led to the disproval of their results. Upon reading the reports of Gilles-Eric Seralini’s study that was published in September 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology, Steven Salzberg found the study to be poorly designed, and that the report ignores details that refute the findings. He also discovered that the control group only accounted for 10% of the total 200 rats. I believe that this could be due to multiple reasons, such as the scientists who conducted the experiment having their own secret agenda. This could cause them to create biased procedures, which would therefore skew the results. Something else that I found interesting about the study was that it did not explain at what rate the rats exposed to glyphosate got cancer compared to the control group. The experiment was eventually taken down after numerous experts followed up on the data and proved it to be false.

Thus far, all evidence leads us to believe that GMOs do not cause cancer, and neither do the herbicides used to treat them. I think that the experiment with rats could have been very beneficial if it were conducted correctly. Having non-biased scientists perform the experiment and evenly dividing the control and experimental groups would greatly reduce the chances for error in the experiment. Currently, we have no reason to suspect that GMOs cause cancer, and therefore consuming them should not be detrimental to our species.

Population Growth

“Population growth is a choice, not an inexorable force of nature.”

Institute for Population Studies

While the public may not be worried about the growing population of our world, demographers certainly are. For centuries, scientists have warned about future detrimental impacts of population growth. Since population growth appears to carry benefits, the average person struggles to understand the harsh tolls it is taking on our world. If the population continues to increase, our species will be negatively affected in numerous ways, including nutrition and standards of living.

John Wilmoth, head of the United Nations Populations Division and an author published in Science, has estimated that in 2050, the population will be roughly 9.6 billion people, and that by 2100, Earth will inhabit 10.9 billion people. Wilmoth states that these numbers are not predictions, but rather “ ‘are projections of what will happen if current trends worldpopgrcontinue.’ “ Other predictions from the UN suggest that the population could potentially add one billion people every decade, therefore surpassing 16 billion at the end of the century. One of the
leading factors of population growth is the world’s birth rate. I believe these estimates differ due to the unpredictability of this and other similar matters. Africa is expected to be the main leader in the increase of population over the next century, and health experts believe that this is due to low access to family planning resources and education throughout the continent. As a well-developed country, it is necessary that we take our knowledge and resources and spread them throughout the world, especially in struggling nations. I believe that creating more effective programs that focus on health education and providing family resources in these African countries would help slow the population rate.

Another prominent contribution to the rise in population is an increase in the quality of health care in developed countries, which results in longer lifespans. Furthermore, the infant mortality rate in underdeveloped nations is high and therefore, parents birth more children to ensure a higher chance of some surviving. Generally, a majority of these children do survive and reproduce, therefore exponentially increasing the world population. Based on this research, I believe an extremely effective way to help slow population growth is to provide these nations with adequate health care. While financially this would be a hurdle, the demand for health care is skyrocketing. Events in one country heavily affect other countries throughout the world, which was recently seen through the outbreak of Ebola. Therefore, helping other nations will help us in return.

Population growth poses several complications for humans. One of the created issues is food. How are we going to feed all of these people? Truthfully speaking, it does not seem realistic. Currently, one billion people throughout the world go to bed hungry. That is one in seven. 25,000 of these people die daily of malnutrition, and nearly 18,000 of these individuals are under five years old. In addition to food, one billion people do not have access to clean, popresdrinkable water. Increasing the population will only further worsen these issues. I think that it is crucial that before we concern ourselves with the issue of feeding billions of additional people in the upcoming years, we find a solution to nourish the people currently living on Earth through more effective means of food production and distribution.

Another concern includes shortages of housing. In order to make room for housing and other buildings, the United States uses roughly 1.2 million acres of rural land each year. My chain of thought begins as this: an increase in population means more housing would be needed. More housing would result in destruction of rural and fertile land, which in turn would reduce the world’s food supply. All of these issues are intertwined, and therefore we must approach each problem with caution and understand that resolving one issue will have an effect on the others.

While there are numerous solutions to help the population problem, I believe that one of the most realistic and effective ways would be to improve health care throughout the world. Unfortunately, conducting experiments is hard because we only have one Earth. Therefore, we must base our hypotheses on current data. I think that improvements in health care would result in a lower infant mortality rate, and in turn would decrease the total fertility rate, or the number of births per woman. Improving health care is not only limited to medicine, but also includes nutrition. To me, it is important to help provide developing countries with beneficial meals and clean drinking water. While it is challenging for a single person to slow population growth, being aware of these issues is the best way to start.

Advancement of Technology

Throughout the last several decades, there have been immense advancements in technology. Within the past 150 years, humans have invented televisions, cell phones, smartphones, computers, Unknownlaptops, tablets, and countless other forms of technology. Today, it seems as though everyone uses some form of technology every day, and no one would last without technology. How has this changed our education systems? Is this drastic increase in technology use helping us, or is it hurting us?

Everyone has their own opinion on technology, and therefore answers to the aforementioned questions will differ depending on whom you ask. Younger generations who have grown up in the world of technology believe it to enhance our lives, while older generations tend to believe technology impairs our society. Effects of technology are heavily opinion based, and therefore we must analyze the consequences through the eyes of science.

National Math and Science Initiative expert Jeremy Posey has found numerous different benefits of technology use in the classroom. Through observational studies conducted in elementary classrooms, Jeremy Posey found that technology allows students to work more efficiently, and that technology saves time. Posey states 1837d6a2f19b3afd46a871679e6ba06ethat students will therefore focus on projects for longer periods of time since they will be able to find the necessary information at a faster rate. Posey also believes that technology “makes students more excited to learn.” Children love few things more than walking into their classroom and seeing that the teacher has rolled in a TV. I believe that Jeremy’s findings are reliable, especially since I can
relate them to personal experiences. In elementary school, I always found myself to work harder and more efficiently when a computer was available. Since the attention spans of elementary school children are limited, having access to computers is beneficial.

On the other hand, a survey of 2,462 teachers conducted by the Pew Research Center found that “nearly 90 percent said that digital technologies, such as computers and cell phones were creating an easily distracted generation with short attention spans.” In addition, another survey of 685 teachers, also conducted by the Pew Research Center, found that “71 percent said they thought technology was hurting attention span.” Even though students may begin using their phones or computers for educational purposes, it is not difficult to quickly become distracted by the other capabilities of technology. Teachers experience the affects of technology on students first-hand. Therefore, even though these conclusions are based on surveys, I think that the findings are valid. However, teachers’ experiences in the classroom are anecdotal, similar to the lecture we had in class about doctors killing people. While Teachers spend several hours a week with their students, they only experience bits of the population, and therefore from a scientific perspective, their findings may not be valid.

Even though technology aids us in many ways, it also causes a decrease in essential skills, such as critical thinking and creativity. Patricia Greenfield, a UCLA professor of psychology and the director of the Children’s Digital Media Center in LA has analyzed over fifty studies regarding learning and technology. Her work was published in Science in 2009. She has found that as technology increases, reading for pleasure decreases. As we know from class, correlation does not equal causation, though in this case, it is not unlikely that there is also a causal relationship. However, reading “enhances thinking and engages the imagination in a way that visual media such as video games and television do not.” Greenfield goes on to explain that “reading develops imagination, induction, reflection, and critical thinking, as well as vocabulary. Reading for pleasure is the key to developing these skills.” Since meta-analyses are composed of multiple studies, the likelihood that the findings are incorrect decreases with each additional study. As we learned in class, only 5% of the time will scientists conclude that a relationship is occurring when connections are nonexistent. Every study added will cause the 0.05 to multiply by a factor of 0.05. Having produced a miniscule number, refuting the data would be challenging.

Irrefutably, there are numerous advantages and disadvantages to data-communication-19941566technology. While technology can be beneficial by enabling us to research more quickly, it seems as though the negatives outweigh the positives. Distracted learning and a decrease in social skills could negatively impact us as a species. Within the next several decades, we will be able to find the effects of technology usage over a lifetime. Only then we will know the true costs and benefits of technology. I think that technology is a revolutionary milestone for our species, but like Oscar Wilde once said, use “everything in moderation.”

Elephants Curing Cancer?

Elephants have been my favorite animal for as long as I can remember, and now I have yet ANOTHER reason to love them: elephants are helping oncologists in their search for a cure for cancer. How is this possible? According to recent studies from the University of Utah and images-2Arizona State University, scientists have likely found a biological mechanism, which immensely increases elephants’ risk of beating cancer.

For years, scientists have been perplexed on why even though “elephants have 100 times as many cells as humans,” they are extremely unlikely to die from cancer. Due to elephants’ massive size, “they should be 100 times more likely to have a cell slip into a cancerous state and trigger the disease over their long life span of 50 to 70 years.” So, why have researchers found that elephants only have a 5% mortality rate from cancer, as opposed to an 11 to 25 percent mortality rate among humans?

This dramatic difference between mortality rates is a result of the elephants’ biology compared to ours. Based on years of research and studies on numerous elephants, scientists have found that “elephants have 38 additional modified copies (alleles) of a gene that encodes p53, a well-defined tumor suppressor, as compared to humans, who only have two” (The University of Utah). This means that elephants may get cancer at a much higher rate than humans, but their bodies are able to fight it off much more efficiently. P53 is becoming a major focus of researchers. Scientists have found that elephants possibly possess a mechanism for killing imagespotentially cancerous cells within their bodies. “In isolated elephant cells, this activity is doubled compared to healthy human cells, and five times that of cells from patients with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, who have only one working copy of p53 and more than a 90 percent lifetime cancer risk. The results suggest extra p53 could explain elephants’ enhanced resistance to cancer” (The University of Utah). Li-Fraumeni Syndrome causes its sufferers to be more susceptible to certain types of caners. If there were a way to insert additional p53 genes in humans, would our cancer mortality rate dramatically decrease?

Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric oncologist at Huntsman Cancer Institute believes that “ ‘[n]ature has already figured out how to prevent cancer. It’s up to us to learn how different animals tackle the problem so we can adapt those strategies to prevent cancer in people’ ” (The University of Utah). Maybe we have been searching for a cure in all of the wrong places, as a true cure has been right in front of us for decades.

Scientists were able to prove their hypotheses from years of extensive research. They picked apart the genome of African elephants and discovered minimally 40 copies of genes that contain p53. Why do elephants have so many more p53 genes than humans? Studies show that most of the p53 genes “are so called retrogenes, modified duplicates that have been churned out over evolutionary time” (The University of Utah). Evolution is at it again! In order to test “whether the extra gene copies may protect elephants from cancer, [t]hey extracted white blood cells from blood drawn from the animals during routine wellness checks and subjected the cells to treatments that damage DNA, a cancer trigger. In response, the cells reacted to damage with a characteristic p53-mediated response: they committed suicide” (The University of Utah). Through this experiment, scientists were able to prove that genes possessing p53 force cancerous cells to die.

This process kills damaged cells, which means that the cell is gone forever, and therefore cannot turn into cancer. Schiffman believes that “this may be more effective of an approach to cancer prevention than trying to stop a mutated cell from dividing and not being able to completely repair itself” (The University of Utah). It is clear that with any type of potential problem in any aspect of life, it is more beneficial to stop the problem before it starts, as opposed to trying to fix the mess it created. P53 cells in elephants typically kill off cancer cells before they even become cancerous. This is much more effective than trying to rid yourself of numerous cancer cells, after they have multiplied and spread throughout your body.

Another hypothesis tested was whether p53 protected elephants from cancer by increasing the body’s response to damage within it. To test this, Schiffman and his team of researchers “did a side-by-side comparison with cells isolated from elephants, healthy humans, and patients with Li-Fraumeni Syndrome. They found that elephant cells exposed to radiation self-destruct at images-1twice the rate of healthy human cells and more than five times the rate of the Li-Fraumeni cells (14.6%, 7.2%, and 2.7%,, respectively). These findings support the idea that more p53 offers additional protection against cancer” (The University of Utah). Scientists believe that the p53 gene is saving the elephants form extinction. Due to their massive body size, hundreds of thousands of elephants should have died from cancer, but this is not true. Could p53 save humans as well?

Evolution has allowed elephants to overcome cancer, and hopefully humans are saved soon as well. Schiffman believes that the “the real takeaway [from his research] is essentially that evolution had over 55 million years to figure out how to prevent cancer in elephants, and now the challenge is to learn how to apply that knowledge to our own patients.” If evolution has helped animals guard themselves from cancer, why has it not helped humans? Schiffman believes that this is due to humans living lifestyles other than the ones we were evolved to live, hinting at the increase in technology. “From the lack of exercise to unhealthy foods… modern humans have put themselves on a somewhat unnatural track” (Mastroianni). While scientists do not exactly how to increase p53 in humans, they are in the process of finding a way. I believe that through cloning and replication, higher amounts of p53 could potentially be inserted into humans. Cancer is cancer, whether it is in animals or in humans. Therefore I believe that if increased p53 is able to save elephants from cancer, it should be able to save humans as well. If scientists find a way to insert additional p53 copies into humans, researchers could perform multiple experiments. A blinded randomized experiment would be possible, through congregating a large sample size. This group could then be split into two subgroups: experimental and control. The control group would receive a placebo option, and the experimental group would receive the p53 treatment. While the researchers would be aware of which group received which treatment, the doctors and the patients would not know. This would allow scientists to do extensive research on the effects of p53. From numerous experiments such as this one, we would be able to determine if the presence of p53 truly does help humans combat cancer.

People will try whatever they can to save themselves from cancer. I think that humans would be very open to the idea of using p53 to help them beat cancer. Maybe in the future, humans will Unknownhave higher levels of p53, therefore stopping cancer before it is able to start.

Why Do We Dream?

Have you ever had that one reoccurring dream and you just cannot seem to understand why? Or maybe you have had dreams involving dramatic changes in your life, such as a break-up or death. I am sure you have had a few dreams involving random people that you haven’t thought Unknown-1about in years, which cause extreme confusion when you wake up. Why do we dream about the things we dream abou and what causes these dreams?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a dream is “a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep and especially during REM sleep.” While technology is greatly improving, therefore making studying dreams studying dreams much easier, “[w]hy we dream is still one of the behavioral sciences’ greatest unanswered questions. Researches have offered many theories- memory consolidation, emotional regulation [and] threat simulation.” The Department of Psychology in Tucson, Arizona supports the claim that “there is currently no convincing explanation for why we dream or what we dream about.”  However, Jessica D. Payne and Lynn Nadel believe in a strong relationship between sleep and memory. They believe that “dreams reflect a biological process of long-term memory consolidation, serving to strengthen the neural traces of recent events, to intergrade these new traces with older memories and previously stored knowledge, and to maintain the stability of existing memory representations in the face of subsequent experience.” They are aware that multiple neurotransmitters and neurohormones are involved in the dreaming process, but they chose to focus their study on a stress hormone cortisol. “Cortisol is a steroid hormone, and is produced in humans within the adrenal gland. It is released in response to stress and low blood-glucose concentration.”  Along with adrenaline, cortisol creates memories of short term-emotional events.

There are currently two major types of sleep that are heavily studied. One type is rapid eye movement, or REM sleep. REM sleep goes through roughly 90 minute cycles “and alternates with four additional stages known collectively as NREM sleep- the second type of sleep. Slow wave sleep is the deepest of the NREM phases and is the phase from which people have the most difficulty being awakened” (Payne and Nadel). The two different stages of sleep occur due to neurochemical fluctuations. Until recently, nearly all of the research on dreams was focused on REM sleep. While dreams are undoubtedly present during REM, recent studies show that dreams also occur during the NREM stages as well. However, out of 29 REM and 33 NREM Sleeping-and-dreaming.gifstudies, only 50% of those who dreamt during NREM remembered their dreams. On the other hand, nearly 81.8% of the 29 REM participants were able to remember their dreams. Researches have often found that the dreams we have during REM are the dreams that give us superpowers. In “REM dreams, it is possible to walk through walls, fly, interact with an entirely unknown person as if she was your mother, or stroll through Paris past the Empire State Building.” (Payne and Nadel). While episodic memory is highly functional in NREM sleep, it is not in REM sleep. Episodic memory “refers to knowledge about the past that incorporates information about where and when particular events occurred” (Payne and Nadel). Therefore, it seems clear that most of the bizarre dreams we have occur during the REM stages of sleep, and dreams relating to thoughts in our memory take place during NREM sleep.

Emotional regulation is another common theory on why we dream. There are strong ties between nightmares and emotional regulation nightmares and emotional regulation, and “a majority of nightmare theories converge on the view that a principal function of dreaming is the regulation of emotion and that some alteration of this emotion regulation leads to nightmares.” As believed by Freud, “adaptive functions of nightmares have been described as assimilating repressed anxiety, or transforming shame into fear. Nightmares have also been considered as emotionally maladaptive, for example, as failing to master trauma” (Nielson and Lara-Carrasco). It is evident that emotional regulation is a theme that is consistently displayed in studies of nightmares.

The threat simulation theory relates dreaming to an entire different spectrum than other scientists have previously studied. This theory “states that dream consciousness is essentially an ancient biological defense mechanism, evolutionarily selected for its capacity to repeatedly simulate threatening events.”  This has become evolutionarily useful because the dreams allow the rehearsal of “cognitive mechanisms required for efficient threat perception and threat avoidance, leading to increased probability of reproductive success during human evolution.” Whoa, so does this mean that our dreams prepare us for real life situations by introducing them to the brain beforehand? One belief on why this occurs is that threatening events that a person experiences while they are awake will lead to changes throughout their body, such as threat simulation responses. These responses cause “an increased severity of threatening events in dreams” (Valli, Revonsuo, and Ismail). This has been proven through studies comparing children who live in unstable environments compared to children who are raised in healthy environments. Children who live in an environment where their “physical and psychological well being is constantly threatened should have a highly activated dream production in threat simulation system, whereas children living in a safe environment that is relatively free of such threat cues should have a weakly active system” (Valli, Revonsuo and Ismail). Through studies on Finnish and Kurdish children of different upbringings, researchers were able to support their a60a39708a00cd765e09e86874532e84hypotheses further. They found that “the severely traumatized children reported a significantly greater number of dreams and their dreams included a higher number of threatening dream events” (Valli, Revonsuo and Ismail). The threats in the dreams of traumatized children were also far more severe and serious compared to the threats of less traumatized children. These results were found through administering surveys to children regarding their dream patterns. While that may not be the best and most reliable method, I cannot think of a better one to use. Personal surveys have multiple issues, including response bias and untruthful answers. However, there is no other benefical way to test individuals on whether they remembered their dreams or not, and what these dreams were about.

This study leads me to believe that trauma has a strong influence on dreams, and what we dream about. I think that our mind is subconsciously thinking about events that happen in our day-to-day life, and things that worry us. This would therefore lead to more threatening dreams for those who live in dangerous and traumatizing environments, or for individuals who are more anxious than others. I have noticed in my own life that I tend to remember dreams more when I am anxious about something. I think that it is also evident that the REM cycle plays the key role in dreaming, and that all of these functions must come together to cause us to have specific dreams involving particular people.

While all of these theories make perfect sense individually, I think that they work best when tied together. I think that dreams are a result of a multitude of functions, and that there is not one specific thing that causes them. As technology advances further, it will become easier to Unknownunderstand and prove why we dream. Who knows, maybe within our lifetime we will know the true cause of dreams. Until then, I think that the memory consolidation, emotional regulation and threat simulation theories are all equally likely to cause dreams.

Jurassic Park

We have all seen the movies- well, hopefully. Jurassic Park is one of the most well known trilogies of all time. All three movies, and the new fourth one, are comprised of the idea that humans can recreate Unknownall different types of dinosaurs through using DNA. While this would be extremely difficult in real life, it does seem plausible. Watching the fourth movie this past summer lead me to wonder: is a real life Jurassic Park possible?

For those of you who do not know, the Jurassic Park trilogy, as well as the newest in the sequence, Jurassic World, involve the seemingly impossible: genetically engineered dinosaurs. Scientists were able to create these dinosaurs through DNA found in preserved mosquitos trapped in amber. This DNA was then combined with the DNA of many present-living animals. After numerous years of research and lab tests, the scientists were able to create dinosaur eggs, which then hatched into dinosaurs. I know that I am not alone when I say that this would be absolutely amazing, and also horrifying, if this were to happen in real life.

Unfortunately for me, it does not seem like a real life Jurassic Park is possible, well at least not in our lifetimes. According to Mary Schweitzer and Tracy Staedter, paleontologists at Montana State University, “[m]ost scientists don’t put much stock in the idea because it’s unlikely that DNA could last for million years. [However] some of [them] think that proteins might prove to be the genuine article.” As a non-science major, I had no idea what proteins could possibly do that would lead to the creation of a dinosaur. Schweitzer and Staedter explain that since proteins are “bigger and heartier than DNA, some proteins may have a better chance at surviving for eons and could provide clues about an extinct animal’s life not as easily extracted from DNA.” In order to do this, scientists would have to be able to find matches of ancient protein molecules with present day molecules. This would allow them to determine the relationship between dinosaurs and birds. Most people think they are very closely related, and that birds are the descendants of dinosaurs (Schweitzer and Staedter). However, they “can never bring dinosaurs back to life as Steven Spielberg did in his movie. But we could bring the essence of their lives into the present and come as close as science might ever get to a real Jurassic Park” (Schweitzer and Staedter). Even though dinosaurs roaming the earth again is merely impossible, extensive research will help us discover things that we did not know about dinosaurs previously.

James Horner, the inspiration for Jurassic Park’s Alan Grant, claims that “chickens and birds are carrying much bigger chunks of dinosaur DNA than we are ever likely to find in the fossil record.” For the past decade at Montana State University, Horner has been experimenting with and researching bird DNA alteration. Even though Horner “has been an adviser to the Jurassic Park franchise for years, [he] says that the original idea behind the park- the creation of dinosaurs from intact, fossilized DNA- is unlikely” (Pyle). DNA is so complicated to preserve because of its size. DNA is is so massive and made of trillions of pieces, which are all held together in a cell nucleus by chemistry. imagesThe problem is that when the cell dies, the chemistry fizzles, which in turn causes the molecule to break apart. Since this process happens so quickly after the cell dies, Horner can be nearly certain that there is no residual DNA left after 65 million years (Pyle). Even though an exact replication of dinosaurs is virtually impossible, Horner and his team are working to create the closest thing they possibly can. Horner has said, “the proof of the concept has been accomplished. [They] can get teeth into a bird and just recently a team from Yale and Harvard have managed to retro-engineer [a bird’s] beak back into a dinosaur-looking mouth” (Pyle). So while the concept may be there, it is nowhere near the same as Jurassic Park. Scientists are not able to use preserved DNA to recreate dinosaurs, and probably never will be. Furthermore, the dinosaur mutants created in labs are likely to be the size of a dog, and not the typical enormous size you would expect. Horner is working on gathering DNA features from different animals to put towards the creation of dinosaurs.

All of this research can also greatly benefit the real world? Besides the wow factor, “learning how to switch genes on and off and figuring out what different genes do will have tremendous application in medical fields and into many other areas as well, including making better food” (Pyle). Imagine a world where humans are able to manipulate DNA in order to benefit our species immensely.

Horner estimates that in roughly the next ten years, he may be able to create a miniature dinosaur. It all depends on how long it takes them to find the necessary genes. They “might find a couple of these genes tomorrow or it might take 10 years. There’s just no way to predict” (Pyle). Since advancements in the field are typically not linear, the process could take of at any time.

Clearly there are have been no studies on present day dinosaurs, simply because they do not exist. There are only a minute number of scientists devoted to researching genetically engineered dinosaurs, and therefore, the findings can take years, and even decades to prove. While a fully functioning Jurassic Park is not likely to ever be possible, James Horner and his team of researchers are working to get as close as they can. Hopefully Horner’s prediction is correct, and within the next ten years, we will see miniature, dog-sized dinosaurs in our lives.

Life on Mars?

Two days ago, the impossible happened: LIQUID WATER WAS FOUND ON MARS! Well, under certain conditions. According to NASA, “new findings from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provide the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars.” Based on pictures and data collected from rovers, NASA has long believed there to be liquid water on Mars. However, they did not want to make anything public until legitimate proof of water was found. While we have previously known that other forms of water have been on Mars in the past, this is the first evidence of liquid water on another planet in the present day. All of this leads me to wonder: is life on Mars now possible?

As I previously learned in an astronomy class, there are three key things that must be present on a planet in order for it to be habitable. It must have a source of energy, such as the sun, as well as nutrients needed for survival, and liquid water. With the increase in technology over the last century, I would find it hard to believe that life on Mars is not possible. Even though the findings of liquid water only occurred two days ago, NASA has spent decades investigating Mars.

Mars is the fourth planet away from the sun in our solar system, right behind Earth. Mars is red in color, and due to its far distance from the sun, it is also much colder than Earth. Universe today also explains in detail how much smaller Mars is compared to our planet. The diameter of mars is 6,800 kilometers, which is only 53% of Earth’s diameter. “Because of the small diameter and low mass, the surface gravity on Mars is only 38% the gravity on Earth” (Cain). This means that if you weigh 100 kg here on Earth, you would only weigh 38 kilograms on Mars. This is due to less gravity pushing down against you, and also relates directly to why people are so light on the moon. Surprisingly, “Mars and Earth are very similar in terms of their day mount-sharp-curiositylength. A day on Mars lasts 1.03 Earth days. So humans could actually probably adapt to the day length on Mars” (Cain). Another similarity between Earth and Mars is their axial tilts. Mars has an axial tilt of 25.19 degrees, and Earth’s is 23.5 degrees. “This means that Mars has seasons which are very similar to Earth’s. Of course, since a year on Mars lasts about twice as long as an Earth year, the seasons are twice as long” (Cain). All of these facts make it appear as though Earth and Mars are extremely similar. These facts seem to support my hypothesis that life on Mars is possible.

Unfortunately, it appears as though the possibility of life on Mars, at least for humans, would be an extraordinary challenge. Mars’ climate differs extremely from Earth’s, which is something that would be very hard to adapt to. “The temperature on Mars may reach a high of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit at noon, at the equator in the summer, or a low of about -225 degrees Fahrenheit at the poles.” However, these temperatures can change drastically depending on your location on Mars, and in most places, temperatures are in the extreme negatives. Another huge issue with Mars regards its atmosphere, or lack there of. “The atmosphere of Mars is less than 1% the thickness of Earth’s atmosphere” (Cain). Why is this a problem? Earth’s atmosphere not only protects us from a majority of the sun’s harmful rays, but it also keeps us warm. The atmosphere “holds the surface heat on the earth and prevents it from radiating out to space.” This is commonly known as the greenhouse affect. The lack of greenhouse affect on Mars is one of the reasons why its temperatures are so harsh. Another issue of Mars’ atmosphere is that it is made of 95% carbon dioxide, and only 0.13% oxygen. On the other hand, Earth’s atmosphere is 21% oxygen.

Along with the rest of the world, it seems as though NASA is captivated by Mars. Unfortunately for us, “scientists think that the climate on Mars 3.5 billion years ago was similar to that of early Earth: warm and wet”  that seems perfect for human life, if only we were not 3.5 billion years late.

NASA has performed numerous studies on Mars over the past several decades, and they have made fascinating discoveries through them. NASA has “determined that a primitive ocean on Mars held more water than Earth’s Arctic Ocean and that the Red Planet has lost 87 percent of that water to space.” By using different compounds and chemicals, NASA was able to determine how much of Mars’ water escaped to space (NASA).

Unfortunately, performing experiments on planets are extremely hard for multiple reasons. One reason is the travel itself. Another crucial reason is that there is only one of each planet. Therefore, we cannot have a randomized control group, or an experimental group. We cannot try to create different methods of survival on each Mars, because there is only one Mars. However, I do believe that science is becoming more advanced everyday, which will lead to numerous possibilities in the future.

While “NASA is developing the human spaceflight capabilities needed for future round-trip missions to Mars in the 2030’s,” life on Mars does seem like a far-fetched possibility (NASA). Though human life on Mars seems impossible at this point in time, it does not seem too impractical to believe that other forms of life are possible. Bacteria and other single celled organisms would be the most promising forms of life on Mars. I guess we will have to wait and see what the science and research of the next several decades discover.

Are Mental Illnesses all in Your Head (Literally)

The mind is a powerful thing, maybe more so than you would think. As the daughter of a police officer, I have heard multiple stories regarding the power of the mind. One that always sticks out to me involves another officer that my father knew. The officer was shot in the foot, and the wound seemed relatively minor. However, on the way to the hospital and for the entire duration of his stay, the officer repeatedly said, “I am going to die.” Believe it or not, he did. Stories such as this cause many to wonder if mental disorders can relate to this concept. Do humans just believe that they have a mental illness when in fact one is not present?

While I have been lucky enough to not personally have a mental health illness, I know a lot of people who suffer from them. Mental illnesses affect not only the person who has it, but also all of the people surrounding the individual. There are hundreds of classified mental illnesses, and imagesthey include autism, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is commonly known as OCD. I have recently found myself wondering about all aspects of mental disorders. What causes them? Are they able to be truly cured? What even is a mental illness?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “a mental illness is a condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.” Mental illnesses vary extensively from diseases. As opposed to diseases, such as cancer or heart disease, mental illnesses are diagnosed through “descriptions of what clinicians observe people do or say”. There is no true test to determine whether or not someone has a mental illness; the diagnosis is based on observations and behavior patterns. This method leads to a major problem: delay in recovery. Psychologists are “still diagnosing these illnesses by observations rather than using biomarkers, the method the rest of [the] medicine world uses to identify illnesses. Consequently, treatment often doesn’t arrive until late in the course of the illness. This lack of timely treatment has led neuropsychiatric disorders to become the leading cause of disability in the world, more than heart disease, cancer or injuries.”  Another problem with the diagnoses of mental disorders is that “[d]espite being common, mental illness is under diagnosed by doctors. Less than half of those who meet diagnosis criteria for psychological disorders are identified by doctors.” According to the Center for Disease Control, or the CDC, roughly 36,000 Americans die by suicide every year (McLean). All of these deaths are a product of some mental illness. The unfortunate part is that 36,000 people who die from suicide does not account for the thousands of others who attempt to take their own life each year. According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, or SAVE, “there is one suicide for every estimated 25 suicide attempts.” This means that at least 900,000 people attempt to take their own life each year. That is roughly 2,466 per day, and 103 each hour. These rates are the highest among 15-24 year olds, as suicide is the second leading cause of death for this age group (SAVE). I believe that the rates are highest among this age group because this time is typically when an individual begins to first notice signs of the mental illness. Without knowing of any way to cope with the symptoms of a mental disorder, tackling every day life can be excruciating. Add high school or college to that mix, and it seems clear why suicide rates are the highest among this age range. While you would assume that the suicide rates between men and women are fairly even, this is not the case. “Suicide among males is 4x’s higher than among females. Male deaths represent 79% of all US suicides (SAVE). This leads me to wonder: do males suffer from mental illness at a higher rate than females?

People can contract mental illnesses by all different means. Some mental illnesses are caused more so by genetics, such as schizophrenia, and others are a result of the environment, such as depression. The Mayo Clinic explains that “certain genes may increase your risk of developing a mental illness, and your life situation may trigger it.” Therefore, not everyone who has a gene for a mental disorder will suffer from it.

People of any age, race, and gender can suffer from a mental illness. However, most disorders become prominent young, as “50%… begin by age 14 and 75% of mental health conditions develop by the age of 24” (Nami). I believe that an efficient way to test the number of people with mental illnesses would be through anonymous random surveys, or by records of psychologists.

While the World Health Organization, also known as the WHO, knows that there is not sufficient research regarding gender and mental illness, they have concluded that women suffer from mental disorders more than men. I believe that there is such little research on the gender differences in mental illnesses because of the difficulty involved in studying mental illnesses in general. A hypothesis that I have for why women suffer from mental illnesses at a higher rate than men is that women often go through more traumatic experiences. “At least one in five women suffer rape or attempted rape in their lifetime” (WHO). Women also suffer from violence more than men. Furthermore, women get paid less than men for the same job, which therefore puts them at a socioeconomic disadvantage (WHO). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a common result of sexual violence. Depression can also be triggered by the inequalities and subordination women face.

According to a study at Oxford University, “women are up to 40% more likely than men to develop mental health conditions.” Women are also 75% more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety as opposed to men. However, substance abuse and misuse disorders are much more likely in men- about 2 and a half times more than in women (Ball). These results come form “an analysis of 12 large-scale epidemiological studies carried out across the world since the 1990s… The analysis used only large-scale studies, which looked at the general population” (Bell). I think that the most interesting discovery made in this study is that “women tend to suffer more from what we call ‘internal’ problems like depression or sleep problems. They take out problems on themselves, where men have externalizing problems, where they take things out on the environment, such as [through] alcohol and anger problems” (Bell). This shows that women and men generally handle things differently, which is what I believe attributes to the difference in suicide rates.

One person who suffered from a mental illness that will always stick out to me is Robin Williams. I think that he is an excellent example about how people are able to mask their true emotions and fake a smile. Robin William’s suicide sparked a lot of attention to depression and mental Unknownillness throughout America. He proved that money and material things do not matter and that they can not make you happy. While nice cars, lavish vacations and a beautiful home can mask how you are feeling temporarily, they will never make your problems go away. Money does not equal happiness. If mental illnesses really were all in your head, clearly Robin Williams would not have been a sufferer. He would have quickly been able to overcome his issues through his rise to fame, and the life he created for himself.

Obviously “nobody chooses to have cancer. Similarly, nobody chooses to have a mental illness… you cannot just snap out of it.” Mental disorders are not all in your head, figuratively or literally. They impact every part of the body, from the heart to the lungs. One cannot just decide to not have a mental illness one day. If this were the case, not a single person in the world would suffer from a mental disorder. “1 in every 5 adults experiences a mental health condition every year. 1 in 20 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder” (Nami). These numbers are terribly high. Optimistically, within the near future, mental health awareness will become more prominent throughout society. Hopefully it does not take another shocking suicide to do so.

Mental illnesses are in no way all in our heads. They exist in every aspect of life. While there are no true cures for mental disorders, there are things that can dramatically improve the life of those who suffer from them. Numerous medicines have been manufactured, and there are also therapists in nearly every town. Sometimes, the best way to help ease the pain of a mental illness is to surround yourself with loving friends and family. I am sure that I am not alone when I say that hopefully, no one with a mental disease is ever told “it’s all in your head” again.

Why Can’t I Sing?

Have you ever wondered why some people are naturally talented at singing while others are not? How did Beyonce, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera become so talented? Was it years of practice, or were they born with the talent? Through playing the flute for nine years, Beyoncé-Singing-2013-InaugurationI
always thought that it would help me better my singing. While nearly everyone else in the wind ensemble had beautiful voices, I always sounded like a frog. This caused me to wonder: why do some people sing extremely well without trying, while others cannot, even while putting forth effort?

Poor singing has an actual scientific definition: “it involves a deficiency in three areas: pitch accuracy, the ability to keep time, and note memory.” Therefore, it is clear that numerous factors go into one’s ability to sing. Genetics affect “the shape and size of the vocal folds and the larynx. The shape of a person’s skull is also responsible for the shape and size of the pharynx and the nasal cavities, a person’s natural resonators.”  Each of these has a correlation with a human’s ability to sing. An example of this would be guitars. If you play multiple different guitars, even while using the same strings, each guitar will sound unique due to the individual shape and size (Medical Daily).

According to one study, the reason for poor singing is not what most people previously believed. The study involved the use of a slider, with which one is able to produce different sounds and pitches. Participants included both musicians and non-musicians. Each individual was told to recreate the pitch that was played for him or her by using the slider. However, the subjects were not allowed to use their actual voice. This study showed no difference in accuracy between musicians and non-musicians. After, the participants had to match the played pitch with their voice only. In this activity, the musicians had more success. Therefore, the National Center for Biotechnology Information suggests that a majority of singing deficits result from “poor motor control and timbral-translation errors” (NCBI). To me, this seems like something that can be improved through practice.

It is extremely clear that there is a huge genetic factor in singing. This makes me wonder: is there a singing gene? According to ABC news, there is high speculation that there is in fact a music gene. David Huron, a professor of music at the Ohio State University (sorry for the reference, but I had to), believes that “the music gene would have arisen tens or hundreds of thousands of years ago, and conferred an evolutionary advantage on those who possessed it. Natural selection would have nurtured the gift of music, favoring those who possessed it with more offspring who were themselves more likely to reproduce.” Huron credits many possible biological roots of music. One strong example he gives is the ubiquity of music. Whether it be native tribal songs or the raves that take place in Amsterdam, music is a unique part of each individual culture (ABC news).  I am currently taking a human development and family studies class, in which we are discussing different affects gene correlation has on children. Passive correlation occurs only in young children, when they are unable to make decisions for themselves. An example of this is in reading. If a mother has a love for reading, it is likely that her family’s home will have an abundance of books. Also, the mother will probably take her children to the library often, and encourage them to read. This is likely to result in the children’s love for reading: both because the children are exposed to it, and also because they share the common gene with their mother. I believe that the same goes for singing. If a parent has a strong love for music, they are likely to be continuously singing and playing music throughout the house. These parents are also more likely to encourage children to play instruments of their own, by signing them up for music lessons and buying them children’s instruments from an early age. These children are at a huge advantage for being successful in the music industry because first off, they are likely to have the music gene that has been passed down by a parent. Second, the positive encouragement that would take place is vital for successs.

Mental aspects also play a huge role in singing. Many people doubt themselves and their talents, and therefore their singing goes unheard. It is essential that all music teachers and professionals teach confidence in their students and admirers. Of course, the environment also plays a large role in singing abilities. Those who are raised in an environment where singing is not only encouraged, but also praised, have a higher chance of succeeding in music.

While some people do naturally have beautiful voices and perfect pitch, it takes a majority of people years of strong practice to become a good singer. The study I mentioned above from the NCBI shows that as humans, we are able to recognize distinct pitches and recreate them on an instrument, however it is hard to recreate the sound with our voices. I believe that we all have the innate ability to recognize pitches, although some are unable to hear the pitch that they are singing when they try to recreate it. This makes it hard to match pitches together, which in turn will result in poor singing. According to new research from Northwestern University, “singing accurately is not so much a talent as a learned skill.” Steven Demorest, a professor of music at Northwestern’s School of Music believes that the ability to sing directly relates to playing an instrument. ” ‘ No one expects a beginner on violin to sound good right away, it takes practice, but everyone is supposed to be able to sing… When people are unsuccessful they take it very personally, but we think if you sing more, you’ll get better” (Deardorff). There is hope! A study that was published in the journal Music Perception compared the singing abilities of three groups: kindergarteners, sixth graders, and college-aged adults. In one specific test, the individuals were asked to listen to four repetitions of a single pitch, and then sing back what they heard. Not surprising, “the study showed considerable improvement in accuracy from kindergarten to late elementary school, when most children are receiving regular music instruction. But in the adult group, the gains were reversed…suggesting the ‘use it or lose it’ effect” (Deardorff). The study also showed how children who are called “tone deaf” and made fun of for their poor singing abilities are not likely to engage in music in the future. (Deardorff). Neglecting to practice will never make you better, whether it be singing or in sports. It is important to always continue trying, and in turn, you will see improvements.

If you have listened to your favorite singers over time, whether it be for one year or  for ten, you are likely to have noticed a significant change in their voices. I know that I have always been a huge fan of Taylor Swift. Taylor sings extremely different now than she did five years ago, and in a good way. While I believe that part of it is maturity, I also can say with confidence based on these studies, that Taylor Swift’s improvement in her voice is a result of consistent and thorough practice.

Therefore, we now know that singing is comprised of numerous physical, mental, and music-notes-background-bickstock-photo3environmental factors. “Not everyone is going to be a top athlete… but with the right coach and lots of practice, you can surely see results” (Medical Daily). While we may never match up to Beyonce, practicing our singing will definitely improve our musical talents.

Is Text Neck Real

My parents are CONSTANTLY on my brother and I about our phone usage. They always warn us about future health risks due to endlessly being on a cell phone. Are their fears now a reality? The newest controversy regarding cell phone usage is text neck. Text neck “is the term used to describe the injuries and pain sustained from looking down at wireless devices for too long.” Possible symptoms of text neck include headaches; pain in shoulders, upper back, and neck; and spine curvature. The more you tilt your head, the more weight is placed on your neck and upper back.

This diagram shows that by tilting your neck 60 degrees, your neck and lower back must support an extra 60 pounds. This is the equivalent of having an averaged-sized eight-year-old hanging on your neck for several hours throughout the day (Bever). Imagine the impact of this over time. Even though cell phones were produced and popularized in our generation, and therefore the effects of cell phone usage over a lifetime are unknown, it is clear that phones produce negative impacts on our body.

It is no secret that Americans live on their phones. I do not think I have ever been in an elevator with someone under the age of 50 who was not using a cell phone. Phones are used for everything. They can be used for awkward situations, such as elevators, and also to keep in constant contact with loved ones. While the improvement in technology is incredible, it may be doing more harm to us than we believe.

So what our necks will be in a little pain? This is not the only problem. Since text neck means poor posture, multiple other complications can occur as well. “Experts say [poor posture] can reduce lung capacity by as much as 30 percent. It has also been linked to headaches and neurological issues, depression and heart disease” (Bever). While a majority of these things are solely correlations and have yet to be proven as causations, it is important that we take them seriously.

While there has yet to be a multitude of studies done regarding text neck, it is clear that the epidemic is becoming a severe problem. Clearly we are not giving up technology any time soon, but we must be smart with it. We can start by laying down when using our phones, or simply using our eyes while looking at it, as opposed to bending our whole neck. I am very curious, and also slightly afraid, to see the impacts heavy technology usage has on us in the future.

Rape Culture: Biology or Sociology

Over the past several years, it has become clear that rape is an increasing issue in the United States, and throughout the world. Rape and sexual assault affect not only the victim, but also his or her family, friends, school, work, neighborhood, and society. I know that personally, I fear of being alone late at night due to the high prevalence of sexual violence. I should not have to live my life in fear, but most females in today’s world find themselves doing so. Now the ultimate question remains whether rape is biologically ubiquitous in men, or if it is something that is socialized.

Since rape is “insufficiently understood, [it cannot] be effectively prevented.” What is so hard to understand about rape and sexual violence? They seem like such simple topics when in reality they go far beyond the surface. Let’s start with the basic definitions of each. According to the FBI, rape is “penetration, no matter how slight… with any body part or object without the consent of the victim.” Similarly, sexual assault or violence includes “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” There are countless theories about why men rape women, but the leading one appears to be in biology. Based on research completed by Harvard, “theorists continue to put forth accounts of describing men as suffering from irresistible forces that compel them to rape, despite efforts by feminists to reject biological theory and portray rape as a crime of socially constructed domination.” If this biological theory is true, why don’t all men rape?

Studies suggest that during their life span, “one in four women are victims of rape, or attempted rape.” Next time you are in a room full of people, take a look around. Chances are, multiple women surrounding you have been victims of sexual assault. While feminists receive a lot of criticisms for their work, I find myself sharing the same viewpoints as them, especially when it comes to rape. Feminists “argue that rape is usually something that men do to women in societies characterized by a patriarchal order.” It is no secret that men run America: look at all of our past presidents, heads of large companies, and individuals in congress. In my opinion, this encourages men to believe that they are superior to women, which gives them the incentive to rape. If you take a look at other cultures where women are dominate, the rape statistics are significantly lower. Therefore, rape “is constructed through discourse. Both women and men become positioned in relation to these practical ideologies, and rape myths (such as ‘women who wear short skirts and tight tops are asking for trouble…) serve to sustain gendered relations of power.” It seems as though the first question a victim is asked when she reports a rape is “what were you wearing?” A majority of the time, you will find that women were wearing clothing such as sweatpants or sweatshirts; opposite to what you would assume.

There are thousands and thousands of articles regarding whether rape is a biological or social construct. It is extremely hard to give proof one way or the other, and therefore I think that opposing groups of individuals will never agree on what truly causes rape. While everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, I personally believe that the biological theory is spurious. If it were true, why aren’t all men raping women? Why wouldn’t rape be acceptable in our culture? The questions are endless. Regardless of what causes rape, we as a society must take preventative action in order to insure the safety and well being of others, including ourselves.


Why are Food Allergies on the Rise?

Have you ever noticed that when we were growing up very few children had allergies, yet today it seems as though every child suffers from them? What is causing this dramatic increase in food allergies? With my mother being a kindergarten teacher, I have noticed throughout the years that more and more children are affected by allergies. This rise in allergies correlates with a growth in hospital visits due to allergic reactions. Why are allergies rising so rapidly, and what can we do to halt the incline?

According to the Food Allergy Research and Education, or FARE, roughly 15 million Americans have food allergies, and one in every thirteen children suffers from allergies. Based on a study conducted in 2013 by the CDC, food allergies in children increased by nearly 50% from 1997 to 2011. Even though more people have allergies than ever before, eight foods account for 90% of all allergies: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish, and shellfish. It seems as though the most common allergy is peanuts, and there is evidence to support this statement. Based on multiple studies, the number of children who suffer from peanut allergies has tripled between 1997 and 2008. Typically, peanut allergies last for the entire span of the individual’s life. On the other hand, allergies to milk, eggs, and soy are commonly outgrown.

One explanation for the increase in allergies is genetics. On average, children have a 1 in 5 predisposition of having an allergy. The rate increases by 50% if one parent has an allergy, and anywhere from 60%-80% if both parents have allergies. The more allergies people develop, the greater the chances their child will acquire one as well. This steadily increases the number of people with allergies, and can do so exponentially.

Another potential cause for the increase in allergies is the hygiene hypothesis. The hygiene hypothesis blames the rise in allergies on a majority of people moving from rural farm areas with a lot of animals, to urban areas where interaction with animals other than house pets is minimal. In recent years, food preparation has become more sanitary and hygienic than ever before. Even though this may be a good thing in some aspects, it also prevents us from being exposed to microbial agents, as well as plant derived agents. Studies show that children who have steady interaction with farm animals have a much lower risk of allergies than those children who live in cities.

One of the seemingly obvious causes for the rise in allergies is changes in our diet. It is no secret that these days our meals consist of more processed foods, and less fruit and vegetables. Key nutrients from these healthy foods are vital to proper growth and development in young children. Absence of these foods could potentially lead to allergies.

While the evidence is clear that allergies in children are rising rapidly, there is no direct answer regarding why. Scientists and nutritionists have numerous different theories about the issue, as well as potential ways to stop the increase. However, it is very likely that there are a multitude of causes impacting the rise of allergies, as opposed to just one sole source. Therefore, is it realistically possible to stop the rising of allergies, or will we only be able to slow it down?

What Even is Cancer?

Two weeks after my fifteenth birthday, my aunt passed away from brain cancer. Ever since then, I have always wondered what causes cancer in the first place. Knowing that my aunt was a healthy person, I never was able to understand why and how she had cancer. Over the past five years, a lot of my thoughts have been focused towards cancer. Where did cancer come from, and was it caused by humans? Could wild animals get cancer? If cancer is not found in wild animals, then why don’t humans revert their lives to simpler, and more natural ones like hundreds and even thousands of years ago?

The American Cancer Society proved that cancer has been around for thousands of years. Cancer was present in ancient Egyptian times, and the Gods were blamed for this. There have been multiple different theories regarding cancer and where it comes from, ranging from the trauma theory to the chronic irritation theory. During the 17th and 18th centuries, many believed that cancer was actually contagious, which we now know to be false. I do not think there would be any humans left on Earth if cancer truly were contagious.

Because of our highly advanced technology, we now know many things that cause cancer. However in many cases, such as my aunt’s, the cause of cancer is a mystery. We all know a few basic things that can cause cancer, such as smoking, the sun, and asbestos. According to the WHO, 30% of cancers are preventable, but what about the other 70%? Some parts of cancer will always remain a mystery. In order to find a true cure, we must first find direct causes of cancer, and how it manages to spread itself through the body.

While not as common as in humans, cancer can also be found in wild animals. Now the question is whether or not we are causing these animals to get cancer because of our actions? Environmental Health News has gathered research from numerous species. They have proven that while many animals such as sea turtles, whales, woodchucks, and Tasmanian Devils can all have cancer, they are a result of natural causes such as viruses, genetic factors, and tumors. However, cancer attacked many other animals due to pollution and toxic compounds. Scientists hope to monitor wildlife populations and their cancer patterns, in hope of being able to find early warning signs in humans. Cancer in wildlife shows up relatively early, while in humans, symptoms can take up to decades to appear.

On a study conducted on mammals, over 100,00 wild animals were examined. Only 22 had tumors, and cancer had only caused death in a few of them. This death rate is 5,000 times lower than humans’. This study, along with many others, has proven that while wild animals do get cancer, it is very rare, and that death due to cancer is even more unlikely.

Even though wild animals do still develop cancer, they do so at much lower rates than humans. This makes me wonder how many things we as a species have produced that allow cancer to thrive. Even though humans becoming more natural in their everyday life will not completely end cancer for good, I believe that it would exceptionally decrease the rates of cancer that we see today.



Global Climate Change? So What?

“There is no way global warming is a thing. Think about how cold it is here at Penn State in the winter! We don’t have a thing to worry about when it comes to global warming. It doesn’t exist.”

While countless people throughout the United States and the world believe the above statements to be true, they could not be more incorrect. Just last year I was one of the people who did not believe in global climate change. I was fortunate enough to take an earth science class here at Penn State. The class truly opened my eyes and forced me to realize that the Earth will not be around forever, and that we as humans are destroying it. Since the year 1880, the global temperature raised roughly 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Now I know what you are thinking: How does only 1.4 degrees make such a huge difference?

One specific reason the temperature increase has such an immense impact is regarding the ice masses throughout the world. This temperature change causes 287 billion metric tons of land ice to melt each year. Scientists are not kidding when they say your grandchildren will never see a polar bear. Another horrific result of global climate change is that the rise in carbon dioxide is causing the sea levels to rise at a steady rate. This happens because water molecules expand when the temperature is warm, and shrink when it is cooler. Due to the rise in temperatures over the last century, all of the water molecules in the ocean are expanding. From space, NASA is able to see the impacts of global warming, including the sea level rise. NASA is comprised of well educated individuals. The people who are researching these issues are not random people pulled off of the street. There is mass credibility in both the researchers and in their results.


This map above shows beaches along the East Coast of the United States. The red and yellow colors on the map display the places in critical danger due to the rising sea levels. It is highly likely that your great grandchildren will never be able to see Miami, or Virginia Beach. Within about the next century, all of the beaches that we know of could be gone.

For those who think it is too late to stop the problem: it is not. All around the world, people are taking on numerous different methods to help slow down global climate change. One approach is stopping the sea level rising in its tracks, by building large dams and walls by the coastline. Many other places around the world are taking a more preventative approach. These can include different ways of producing energy such as windmills or hydroelectric energy. Other efforts can include things as simple as recycling, or walking to work instead of driving

Still don’t think of global climate change as an issue? Believe what you would like; however, if nothing is done about the issue relatively soon, your descendants will pay the ultimate price. While global climate change cannot be immediately stopped, it can be slowed down significantly. As far as we know, there is only one habitable planet in the universe: Earth. In order to ensure the safety and well being of future generations, we must take action now and help protect our world.

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Hi everyone! My name is Cassidy Heiserman and (like 99% of the people that go here) I’m from outside of Philly! I’m a sophomore criminology major and am hoping to go to law school.

I am taking this course because it seemed interesting to me. I was never a huge science person but this class seems to cover a bunch of topics that I like. It also so happened to fit perfectly into my schedule.

I am not a science major for one simple reason: I am terrible at science. I never particularly hated science, it just never stuck out to me as something I really enjoyed and wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. While I somewhat like science, there are other subjects that I strongly prefer.

I’m really struggling on deciding if I want to post a video of Taylor Swift or Justin Timberlake so I’m going to flip a coin.

Okay Justin Timberlake won so here’s a quality video from the golden years


If you don’t jam out to this song then we can’t be friends. If you do hmu.

Also here’s a picture of my dog because she’s the cutest pup in town and I love her.IMG_3918