Big Data May Provide Answers to Big Problems

Computers are amazing. The ability to store and access data has been tremendously improved by computers and the internet. Most of the journal articles I read come from online databases. I’m using a computer to write this and then put it on the internet for you to read it. As much as I enjoy computers being fast and small enough to let me talk to you in this way, I think what biologists and geneticists are able to do now is much cooler.

Advances in DNA sequencing have allowed scientists to gather and investigate genes as they never could before. Now we have DNA sequences of humans, mice, bacteria, plants, fungi and all sorts of other things. My DNA is about 99.9% the same as yours but what do the differences in the other 0.1% (about 3 million bases of DNA) mean. Managing these giant data sets becomes a serious task. In the image below is a short sequence of DNA repeated 14 times. There are three lines that have differences in them. Even with this very small example it would take a lot of time to find the changes by eye. Instead of the 75 bases in each line, imagine that you needed to find the few differences hiding in 14 lines 3 billion letters long. If you can sort through all the data to answer a question, there are serious rewards.

 

 

23andMe is a company that collects DNA from customers, finds the order of bases in the DNA, and then provides a report back to the customer. This report includes genetic markers for diseases like cystic fibrosis or conditions like lactose intolerance a person may have as well as an ancestry report (they can even detect how much Neanderthal DNA you have). If you have interesting markers, you can volunteer to participate in research by donating your DNA sequence allowing researchers to find out more about genetic causes of certain diseases and conditions. published a paper claiming that certain genes are involved in making people morning people or night owls.

In the paper they found that people with the same genes answered questions the same, but that does not mean that those genes cause that behavior. Big datasets are likely to find such patterns, but lots of work remains studying these genes in depth to determine what they actually do. Studies like the ones published by 23andMe provide other scientists with a list of genes that may be responsible for the disease they are studying. Now that 23andMe has access to these lists of genes, they are partnering with drug companies to create new treatments for common and rare diseases and recently began their own drug discovery group called 23andMe Therapeutics to make use of the massive dataset that they are creating. For example, 23andMe has collected data from people who have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease and is using the data in partnership with the drug company Pfizer to find new genes that might be involved with inflammatory bowel disease. These new genes then become new possibilities for drug targets. This same approach is being taken to find new treatments for lupus and Parkinson’s disease.

The ability to collect and analyze great amounts of data has been great for progress towards curing disease and learning more about the world we live in. Big Data promises that with enough sampling all the hidden patterns of the world will become clearer, but it is important we do not get ahead of ourselves and forget to prove that these associations are more than coincidence.

Bryan Visser
2013-12-04 14.06.58Bryan is a 2nd year graduate student studying DNA replication. He plans on making a career for science advocacy working at a museum or in Washington, DC. In his free time, Bryan enjoys board games and ballroom dancing.

The Only Thing You Need to Learn in School

There is only one thing you need to learn in school. I’m quite serious. Are you ready?

To think.

Some of you may be upset at this, not because it has the set-up of a bad joke, but because you don’t like the accusation that people go to school without thinking. So I’ll elaborate using two words that remind us all that evil yet exists in the world: pop quiz!

Test questions typically come in two forms. First, you have questions that ask for facts. What is the capital of Georgia?  How many quarts in a gallon? What are the names of the amino acids with hydrophobic side chains? Questions like these have answers that you really cannot argue about. These questions do require thinking, mostly memorization.  Interestingly, recent studies suggest the internet is changing how we remember facts. Instead of memorizing facts, we are starting to memorize where to find information. Think of it as not knowing a street address, but knowing exactly how to find a house with instructions such as “turn left at the stop sign” and “go three houses past the one of the green fence”.

This first type of test question is important and it does involve thinking, but what I really want to address is the second type of question. Questions like, explain the political and economic factors that brought the first settlers to settle in the area that would later become Georgia? Or given a height of 2 feet and a radius of 1 foot, what is the volume of liquid that can be held by this cylinder?  You’ll notice that answering these questions will take more than a few words. They require explanations, discussions, mathematical equations. In short, these questions require you to show your work, to problem solve, and to show what you are thinking.

Now, these questions can be annoying, mainly because they required writing long explanations. I mean, what is the point of showing your work to a math problem if the only thing that matters it getting the final answer?  Partial credit, of course! Take the math question I suggested above. The answer is never going to be 12 cubic feet. However, let’s say I was lazy and punched my numbers into the calculator wrong. I could still get points if I wrote the equation,                                    volume = π(radius)2 x height, on my pop quiz along with the wrong answer. The teacher doesn’t really care about the correct answer (roughly 6 cubic feet), or about the imaginary cylinder. He or she cares if you can use your brain and the information given to solve the problem, so you’re rewarded for being on the right track. In short, did you think in the right direction?

This is not just restricted to the realm of math and science. In English class, you  are taught to write a thesis statement, the central point you are trying to argue. Probably you will have to write a paper about a book.  I had trouble with this early in highschool, because I was afraid of being wrong, and often wrote thesis statements that were facts. I once had a draft of a paper basically arguing “The main character was motivated by his internal values.” My teacher told me that of course that was true, and  it was not a thesis because it is not debatable. The point of the writing assignment was not about the book, it was about me making an argument and backing it up with evidence. So what if my teacher disagreed with my thesis? She was not grading me on my opinion, but on how well I defended my opinion. I feel that my essays in college were much more powerful, because my thesis statements were debatable, and I had to show my professors why I thought they were correct. Once again, it wasn’t about the right answer; it was about thinking.

So that is the secret to education. Yes, you need to learn facts, skills, and all other information that you may need to recall at a moment’s notice. However, all of this information is worthless if you can’t assemble it together into an argument, a hypothesis, or a new idea. If you disagree with me and can prove it, I will consider it a pyrrhic victory.

The Motley Advocate (Editor)
Slide1Motley Advocate is a Christian, a biologist, a writer and an amateur at many other things. He doesn’t  have a twitter but you can e-mail him at science.aces15@gmail.com

Deadpool: The (Super)Science of Regeneration

Deadpool is an upcoming superhero movie featuring the origin story of the titular character.. The signature ability of Deadpool is high speed regeneration, which is the ability to fully recover from minor and fatal wounds, in a matter of seconds or hours depending on the author. But while the healing ability does rely on some superscience in the comics, could it be based in some real science in the present or future?

In the comics, Deadpool’s “healing factor” is derived from another character, the mutant Wolverine. This healing stems from the integration of the “X-gene” from Wolverine into Deadpool’s body by unknown methods. The character of Deadpool has cancer prior to this treatment, and after the treatment, the cancer progression is halted. There are other aspects of the healing factor in addition to tissue/limb regeneration, such as a boosted immune system granting immunity to diseases, resistance to toxins/drugs, and neuron regeneration. Because of this, Deadpool has an extended lifespan. Due to these and other changes to his physiology, Deadpool also ends up with near superhuman strength, agility, and stamina. Though the real world doesn’t have quite as fantastic examples as Deadpool’s healing factor, there are a number of real world examples of organisms with regenerative capabilities.

There are a number of animals that have shown the ability to regrow limbs and vital tissues. One of the most basic is the starfish (L. foliolata), which have been shown to be able to regrow from a single arm , Segmented worms of the Annelida family have also been shown to be able to regrow from being cut in half . A number of lower vetebrates often show regenerative capacity, including amphibians which have been shown to regenerate limbs, as well as newts and lizards which are able to regenerate detatched tails. But this ability to regenerate is lost or greatly diminished as you get closer to humans. The regeneration capacity of these organism have been key in providing insight into ways regeneration might be stimulated in humans.

There are many challenges and difficulties when it comes to regeneration in humans and other vertebrates, due in part to the body’s complexity and genes related to regeneration not retained or expressed in the genome. While the human body is capable of producing hundreds of thousands of cells (such as red blood cells and skin cells), the cells need to be correctly positioned and patterned for proper function. Critical to this are a set of genes known as the Hox genes, along with growth factors, which help to give the produced cells their identity.  

All of these events depend on populations of stem cells in amphibians and mammals.  Research  that uses stem cells to regrow tissues and even organs is integral for regenerative medicine. Currently, much of the research is based upon the growth of stems cells (isolated from a patient) placed upon a scaffold mimicking the organ structure to grow the desired tissue. It is also possible to induce other cells taken from the patient into a stem cell state, which allows for the regrown tissues to be more readily accepted by the patient. Such research has also extended to promising research is limb regeneration as well, aiming to be able to fully regrow the muscles, bones, and other integral tissues of the limb. If such medicine and research continues to advance, it could  allow the regeneration of limbs and organs similar to as seen in the comics, though under much more controlled circumstances and possibly slower.

While science to date has not discovered a single gene able to bestow such regenerative powers (so no Deadpool anytime soon!) , there is gradual increase in understanding of the underlying principles of the regenerative processes. For the time being however, we can enjoy the fantasy of regeneration that Deadpool has to offer.
Deadpool opens today! We’re definitely going to go see it, are you?

tyler_pictureTYLER IS A PH.D CANDIDATE STUDYING BIOCHEMISTRY AND GENE THERAPY. IN ADDITION TO SCIENCE ADVOCACY, HE IS INTERESTED IN BIOTECHNOLOGY/BIOMEDICAL INDUSTRIES, AND HOW THEY CAN BE RELATED TO PUBLIC HEALTH

Biotechie’s Bucket Biology on the Cheap: Science ACEs pH Lab

Growing up, I attended a really rural public school with less than 300 students K-12. While I had lots of one-on-one attention from the teachers, like most places, money for any type of activity was limited. So my teachers improvised. The first time I remember REALLY using the scientific method was in the 6th grade for one of these improvised experiments. Our science teacher, Mrs. Berry, asked all of us to bring in a pair of plain white socks or a plain white t-shirt, which we forgot about until she brought them back to us dyed purple!

As we all looked at her in confusion, she lined up different liquids on the counter. These liquids were commonly found in homes (lemon juice, vinegar, laundry soap, etc), and she asked which we thought were acids and which we thought were bases. In the previous week, we learned the pH scale and she explained how acids have more H+ ions (protons) and bases have more OH(hydroxyl).  She also mentioned that we could guess if something was acidic by a sour taste, and basic by a bitter taste. Since some liquids are poisonous, that’s not a good way to test things! Because of that, she turned our clothes into a fun tie-dye pH indicator! She had all of us guess which solutions were acids and bases, and then started our experiment.

We watched in amazement as she squirted lemon juice on the shirt in front of her, and a pink mark appeared on the fabric. This, she said, indicated an acid, about pH 2-3, thus it had lots of H+ ions. Then she added some strong laundry soap solution to a different part of the shirt, and it turned green-yellow.  This soap was basic, around pH 10-12, with lots of OH.

Then we were free to test out other solutions we had available: toothpaste solution, baby soap, different diluted cleaners, a dissolved antacid, and solutions of different foods we commonly ate. We had to hypothesize which solutions were acids and bases, how strongly acidic or basic they were, and what color this would turn the pH indicator. The fun lab day ended with all of us taking home fun dyed shirts and socks, along with a much better understanding of the scientific property of pH and the chemical nature of things both natural and man-made.

It wasn’t until much later, when I was about to graduate from high school, that I learned how Mrs. Berry was able to make such a great experiment for us with a limited budget. It turns out what we used as a pH indicator was red cabbage juice, made from red cabbage boiled in water! This, in addition to the other great lessons she taught us, left a strong impression on me. In the eight years since then, I’ve been using this science hack (and others) for outreach projects. Back in November, the Science ACEs did an outreach booth at the Houston Mini Maker Faire where we included a “magic painting with pH activity.”

How does the red cabbage juice act as a pH indicator?

The purple color of red cabbage comes from flavin, which is a member of a special group of pigments called anthocyanins.  These special pigments change color when they gain or lose hydrogen atoms to solution. In acidic solutions, the anthocyanin can gain a proton, while in basic solutions it donates (loses) a proton to the OH ions. These changes to the pigment alter its shape just a little bit, but it is enough to change the wavelength of light that reflects off of it, changing the color we see!

 

Materials Needed:

  1. Food preparation or lab gloves (unless you want purple hands!)
  2. A large knife
  3. One head of purple cabbage, the darker purple the better
  4. A large stock pot
  5. Strainer
  6. Storage container for the cabbage juice
  7. Different solutions for testing pH
  8. Test tubes or other similar clear container for experiments
  9. Thick coffee filters or NEUTRAL craft paper (optional)

Preparation of Red Cabbage Juice (needs to be done by an adult):

  1. Place 4 cups of water into the stock pot and set it to boil. While you wait, go to step2.
  2. Wearing gloves, chop the entire head of lettuce into 1-inch pieces.

    SteepCabbageStart

    The beginning of boiling, an idea of how big the cabbage pieces should be.

  3.  Once the water is boiling, add all of the lettuce to the pot, mixing thoroughly.
  4.  Turn off the heat, and let the lettuce steep in the water until it is cool, usually about 2 hours. Periodically go in and stir the juice, squishing the lettuce against the sides. Within a few minutes, the water should turn purple, but by the end of 2 hours, it should be a very deep purple.

    NearlyDoneJuice

    The water should look something like this.

  5. Strain the juice through a strainer and store the juice in your refrigerator up to 2 weeks until use.

Easy, right?

Experimental design: (can also make pH filter paper strips, but they must be dry before use)

  1. Give each student or group of students several test tubes or clear cups with a small amount of red cabbage juice. In separate containers give them several household solutions to test.
  2. Have them arrange the household solutions in order from what they think will be the most acidic to the most basic.
  3. Add the household solutions drop-wise to a container of red cabbage juice until a color change happens. Pink means acidic and green means basic.
  4. Were they right?
  5. What would happen if they added a basic solution to an acidic solution and tested it? This is only good for very rough titration for the acidity or alkalinity of a solution (measuring how acidic or basic the solution is), but they will get the idea; make sure they don’t mix things that could cause toxic chemical reactions, such as some household cleaners. Never mix bleach and ammonia, for example.
  6. If lemon juice was used, what can they infer about how acids would taste? Can they come up with some other things they think would be acidic? (Don’t drink the lab experiment!)

To make pH strips, the thick “hipster” coffee filters work well. You can also buy filter paper like that used in breweries or a thick craft paper so long as the word “neutral” is somewhere in the paper description. Otherwise your paper will be a different color to start as the paper will be acidic or basic itself, and it may not give results as accurately. The dried filter paper can keep for years so long as it is kept sealed and dry once it is dried initially. Paper will draw up liquid well if it is very porous and not treated with anything. Dry it on cookie sheets or waxed paper for 24-48h, until completely dry. One quarter sheet of paper was enough to cut into strips to do a single lab class.  Just use it as you would normal pH paper. You can also dye fabric in a similar fashion as the paper, but note that the dye is not permanent through multiple washings!

PaintedPaper

The final result! Pink is lemon juice and green is dish soap. Scribbles thanks to a participant at an ACES event.

Final cost for thick coffee filters and a head of purple lettuce? Less than $10, yielding about 2-3 cups of red cabbage juice, enough to do a couple of small classes (20 or so students using small 1 mL volumes per test) worth of liquid experiments or make 150 quarter sheets of paper (yielding up to 150 class experiments).

biotechieBiotechie is a third-year graduate student studying metabolism and cell biology. She is also the social media manager for Twitter @ScienceACEs and facebook.com/ScienceACEs. Her career goals include academic research as well as science education and advocacy. When she is not in the lab, she can be found  reading, exploring the city, or baking awesome snacks for her fellow Science ACEs. Follow Biotechie on twitter @biotech_babe.

The Cautionary Tale of Chipotle Mexican Grill: “Food with Integrity”

GMO_labeling

The debate about GMOs has been going on for a while, but how does it affect food distributors?  Shuttersock/Foodtank.

Chipotle has been making headlines for all the wrong reason these past few months. Since July of last year, 6 foodborne pathogen outbreaks have been traced to different Chipotle restaurants, and ownership was issued a subpoena for a federal investigation into one of those outbreaks.

Ironically, the Chipotle empire was built on the premise of being a healthier alternative to other fast food chains. The restaurant’s motto, “food with integrity”, is based on their dedication to using “responsibly-raised” animals for meat and dairy and locally-grown, organic produce.

In keeping with their mantra, just months before the first outbreak was reported, the company announced it was ridding its menu of all genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The company released a statement that read, “using [GMOs] in our food doesn’t align with [our] vision.” The statement went on to cite unknown long-term effects on human health and the environment as key reasons why GMOs were getting the ax from their menu. However, the science behind GMO safety is more abundant and sound than anti-GMO groups suggest.

GMO refers to any organism that has had its genetic material (DNA) altered by genetic engineering techniques. Genetic engineering of plants and animals has advanced dramatically since the first genetically modified mouse in 1974. The genetic engineering of the 20th century relied on random integration into the host genome. In 2011 the first examples of targeted genome were presented, and in 2015, the CRISPR-Cas9 system became one the hottest trends in science. Targeted genome editing techniques, like CRISPR, allow scientists to accurately and efficiently insert and delete genes from the genome of virtually every species, including the species that we eat.

One of the best examples of a successful GM food is the Rainbow papaya. In the 1990’s Hawaii’s papaya crops were nearly depleted due to a rampant spread of Papaya Ringspot Virus transmitted by insects.By inserting a harmless gene from the virus into the papaya genome, scientists were able to effectively immunized the fruit to the virus and save Hawaii’s papaya industry. Importantly, the inserted viral gene was not only harmless to humans, but also the environment.

Another success story in the world of GMOs is that of Bt crops. Bt, or Bacillus thuringiensis, is a common soil bacteria that produce insecticidal toxins called Cry toxins. The gene that encodes these toxins was inserted into the genomes of corn, cotton, and potatoes, and these GM crops were determined to be safe for humans and the environment by multiple studies. These crops were therefore safe for humans and the environment while reducing the need for more toxic insecticides.

It has been shown that GMOs generally reduce the need for pesticides , especially insecticides. The most commonly used pesticides are glyphosate-based. These chemicals have been studied at length and deemed relatively safe by all reputable studies. However, dependency on the use of glyphosate will breed pests that are glyphosate-resistant, and force farmers to resort to new, more effective pesticides. This metaphorical arm’s race could wreak havoc on the environment and risk public health by exposing consumers and farmers to less well-studied compounds.

Anti-GMO groups often push organic produce as a better option, but organics are more expensive to grow, and purchase, which hurts producers and consumers, especially those with low income. Moreover, studies have correlated the consumption of organic produce with disease, and recent years have seen increases in recalls on organic products. One extreme example of organic crops causing illness outbreak is from Germany, where 3,000 illnesses and 31 deaths were attributed to locally-grown, organic sprouts.

Recently, there has been a growing anti-GMO movement in the U.S. Last year, a Pew Research Center survey found that only 37% of U.S. adults believe GMOs are safe to eat, while the majority (57%) believes such foods are unsafe. However, that same survey found that 88% of scientists believe GMOs are safe for human consumption. One source of contention for the anti-GMO crowd is a highly controversial publication from 2012 that claims that GM corn and a common herbicide can induce tumor growth and cause other dramatic physiological changes in rats. The scientific community strongly criticized the paper, citing irreproducibility, poor experimental design, use of a tumor-prone rat strain, and selective data representation as flaws in the study.

As the anti-GMO movement grows in the U.S., more food distributors could move away from GMOs and toward more in-demand, organic products, like Chipotle. Unfortunately, organics are not necessarily a healthier alternative, and the shift away from GMOs may actually be harmful to agriculture and human health in the long run. Ultimately, public opinion on GMOs will have a major impact in determining what constitutes “food with integrity”.

For more on the GMO controversy check out this article from Slate.

 

AnthonyBarrasso_AvatarANTHONY BARRASSO IS A THIRD YEAR GRADUATE STUDENT. CURRENTLY, HE STUDIES RETINAL DEVELOPMENT. ANTHONY’S CAREER INTERESTS INCLUDE CANCER RESEARCH, EDUCATION, AND POLITICS. OUTSIDE OF LAB, HE LIKES PLAYING WITH HIS DOG AND EATING DELICIOUS FOOD. FOLLOW ANTHONY ON TWITTER @BARRASSO67

Do Ice-Based Villains Like Killer Frost Follow the Laws of Thermodynamics?

A lot is happening on tonight episode of the CW’s The Flash. One development that will send the fans shivering is the introduction of Killer Frost. The winter powered Earth-2 version of Dr. Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) is sliding onto the scene and just might freeze the Flash in his tracks. Ok I’ll chill it with the frosty puns, but if one more skates by you’ll just have to Let it Go.

Elsa

Copyright Walt Disney Pictures.

Joking aside, characters with ice based powers regularly appear in pop culture. Is the basic science behind these powers accurate?  Let’s start with some thermodynamic basics. Temperature, refers to the measurement of internal energy inside something. This energy can change or be transferred between different forms. According to the First Law of Thermodynamics energy is not created or destroyed, but can be changed from one form to another.

When we talk about heat or heat energy, we are referring to the transfer of energy between two systems, because of a temperature difference. Most of the time energy moves from something hot to something cold. This is because of entropy, the measurement of disorder in a system. Think of how a room naturally gets messy over time, or your headphones get tangled when you put them in your pocket. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says the entropy of a system will always increase.  Think of the Second Law as saying heat will always move in a direction where it can be evenly shared amongst the most people or objects. A hot pan of cookies will burn you because heat moves from the hotter pan, to the colder cells in our hands. Whereas, holding an ice cube feels cold because heat moves from our warmer hands to the colder ice. If something feels hot, then you are absorbing heat, while if something is cold, you are releasing heat.

Killer_Frost_(Danielle_Panabaker)

Copyright Warner Brothers/ DC comics. Fair Trade.

Now let’s look at what we know about Killer Frost’s powers from the comics. Dr. Caitlin Snow became Killer Frost after an accident changed her cellular makeup. Her body is
made of ice-like cells and she feeds on heat from external sources. She actually fights Firestorm primarily because his powers generate energy for her to absorb. If she is made of ice-like cells, we can assume that her body is going to be naturally colder than normal. Thus she can logically absorb heat from other people, but what about the ice? Water can exist in different
states of matter, and one way to move between states is to change the amount of energy of the water molecules. Liquid water can become solid ice by removing heat, or vapor by adding heat. On Earth, the air contains about 1- 5% water vapor. When Killer Frost removes heat from water vapor, the water molecules contain less energy and change into solid ice.

At this point, some of you Flash fans are probably thinking about Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller), the other ice themed character on The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow, who can freeze things with his cold gun. This actually introduces the Third Law of Thermodynamics. One way this can be stated is that as temperature approaches 0 degrees Kelvin (-459.7 degrees Fahrenheit), or absolute zero, the entropy will approach a constant. What does this mean? Solid ice is made of water molecules packed tightly together, however they still have some entropy because they can vibrate in place. At absolute zero, the molecules vibrate as slow as possible, and thus have the lowest entropy. Since the temperature of an object depends on how fast its atoms and molecules are moving, absolute zero is the coldest temperature possible. Scientists have tried to reach it, and have gotten very close, but no one has thus far.

Captain_Cold_(Wentworth_Miller)

Copyright Warner Brothers/ DC Comics. Fair Trade

Captain Cold’s cold gun works by generating a “field of absolute zero” that slows down the atomic motion of what it hits. Once again, it creates ice by freezing the water molecules in the air. As part of the Flash’s powers involves his molecules vibrating faster than normal (he contains more energy) it is considered a dangerous weapon. In the real world, while we don’t have guns that can generate beams of absolute zero, scientists can use lasers under controlled conditions to remove the heat from atoms by slowing them down (molecular cooling).

So, not all the science of these characters is accurate. However, when you watch our ice-based villains on The Flash and Legends of Tomorrow you can know that their powers and weapons do follow  three laws of thermodynamics.

The Motley Advocate (Editor)
Slide1Motley Advocate is a Christian, a biologist, a writer and an amateur at many other things. He doesn’t  have a twitter but you can e-mail him at science.aces15@gmail.com

			

Neglected Tropical Diseases

You would probably say that the common diseases and conditions that affect millions of people every year, most people think of heart disease, cancer, hepatitis – things that are common in our first world environment. What you might not realize is that there is a group of diseases called neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) that affect more than one billion people worldwide. When one sixth of the world’s population is suffering from one or more of these diseases and the average person can’t even name one, neglect proves an appropriate adjective. NTDs are debilitating, painful, and poverty-inducing. Can you name one?

Such diseases include Guinea worm, schistosomiasis, trachoma, soil-transmitted Helminths, and lymphatic filariasis.

Let’s look at how some of these diseases may affect an individual. In the regions where these diseases are most prevalent – South and Central America, Africa, and southern Asia – people usually work physically taxing manual labor jobs that require a high degree of mobility. If a parent were to contract lymphatic filariasis, better known as elephantiasis, their extremities would enlarge due to the inability to properly drain fluid. The swelling would eventually become so severe that physical labor would become impossible. With no income from a parent, the family is plunged deeper into poverty. This leads to decreased hygiene, nutrition, and education opportunities for the children. Meanwhile, it’s possible that their child has contracted hookworm, likely from walking barefoot through infested soil because the family cannot afford shoes. Hookworm causes malnutrition, leading to both physical and intellectual impairments, which subsequently affects the child’s performance in school and ultimately their ability to use education to rise out of poverty.

The good news is, the Sabin Vaccine Institute has started a campaign to see the end of all 7 of the most common NTDs. GlaxoSmithKline and Eisai donate albendazole and diethylcarbamazine (DEC) and End7 works with partners all over the world to distribute the drugs. One treatment lasts a year and costs 50 cents. Those two dingy quarters that are lying at the bottom of the cup holder in your car could cure someone for a whole year. The first step to driving out poverty is liberating these populations from debilitating curable diseases, allowing parents to get back to work and children to get back to school.

 

Donate to End7 here: http://www.end7.org/get-involved-help-us-end-neglected-tropical-diseases

 

 Tim Farinholt
Farinholt-2078Tim is a fourth year biochemistry grad student interested in exploring a career in science administration. His main focus is rock climbing while occasionally dabbling in the immune system of obscure soil amoebae.

How does your general science knowledge compare?

Have you wondered how your scientific knowledge stacks up against everyone else in the America? Maybe against different countries?

Science of Us created a quiz testing your general science smarts. Check it out! See where you are compared to your family, friends, and the rest of America!

Michelle Editor-In-Chief

The Rap Battle heard ‘Round (Or Across?) the World

You’d think that a globetrotting artist with songs titled “Airplanes” and “Strange Clouds” would have a pretty good grasp on geography, but last week rapper B.o.B went on a twitter rant claiming that the world is flat. The artist cited flight diagrams, memes, and other “sketchy images,” arguments used by the Flat Earth Truther Movement since the 19th century.

B.o.B blatantly ignored any counter arguments provided by his many twitter followers, only re-tweeting those who were pro-flat, until Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson stepped in to provide calm and logical explanations as to why the earth is round.

Faced with the crushing weight of centuries worth of science, you would think that the rapper would back down, make like his hit single and tell Tyson “I got nothin’ on you,” but  B.o.B. opted to post a scathing “diss record” called Flatline denouncing Tyson and all round-earth believers. At this point, what started as civil scientific debate officially escalated into the world’s nerdiest rap battle, and the internet, or at least Reddit, stood at attention.  The next day Neil gave his blessing to a response track, Flat to Fact, rapped by his own nephew Stephen Tyson. The young champion of science dropped facts over the instrumental to the 2015 Drake diss track, Back to Back, and somewhere a Nobel Laureate shed a single beautiful tear without any knowledge as to why.

All went quiet on B.o.B’s end, and on Thursday Neil cemented his victory by appearing on the Larry Wilmore show and both literally and figuratively dropping the mic. However, instead of taking the moral high ground, the astrophysicist encouraged B.o.B to keep exploring, investigating, and using critical thinking, which is what the heart of science is, while also reminding him of the dangers of spreading misinformation.

Information is power, and as scientists, as people, we owe it to each other to not only share our own thoughts and ideas, but keep an open mind to what other people have to say, even if we don’t agree with it.  That way we all improve, and as of today B.o.B has taken his medicine.  

P.S. Idea to increase research funding: Make a TV show where researchers explain their work in rap form, and battle other scientists who disagree. MTV, pick this one up while it’s hot!

ACES Photo
ASANTE HATCHER IS A THIRD YEAR GRADUATE STUDENT INTERESTED IN PURSUING A CAREER IN SCIENTIFIC POLICY AND ADVOCACY. HIS INTERESTS INCLUDE, BUT ARE NOT LIMITED TO, COOKING, READING, SPORTS, VIDEOGAMES, AND WATCHING RE-RUNS OF THE 1988 CRYSTAL LIGHT AEROBICS CHAMPIONSHIP.