Mercury Malpractice

Image result for Tuna eating pillCurrently, an opioid drug crisis seems to be at the forefront of political debate in our country.  While millions of people fall victim to this dangerous habit each year, one possible contributing factor posses another problem for those trying to combat the epidemic.

The issue of where to dispose of unused prescription medications plagues many areas associated with opioid, or painkiller, addiction.  While this medication should be treated as hazardous material and disposed of or destroyed as such, it is commonly thrown away in trash receptacles where the wrong people can get their hands on it or flushed down toilets polluting our water systems.

Prescription medications often contain mercury, a metal that dissolves other metals such as gold that can be found in toothpaste, thermometers and light bulbs.  When we flush our medication, this metal finds its way into our lakes, rivers, and streams where it is transformed to methylmercury and absorbed by phytoplankton.  The phytoplankton are then grazed upon by large fish, such as tuna, incorporating the methylmercury the organism’s structure where it continues up the food chain.  In humans, methylmercury leads to mercury poisoning which causes anxiety,Image result for Tuna pill ingestion numbness in extremities, poor coordination, and loss of motor function as well as other neurological disorders. Consequently, it is recommended that pregnant women steer clear of ingesting tuna, shark, or marlin, while the rest of us should avoid eating tuna more than twice a week.  Mercury poisoning affects over six million people per year and kills thousands all because we cannot dispose of medication properly.

The prescription opioid crisis kills approximately forty-two thousand Americans alone each year, a fourth of which are teenagers ages fifteen to nineteen, and thousands more being infants ingesting the drugs accidentally.  Proper disposal of prescription medication is the key to combating a majority of these severe losses.  Disposing of unused medications in registered disposal bins at pharmacies, along with utilizing drug mail-back and “no questions asked” drop off programs are a few safe alternatives to flushing the hazardous pills that are sanctioned by the Drug Enforcement Agency.  By participating in these programs, we can mitigate this problem before it gets any more out of hand.

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Rest For Success

Image result for synapses being created in the brain

At times, life can seem pretty hectic.  During these periods, we often feel there are not enough hours in a day to accomplish what we need to.  We resort to staying up all night, compensating with endless cups of coffee or caffeinated beverages the next morning.  While the pros and cons of consuming energy drinks are widely understood, the importance of sleep is not often realized.  Sleep is not only crucial in preventing drastic mishaps at the office or passing out on the job, but it is also essential for the formation of new memories.

Memories are formed as a result of experiences that create new synapses in the brain.  These synapses are strengthed depending on the gravity or importance of the event, the responses that it triggered, and how often the event is repeated or revisited.  Initially, the memories are brought into our short-term or “working memory” that we use on a daily basis.  Depending on the severity of the memory and the strength of the synapse created, it may be encoded into our long-memory for later use.  It is true that if you “don’t use it, you lose it,” however.  Memories or synapses become permanent if long-term potentiation (LTP) is achieved through repetitiveness and consistent practice.  Things like riding a bike and swimming are two examples of long-term potentiation occurrences that human beings experience.  These processes become automatic after a while requiring no prior thought.  In the absence of sleep, this extremely complicated process is impossible as the memories cannot be properly retained, destroying the appropriate synapses.

 

 

Sleep, by definition, is a natural state of reduced responsiveness to external stimuli and relative inactivity, accompanied by a loss of consciousness.  While resting, recently formed memories are consolidated or organized into the appropriate areas of the brain by the hippocampus, the region responsible for memory, sort of like a cerebral filing system.  For example, while we sleep, memories made during a typical workday are paired with other memories associated with work, memories acquired while in school are coupled with the appropriate subject, and so forth.  To obtain the full benefits of this fascinating mental phenomenon, it is critical to get the recommended number of hours of sleep per night.

Image result for sleep stagesAll three stages of the sleep cycle are necessary for maintaining memory and focus, the third being the most important.  Approximately ninety minutes after falling asleep we enter the third stage, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep combined with Slow Wave Sleep (SWS).  Throughout this period of time, we experience the deepest sleep; neurons are no longer firing, no memories are being formed or synapses being created.  This is the perfect time for the mind to process all of the day’s data.  For this reason, the third phase of sleep is considered the “sleep-dependent memory processing” phase.  Experts recommend that we remain at this stage for eight to twelve hours a night in order to allow the consolidation process to occur properly, making sleep one of the most important priorities for memory and cognitive function as a whole.

So stop relying on caffeine supplements and harmful energy drinks.  Avoid clumsy work-related accidents or forgetting about that report that’s due on your employer’s desk by the close of business.  Take back your life and get your REST FOR SUCCESS!

Brilliance of Sillence

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Have you ever felt the desire to be part of the solution to a rather significant issue but could not muster up the courage to voice your opinion?  Perhaps you are quite the opposite and jump at the opportunity to throw yourself in harm’s way, not worried about the opinions of others.  What drives this mentality?

In her book Quiet, Susan Cain explores this baffling question.  Cain suggests that a dichotomy exists between personality types called introverts and extroverts.  Introverts Image result for introverts and extroverts brainare known to be shy, reticent individuals who are quite meticulous toward specific behaviors, while extroverts are known to be rather brash, outspoken, and thoughtless in decision making.

The sources influencing introvert and extrovert personality types are unknown.  Researchers are torn as to whether personality stems from biology or is a product of the environment.  Cain highlights these possibilities while looking at studies from both the University of Iowa and Harvard.  She refers to a study in which  Harvard professor Jerome Kagan and his team test five hundred four-month-old infants, exposing them to various stimuli such as, the sound of balloons popping, the scent of alcohol, and colored pinwheels while monitoring their reactions to predict the types of personalities that they would develop.  Follow on tests were conducted at ages two, four, seven, and eleven.  Upon the completion of the study, twenty percent of the “high reactive” babies developed more careful personalities than the contrasting forty percent of “low reactive” babies, the other forty percent fell between both extremes, supporting the researcher’s original hypothesis.

Their findings imply that introversion and extroversion are inherited traits. However, the study conducted by the University of Iowa supports the idea that experiences influence behavior.  Psychologist Grazyna Kocha begins the experiment with a woman handing a child a toy and telling them to handle it with care.  The toy then automatically breaks, in response, the person that gave the child the toy acts angry, causing the child to feel remorse or regret.  These children, as it turns out, developed more empathetic personalities and have more concern for others than their extrovert counterparts according to Grayzna.  Cain clarifies that personality types are not an exact science and explains that individuals commonly posses traits for both personality types.

In either case, Cain reveals that the amygdala governs this divergence of personality types, the area of the brain involved in experiencing motion located in theImage result for amygdala prefrontal cortex.  She explains that if a child has a higher reactive amygdala, they will have a higher heart rate due to stimuli causing their eyes to dilate.  A stress hormone known as cortisol is excreted and elevated.  This causes children to be more susceptible to stress from similar stimuli in the future.

Understanding aspects of both personality traits along with their origins helps us to realize that both are necessary for human existence.  Introverts and extroverts work in tandem with one another to create wonders not otherwise possible.

White Noise

One of the planet’s most silent creatures may be telling us more about our ecological footprint than we would really like to know.  Their form of communication typically goes unnoticed to many, yet that does not make it any less important.

Image result for most beautiful coral reefs in the world

Widespread coral bleachings have been drastically increasing over the last three decades resulting in harmful ecological impacts, such as habitat and nutrient deficiencies, for many of Earth’s aquatic organisms.  What might these events be telling us about our environment?

Coral and an algae known as zooxanthellae partake in a symbiotic relationship in which they depend on one another for survival.  The algae live inside coral tissues where they obtain passing nutrients and carry out photosynthetic processes for energy and nutrients.  They serve as the coral’s primary food source and also give them their brilliant pigments.  Abnormalities, such as temperature changes in the ocean, or pollutants cause the algae to be expelled from the corals as a result of stress.  Other common stressors include variations in salinity, agricultural runoff, disease, and dredging.  This effectively weakens the coral’s immunity to disease and causes them to starve to death leaving behind a pale white skeleton.  The effect is permanent if the algae are not reabsorbed in a timely manner.

The effects of widespread coral bleachings are commonly underestimated.  Reefs house approximately twenty-five percent of marine species, protect coastlines from devastatingImage result for great barrier reef tropical storms, may be untapped sources of medical benefits, and also generate significant revenue from tourism and fishing events.

Most importantly, corals make vital contributions to Earth’s carbon and biogeochemical cycles that have significant roles in the infamous theory of climate change.  Human interaction with the environment is believed to both, directly and indirectly, influence carbon dioxide abnormalities leading to the rise in atmospheric temperature; pollution, agriculture, and uses of aerosols are a few examples.  Coral reefs are essential for regulating these carbon cycles and restoring our planet’s homeostatic balance.

The environmental impact of these organisms is quite evident.  Earth is speaking, will we listen?

“Red Bully”

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After turning in another eight to twelve hour day at the office, you come home feeling exhausted.  You are so drained that all you want to do is come back and crash because you have to turn around and do it all over again in the morning.  There is no time to spend being with loved ones, getting a pump at the gym, or having a simple sit down dinner for that matter.  The next morning you wake up and reach for something to sustain your energy, just to make it through a workday.  Perhaps a Red Bull, Monster, Five Hour Energy shot, or a Rip It is your supplement of choice.  Miracle beverages, such as these, are consistently marketed as sources of energy, stamina, and facilitators of better overall cognitive performance, hower, they come with severe health concerns for their effects on the human body.

A primary concern associated with the “sports drinks” is their targeted audience, young adults ages thirteen to thirty-five, and how the ingredients influence their natural body processes.  Alarming amounts of caffeine and sugar are added to the drinks, making them five times stronger than a single cup of coffee, thereby elevating blood pressure and cardiovascular rates.  Teenagers and young adults are at a much higher risk of experiencing a heart attack or arrhythmia after ingesting these sort of quick fix drinks.  Furthermore, gastrointestinal problems like hernias, jaundice, and pain are attributed to the consumption of energy drinks.  Increased aggression in teenagers has also been related to the drastic increase in caffeine intake.

Energy supplements are not necessarily friendly to the psyche either.  Studies show that individuals that consume high amounts of caffeine frequently become insomniacs as a result of caffeine intoxication, where levels above 200mg are reached.  The lack of sleep results in other disorders, such as anxiety and depression, which drastically hinder the mind and can potentially lead to suicidal tendencies.  Headaches and hallucinations make these ailments all the more unbearable for the individual.

Other long-term health effects of energy drink indulging include diabetes, a disease which inhibits the body’s ability to secrete insulin and regulate sugar levels, renal failures, such as dehydration and kidney failure, and severe dental damage like cavities and tooth loss because of the high sugar and high acidity (low PH) composition of the drinks.  Clearly, consuming these cheap, artificial forms of energy are more harmful than beneficial.

Fortunately, there are more healthful and efficient ways to get your morning caffeine fix.  Green tea is a natural alternative that is a powerful antioxidant and leaves one less jittery than energy drinks.  It is also extremely beneficial for those morning workouts. Image result for green teaWheatgrass juice is another clean alternative that provides consumers with all essential vitamins (CDE and K) and minerals (calcium and folic acid) to help you flawlessly get through the workday.  Finally, Chai tea is a perfect choice for cutting your caffeine intake in half while tricking the mind into believing that you are drinking coffee.

Think twice before reaching for that early morning commercial energy drink.  Studies show that they are more harmful than originally thought.  In the long run, natural alternatives will save your wallet and your health.

 

 

 

Bioilluminescent Truth

Nature’s resilience is undoubtedly something to be admired, yet our world’s “bounce back” capabilities are consistently compromised by human interaction.  Instead of harming our planet, we should be doing our part to conserve its hidden miracles.

Earth’s rainforests have been primary sources of pharmaceutical innovation for millions of years, however, its oceans deserve just as much praise.

One such medical marvel that stems from the depths of the deep blue has been hidden within jellyfish.  Green fluorescent protein (GTP), the protein that illuminates jellyfish, was first discovered in the 60s by a Japenese chemist, Osamu Shimomura, who won the Nobel Prize in 2008 for his work.  The medical properties associated with the protein seem infinite and continue to gain steam.

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Bioluminescence is one such development, proven to be revolutionary.  By consolidating the genes that manufacture GTP and injecting them into the tissues of organisms such as frogs, scientists can track processes that would otherwise be undetected by the human eye.  Cell development is one particular example, which has since spread into monitoring cancer cell progression and the migration of viruses, such as

HIV and Ebola.  Specifically, viewing the progression of cancer cells allows for better understanding of apoptosis, the process by which cancer causes cells to die.  Learning

Image result for cancer cells illuminated

how these cells are infected and determining how to reactivate them is crucial in both preventing and curing the disease.

Similarly, aequorin is a component found within the jellyfish’s green fluorescent protein which posses medical capabilities of its own.  The protein binds to calcium ions which, in the body, are necessary for neural communication.  In abundance, calcium can lead to Alzheimer’s and dementia, disorders that affect memory and cognition caused by neurodegeneration.  Effectively, the compound stabilizes calcium levels, thereby protecting neuronal pathways from breaking down.  Approximately 5.7 million Americans fall victim to these disorders annually, so this sort of discovery is rather remarkable.  However, more research must be done to be able to successfully incorporate the protein into the human genome, though it has had success in other organisms.

Jellyfish provide us not only with their bioluminescent capabilities but with a multitude of other biomedical research innovations, such as limb and cellular regeneration as well.

The unkept secrets of nature are critical for human survival.  They harness the secrets to curing a multitude of fatal human ailments and deserve to be protected rather than destroyed.

 

 

 

Bio of a Scientist

Kay Bidle

An individual has the power to change the world if they care enough about what they set out to accomplish.  This is the type of mentality that Dr. Kay Biddle, actually Kay Bidle, begins every day with. “Some people pronounce it that way, but Biddle would be two Ds in my book wouldn’t you think?”  However one chooses to pronounce it, you cannot argue with Dr. Bidle’s research.

Dr. Bidle is a molecular ecologist, oceanographer, and biological oceanographer that has been with Rutgers University since 2005.  His particular interests include studying marine phytoplankton and other unicellular organisms that make up 95% of Earth’s biomass, to identify their specific niche or role they play within our ecosystem.  He suggests that such a minuscule organism has the potential to drastically alter our world as we know it.  The story here, however, involves his will to inspire others to realize this truth.

Growing up in Annapolis Maryland, Dr. Bidle was not always interested in marine microbiology.  In “the land of the peaceful living,” similar to how he lives his life, Dr. Bidle spent a majority of his time sailing and windsurfing which began to develop his deep love for the ocean.  He attended the University of Maryland as a biology major where he participated in a Research For Undergrad (REU) program that sent him to Washington to study hermit crab larvae and ultimately influenced his passion for research.  He then returned to the University of Maryland to finish his degree, studying mantis shrimp and their extraordinary vision.  Finally, he would obtain his Ph.D. from Srimmps University in California studying biofouling, the colonization of underwater surfaces such as barnacles and algae.

His new found passion for ecology sparked his interests in studying the importance of marine microorganisms to Earth’s carbon and biogeochemical cycles. “I guess you wish you knew everything, but that’s not what science is about,” he says.  “Science is about having creativity, and a curiosity that builds off of observations, where the magic happens is in questioning these processes and developing ways to test them, developing further questions.”  There is always something new to discover on a daily basis according to Dr. Bidle.  This is the sort of thinking that he wishes to improve upon others.

It is understood that science comes coupled with many challenges.  Some of which include conceptual challenges, like attempting to figure out how a process works, or why it happens the way it does.

For example, how does a microscopic virus infecting phytoplankton impact Earth’s carbon cycle? Coming up with funding is typically another challenge that scientists face.  NASA, the National Science Foundation, and the Joint Genome Institute are a few resources that Dr. Bidle has used to conduct his research.  He would also like to point out, however, the lack of diversity within the scientific community.  One of Dr. Bidle’s most notable achievements is the work that he has done within the public school system to increase involvement in STEM programs.  He attempts to develop an interest in youth for the importance of science and research as it applies to our revolving world.  He would like future scientists to know that they, indeed, can make a difference.

Dr. Bidles most prestigious achievement is becoming a father to three boys to whom he preaches the importance of hard work.  Professionally, he is pretty decorated as well.  One of sixteen scientists internationally, Dr. Bidle earned the investigator award through the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for excellence in research. He has also been honored with the Raymond A. Lindeman and Edward A. Freiman awards for his work.