Science, Summer, and the Significance of Sweating

By: Kaitlyn Powers As inconvenient and uncomfortable as it might be, sweating, also known as perspiring, has important biological underpinnings that help the body regulate its temperature. Each human has about 2 to 4 million sweat glands, which begin to fully activate during puberty. These glands receive signals from the autonomic nervous system, which manages actions that are inherently involuntary (like the heart beating or blood vessels widening). Once these signals are transferred with the help of a specific neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine, the clear, salty liquid known as sweat is sent through ducts to the skin. While sweat is commonly associated with bad smells and unflattering clothing stains, in reality sweat is odorless and mostly colorless. Sweat, when mixed with bacteria on the skin’s surface, produces the smell people refer to, and most times the “yellow underarm stains are caused by your apocrine glands, which contain proteins and fatty acids and thus make underarm secretions thick and milky” (Live Science). Despite the less desirable effects of sweating, the process is crucial to helping a person’s body stay cool and avoid the danger of overheating. Anhidrosis, a condition in which individuals do not sweat, can cause harmful health consequences including heat exhaustion or heatstroke. When a person does sweat (whether it be from the heat, physical activity, etc.), however, the body loses fluid. Thus, it’s important to remember, especially in the summer, to refill your body with fluid to compensate for the loss from sweating. Without enough fluid to function correctly, the body can become dehydrated. With the average person needing up to 3 quarts of water on a... read more

Know Science at the March for Science

by Chiara Bertipaglia, Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia University and KnowScience editor   Yesterday, Saturday 22nd April 2017, on Earth Day, Know Science marched together with thousands of protesters at the March for Science in New York City. We are incredibly proud to have joined such a big event. We felt relieved to be part of a lively community of science supporters that care about science and realize how fundamental it is to society. Following the statement issued by our founder and president Dr. Simona Giunta, we manifested to express our deep concern about recent political orders that undermine the independence of scientific research and jeopardize scientific funding. We hope that all the science supporters that joined the satellite marches in more than 600 cities from all 7 continents have been successful in shaking the conscience of those that get to decide about science funding.   Please follow and like... read more

RAGE AGAINST THE VACCINES

VACCINES, AMONG URBAN LEGENDS AND COLLECTIVE PSYCHOSIS by Alessandro Zancla, MD   An anti-vaccination philosophy has spread for long among people, supported by blogs and websites that have taken advantage of people’s fears and susceptibility. As a consequence of this, we may risk destroying the progress reached in more than two hundred years of scientific research. This anti-vaccination attitude thrives thanks to general disinformation, a false sense of safety against infectious diseases and lack of historical memory, and it is starting to produce its results: in some areas of developed countries vaccine coverage levels risk being insufficient to guarantee adequate protection. Maybe we forgot too quickly that not many years ago diseases such as Diphtheria, Poliomyelitis, Pertussis and Rubella were a daily hazard, and so were the deaths they would cause and the serious consequences they would leave in the survivors (mainly children). Perhaps we physicians have some responsibility in this too. We evidently failed to reassure and inform the public proficiently, but believe me when I say it is terribly hard to speak convincingly against fears and persuasions that are stuck in the deepest irrational psychological sphere of mankind, especially when people are not willing to get informed. Sometimes a doctor proposing a vaccination is treated like a salesman you quickly want to get rid of. Trust me, it is not nice at all. When a doctor proposes a vaccine to a patient he only does so because he believes that it is useful and that the risks-to-benefits ratio is favorable to the vaccination, otherwise he would not.   I think it is time to clear a few... read more

Genetic loot transformed little viruses into giants

by Giorgia Guglielmi Giant viruses are the sperm whales of the microscopic world, dozens of times larger than typical viruses. They’re also richer in genes and much more complex—so much so, in fact, that scientists have speculated whether they evolved from ancient single-celled organisms. But the discovery of a novel group of giant viruses, reported today in Science, indicates that was likely not the case. These mammoth viruses, named Klosneuviruses, started out similar in size to their tiny, simpler brethren, and increased in complexity by gradually pilfering genes from the cells they infected. Compared to other known viruses, the newfound giants contain a more complete set of molecules able to translate genetic instructions into proteins. The researchers found that the genes that produce these protein-making molecules do not derive from an individual organism but rather from several single-celled algae—Klosneuviruses’ favorite hosts. This suggests that, over the course of evolution, Klosneuviruses—and probably other giant viruses—repeatedly gained new genes from the cells they took over. Over billions of years, this genetic larceny turned them into something unique: a cell-like virus that straddles the line between living and non-living.   Publication: Frederik Schulz, Natalya Yutin, Natalia N. Ivanova, Davi R. Ortega, Tae Kwon Lee, Julia Vierheilig, Holger Daims, Matthias Horn, Michael Wagner, Grant J. Jensen, Nikos C. Kyrpides, Eugene V. Koonin, Tanja Woyke. Giant viruses with an expanded complement of translation system components. Science, 2017; 356 (6333): 82 http://science.sciencemag.org/content/356/6333/82     Giorgia Guglielmi is a graduate student in the MIT Program in Science Writing and a freelance science journalist based in Cambridge, MA. She received a PhD in Biology from the European Molecular... read more

Zika hijacks host cells’ skeleton, persists in a wide range of tissues for weeks

By Giorgia Guglielmi       Scientists moved one step closer to understanding how Zika virus takes hold of host cells, and where and for how long it lurks inside the body. A new study, published in Cell Reports, showed that Zika reshapes the cell’s skeleton to fortify hollow structures where it makes daughter viruses. When scientists used a drug that makes the cell’s structural fibers immovable, the virus was unable to make copies of itself. These drugs might provide a therapeutic option against Zika. To develop new Zika therapies, it’s crucial to know where and when the virus is present within the organism. To address this issue, researchers studied Zika’s spread in infected macaques. The results are detailed in PLOS Pathogens. Zika infected a wide range of tissues, including peripheral nervous system, joints, and muscles, and it persisted in those tissues up to five weeks. What’s more, Zika was found in the reproductive tract of infected animals. The virus’ persistence in reproductive organs might be key to its sexual transmission. It could also explain why Zika infection during pregnancy is associated with crippling birth defects such as abnormally small heads, a condition known as microcephaly.   Giorgia Guglielmi is a graduate student in the MIT Program in Science Writing and a freelance science journalist based in Cambridge, MA. She received a PhD in Biology from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, where she studied how embryos get their final shape.   Please follow and like... read more
Our extinct ancient relatives, Neanderthals, are more developed than previously thought

Our extinct ancient relatives, Neanderthals, are more developed than previously thought

By Simona Giunta, Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Rockefeller University   Human ancestors, Homo neanderthalensis, who lived about 100,00 years ago, were able to self-medicate, showing knowledge of medicinal plants and their pain-relieveing and curative properties. A new study published yesterday in the journal Nature, discovered new evidence using DNA extracted from a tooth plaque. It contained traces of the naturally-occuring antibiotic, penicillin found in the penicillium fungus, and of bark roots and leaves containing salicylic acid, active ingredient in aspirin and other pain-killer. Because DNA from the same individual also reveled presence of a diarrhoea-causing pathogen and of dental abscess, scientists suggest that he may have been self-medicating to address these health issues.   Thanks to advancing in sequencing technologies, the study shows comprehensive sequencing of the neanderthal man DNA and its microbiome, portraying a novel view of Neanderthals and the society human ancestors lived in many thousands of years ago as more advanced than previously thought.     Source publication: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature21674.html#affil-auth   Please follow and like... read more

NASA announces 7 new exoplanets in the universe, 3 of which in habitable zones

By Chiara Bertipaglia, Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia University and KnowScience editor     On Wednesday 22nd February NASA announced the discovery of 7 rocky planets just 39 light years (235 trillion miles) away from the Earth. The study, published in the scientific journal Nature, is fruit of collaboration between astronomers at the University of Liege in Belgium and NASA’s laboratories at Caltech in California. These 7 exoplanets (planets beyond our solar system) appear to be rocky and are part of the TRAPPIST-1 system, meaning they all orbit around the same star called TRAPPIST-1. The TRAPPIST-1 system was discovered just a year ago by the Transiting Planets and Planetesimal Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile, reporting, at the time, only 2 planets around the star. TRAPPIST-1 is an ultracool dwarf, a type of star emitting infrared light, impossible to see by naked eye. It was therefore an ideal candidate to be studied by the infrared space telescope Spitzer, which was launched in space in the Summer of 2003, to explore the angles of the universe that are inaccessible to normal optical telescopes. To properly record the light emitted by TRAPPIST-1, Spitzer had to be modified directly “in space” by astronauts, said Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC during the press release of last Wednesday. It was worth it since the new modifications allowed to record the presence of 5 more planets. TRAPPIST- 1 is 10 times smaller than the sun and produces nearly a thousand times less radiation. The infrared emission spectrum of TRAPPIST-1 is what makes it dimmer and colder than our sun, and allows... read more
NASA announces 7 new planets in the universe, 3 of which in habitable zones

NASA announces 7 new planets in the universe, 3 of which in habitable zones

By Chiara Bertipaglia, Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Columbia University and KnowScience editor On Wednesday 22nd February NASA announced the discovery of 7 rocky planets just 39 light years (235 trillion miles) away from the Earth. The study, published in the scientific journal Nature, is fruit of collaboration between astronomers at the University of Liege in Belgium and NASA’s laboratories at Caltech in California. These 7 exoplanets (planets beyond our solar system) appear to be rocky and are part of the TRAPPIST-1 system, meaning they all orbit around the same star called TRAPPIST-1. The TRAPPIST-1 system was discovered just a year ago by the Transiting Planets and Planetesimal Small Telescope (TRAPPIST) in Chile reporting, at the time, only 2 planets around the star. TRAPPIST-1 is an ultracool dwarf, a type of star emitting infrared light, impossible to see by naked eye. It is 10 times smaller than the sun and much dimmer and colder since it produces nearly a thousand times less radiation.  It was therefore an ideal candidate to be studied by the infrared space telescope Spitzer, which was launched in space in the Summer of 2003 to explore the corners of the universe that are inaccessible to normal optical telescopes. To properly record the light emitted by TRAPPIST-1, Spitzer had to be modified directly “in space” by astronauts, said Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC, during the press conference of last Wednesday. It was worth it, since the new modifications allowed to record the presence of 5 more planets. The 7 planets appear to orbit relatively close to the star, 20-200 times closer than the... read more
Undermining science damages society: Scientists unite against the latest political changes

Undermining science damages society: Scientists unite against the latest political changes

Know Science is a non-profit organization that was born with the mission to share science and the latest scientific discoveries with the taxpayers that finance the research: YOU. A week after the Trump administration took office, the scientific community has already begun fearing for its operational independence, its freedom in communicating scientific findings to the public and, ultimately, in the ability for the US to continue being a leader in science and biotech. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), the HHS (Department of Health and Human Services), the Department of Transportation and the National Park Service were told to stop any form of communication to the media and the general public regarding their research results. Publication in scientific journals would still be allowed, but photographs, press releases, blogs or social media posts are forbidden, at least until the content has been vetted by the political appointees (aka, the Trump administration’s transition team). Which raises the question, should politics control the press in such a radical way? And, when it comes to science and facts-based evidence, withholding information from the public sounds even more radical. If this is not enough to alarm you, it also seems that EPA contracts approvals have been frozen and new funds for research withheld. It’s not only access to information that is being oppressed – it’s access to resources too. EPA is the agency that writes and enforces rules aimed at protecting the environment: it regulates and controls matters like emissions from vehicles, the chemical composition of drinking water, or the safe disposal of hazardous wastes. Significant cuts in... read more
Let’s Talk About Sex….The Science Of It

Let’s Talk About Sex….The Science Of It

By Charlotte Wincott, Ph.D. Most researchers agree that drug addiction is a disease of the brain that occurs as the result of environmental factors and genetic predisposition. However, there is no general consensus on whether sex addiction should be perceived in the same way as heroin or cocaine addiction. Researchers and clinicians alike have been struggling for years to reduce the stigma associated with drug addiction with some success. On the other hand, questions about sex-related behaviors are answered in hushed tones at the end of scientific talks on drug addiction. Why are we as a society so afraid to talk about sex addiction when so many individuals suffer from its consequences? Perhaps similar efforts should be made to understand the behaviors associated with sex addiction, which may be driven by some of the same brain circuits that control drug-related behaviors.  The pleasant feelings that are experienced by users of cocaine, for instance, are produced by activity in our brain’s reward center. This brain region is called the nucleus accumbens. Our brains are extremely complicated but, to make it simple, the nucleus accumbens receives information in the form of a molecule called dopamine. Dopamine allows us to learn that something is pleasurable. When the nucleus accumbens receives dopamine signals, it tells other brain regions what to do in order to get more of the drug or whatever it was that caused the pleasant feeling. Rats, like humans, also have this reward center which undergoes changes when animals eat sugar;1 sexual behavior is also driven by some of the same molecules and brain structures. Scientists at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine showed that when rats have sex or are presented with sex-related cues, dopamine messages are sent to the nucleus... read more
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