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HM’s Premier Science Publication

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Letter From the Editor


Horace Mann Spectrum

4 TV Fantasy or Reality? By Tessa Bellone


Moonlight Mysteries Revealed By Greg Heon


Harmful Cellphones By Alex Posner

11 Viruses Attack! By Alex Falk

12 Can Certain Fats Make You Thin? By Justin Bleuel

14 Do You Kuru? By Sarah Sicular

16 The Secret Life of Algae By Ambika Acharya

18 Genomics

Volume I, Issue I

A Journal Expressing Students Intrests in the World’s Newest Scientific Developments Ambika Acharya Antonia Antonova Editors-in-Chief Debayan Guha Executive Editor

By Katie Bartel

20 Carol Greider Nobel Prize ‘09 By David Zask

21 The Cholesterol Problem By David Yassky

Katie Bartel Tessa Bellone Miles Frankel Contributing Editors Dr. Jeff Weitz Faculty Advisor

Dear Readers, After a long year filled with many academic challenges, we are pleased to announce that we have produced our first issue of HM Spectrum, a student-run science publication. In a world of politics, academics, and Lady Gaga, we hope that students keep in mind the evolving scientific world around them. With researchers discovering new and thrilling theories, medicines, and inventions every day, we hope to bring a new forum of discussion to the student body. In this issue we have compiled 11 exciting articles on topics ranging from the radiation harms of cellphones to Nobel Prize winning discoveries. We hope to kick off a new school tradition of scientific enthusiasm. Enjoy the issue! Sincerely Your Super Positive Protons,

Ambika and Antonia

© 2010 Horace Mann Spectrum

22 “Cancer Mann” By Debayan Guha

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TV Fantasy or Reality? Medical Dramas effect Viewer’s Health Care Expectations

By Tessa Bellone


Marquette University

edical Dramas have been around since the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the last 20 years that they became a television phenomenon. Emmy award nominated and winning shows such as ER, Grey’s Anatomy, and House have taken over prime time viewing and have millions of avid fans tuning in every week to watch as their favorite doctors courageously battle infections and diseases. But how accurately does this dramatized portrayal of medicine on television reflect the lives and abilities of real life doctors? The truth is that although all these shows strive for medical accuracy to the point of hiring actual doctors to write and proofread scripts, entertainment will always be their first priority- something that is having a serious impact on the real life medical profession. Many people have begun to have unrealistic expectations of modern health care, based on what they see portrayed in the media. Most methods used on medical dramas are thought to be too aggressive and unreliable to actually be used in real life, and are not usually recommended by doctors due to how dangerous they are- and also how expensive. Health care officials estimate that one of the test sequences shown on House, which there are normally several of during a single episode, would run over $9,000 dollars. Despite the high prices, patients sometimes demand that they receive a test that may not even be effective at all, simply because they heard it mentioned of TV. High costs and risky side effects are pushed to the back of the show, while miraculous recoveries from the brink of death are almost every time shown center stage.

Patients are encouraged to believe that all the newest drugs and latest treatments will be available to them, and that having numerous tests and examinations are normal, whereas this is simply not the case. Too many episodes have depicted people with a hopeless case and no chance of recovery suddenly and magically getting better because of a phenomenal one-in-a-million cure. While this makes for great television, it falsely raises the hopes of actual people suffering from the same or similar diseases, giving them inaccurate perceptions of the ability of medicine. “People have the belief that if you search hard enough, if you spend enough money, if you find the right doctor, you can get that rescue, that breakthrough, and those things just don’t really happen in the real world,” Andrew Holtz, a medical journalist wrote on the subject. But it’s not just the patients who are being affected by media portrayal of medicine. Some doctors who watch intently even find that it has compromised their abilities to properly perform medical tasks. A study showed that shortly after medical dramas started appearing on TV, a number of medical students began inaccurately performing CPR by improperly positioning their patients’ heads to insert a tube down their throat, something, which they claim, they picked up from watching too many episodes of ER. However, although it can cause serious problems for both doctors and patients, not all medical information that viewers absorb from television is necessarily bad. The medical establishment also utilizes these shows as a means to educate millions of Americans on certain diseases and even act as public health messages. In 2008, a case study of Grey’s Anatomy was conducted by the Kaiser Touchstone Television Family Foundation to assess how effective these public health messages were. A survey was conducted about the causes and proper treatment of AIDS a week before an episode of Grey’s Anatomy strongly featuring the subject was aired. A week following, the same survey was conducted again. The case study concluded that the audience’s awareness on the subject of AIDS had quadrupled after the viewing of the episode. Since this study, shows have been to incorporating important medical information on topics such as emergency contraceptive, Chlamydia, cervical cancer, and breast cancer to educate the public viewers. While a reputation for accuracy is one of the key things most science-based television shows strive for, medical dramas always have and always will put entertainment as their first priority. Whether it be for the better or the worse, average people will continue to absorb most, if not all, of their medical understanding and expectations from the way it is portrayed in the media today.

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Moonlight Mysteries Revealed: LCROSS Detects Water on the Moon


ver since Neil Armstrong first walked on the moon 40 years ago, we have dreamed of living there. An essential element for human life as we know it is water, something that was previously thought to not be present on the moon in any important quantity. However, recent discoveries show irrefutably that there is water on the moon; in fact, NASA scientist Anthony Colaprete announced that a “significant amount” was found. The existence of water on the moon has always been debated ever since the return of the Apollo 11 mission. The lunar rock samples brought back were contaminated during their return to earth, so although there was water on the samples, it was assumed to be earth’s water, and the moon was assumed to be completely dry. The debate resurfaced while the Chandrayaan-1, India’s first moon probe, was mapping the surface of the moon. The probe detected bonds between hydrogen and oxygen atoms, and indication of the existence of either water or a hydroxyl group, which would indicate the presence of water anyway. The probe used NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper, which measures the wavelengths of light reflected off the surface. The wavelengths that it detected indicated this water/ hydroxyl bond. It is notable that the Chandrayaan-1 detected a larger amount of these bonds closer to the polar regions of the moon. The Chandrayaan-1’s findings were the same as the Cassini mission’s, which passed the moon ten years ago. Data from Cassini showed the same water/hydroxyl bonds all across the surface, with a stronger signal near the poles. More recently, the Deep Impact spacecraft detected hydroxyl groups by using infrared wavelengths. Because of their presence, scientists believed that water is indeed present on the surface of the moon. Scientists decided to investigate the presence of water in a permanently shadowed crater near the South Pole named Cabeus. They did this by intentionally crashing two probes, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) Centaur and its upper stage rockets into Cabeus on October 9th. After the rockets hit, LCROSS collected data for four minutes before crashing into the moon itself. The ejection from the crater had two major parts – “a high angle plume of vapor and fine dust” and “a lower angle ejecta curtain of heavier material.” The ejection contained materials that have not seen sunlight in billions of years. “We’re unlocking the mysteries of our nearest neighbor and by extension the solar system. It turns out the moon harbors many secrets, and LCROSS has added a new layer to our understanding,” said Michael Wargo, the chief lunar scientist at NASA’s Washington headquarters. Of the copious amounts of data collected, the spectrometer’s data have been the main focus. This data contain the “most definitive information about the presence of water.” Spectrometers examine “light emitted or absorbed by materials that helps identify their components.” “When atoms and Daily News

By Greg Heon

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molecules are excited, they release energy at specific wavelengths that are detected by the spectrometers.” The concept behind using the spectrometer was that if the spectrometer’s reading could only be replicated using water, Cabeus must have held water. After receiving the spectrometer’s infrared data, NASA’s scientists found it impossible to replicate the readings with a “reasonable combination of compounds” without using water. Nevertheless, when they used water, the scientists found a very close match. The scientists took everything into account, including possible contamination from the impact probe, Centaur. Further confirmation came from the spectrometer’s ultraviolet readings, which indicated hydroxyl, a product of water’s being broken up by sunlight. The hydroxyl signature from the ejection matched that of a water vapor cloud in sunlight, again demonstrating the presence of water within Cabeus. The $79 million mission was a success. Water has now been conclusively found to be present not only on the moon’s surface, but also in at least one of its permanently shadowed craters. Now that water has been found, the debate as to how it first came to be on the moon has come up. There are many interesting theories for how water came about on the moon, but they were narrowed down to two possibilities– either outside sources, such as comets, brought it to the moon, or it originated on the moon itself. If the latter is true, there are two principle theories – the water was there when the moon was formed, or solar wind, which contains positively charged hydrogen ions, has interacted with the oxygen-rich surface of the moon to create water. If either of these were true, they would lead to significant advancements in our knowledge and understanding of our solar system and possibly our understanding of physics and chemistry in space. If water were present in the moon’s creation, then our current theories regarding its formation would have to be revised, but if the solar wind has been creating the water, then we will have learned something new about physics in space. If the hydrogen particles are moving fast enough, it follows that the hydrogen might interact with the oxygen-rich lunar surface, creating dihydrogen monoxide, or water. Either way, learning about how water came to be on our moon is key to understanding the formation of our solar system. It is also important to note that the permanently shadowed regions of the moon preserve material that is billions of years old, so LCROSS’s data may contain even more information than we could ever hope to have ascertained from this mission. NASA scientists are still examining LCROSS’s rich and plentiful data in hopes of learning more about the formation of the moon and about our Daily News solar system. LCROSS was a huge success. The mission accomplished its goal of showing that water exists in Cabeus, but its data also helped to teach us about the permanently shadowed regions of the moon and the materials that have been collected and preserved there for billions of years. We have only begun to learn from LCROSS’s data. It is probable that in the near future, we will discover more about the moon than we currently know by further examining LCROSS’s data. Who knows what we will discover about outer space, the solar system, or the moon, our nearest neighbor. The future awaits!

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Harmful Cellphones Phone Radiation Causes Human Defects

By Alex Posner


Top Ten Radiation Cell Phones in the United States

Word Press

ell phones are all around us. People on trains, in cars, and even in the school hallway use cell phones. We take cell phones for granted as they allow us to connect with others, yet many fail to realize the danger associated with consistent cell phone use. When you speak into your phone a transmitter takes the sound of your voice and encodes it into a continuous wave. After locating the nearest cell phone tower, your phone will send out that encoded signal as a radio wave, which is made up of electromagnetic radiation. This specific type of radiation is called radio frequency energy (RF). Wavelengths and frequency are important to understanding RF radiation. A wavelength is the complete distance traveled by the cycle of an electromagnetic wave. Frequency, on the other hand, is the number of times an electromagnetic wave passes through a given point. We use the unit Hertz (Hz) to measure the frequency of a specific RF signal with a single Hz equaling one cycle per second. When measuring the effect of radiation on the body we use the specific absorption rate (SAR). It is usually either expressed as watts per kilogram (W/kg) or milliwatts per gram (mW/g). What’s important about this information is that the Federal Communications Commission sets a SAR standard. However many argue that such standards are loose and therefore ineffective. As defined by the Federal Communications Division, electromagnetic radiation is “made up of waves of electric and magnetic energy moving at the speed of light.” There are two distinct types of electromagnetic radiation: ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation. X-rays and gamma rays both fall under the category of ionizing radiation and are considered to pose significant harm to humans as they contain enough electromagnetic energy to strip atoms and molecules from the tissue and alter chemical reactions in the body. On the other hand, non-ionizing radiation, which includes radio waves, is not considered to pose Thermographic image of the head significant harm to cells. Thermographic image of the Radio and television with after a 15-minute phone call. head with no exposure to radio Yellow and red areas indicate ther- broadcasting,

communications for police and fire departments, and amateur radios all maximize RF energy. So why then are cell phones potentially dangerous? We use cell phones on a consistent basis, usually for extended periods of time. Having this consistent exposure to radiation, especially so close to your body, is where the real danger lies as the SAR increases. In recent years, there have been an increasing number of studies linking cell phone use to health problems, such as cancer. Studies looking at the effect of cell phone radiation on use for less than 10 years have found no clear connections to cancer. However studies looking at the danger posed for users of periods of time longer than 10 years have clearly displayed an increased risk. In 2008 the World Health Organization released its ten-year study called Interphone. As part of an international collaboration, the 13 different countries involved (Germany, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Norway, New-Zealand, UnitedKingdom and Sweden) all used the same protocols in order to examine the possible connection between tumors and radiation. What they found was astonishing: “among long term users (for more than 10 years) there was a 80% higher risk of developing the tumor at the same side of the brain where they held the phone, in comparison to non-users.” Interphone also found that specifically glioma, the most common type of brain tumor, had 39% greater chance of occurring in cell phone users. The information on coustic neurinoma, a benign tumor of a nerve between the ear and brain, was the most revealing because it occurs directly where you place your cell phone during calls. The study found that your risk for this tumor was 3.9 times higher if you used a cell phone on a regular basis. Another related area of concern relates to the safety of cell phone towers. Because these towers are consistently receiving radio waves, they emit much more radiation than a single cell phone. A French study in 2002 found that people who lived within a close proximity to a cell phone tower experienced symptoms such as fatigue, headache, sleep disruption, and loss of memory. What’s even worse is that if you live in cities or other urban areas, you are likely to be living and working close to a large numbers of cell towers. Therefore these urban dwellers are consistently exposed to dangerous electromagnetic radiation. The dangers of cell phone use for children and young adults are greater as their brains are less developed and their skulls are thinner. Unfortunately, students and young people are among the greatest users of cell phones and thus that must be changed. In France, for example, there have been efforts to ban cell phones in elementary schools. Texting has become more prominent than actual phone calls, which is fortunate. Keeping cell phones away from the head is the single best tool for combating the dangers of radiation and therefore texting is a remedy to the various risks. There are many things that average consumers can do to better protect themselves from cell phone radiation.

harmful cell phone radiation.

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Viruses Attack!


Alex Falk (12) Discusses Her View of These Infectious Agents

Headsets are one of the best protections. Bluetooth technology is not ideal because it also has an earpiece that emits a large amount of radiation. A much better option is to use wired headsets that plug into your phone. Another thing to be conscious about is that cell phones continue to give off radiation even when you are not on a call, as your phone must automatically communicate with the tower in order to see if you have texts. Therefore never leave your cell phone on in your pocket and turn it off whenever possible. The dangers associated with cell phones are real and a growing threat. In fact throughout the world an estimated 4 billion people own cell phones. It is predicted that more people will die from cell phone use than smoking in the coming years. This is truly the next major health challenge of our time and it is our responsibility to be conscious of the negative repercussions we may experience through consistent cell phone use.

Viruses scare the hell out of me. I think of myself as a pretty fearless person. I’m not afraid of things I can deal with, like boogeymen, bees, the darkness, lightning, or close spaces. (I actually kind of enjoy close spaces.) Of course I have a stable of standard, reasonable phobias: I get vertigo when I’m high up, I worry about not getting a job, I’d rather not confront an angry grizzly bear, I’m sure it would bother me if someone were shooting at me. But the only things that really scare me are little things that I can’t confront. Leeches, ticks, parasites, super powered bacteria (and that’s a whole other kettle of anxieties), and now viruses. Let’s talk about viruses. Viruses are not alive. They’re not born, they don’t grow, they don’t metabolize anything, and they can’t reproduce on their own. They are robots, self-executing programs that were causing devastation long before some clever guys decided to make silicon think. They are deceptively simple and wickedly good at what they do. Assembled whole, they consist of genetic material—DNA or RNA—and a neat protein package, which contains the machinery required to hijack a cell in a way that would make terrorists squeamish. Viruses infect cells and take over their natural replicating machinery. Then, instead of working toward its intended purpose of making new cells, the equipment is turned toward virus production, putting each part together like underpaid workers in a factory assembly line. Once the product (the virus) is complete in large number, the unfortunate host cell either bursts, releasing scores of new viruses eager to repeat the process, or dispatches the newly-minted viruses in bubbles, while continuing to manufacture another wave. We have antibiotics for bacteria. They kill the bacteria to help our immune systems out, but don’t have drugs that kill viruses, partially because you can’t kill what isn’t alive and mostly because we can’t target the viruses with chemicals. The best we have are antivirals, drugs with heavy consequences that inhibit the rate of viral reproduction, leaving the rest to our immune systems. And our immune systems? They’re pretty great. We don’t keel over when people sneeze on us, for the most part. Formed of several lines of defense and an army of specialized cells, our immune systems have a brutal but effective method of reacting to infection: kill everything. Natural born killer cells eliminate infected cells with little trepidation, working on the logic ‘guilty until proven innocent’. Other cells can be trained to recognize specific invaders from either past encounters or vaccinations, but they too can be fooled. Imagine if you trained a dog to attack anyone with long hair. It would do pretty well at keeping that hippie couple next door away from your garden, as well as preventing that unshaven dirt bag who lives across the street from stealing your newspaper. But what if the hippies decided to get real jobs complete with real-job haircuts and the jerk face’s girlfriend finally said enough is enough, lose the hair or I’m breaking up with you, and they no longer fit the long-hair criteria? Your dog would be like, “lol, okay, do whatever.” And you’d be like, “God dammit, get the hell out of my yard!” The point is that viruses change it up all the time. They’re sneaky little buggers, and they swap receptors (surface proteins that help the virus latch onto unsuspecting host cells) back and forth like joints at a liberal arts college. Viruses are very, very good at not messing up the rotation. Some viruses change, but are still recognizable that our immune system can handle multiple versions. These are the viruses we can vaccinate for, like polio, smallpox, mumps, measles, and rubella. Then there are the viruses that would have entire file cabinets devoted to them in the FBI’s dossier room. These are the ones that we can’t vaccinate against, because they’re too deadly, mutate too rapidly, and/or can’t be weakened or killed in a way that would make a vaccine possible. You’ve heard of them. They’re the viruses that keep me up at night. There’s HIV, which destroys your immune system, leaving you open to attacks from lightweights like rhinovirus (the common cold). There are the dozen or so zoonotic (courtesy of other animals) encephalitises, which attack the central nervous system—the spine and the brain. Then there are the hemorrhagic fevers. Ebola! It’s transmissible by touch. There is no treatment, and there’s not enough time to make a victim comfortable before they are destroyed from within. It works incredibly fast, eviscerating all the membranes inside your body, liquefying you from the inside out. You bleed freely through your skin and into your eyeballs, which turn pink and then dull maroon. The fever cooks your brain but leaves some of your basic instincts, turning you into a shambling bag filled with dark blood and black bile. A dead man walking. A ticking time bomb.

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Can Certain Fats Make You Thin? A Look Into the Benefits of Brown Fat

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It was previously thought that babies had brown fat deposits to help them maintain body temperature, but lost them as they reached adulthood. So how does one activate brown fat without having to soak his feet in ice water? As a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvardaffiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Patrick Seale identified a protein called PRDM-16 that is present in every brown fat cell but absent from white fat cells. When he turned off PRDM-16 activity in young brown fat cells, they changed into muscle cells. Now Seale is working on identifying genes that may turn PRDM-16 on. Seale’s adviser at the lab, Bruce Spiegelman, is testing a therapy The Health Blog that involves removing white fat precursor cells from animals, inserting active PRDM-16 and then transplanting the cells back into the animals to see if they lose weight. Scientists have expressed their concerns that this concept seems too far fetched; however, there is no proof or work that proves the theory to be false. Cypess and his colleagues are focusing on different proteins, including one called BMP-7 that aids bone growth, since bone cells communicate regularly with fat. Recently one researcher found that BMP-7 increases the production of brown fat and protects against obesity in mice. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has already approved a BMP-7 drug for use in spinal surgery, so Cypess is testing the drug’s effects on surgical patients to see if it boosts brown fat as well. If it works, researchers would ultimately leapfrog past several years of research. Scientists have said they ultimately envision a “brown fat pill”—a drug that boosts the activity of brown fat through molecular means. He believes that especially for his obese patients, he needs to find a way to help his obese patients out. Scientists realize such a drug won’t provide a quick fix for obesity, but brown fat could help people achieve weight loss goals by burning an extra 500 calories a day. Until a pill becomes available, there are ways for people to rev up their brown fat activity. Though patients do not usually like to put up with cold therapy, it could help to turn down your home’s central heating and to spend some time outside in the fall and winter. Studies suggest that people who work outdoors have higher brown fat activity than average, so it’s not an unreasonable assumption to think that walking to work on a brisk day could boost your metabolism. As scientists continue to study fat in a new light, as an important organ in the body’s endocrine system, they are bound to find more opportunities. Though now, an “exercise pill” may seem out of reach, but the concept and science to conceive such a pill is not too far out of hand. But given the weight of the situation, there may not be any harm in being imaginative. Researchers and scientists are definitely looking for creative new ways of Brown fat contains more mitochondria than white fat does. thinking about combating obesity.

Dr. Sharma

rown fat has long been known to exist in infants and animals such as mice, but until recently scientists thought it disappeared before human adulthood, leaving only the white fat that’s associated with weight gain. Unlike white fat, which stores energy, chestnut-colored brown fat burns it. Brown fat cells contain a large supply of energy synthesizing organelles called mitochondria, and contain an enzyme which allows them to release the energy from food calories directly as heat. This spring, multiple studies in The New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that not only is brown fat common in adults, it’s also important to their metabolism: Younger, thinner people have more detectable brown fat than their older, pudgier counterparts. While scientists have a long way to go before completing their understanding of how fat works, a lot of knowledge about the organic molecule has already been obtained. Rather than just a blubbery, lifeless mass, fat is now considered to be a sophisticated and scientifically complex biological organ, as important to the body as the liver or the kidneys. Scientists believe that fat secretes hormones and signaling molecules that coordinate behavior and health. White fat also plays a significant role in the immune system. A study published in August 2008 in the journal Immunity concluded that fat droplets help protect the body against immune-system invaders. Another 2008 study published in Cell Metabolism found that the fat that accumulates around the thighs and hips, called subcutaneous fat, actually lowers risk of diabetes. Despite this new perspective, doctors agree that most people have a lot more white fat than they need. With the obesity rate among U.S. citizens above the age of 10 reaching 34 percent, the discovery of brown fat provides scientists with a glimmer of hope. While much of the fat that accumulates on an obese body is visceral, meaning it surrounds vital organs and increases the risk of diabetes, cancer and strokes, brown is mostly concentrated in the neck and chest regions. Scientists have now begun to think about fat as a potential treatment for conditions such as obesity, rather than just a cause. Current research has also shown that women are twice as likely as men to have significant amounts of active brown fat. Some scientists speculate that because women anatomy tends to have less muscle mass, they need brown fat to stay warm. Temperature has been found to be an important controller of brown fat activity. A team led by Sven Enerbäck, a medical geneticist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, found that when subjects spent two hours in a cold room wearing thin clothing and intermittently soak their feet in ice water, their brown fat burned 15 times more energy than it did at room temperature. One subject had enough brown fat to lose eight to nine pounds per year. Dutch researchers found active brown fat in 23 out of 24 subjects when they were cold, but not when they were warm. Research at the University of Nottingham in England revealed brown fat activity was closely associated with seasonal decreases in daylight as well. Further studies, such as in animals, suggest brown fat increases weight loss, for it not only stores fat but burns it. Last year, Stockholm University scientists found that mice that could not make brown fat gained weight 50 percent faster than mice that could. In a 2008 study, mice that fed a high-fat diet and kept at room temperature ended up nearly four times heavier than mice fed the same diet and housed at 39 F. Researchers estimate that just 2 ounces of active brown fat could burn 300 to 500 calories a day. Even little adjustments are able to have a profound effect on your body’s metabolism.

By Justin Bleuel

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Laughter Makes the Medicine Go Down Unless you have Kuru’s Disease

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Kuru’s disease, also known as the “laughing sickness,” is a disease which Americans do not need to worry about. The origin (and, to date, the only place where is it found) is the South Fore in New Guinea. There, many of the people practice cannibalism, which is thought to be the only method of passing the disease. A small group of doctors that has studied the disease has determined that the disease cannot be spread in utero or via human milk. In fact, people who had been infected with Kuru’s were regarded as a delicacy. The 1960’s are considered the height of the epidemic; between 1957 and 1968, over 1,100 in the South Fore died from Kuru’s. Since women in the South Fore were responsible for “dismemberment of corpses,” they ate much or what they stripped from the body, and thus the ratio of infected women to men was 8:1 during this period. Children and the elderly were also afflicted, because the women would pass on much of what they gleaned to their young and old. When it was first discovered, scientists were not even aware of the cannibalism through which it was passed, much less the bacteria or protein that caused it. At first, they believed it to be a genetic disorder, as mother and child would both be affected (little did they know that mother did pass it on to child, albeit not the way that the phrase generally connotes). Scientists eventually discredited this theory because a disorder as lethal as this one would eventually die out. The symptoms that these scientists and doctors observed included three main stages called the ambulant, sedentary, and terminal stages. Those entering the first stage experience unsteadiness of stance, gait, voice, hands, and eyes; deterioration of speech; tremor; shivering; loss of coordination in lower extremities that moves slowly upward; and dysarthria (slurring of speech). The second stage renders patients unable to walk without support, causes tremors and ataxia (loss of coordination of the muscles), muscle spasms, emotional mercuriality, random and often inappropriate

By Sarah Sicular

laughing bouts (hence the nickname), severe depression, and mental slowing. Patients transitioning to the final stage experience the inability to sit up without support, more severe ataxia, tremor, and dysarthria, urinary and fecal incontinence, dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), and ulcers. All of these symptoms are attributed to a dysfunction of the cerebellum, the lobe at the base of the brain that controls motor function. Desperate for answers, researchers searched for diseases with symptoms similar to those they had seen in patients with Kuru’s. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) causes tremor, inappropriate laughter, and a depression similar to that experienced in the sedentary phase of Kuru’s. Similarly, dysarthria emerged in those with CJD, albeit much later than it did in those with Kuru’s, and patients of both suffered from urinary incontinence. From here, scholar SB Prusiner identified and defined a group of diseases referred to as prion diseases, a group that comprises of neurodegenerative diseases that are all fatal. These ailments are collectively called spongiform encephalies because they cause the brain to become spongy and riddled with holes. Well-known prion diseases include CJD and Kuru’s, mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy), and scrapie, which affects only sheep and goats. Out of the whole collection of the diseases, only the former three, Gertsmann-Straussler-Scheinker syndrome, and fatal familial insomnia, affect humans. The prion protein (PrP) is a fascinating molecule. One form, referred to as PrP-sen because it can be degraded by the immune system, has an alpha-helical secondary structure. The configuration, resistant to protease (a protein-degrading enzyme), has beta-pleated sheets as a secondary structure. PrP-sen can be transformed into PrP-res, which has rendered the diseases virtually untreatable. The PrP-res congregates in the central nervous system, causing a buildup of amyloids, or insoluble fibrous proteins, that cause the neurological symptoms such as tremor, incontinence, uncontrollable laughter, and dysarthria. Kuru’s disease has largely died out thanks to the cessation of cannibalism in New Guinea, but the information uncovered in studies of the disease has proven valuable to researchers. For example, thanks to the information found about the prion protein, the mad-cow epidemic of the 21st century was quelled quickly. The field of treatments for prion diseases is still relatively unsullied, but with any luck scientists will be able to alleviate or even eradicate these maladies.

Kuru Disease is best known as the epidemic that spread through Papua New Guinea and reached its peak in the 1960’s.

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Can We Select for Natural Selection? By Katie Bartel


enomics, a branch of genetics, is the study of an organism’s genome, the cell’s genetic material. Genomics differs from genetics because it does not focus on one individual gene at a

time, but on how genes work together as a system. The field of genomics was created by Fred Sanger, who mapped the complete genomes of a virus and a mitochondrion in the 1970’s. In the past forty years, more complex genomes have been sequenced, including the human one. It is a popular and important science today because of its many applications, such as in pharmaceuticals, genetically modified foods, and gene therapy. Genomics can be used to improve the production of drugs and medicines, a study known as pharmacogenomics. Developments in pharmacogenomics would allow drug companies to custom tailor their drugs for an individual, making them more efficient and more effective. Pharmacogenomics could also reduce, if not eliminate, the risks a patient takes when beginning to take a new drug. Instead of using trial-and-error to match an individual with an effective drug, doctors could choose the best drug based on the patient’s genetic profile. Genome mapping could also be used to screen for an individual’s predisposition for a genetic disease, allowing earlier treatment. Especially today, since we are in the midst of heated health care debates and an economic recession, pharmacogenomics would reduce the number of failed drug trials, the amount of time a patient takes the medication, and the number of medications a patient tries before finding the correct one. This would ultimately cut down the costs of drug production and health care. Genetically modified, also called “transgenic”, foods are another result of genomics. Plants and animals are modified by combining genes from other organisms, a method also known as recombinant DNA technology. Plants are often modified to make them insect resistance or more nutritious. This branch of genomics is widely studied and applied today. In Africa, sweet potatoes are altered be resistant to a virus that would potentially destroy a majority of the harvest. In many Asian countries, rice is revised to contain an increase of iron and other vitamins, to improve 16 Argon

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As the amount of oil sources known to man decrease, scientists are always on the lookout for alternate ways to obtain oil, to nurture the dependency humans have upon it. Oil is a household item, whether in cooked food, detergents or fertilizers. Oil is also found in all plastic manufactured products, because they are all made from

widespread malnutrition. However, transgenic foods are controversial. They pose unknown risks to the health of humans and ecosystems. A few transgenic food companies could also come to dominate world food production, causing developing nations to depend more on industrialized countries in the process. Also, many people simply believe it is immoral to change an organism’s intrinsic nature. When genetic defects occur, a cell does not produce proteins correctly, resulting in genetic disorders. Genomics, when applied to fix these disorders, is known as “gene therapy.” Gene therapy takes on several approaches to correcting damaged genes. Two ways that repairing genes are inserting a normal gene into a nonspecific location to replace a nonfunctional gene, or replacing an abnormal gene with a normal gene. Of course, inserting a gene into a cell is more complicated than simply giving someone a shot. Viruses are engineered to carry human DNA and deliver it to specific cells. There are methods other than using a virus, but they can be less cost-effective. In the future, researchers hope to develop an artificial and autonomous 47th chromosome, which would not affect the other 46, but simply introduce normal genetic material to them. The bottom line: although genomics poses ethical questions, its uses could help solve many global problems.

Researchers are studying the possibility of using genetically modified bananas to create vaccines against hepatitis B.

Mechanic Robotic

The process of turning algae into oil is shown in the diagram to the left. The organic molecules in the algae are used to create biodiesel.

“Alba” the transgenic bunny glows neon green under a black light because proteins from the fluorescent Pacific Northwest Jellyfish were injected into her embryo.

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Carol Greider Nobel Prize ‘09: Telomerase May Hold the Cure for Cancer By David Zask


his year’s noble prize went to Carol Greider, Elizabeth Blackburn, and Jack Szostak for their research on Telomeres and its nature. They worked on this project from 1975 to 1978, when their work was published and 31 years later they received the noble prize. Telomeres are little caps at the end of chromosomes. When chromosomes replicate there are two strands, a 5 prime strand and a 3 prime strand. When they are separated an enzyme called polymerase makes up the lacking DNA, but the 3 prime strand lags and therefore the polymerase cannot fill up the gaps, so it fills up the gaps with RNA primers. These primers cannot fill up all the gaps, which leads to the tips of the chromosomes shortening. The problem with this is that when the telomeres are gone the chromosomes cannot continue to reproduce. This happens because the telomeres are not protecting the tips and the base pairs become shortened and the cell cannot allow itself to do that. Thus, it stops reproducing. The lengths of our telomeres are the lengths of our lives. While researching about telomeres the scientists found an enzyme called telomerase, which makes more telomeres during the chromosome reproduction to help fill any extra gaps. Unfortunately, our bodies do not use the enzyme very much, so our cells continue to die. Many people have tried to use telomerase to elongate cell life spans.TA-65, found in the astragalus plant, makes the body produce the enzyme telomerase, leading scientists to believe that it could possibly be used as a drug. It has yet to pass the food and drug administration. Making telomerase seems like an ideal way to extend a life span, but it can cause many malignant cancers. Due to its constant replenishing of telomeres at the ends of the cells, cells stay intact and never die. This can help treat cancer by making Univesity of Chicago an inhibitor for telomerase in the cancer cells. This is an ideal solution since it is barely made in somatic (body) cells and only produced in gamete (sperm and egg) cells. This treatment would probably only minutely affect one’s life span and would most likely lower one’s sperm count or fertility. Since most cancer treatments are detrimental to one’s life span this would truly be a breakthrough. They are the miracle caps. Telomeres and telomerase are amazing discoveries because have the potential to change the entire world because they could possible treat cancers and even extend lifespans.

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HM Review Vol. XIX

The Cholesterol Problem: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly


holesterol is always a hot topic among adults, but as kids, do By David Yassky we really know enough about this medical phenomenon? Most people think that cholesterol is just a substance found in foods that is detrimental to our health and that high-cholesterol is bad and lowcholesterol is good. Both assumptions are incorrect. So, let’s get down to the basics. Cholesterol is a lipid found in your body that is found in foods, usually in meat. While meat and dairy products contain lots of cholesterol, foods such as vegetables, grains, and fruits contain none. Something that you probably don’t know is that our bodies do produce cholesterol. In fact, our bodies produce a significant amount of more cholesterol than we get from foods. An average person’s liver produces 1000 milligrams of cholesterol a day, and most people intake about 200 milligrams from their food daily. ?Cholesterol is extremely important in maintaining regular bodily function. The body needs it to build and maintain cell membranes, to help produce sex hormones, to help make bile, and to help the metabolism of fat soluble vitamins. Cholesterol cannot travel alone in the bloodstream, and so it combines with certain proteins and relies on the protein to transport it throughout the body. This bond between the cholesterol and the protein is called a lipoprotein. There are two important types of lipoproteins called HDL (high-density lipoproteins) and LDL (low-density lipoproteins). Three other types of lipoproteins exist but are less important: VLDL (very lowdensity lipoproteins), IDL (intermediate-density lipoproteins) and Chlyomicrons. LDL is often characterized as the “bad” cholesterol because of its ability to cause heart complications when high amounts are found in the body. Most cholesterol found in the body is as LDL. If high amounts are present in the body, LDL is able to clog one’s blood vessels and raises his or her blood pressure. LDL’s function is to carry cholesterol from the liver, where it is made, to the tissue. About 30% of cholesterol is HDL; this is the “good” lipoprotein that carries cholesterol back to the liver to be synthesized. Many call it “good” because it is denser, thus carrying the same amount of cholesterol in a much smaller package than LDL’s do. Thus, high amounts of HDL do not clog arteries, nor do they cause the complications of LDL. Many young people may ask why they should care, as they are young and have strong bodies. If one has a healthy diet and isn’t eating McDonald’s every day, how will he or she be affected by cholesterol? Well, levels of cholesterol aren’t only affected by eating patterns, but also by exercise and genetics. Some may follow all of the guidelines of having healthy cholesterol levels but may still experience health problems and vice versa. High amounts of cholesterol, known as Hypercholesterolemia, can clog blood vessels, causing stroke and heart attack and low amounts of cholesterol, known as Hypocholesterolemia, can halt the healthy production of sex hormones and cell membranes. Therefore it is important to have moderate levels of cholesterol in one’s body. In America, where obesity rates are extremely high and foods get unhealthier as time goes on, a topic such as cholesterol has to be focused on not only by the whole, but by the individual too. Chances are, as young adults, we won’t have to take any drugs to maintain good cholesterol levels as our levels are normal, but building up good habits and having a good foundation for the rest of your life isn’t a bad idea. This just includes eating healthily and doing a moderate amount of exercise. One day, glance at the Nutrition Facts for all of the foods you eat and add up the cholesterol. Make sure you aren’t surpassing the high 200’s and you’re all right.

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“The Cancer Mann”

Debayan Guha(11) Gives ATaste of Researching Over the last two summers I worked in a lab at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. I worked 7-12 hour workdays for no pay during my entire summer, aside from a few long weekend vacations, summer school and dental surgery-- getting time off for dental surgery was a stretch. On days where I could not get back home around 7 in time for dinner, I would eat delivery nachos from a local Mexican place with my lab partner and our grad school mentor. And while this is not a usual experience with a laboratory internship it is hardly unique. Many high school students do lab research or intern at a lab. Dedicated students spend more time and effort at their labs than I did, working on a variety of different topics in a variety of settings from research institutions to high school science labs to creating experiments in their garage. And this is because lab experience rewards students with three key experiences: patience, scientific curiosity, and problem solving skills. And at the least it looks good on a college application. In a research lab, patience is a way of life. AP Bio students complain of the long wait times in their bio labs. In my research, the time between steps of procedures could reach several hours. Every negative result sets you back days of work. Experiments have to be planned out over the course of weeks not hours. At least you’ve got time to check Facebook. The two biggest things that research endowed me with is an outlet for scientific curiosity and the worst nickname ever. I mean cancer man? Seriously guys? The process of answering questions is research. Why does the moon orbit the Earth and why does water stay in a pail when spun around were two questions that when answered gave Newton the theory of universal gravitation. I met two students who started wondering if fruit were effective painkillers and ended up extracting bromulin, a painkiller, from pineapples in their school chemistry lab. If you have a question don’t be afraid to experiment; it is the way to answer the pressing questions of science. But be careful, I don’t think HM’s chemistry lab would allow pineapples. The problem solving skills learned in research are the skills that will stay with you for life. Regardless of what you do in the future the ability to approach a question in a logical way is essential to success. Forming a hypothesis from previous data is the first step in creating a successful business model, not just in the scientific method. The scientific method is not just a tool for use in science class but also the way to attack problems, and integrate data in any career, whether you are a scientist, an executive or an amateur chef. Well maybe not a chef… nobody wants to try my homemade chili no matter how much I try to convince them that its scientific method approved.

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HM Review Vol. XIX

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HM Review Vol. XIX

Spectrum Magazine Issue One  
Spectrum Magazine Issue One  

Horace Mann School's first high school student science publication has started off its first Volume with a wonderful issue discussing topics...