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

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
Global Warming or Global Weirding?

Global Warming or Global Weirding?

Expect Extreme Weather To Continue as Greenhouse Gas Hits A New Threshold. The World Meteorological Organization said on Monday that greenhouse gas levels hit a record high for the 30th year in a row. “It means hotter global temperatures, more extreme weather events like heat waves and floods, melting ice, rising sea levels, and increased acidity of the oceans. This is happening now and we are moving into uncharted territory at a frightening speed,” WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said in a statement. Carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, has been climbing steadily towards the 400-parts-per-million level, a new threshold. Jarraud  made his annual plea to address the following main contributors: Burning of fossil fuels Agriculture Cement production Deforestation Later in November, negotiators from over 150 countries will convene in Paris to try to agree a new U.N. climate deal. China and the United States are the top greenhouse gas emitters.   Please follow and like... read more
American Museum of Natural History | Shelf Life

American Museum of Natural History | Shelf Life

The American Museum of Natural History invites you to dive deep inside its collection to discover the past, present, and future of approximately 33 million artifacts and specimens in this new series with original monthly videos. Head over to amnh.org/shelflife, where you can watch the first three episodes and learn more about the project. You can also follow the Museum on Tumblr and Twitter, where they’re constantly adding new Shelf Life content. EPISODE FOUR | PREMIERES FEBRUARY 17, 2015.   Please follow and like... read more
Girl’s Own Immune System Engineered to Fight Leukemia

Girl’s Own Immune System Engineered to Fight Leukemia

GIRL IS CANCER-FREE THANKS TO A NEW IMMUNOTHERAPY FOR CHILDHOOD ACUTE LYMPHOBLASTIC LEUKEMIA: EMILY’S STORY 9-year-old Emily Whitehead is the first girl to be cured, as of 2012, of a highly aggressive form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) via a novel form of immunotherapy against leukemia. Emily did not respond successfully to chemotherapy before she entered a new trial led by Stephan A. Grupp, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric oncologist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Grupp’s team bio-engineered T-cells to work not against pathogens, viruses, or bacteria but to recognize and kill the leukemic cells that normally evade regular T-cell surveillance.   What is a T-cell? T-cells are a type of white blood cells that circulate around our bodies, scanning for cellular abnormalities and infections.   Adding a receptor on T-cells allows them to recognize the target cell (in this case the cancer cell) and kill it. Our immune system often struggles to recognize cancer cells as foreign because cancer cells are very similar to many other cells in our body.   Researchers first extracted the patient’s own T-cells and added a receptor to the cells that recognize antigens, an antenna that specifically mark these cancer cells. Once the T-cell receptor binds to the cancer cell antigen, the T-cell is able to kill the cancer cell as effectively as our immune system kills other viruses and bacteria. This is a powerful method that uses the patient’s own immune system against cancer.   This past July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration designated this so called “CTL019 approach” as a... read more
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