Issuu on Google+

Volume 3 — Issue 3

The SSC’s Official Science Newspaper


Study, stress, repeat

Follow us on twitter! We know how to give you a raging hadron...


Young adulthood and anxiety, two concepts that go hand in hand Ivan Urosev Copy Editor

It is more likely than not that the traditional Halloween cohort of zombies, witches and werewolves could no longer frighten you, brave reader, around the time you attended your first Halloween dance. Unfortunately, young adulthood comes with its own set of nightmares, made all the more terrifying by their verisimilitude. No, they don't go bump in the night, but a sluggish job market, mid-term exams and mounting student debt can make insomniacs out of even the most stoic of students. With the constant pressure of stresses like these, it is small wonder that the incidences of serious anxiety disorders are on the rise, amongst both students and the population at large. Researchers at the World Health Organization (WHO) recently conducted a mental health study which concluded that the probability of developing one of the myriad of anxiety disorders has more than doubled in the last 40 years (The study only considered cases in Western Europe, Canada and the United States). As with any study making these sorts of conclusions, it is important to take into account improved standards of screening and diagnosis; the general trend, however, remains striking. Some researchers attribute this rise to the fast pace of modern life; others claim

Painting courtesy of Edvard Munch

Sometimes you just want to scream...

INSIDE THIS ISSUE, YOU’RE GOING TO FIND... Innovations in maximizing the ability of pharmaceutical drugs to distribute in the body. Page 3

A chilling comparison of two creatures rampant in pop culture. Pages 4-5 Anton van Leeuwenhoek’s birthday? Time to get white girl wasted. Page 6 DNA sequencing and Tom Haffie. What are: things we love about biology? Page 6 The best damn comics section in the league. Page 7

that the hereditary nature of anxiety disorders points to an as-yet-unknown genetic cause. Another concern outlined in the study is the insidious nature of this type of disorder, in the sense that it can be difficult to distinguish between normal feelings of anxiety that most people experience before certain stressful situations, and the chronic, unmitigated anxiety that can be classified as a medical condition. In the interest of making the distinction clearer, anxiety disorders have been classified into a number of broad categories. The major ones include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), general anxiety disorder (GAD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). While PTSD may be the most discussed disorder, GAD is almost certainly among the most common, affecting approximately 226,000 Canadians between the ages of 15 and 64. This disorder is characterized by feelings of excessive and persistent worry (lasting for at least 6 months), which can lead to irritability, insomnia and difficulty concentrating among other things. Although the root cause of GAD is currently unknown, a prominent hypothesis proposes that an imbalance of certain neurotransmitters in the brain (i.e. serotonin) may be to blame. As a result, the current course of treatment often involves administration of SSRIs and similar antidepressants. While the pharmaceutical approach does sometimes produce positive results, the side

effects of many of the drugs involved are extensive, so other treatment options are being explored. As the debate rages on as to the cause and best course of treatment for anxiety disorders, there is a general consensus amongst medical professionals that one of the main barriers to management of these disorders is a lack of knowledge on the part of the public. Too often individuals with serious medical conditions are dismissed as being “highstrung” and told to “just relax”. Doctors are also concerned that the stigma associated with mental health issues prevents many affected individuals from coming forward. Students who feel that they exhibit any of the above symptoms are encouraged to contact the London Mental Health Crisis Service, or arrange an appointment with the university's own counselling services. Hopefully this information can assist you in having a safe and psychologically sound Halloween.

According to a British Columbia survey: - 40% of students reported they felt under constant pressure to do more than they could handle. - 64% indicated they cut back on sleep to accomplish educational goals.


Horrible Habits

Debunking our midterm mannerisms Harmony Hsieh Features Editor

It's the beginning of October. All your neatly folded piles of clothes have now transformed into treacherous stumbling blocks for visitors. You promise your parents you're flossing, but the reality is you can't remember the last time you've showered. As you stumble through midterms, you'll gain new roommates in the form of freshly grown fungi and bacteria. Scurvy will soon set in, an inevitable result of eating only Ramen as your money is more wisely allocated toward your alcohol budget. Fear not, my dirty denizens! Here

I will question whether our collective title of “Foul Bachelor Frog” is rightly bestowed. But do the justifications of our laziness/uncleanliness that we use among our friends stand up to scientific scrutiny? “The less I shower, the stronger my body's immune system will be!” Ahh, the hygiene hypothesis. It proposes that the cleaner you are, the less infectious microorganisms you're exposed to, and the weaker your body is at fighting back later. This has links to the relatively recent rise of incidences of allergic and autoimmune diseases, and has a


The sole responsibility for the content of this publication lies with the authors. Its contents do not reflect the opinion of the University Students’ Council of the University of Western Ontario (“USC”). The USC assumes no responsibility or liability for any error, inaccuracy, omission or comment contained in this publication or for any use that may be made of such information by the reader.

The Current—October 2012

LIFE NOT AS WE KNOW IT Our planet is home to many awe-inspiring organisms. If you’re fascinated with life on Earth, but don’t want to get out of your chair to explore the world, here is a glimpse of a few bizarre, exotic, or unconventional creatures your lazy eyes might have otherwise never seen.


David Guetta’s She Wolf may be having trouble finding a He Wolf. Researchers following dwindling wolf populations in Algonquin Park have found that more and more wolves are ‘settling down’ with coyotes, desperate to protect the canine line. The interbred pups are being tagged and followed to see if the mixing of the two genotypes has resulted in any distinct new behaviours, survival or reproductive techniques. Will the hybrid hunt in packs like the wolf or as a couple like the coyote? As the coyote’s top speed is nearly 43 mph and the wolf can travel tirelessly for up to 125 miles a day, the prey of Ontario forests will likely have to step

THE HONEY BADGER up their game to escape this hybrid. Who said it takes millions of years to watch evolution unfold? Seems to me it takes a few lonely nights in a forest with a distant relative. Keep your eye out for this new member of the canine family and donate today to protect our current wolf populations at johnbenson/index.html. —Mike DeDominicis

The Honey Badger is a species of mustelid who resembles the weasel and is native to Africa and Southeast Asia. It is a carnivorous animal with few predators. In 2011, the Honey Badger became famous in the viral Youtube video “Crazy Nastyass Honey Badger”, which is a documentary containing a funny voiceover by a person named Randall. The most famous lines from this viral video are “The Honey Badger don’t care!” and “The Honey Badger don’t give a shit!” and as a matter of fact they really don’t, and for a good reason. They have really thick and loose skin, which protects them from bee stings, snake venom, and porcupine quills so they can

Courtesy of

DARWIN’S BARK SPIDER The Darwin’s spider is probably not the biggest spider, and definitely not the most venomous. So what makes it so special you might ask? How about the fact that it constructs its’ web across entire rivers, sometimes over 25 meters in length! The Bark Spider, first discovered at a national park in Madagascar builds the largest known orb webs. Equally impressive the silk it produces is the strongest biological material of its’ kind and is 10 times stronger than a similar strand of Kevlar. Yes, Kevlar, the stuff bullet proof vests are made out of. So why would this itsy bitsy be so tempted to live above a fast moving body of water? Why not just build webs in the corners of dusty old rooms like all its’ spider friends?

Well, apparently, since no other spiders can inhabit such a location, the Bark Spider has an advantage and can have access to all the food sources that fly along the river. Still a mystery is how this tiny 2cm spider can even make the trek across such large distances to anchor such a web. Either way, even if you don’t consider spiders to be the most exciting thing on this earth you cannot help but imagine how long it would take the Bark Spider to eat you if you got caught in one of its’ monstrous webs. —Anuj Chaman


frog comes in contact with is hazardous as well. On average these frogs carry about one milligram of the toxin on their skin surface, enough to kill 10,000 mice and around 1020 humans. On the bright side, the golden poison frogs only use their poison as a selfdefense mechanism. —Julia Abitbol

Courtesy of

Current Staff

Steven Robillard — Editor-In-Chief Daniel Tovbis — Creative Editor Jameera Mohamed — Compilation Editor Rajiv Lakhani — Compilation Editor Ivan Urosev — Copy Editor Harmony Hsieh — Features Editor RuiLin Guo — Features Editor Caitlin Martin-Newnham — Outreach Editor Mathura Thiyagarajah — Images Editor

—Stephen Di Nucci

Courtesy of

The Golden poison frog, Phyllobates terribillis, lurks in the Pacific coast of Colombia. These frogs may look cute at first glance due to their small size and bright skin colours, but beware—they are thought to be the most poisonous vertebrates in the world! The golden poison frog’s skin is coated with alkaloid poison. The poison prevents nerves from transmitting impulses, leaving the muscles in an inactive state of contraction, and finally leading to heart failure in an individual. The lethality of this frog is so severe simply because alkaloid batrachotoxins can be stored by the frogs for several years and is not readily deteriorated. As this toxin can be exuded from its skin, any surface that the

Seeing is believing Exploring the world of retinal prosthetics

Current Contributors Mike DeDominicis, Stephen Di Nucci, Anuj Chaman, Julia Abitbol

Number of different types of glucose transporters identified to date in the human body

Courtesy of

rod and cone cells, but retain the function of the ganglion cells, who send off visual stimuli to the brain. Think about it then. If we could somehow bypass the malfunctioning rods and cones and directly stimulate these ganglion cells, there would be no impairment to vision. Bear in mind it is easier said than done, but researchers at Cornell University have been able to do just that. By utilizing mathematical equations contained in a chip-like prosthesis that produced electrical signals exactly paralleling the action potential from the rod to the ganglion cells, and using gene therapy to hyper-sensitize the ganglion cells to stimulation, Sheila Nirenberg and her team of researchers were able to restore vision to a group of mice suffering from vision loss. Of course, there are many differences between the eye of a mouse and the eye of a hu-

man, and human trials have yet to begin, but the concept is both promising and intriguing. Hopefully in the near future, we have combated blindness so everyone can go see the Avengers twice.

If we could somehow bypass the malfunctioning rods and cones, there would be no impairment to vision.


Shear-activated nanotherapeutics Maximizing the efficiency of drug distribution in the body Compilation Editor

We’ve all taken therapeutic drugs at some point in our life for various reasons. The difficulty that occurs with administering drugs to patients is a drug’s distribution within the body. How much of a drug dosage that is actually effective, actually gets distributed to the target area? Many drug developers are looking into targeting mechanisms that can make a drug more effective within the human body. Each different tissue within our body is made up of distinct cells that recognize specific molecules, so one approach to designing therapeutic drugs is to make them similar to endogenous molecules recognized by cells of specific tissues. But what happens when we’re looking at the blood? The systemic circulation, considered to be part of connective tissue, flows throughout the entire body making directing of a drug to a specific area of the circulatory system much more difficult. Luckily, researchers have been studying the unique physical characteristics of stenotic and thrombosed blood vessels and have used nanoengineering to create a potential therapeutic drug that uses these characteris-

Page 3


Steven Robillard The disease coined as macular degeneration can cause gradual deterioration of eyesight over the course of a healthy adult’s life. The retina, a structure at the back of the eye highly concentrated with photoreceptive rod (black and white) and cone (colour) vision cells, gives rise to a central field of vision called the macula. In macular degeneration, these rod and cone cells are degraded as a result of many factors, such as inheritance of a faulty gene, accumulation of ‘drusens’ (somewhat similar to plaque build-up on the back of the eye) and Stargardt’s Disease, which causes early onset macular dystrophy. As well, it is positively correlated with the usual suspects, smoking, dietary intake, etc. Now that we know WHY Grandma has never caught you giving your brother the middle finger across the table for flicking his mashed potatoes at you, can this disease ever be remedied? Well, it’s elementary my dear Watson. Consider the setup of cells in the human retina (above). So light comes in from the left (which is the front of the eye), passes the ganglion cells (red in the diagram) and eventually reaches the photoreceptive rods and the semi-reflective (in humans) pigment epithelium. The absorbance of light by these rods or cones produces an electrical signal called an action potential which travels down to the ganglion cells, and then gets sent off to higher processing areas in the brain via the optic nerve, which results in the construction of vision. So in macular degeneration we lose our

By the numbers


Jameera Mohamed

Courtesy of

Make like an acid and contribute to our base:


feed on their prey without the fear of being harmed. Their tough skin and ferocity also give them a huge edge while fighting off predators, some as big as lions, thus truly giving them the title, as the video says, of a “bad ass”.

The Current—October 2012


Page 2

tics to its advantage. Naturally within the body, in areas of stenotic or thrombosed blood vessels, there is a great increase of fluid shear stress that activates and draws platelets to the region, where they attach to the surface lining. This natural mechanism is a major contributing factor to atheroscelerosis. Inspired by this mechanism, researchers (Korin et al. 2012) have developed shearactivated nanotherapeutics (SA-NTs). SA-NTs are microscale aggregates of smaller nanoparticles that remain aggregated under normal physiological conditions. When exposed to high shear stress in the blood, such as that in thrombosis, the SA-NTs break up into individual nanoparticles.

By infusing the particles with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), an approved thrombolytic drug, the researchers discovered that the SA-NTs broke up in areas of high shear stress and cleared the occlusion in mouse models, while remaining aggregated in areas of normal blood flow. The ability to reduce and treat the causes of vascular obstruction is greatly important in Western society where cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death, but the use of nanoengineering can make an even bigger impact on the therapeutic drug industry. The use of nanoengineering to target specific locations is a widely applicable strategy that can change the direction of drug development and patient treatment entirely.


Power (work done/s), in watts of an average Black and Decker kitchen toaster

4 x 10


Number of genes in ancestral mitochondria


Weight, in kilograms, of the the heaviest human brain ever recorded


The number of times the average person blinks per day

1.5 x 10


Courtesy of

FIG. 1. High stress breaks apart nanoparticle aggregates, which then adhere to the clot and dissolve it.

The number of blood cells, per second, that are produced and destroyed in the human body

Writing by Caitlin Martin-Newnham Concept and Design by Harmony Hsieh and RuiLIn Guo


Physicists obliviate the vampire

Somewhat, anyway.

In 2006, Efthimiou and Gandhi published a paper in which they disproved the existence of vampires by virtue of geometric progression. See, let’s say that on day one in the year 1600, a classic vampire appears , full grown - by genetic mutation, aliens, infection, etc. He only needs to feed once a month (a conservative estimate) and today he’s feeling particularly hungry. Down goes a human, and in comes a new vampire. This continues on to the tune of 2n, and in the span of two years the population at the time is reduced to a mess of a hungry, angst-riddled vampire community (“you’re not my REAL father!!“). The conclusion of this is the fact that vampires cannot exist when their existence preludes that of human beings today.

“Come on now, son, don’t be a fool!“ is what I would have liked economist Dennis Snower to shout back in agitation, followed by a polite rap battle with Sejdinovic. Snower responds with presenting humans as active victims instead of passive bags of blood for the vampires, fighting off their enemies with the production of stakewidgets.

• NEUROTOXINS: The word “zombie” came from Haiti, where cases have been reported of once-‘dead’ people still walking around years later due to ‘voodoo magic’, or perhaps it’s just chemistry. Certain poisons (like the one in fugu, a Japanese delicacy) can be counteracted with alkaloids, which revive patients but leave them in a trancelike state.

Courtesy of Courtesy of


Check out Randall Munroe’s new project online, “What If“ (http:// for similar, sillier, thought experiments!

Zombies have become more and more popular. Originally, however, they did not have the characteristics of zombies that we understand today. They were soulless undead who had been revived from the dead. Before George Romero’s film “Night of the Living Dead”, flesh-eating monsters were called ‘ghouls.’ It was Romero’s 1968 movie that prompted our current beliefs about flesh- and brain-eating zombies. Zombies are believed to have originated from Haitian voodoo. Haitians believe that lifeless bodies can be revived by bokor, otherwise known as sorcerers. The ‘undead’ are said to act mindlessly and slavelike, and are not dangerous unless fed salt.


Vampires do not only live in folklore. Although they tend to accompany fairies and witches in children’s fables, they have also appeared in the field of medicine. Porphyria is a rare disease that mimics our classic perception of vampires. It causes irregularities in hemes, sunlight sensitivity, stomach pain, and mild derangement. The concept of vampires sucking blood comes into play in the red appearance of the gums and teeth of porphyria patients because of their iron-rich, unusual hemes.

In the early eighties, Dr. Wade Davis, an ethnobotanist and anthropologist, investigated Haitian ritual powders. He found that tetrodotoxin was one common chemical that was used. This neurotoxin causes paralysis that imitates death, followed by death. Dr. Wade proposed that, administered in a small amount topically, tetrodotoxin could cause paralysis, followed by a ‘revival’ because of the toxin wearing off. At this point, the family has inconveniently buried their loved one, who must claw their way out of their grave. This theory is controversial because some have questioned Davis’ ethics, and a similar experiment had no effect on rats. However, tetrodotoxin is not the only potential cause for zombie-like symptoms.

Another condition associated with vampirism is catalepsy, which is associated with a number of other disorders of the central nervous system, including epilepsy and schizophrenia. Catalepsy causes the patient to appear like a corpse because of their slowed heart rate, slowed breathing, and stiffened muscles. This condition renders the patient to appear dead, but they remain undead.

Top 5 vampire movies

Natural Zombies?

There is a plethora of zombie movies, but what about our favourite blood-sucking villians? For those so inclined and want some good campy entertainment, or alternatively some genuinely frightening stuff... 1. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter Campier than Buffy the Vampire (well okay, nothing is quite as silly as season one), as long as you don’t take it too seriously it’s a ton of fun.

The Verdict

Flesh-eating monsters are real now, thanks to ‘bath salts.’ There are more and more stories about humans eating other humans, and few to no stories about individuals sleeping in coffins by day and sucking blood at night. Based on this fact, I think its obvious who wins the ‘most terrifying’ award. Zombies have made a comeback and are here to stay. Now let’s try to prevent a virus from developing that causes the same zombie side-effects that the drugs do before a zombie apocalypse starts!

2. Interview with a Vampire Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise in their glory days, in one of the most haunting horror movies ever. 3. 30 Days of Night By far the creepiest vampire design, with a decent plot. 4. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) Two words: Gary Oldman. Courtesy of

Western Zombie Walk

Interested in the undead? Dress up as a zombie on October 30 and join Western’s first ever Zombie Walk, brought to you by first year Residence Councils. Email for more info!

Recent stories have burst into the news about individuals using ‘bath salts.’ This synthetic drug contains methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). The ‘bath salts’ cause the user’s body temperature to rise dangerously high, at which point they rip off their clothes and experience hallucinations and superhuman strength. ‘Bath salt’ users have zombie-like appearances because their skin becomes boiled and scabbed, and their eyes look sunken. In one well-known case, a Miami resident ate the face of a homeless man while high on bath salts. Imagine having a hallucinating naked scabbed man with superhuman strength running in your direction – that would make me believe in a zombie apocalypse!

Tables created by Costas J. Efthimiou and Sohang Gandhi

5. Salem’s Lot A classic; no glittery pseudo-teenage vampires here. It’s what real vampires meant to be – a manifestation of evil wrapped up in excellent filmography.

• NANOBOTS: By fusing a silicone chip to a virus, scientists have already created a ‘nano-cyborg’. Nanobots can potentially function even after the human host is dead, and one proposed usage is to repair neural connections in the brain… see where the zombies come in? • NEUROGENESIS: Stem cells can be used to regenerate dead cells and scientists have managed to regrow brain tissue in comatose patients - enough that they regain motor control, but not rational thought...

Vampires and zombies are taking over popular entertainment. This makes us wonder: why are we so fascinated by flesh-eating undead? Is it maybe because we hear about those insane flesh-eating diseases in our microbiology course; or because of the chemistry we’ve learned about the recent ‘Bath Salt’ tragedies? Is it possible that diseases mimicking both monsters could have easily existed? They do. Now the only thing left to do is answer the age-old question: do vampires trump zombies? Let’s ask science.

“But wait!” mathematician Dino Sejdinovic argues. Backed up by the research of Hartl and Mehlmann, Sejdinovic rebutts with considerations of additional human births, the rate of vampire ‘death’ as well as the optimization of their human food supply.

Zombie Apocalypse: a scientific possibility?

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The fungus Ophiocordyceps unilateralis turns ants into “zombies”, taking control over their brains and forcing them to travel to the perfect spot for spore production, then bite with a death-grip onto a leaf vein. The fungus grows right through the insect’s body, using it as food. It’s pretty terrifying. This isn’t a unique case, either. There are many such parasites, including one that forces rats to approach their predators and get eaten, so that the fungus can continue its life cycle!

Courtesy of

Zombies in the Media

Undead brain-eaters have infiltrated the entertainment industry, from the cartoonish game “Plants vs. Zombies” to the new season of “The Walking Dead” to novels like “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Seth Grahame-Smith, “The Forest of Hands and Teeth” by Carrie Ryan, or “World War Z” by Max Brooks.

Some assorted zombie movies: 28 Days Later (2002) Night of the Living Dead (1968) Zombieland (2009) Dead Alive (1992) ParaNorman (2012) Dawn of the Dead (1978) Shawn of the Dead (2004) White Zombie (1932)

Page 6

The Current—October 2012

2.29 million B.C: First evidence of tool-use by a homininae

1642: Sir Issac Newton is born

110 - 168 AD: Claudius Ptomely theorizes that the Earth is the center of the universe

October 3 1952 rd

OPERATION HURRICANE In the first testing of a British atomic device, an atomic bomb similar to the United States’ Fat man (which was dropped over Nagasaki, Japan in 1945) was detonated in a lagoon off the coast of Western Australia. At the time, concerns were high of the possibility of atomic devices being smuggled on cargo ships, so the British decided to stage the controlled explosion inside the hull of the frigate HMS Plym. Suffice to say the hull, the ship, and the surrounding sea-bed up to 150m in each direction of the blast don’t exist anymore. The 25kt bomb consisted of a neutron initiator surrounded by a

large sample of plutonium-239. This device was placed in the center of a hollow sphere of both fast and slow reacting explosives. As the outward explosives were detonated, a large inward pressure was created on the plutonium core, which caused its volume to decrease (and thus density to increase). This initiated a series of nuclear reactions within the neutron initiator, the result of which is a massive explosion and presence of the typical mushroom clouds we all know too well. Don’t go getting any ideas now.

THIS MONTH IN SCIENCE HIST RY 1843: James Prescott Joule proposes the first law of thermodynamics

2011: The gods of genetics are cruel, blessing Snooki with a functioning uterus

October 24 1632 th

FAMOUS BIRTHDAYS: ANTON VAN LEEUWENHOEK Born in the city of Delft in the Dutch Republic was the father of modern microbiology. Anton is also largely credited with the advancement in the fields of microscopy. By discovering a method that allowed him to create very small, yet high resolution and quality glass lenses, van Leeuwenhoek was able to successfully use the combinations of those lenses to create what was essentially the world’s first light microscope Over the course of his life, van Leeuwenhoek created more than 200 microscopes with varying magnification – he had a tendency to create different microscopes to view different

samples in different magnifications. He was thus one of the first people to discover and view cells, and extended his extraordinary insight to be able to estimate the number of microorganisms present in any given sample, which in turn allowed for many subsequent scientific innovations by cellular biologists. Among his discoveries are: the bacterial cell, the vacuole of the cell, the striated and banded nature of muscle fibres, and the spermatozoa (to which he received some serious flak for regarding his methods of extraction). Happy 380th Birthday Anton.

The Current—October 2012


Page 7


Prehistoric Vampires Blame it on the DNA The implications of DNA sequencing

A new dinosaur species to haunt your nightmares RuiLin Guo

Features Editor As if things weren’t scary enough on prehistoric Earth, you can now add newly discovered Pegomastax africanus to the list of creatures you wouldn’t want to meet in the dark. Just in time for Halloween, this bizarre dinosaur was identified from South African fossils and recently described in the journal ZooKeys. With a thick beak, protruding fangs, and long spikes, it seems like a bizarre cross between a parrot, a vampire, and a porcupine. It’s only the size of a chicken, but it’s a chicken that can rip your throat out! Just look at it. If that picture doesn’t freak you out,, you’re a braver soul than I. This killer chicken’s scientific name is Pegomastax africanus, meaning “thick jaw from Africa”, and it’s part of an equally strange-toothed family called heterodontasaurs. They lived around 100 to 200 million years ago, during the era of iconic, less vampire-like dinosaurs like Triceratops and Stegasaurus. Paleontologists are studying its relationship to the ornithischians, or ‘bird-hipped’ dinosaurs, to try to - gauge how the group evolved. “I said, ‘Whoa!’ – I realized it was a new species from the moment I set eyes on it,” said Pegomastax’ discoverer, paleontology Professor Paul Sereno from the University of Chicago. His colourful description doesn’t detract from the dino’s creepy appearance: “It looks like a fanged vampire parrot […] it was a bristled, vampire parrot-like dinosaur.” The porcupine-like spines were likely used for defense, useful since at less than a foot tall and two feet long, this vamp probably weighed less than a housecat. Despite its strange canines and general fearsomeness (redundant), Sereno believed Pegomastax africanus was actually…vegetarian. Based on analysis of wear facets and chipped enamel on the teeth of this and other heterodontasaurs, Sereno concludes that the fangs were more likely used for self-defense or fighting for mates than for eating insects or other

prey, rather like modern herbivorous mammals such as the peccary or fanged deer. Although only described to science recently, this dinosaur was actually part of a collection that came to Harvard University from South Africa in the 1960s. Paul Sereno first noticed the fossil as a new species in 1983, but in an amazing feat of procrastination, didn’t write about it until thirty years later. “There was always a danger that someone would discover it and write about it, and I would read about it,” says Sereno, but fortune seems to have been on his side. The Pegomastax africanus was not so lucky. It is likely that the dinosaur’s specialized diet contributed to its extinction, since environmental changes possibly wiped out plant species on which they depended. Now, a few hundred million years later, all we’re left with are the skeletal remains of one scary parrot dinosaur!

Courtesy of Todd Marshall 2012

Mathura Thiyagarajah Images Editor

Professor Haffie presented my first year biology class with the question, “How much would you pay to have your genome sequenced?” Immediately, I zoned in on the option of $1000 (considering that it was cheaper than the price of a Prada handbag, it seemed reasonable) but while the students around me were clicking away with their newly purchased clickers, I paused to wonder: “What would I even know from having my genome sequenced? More importantly, would I want to know?” If you could have your genome mapped out and the bases sequenced, what would the specific order of your A, T, C, and Gs tell you? Could you be carrying a gene that is associated with athletic ability or intelligence? Or maybe you have inherited a gene mutation for Alzheimer’s disease? With the price of genome sequencing dropping dramatically over the last few years and with genetic testing companies battling over who will reach the “$1000 genome” first, a future in which the average individual might know their genome sequence is fast approaching. The late Steve Jobs shelled out $100 000 to get his genome sequenced but others with more modest incomes may soon be able to do the same for $1000. The implications of this are both promising and troubling. Genome sequencing could lead to advancements in personalized medicine and drug compatibility. Scientists have discovered mutations from genome sequencing that shed a light on undiagnosed diseases. For recognized diseases, the responsible gene mutations can be found on an individual’s genome, such as the inheritable mutation in the genes APP, PSEN1, or PSEN2, which can predict a case of early-onset Alzheimer’s. However, the knowledge of disease-caus-

ing genes that lead to inevitable sickness may not be very useful to you. This presents the dilemma of whether or not to choose the path of blissful ignorance, which is no stranger to those who have had to consider being tested for Huntington’s disease. Even if you tested negative for most diseases after analyzing your genome, it does not necessarily mean that a specific disease will not visit you in the future but rather that you are no more likely to develop it than the average individual. Not so comforting when you think of it that way. Making genome sequencing affordable will truly be opening Pandora’s box. Such scientific progress is inevitable and thus, society should focus on how to handle the new information that personal genomes have to offer. Will knowing whether you carry one, two, or neither copies of the variant of ACTN3 that prevents the gene from producing a certain muscle protein (alpha-actinin-3) affect your athletic scholarship? Can we justify blaming our weaknesses on the genes we have inherited? How can society ensure that the information of your personal genome will be protected? For all we know, someone will create a new online dating service that matches genome compatibility rather than your questionable declaration of enjoying sunset walks on the beach. As more functions of specific genes are discovered and genome sequencing processes are further perfected, the possibilities are virtually endless.

How much would you pay to have your genome sequenced?


Lucidity and the wonder of sleep

A different (and significantly more interesting) approach to getting your beauty rest

Courtesy of Deskarati

Courtesy of Tom’s Journal

...CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 fair body of evidence to back it up. Unfortunately, unless you're still a child – and no, being young at heart doesn't count – your immune system has already developed and this theory means diddly squat in terms of backing up your disinclination to shower. “The less time I spend washing my fruit, the more time I have to procrastinate!” While that's extremely true, you might want to consider the following: pesticides, wax, and other people's dirty, dirty hands. Most pesticides are water-soluble and will come off very easily with a little water. While not adverse for your health immediately, a good majority of pesticides were made to destroy insects' nervous systems, and recent studies have linked a number of movement disorders to potentially neurotoxic pesticides currently in use. The amount of wax on fruit is negligible, and as for the fruit coming in contact with oth-

er people's hands while in the supermarket... well, if you're okay with it, then I'm okay with it. “I'm a night owl, I just function better at night. Aaaand...that's why I won't be going to my 8:30 class tomorrow.” This one is less about hygiene and more about bad university habits in general. Stay awake too late a few too many times, and your internal clock's going to be set back by a few hours. But there are a few of us (actually about 10%!) that suffer from a mild form of Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder. Our circadian rhythms are controlled by melatonin levels, which are dictated by light and other environmental factors. But for those with DSPD, there is a lag of melatonin levels rising compared to those of their cohorts. Prevalence of the sleep disorder however, drops off in adulthood. With or without DSPD, practice good sleep hygiene!

Rajiv Lakhani

Compilation Editor It is so fascinating that in this day and age, with all the technology and fancy gadgets we have, that we still know so little about dreams which are such a large aspect of our lives. Just about everyone has multiple dreams every night. In fact, the average person spends about 6 years of their lifetime dreaming (about two hours a night). Surprised? Probably because you don’t remember 90% of the dreams you have. Although it is still unknown which regions of the brain dreams originate from, it is known that they occur in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. In this stage of sleep EEG scans show the highest amount of brain activity and this is when people have their most vivid dreams. Ever wondered if it is only us humans that dream? A recent study done by MIT has shown that all mammals experience REM sleep and do dream during it. Interestingly, humans lie somewhere in the middle in terms of the amount of REM sleep we have each night. Even blind people dream (why wouldn’t

Courtesy of

- Tom Haffie

blind people dream?)! But what do they dream about? People who have become blind after birth have dreams just as we sighted people do. However people who have been blind since birth experience their dreams through their other senses (touch, sound, smell etc.). It is a good thing that we all do dream as some studies have shown that psychosis can occur if people don’t dream regularly. Regardless of the amount of sleep we get, we need our REM sleep (where dreams generally occur) otherwise signs of irritability and anger start to appear. Eventually, a lack of REM sleep can even lead to symptoms of psychosis. If we’re going to have dreams, they might as well be awesome right? How about controlling your dreams and doing whatever you want? A phenomenon called lucid dreaming is just that. Lucid dreaming occurs when during your dream you know you are dreaming. Remarkably this is a skill which can improve. Keeping a dream journal where you record all of your dreams has been shown to increase the amount of lucid dreams people have. In addition, lucid dreams most commonly occur during naps a few hours after waking in the morning Give it a try next time you hit the sack!

Page 8

The Current—October 2012


....and other frivolities for well-mannered organisms






STEP UP TO THE PODIUM! Send an email to:

October 2012 Volume 3 - Issue 3