War & Wildlife

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Issue 10

March 2018

War & Wildlife


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War & Wildlife

c o n t e n t s

Cover Illustration: Samantha Mosle

Research War & Wildlife, 6 End of Life Care, 8 Human Origins, 10 Coral Bleaching, 12

Ethics (In)disputable, 14

Mental Health in School, 16 No Monkeying Around, 20 Genetic Libraries, 21

Health Natural Antibiotics, 22 Expansion of GMOs, 24 Wine Tasting, 26 Raw Water, 28 Drug Interactions, 30

News Reducing C-Sections, 32 CommUnity Garden, 34 Science Bowl/Olympiad, 36 UAID, 38

Research Profiles Alyssa Levy, 40 Agustin Taveres, 42

Featured Story: War & Wildlife

The human conflicts that have plagued sub-Saharan Africa have another surprising victim: animal life. A new quantitative study published by a team of IvyLeague ecologists has discovered a strong correlation between war and declines of large mammal populations across Africa. Grant de la Vasselais explores the complex factors driving this phenomenon, as well as what can be done to save the continent’s iconic wildlife.


In an age of uncertainty and distrust we must all focus on the facts in order to make sense of the world around us. Constraints and limitations are set in our society in order to protect us against the few that will ruin things for the many. The common adage that “too much of a good thing can be bad” can be applied to a number of situations we see around us but also taking shape in many of the articles you will see in this issue. Our behaviors, and that of those around us, has on effect on our planet, our local environments and ourselves. Through direct or indirect ways these effects are within our scope of control. Despite this issue not having

“The human impact on biodiversity, to put the matter as briefly as possible, is an attack on ourselves.” -E.O. Wilson Take a walk down enough branches of your family tree and you will eventually return to Africa, the motherland of our species, a continent teeming with innumerable life forms which leap, glide, and scuttle across its eight terrestrial biomes. This issue’s feature article “War and Wildlife” by Grant de la Vasselais examines how human conflict threatens mammalian biodiversity in our ancestral homeland, and how effective conservation may lie not only in ecological restoration— but also in addressing the destabilizing socio-economic drivers of war. In this issue, I also hope to celebrate the recent


War & Wildlife

a theme in mind, I believe that the articles contained within all demonstrate a common thread that you the reader can determine for yourselves. Our nation has a heightened sense of awareness following the events that took place at Stoneman Douglas High School.

Board of Advisors Barbara Colonna Ph.D. Senior Lecturer Organic Chemistry Department of Chemistry Richard J. Cote, M.D., FRCPath, FCAP Professor & Joseph R. Coutler Jr. Chair Department of Pathology Professor, Dep. of Biochemistry & MolecularBiology Chief of Pathology, Jackson Memorial Hospital Director, Dr. JonnT Macdonald Foundation Biochemical Nanotechnology Institute University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Michael S. Gaines, Ph.D. Assistant Provost Undergraduate Research and Community Outreach Professor of Biology

Roger I. Williams Jr., M.S. Ed Director, Student Activities Advisor, Microbiology & Immunology Editorial Advisor, UMiami Scientifica

success of some of UM’s most dedicated creators in STEM. Be it plowing the earth behind MahoneyPearson Dining Hall to seed sustainable gardens (“Community Garden”, p. 34), organizing STEM competitions for highschool whiz-kids (“Science Olympiad”, p. 36), or fighting inequities in disease worldwide (“UAID” p. 39), our community is elevated and enriched by those students who, unsatisfied with the status-quo, brazenly dare to imagine something greater.

Steven H. Lang Neuroscience Class of 2020 Editor-In-Chief, UMiami Scientifica

Mathias G. Lichtenheld, M.D. Associate Professor of Microbiology & Immunology FBS 3 Coordinator University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Charles Mallery, Ph.D. Associate Professor Biology & Cellular and Molecular Biology Associate Dean April Mann Senior Lecturer English Composition Writing Center Director Catherine Newell, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Religion Leticia Oropesa, D.A. Coordinator Department of Mathematics *Eckhard R. Podack, M.D., Ph.D. Professor & Chair Department of Microbiology & Immunology University of Miami Miller School of Medicine Adina Sanchez-Garcia Associate Director of English Composition Senior Lecturer Kurt Schesser, Ph.D. Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Geoff Sutcliffe, Ph.D. Chair Department of Computer Science Associate Professor of Computer Science Yunqiu (Daniel) Wang, Ph.D. Senior Lecturer Department of Biology

* Deceased


Scientifica Staff 2018 Steven Lang, Editor in Chief Nimesh Nagururu, Managing Editor Devi Nallakumar, Managing Editor Samantha Mosle, Design Director Parv Gondalia, Copy Chief Melissa Huberman, Art Director William Benedict, Director of Photography Joshua Zahner, Webmaster Corey Fehlberg, Distribution Manager Sumanth Potluri, Business Manager Ryan Steinberg, Business Associate Elisabeth Hofer, Director of Public Relations Sofia Mohammad, Director of Community Outreach Roger Williams, M.S. Ed., Editorial Advisor Victoria Pinilla, Board of Advisors Liason Justin Ma, Ethics Siena Vadakal, News Catherine Huynh, Research Ryan Moon, Health Carolene Kurien, Profiles Shruti Karnani, Designer Caitlin Smith, Designer Sandy Taboada, Designer Lucero Barrantes, Designer Caitlin Dowen Esquivel, Designer Gabi Lee, Designer

Steven H. Lang

Sammy Roberts, Writer Grant de la Vasselais, Writer Robert Shore, Writer Aaron Chait, Writer Trevor Birenbaum, Writer Akshata Gunda, Writer Alyssa Laffitte, Writer Marc Levine, Writer Anuj Shah, Writer Olivia Cox, Writer Stefanie Suarez, Writer John Tsatalis, Writer James Wilson, Writer Ka Lam Nguyen, Writer Shravya Jasti, Writer Nikhil Rajulapati, Writer Marisa Stephens, Writer Mahitha Kunamneni, Writer Alexandria Hawkins, Writer Sonali Khiyani, Writer Taylor Lindstrom, Writer Christina Paraggio, Writer Carolina Mallar, Copy Editor Alfredo Vicente, Copy Editor Sean Walson, Copy Editor Avi Botwinick, Copy Editor Michelle Ng-Reyes, Copy Editor Gaurav Gupta, Copy Editor Mateo Cardonas, Photographer Diana Matei, Photographer Marya Zdelchlik, Photographer Rachna Rahul, Photographer Jill Weiss, Associate Web Developer

Roger I. Williams Jr., M.S. Ed


War & Wildlife AFRICA, HOME TO MOUNTAINS of desert sand,

seas of rolling grasses, and labyrinths of dense jungle, is an ecological “last frontier.” A vast range of ecosystems spans the continent and are considered among the most biodiverse in the world, standing as the last remaining vestiges of sizable megafauna—large-bodied wildlife—over widespread areas. Notably among them are the wildebeests, giraffes, and lions, which serve outsized roles in maintaining the environments they inhabit. While their preservation has been declared a high priority, the future of these iconic animals is presently in doubt. Why so?

Despite the enormous, concerted effort on the part of governments, NGO’s, and conservation groups, Africa is also home to the bulk of the world’s armed conflicts.

Since its messy period of decolonization, Africa has been ravaged by civil war, economic instability, and genocide. Enduring almost 90 percent of all war-related deaths since 1990, Africa presently claims almost 9 million refugees and displaced persons. Civil war and ethnic strife in the Congo, the Niger River Delta, Darfur and Somalia has killed millions and impeded desperately needed social development and economic investment. Across sub-Saharan Africa, war has had an enormous human toll; and, as it turns out, an enormous toll on wildlife. A first-of-its-kind quantitative study was recently


War & Wildlife

- Grant de la Vasselais

published in the scientific journal Nature. In collaboration with Princeton University ecologist, Robert Pringle, Yale University’s Joshua Daskin and his research concluded that conflict is the single greatest factor in wildlife declines across Africa. Surprisingly, other commonly attributed drivers of wildlife decline such as drought, urbanization, and political corruption were not found to be statistically significant. In fact, the researchers observed that during “peacetime” animal populations were generally stable, and sometimes even increased. To reach these findings, the duo initially embarked upon a massive data hunt; an undertaking the scale of which had never been attempted before. They started by mapping all African protected areas documented by the UN, and then used international databases to chart the locations and durations of armed conflicts. The results were discouraging. Continent-wide, over 70 percent of protected areas overlapped at least partially with one or more conflict, and a quarter had experienced at least nine years of conflict. They then decided to collect population data on a sample of 36 large animals whose ranges included documented protected areas, which were easy to count in surveys and thus had consistent and reliable data with respect to population size. By combing reputable academic papers and “grey literature” such as national tourism boards and conservation groups, they were able to glean information on population sizes of large mammals over time—a list that ultimately yielded over 3,800 data points. The researchers then constructed a multi-species model, charting growth and decline of population densities against the frequency of conflicts. Holding variables such as drought, urbanization, and mineral resources constant at their medians, the results showed a clear negative correlation between wildlife populations and duration of conflicts. At first glance, the implications of a single factor–war–outweighed other reasonably apparent explanations (such as habitat loss), and proved to be beyond counterintuitive. In fact, that war should have such a detrimental effect on wildlife

An intact horn sells for $45,000 per pound– twice the price of gold.

Horns are considered to be hot-ticket investments in China, where they are prized as showcase pieces and revered for their reputed value as traditional healing agents. While a Chinese ban on ivory trading took effect this year, a thriving international black market and smuggling operation still exists. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the cumulative ramifications of these practices have resulted in a 50% decline in wildlife populations since 1970, with the majority of declines coming from Africa and Asia. While this prognosis sounds grim, it’s not all bad news. Despite the impact of armed conflicts on ecosystems, they rarely lead to the extirpation, or localized extinction, of entire species. In addition, intensive conservation

efforts have persistently striven to yield dramatic recoveries of wildlife populations. The Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique, where Daskin and Pringle conducted their study, is a prime example of such efforts. The Mozambican Civil War, which lasted from 1977 to 1992, decimated over 90% of large mammals inhabiting the park. In an impressive turn-around, aggressive anti-poaching efforts, combined with human development programs and socio-economic assistance have allowed wildlife populations to recover to 80% of their pre-war levels. It is this two-pronged approach, which seeks to curb ecologically harmful activities such as poaching, while addressing the human issues that lead to such destructive behavior in the first place, that the researchers credit for the project’s success. In an interview with the social networking service ResearchGate, Daskin had this to say about the effort: “The impressive recovery was enabled mainly by creating the conditions necessary to allow nature to take its course; the few remaining wildlife were allowed to reproduce under the watch of park rangers who conduct anti-poaching patrols, but also in conjunction with critical human development programs. Providing socio-economic assistance helps alleviate the need for people to hunt wildlife. Gorongosa brings hundreds of school children to the park for educational wildlife safaris, provides agricultural assistance to nearby farmers, and runs medical programs.” Ultimately, the researchers argue, conservation efforts should be two-fold, including both ecological restoration and socioeconomic infrastructure. Hopefully, the realization of these twin goals will create safer and more sustainable societies across the continent, wherein both two-legged and fourlegged inhabitants can live without the threat of violence.


Design by: Samantha Mosle

was markedly unusual, as widespread anecdotal evidence exists for wildlife recoveries showing how reduced economic activity puts less pressure on the environment. For example, the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) along the border of North and South Korea has become a wildlife sanctuary, home to endangered species such as the Asiatic black bear and spotted seal. The circumstances present in sub-Saharan Africa create a perfect storm of destruction for wildlife sanctuaries. Firstly, the reliance on bushmeat, the meat of African wild animals, for sustenance by marauding armies and displaced civilians leads to poaching because during wartime governments lose both the motivation and capacity to enforce antipoaching laws. As agricultural production becomes more difficult and rural communities are devastated by looting and plunder, refugees and guerilla soldiers fan out, increasing environmental pressures as more bushmeat is harvested. Exotic animals such as the rhinoceros and the elephant have been long prized for their ivory horns, which rebel militias illegally sell at enormous profit. In 2014, ivory fetched up to $2100 per kilogram in the Chinese marketplace.


Dying Well

S INCE THE ERA OF SHAMANS and apothecaries, the practice of medicine has been concerned with enabling

people to live longer, healthier, and more pain-free lives. In essence, it serves to make us feel more at home in our bodies. However, medicine has often played a less nurturing role when it comes time for people to leave their bodies. Death, the great American taboo, is an unfortunate reality that many physicians and patients alike are ill-equipped to deal with. Due to advances in medical technology we are now able to extend life by an unprecedented amount. According to research conducted by World Bank, global life expectancy has increased by approximately 14 years since 1960. However, the percentage of people who now die in hospitals attached to ventilators or feeding tubes instead of peacefully in their homes has also increased. The medical practice is able to prolong death, but at what cost? Constant biomedical innovation, paired with a cultural fear of death, leads to a dangerous paradigm in which aggressive medical treatment has the potential to cause undue suffering. The medical needs of someone approaching the end of their life are not the same as those of someone in an earlier stage of life. In many cases, technologies designed to prolong life for those with potential recovery are also used for those with limited days, often causing unnecessary pain for these patients. There are many medical technologies that were designed as temporary assistance that have now become last-resort therapies. One such example is artificial hydration and nutrition. It is common for physicians and nurses to artificially provide hydration and nutrition to patients who are very sick or recovering from surgery. However, when someone with a life-limiting condition is no longer able to eat or drink, it is usually a sign


War & Wildlife

- Stefanie Suarez

that the body is beginning to stop functioning. Artificial nutrition and hydration cannot bring the person back to a healthy state, and can increase suffering in dying patients who no longer have the ability or desire to eat and drink on their own. In fact, artificial nutrition and hydration can add more discomfort, often causing symptoms such as shortness of breath, bloating, cramps, swelling and diarrhea. Oftentimes, people fail to remember that the person’s body is not beginning to shut down because of absence of food and liquid – rather, it is due to illness and the dying process. In light of medicine’s proclivity towards artificially extending life, how can physicians ethically navigate these situations with patients? The answer lies within creating a culture of empathy since the practice of medicine has never simply been about diagnosis. Good medicine stems from interacting with and understanding one’s patient. Individuals at the end of their life must contemplate what is important to them in their limited time, and the role of the physician should be to provide expertise and compassion amidst fear and uncertainty. This means that although medical technology evolves rapidly, there is no obligation to use it or offer it. The best way for doctors to improve conversations about the dying process is by honoring individual autonomy and implementing a thorough process of obtaining informed consent. Informed consent has three equally important components. First, the patient must be fully informed in language that is meaningful to them about all elements of the treatment option. This includes the benefits, the risks, and most importantly the alternatives. Second, the person must be able to fully understand and appreciate their treatment options, or in other words have capacity to consent. Lastly, the patient must be making a voluntary decision, that is, be fully free to accept or decline intervention, as a protection against unwanted touching. In a society where individuals assume responsibility for the way they live their lives, they must also be in a position to protect their own best interest as they end them. “Dying well”, or the idea of experiencing a good death, is quickly gaining a fair amount of cultural capital. This has resulted in many individuals believing that

decision makers, with the most effective proxies being those who know the patient best. The role of a proxy is to say what a person would if they had the ability to speak for themselves. However, due to the nature of dying and the heavy emotional baggage it carries, feelings such as anxiety or guilt can result in proxies acting against the wishes of the dying. We see in many jurisdictions family members insisting on the overtreatment of their loved ones, not for the sake of the loved one, but so the family member won't feel bad about not having done everything possible. This overtreatment is an indignity to patients and a waste of resources. If patients preemptively communicate with their family members better, there would be less stress and conflict in moments of proxy decision making, removing the guilt that surrogates often feel for a person’s death. When there is uncertainty or conflict about whether or not a person would want the medical treatment, most often treatment is continued. According to the NIH, clinician-family communication is one of the most important factors driving family satisfaction in the ICU. By providing consistent information, emotional support, respect, and willingness to answer questions, physicians and nurses can largely alleviate family stress during the end of a patient’s life and advocate for treatment the patient would have wanted. Medicine has reached a point where it must now distance itself from the paradigm of overtreatment. Physician’s must transcend their duties as diagnosticians and assume the role of guide and interpreter during a person’s last moments. By listening to and prioritizing the wishes patients have for themselves, doctors and nurses can overcome language, ethnic, cultural and religious barriers to provide critical empathy and assistance. Health care professionals must initiate realistic conversations about patient status and not recommend futile treatment due to fear of death. Through having these interactions with patients and their families, doctors and nurses can begin an important series of conversations that prepare people to pass with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Design by: Caitlin Dowell Esquivel

planning for the end of life is at least as important as planning for any other stage of it. However, despite this increasingly popular ideology, a 2014 study conducted by The Pew Research Center revealed only thirty-seven percent of adults said they have given "a great deal of thought" to their end-of-life medical treatment. Thirty-five percent have given it little thought, and 27 percent have given it no thought. Furthermore, most people who are not having these conversations about end-of-life with their physicians are, “particularly younger, poorer, minority, and less-educated individuals,” indicating an underlying socioeconomic component to quality of care. This disparity in end-of-life care can also be linked to the level of comfort physicians possess around engaging in end-of-life conversations. A review of US medical school surveys conducted by the Department of Medicine/Palliative Care at the University of Rochester Medical Center revealed varied and uneven approaches to the teaching of palliative care. Approaches ranged from weeks of palliative care training or hospice-based clinical rotations to a mere 2 hours in the classroom on end-of-life care. Similarly, a study conducted by Dr. Jessica Schmit at the University of Florida found 88.1% of residents reported little to no training on end-of-life care during residency, and that actual occurrences of end-of-life conversations were frequent but mostly unsupervised. Those who reported more classroom training on end-of-life skills also reported greater comfort in engaging in death-related conversations. However, most residents lacked proper training and comfort. This discomfort surrounding necessary conversations about end-of-life care has tangible effects on the quality of care received. According to the Stanford School of Medicine Palliative Care division, approximately 80% of Americans would prefer to die at home, if possible. Despite this, 60% of Americans die in acute care hospitals, 20% in nursing homes and only 20% at home. A minority of dying patients use hospice care and even those patients are often referred to hospice only in the last 3-4 weeks of life. Despite the known benefits of early palliative care when treating terminal illness, there are many barriers to receiving adequate hospice referrals. Physicians who are more comfortable having end-of-life (EOL) conversations are more likely to refer to hospice in the best interest of their patient. End-of-life care is a complicated practice that becomes even more difficult when patients are unable to advocate for themselves. In the absence of valid consent, doctors must defer to their patient’s designated surrogate. In the absence of a surrogate identified by a patient, the law provides an order of people who are used as proxy

Special thanks to Dr. Kenneth W. Goodman, Director of the Miller School’s Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy, for his guidance and support on this article.



Design by: Gabi Lee

Gabi Lee


- Samantha Roberts

A FOSSILIZED JAW BONE discovered in Israel

has shifted all modern knowledge of human history. Until recently, fossils, genetics, and archaeology provided multiple lines of evidence that indicated modern humans migrated from Africa around 60,000 years ago. This prehistoric jawbone, however, is dated to nearly 200,000 years old—more than twice as old as any Homo Sapiens remains previously found outside of Africa. The well-preserved fossil is an upper jawbone with eight teeth. The teeth are larger than modern human teeth, but the shape and anatomy of the fossil are unmistakably Homo Sapiens. Besides the discovery of the fossilized jaw bone, other sophisticated tools and blades were found near Misliya cave.These sophisticated tools indicate that the previous owners were apt hunters who used slings and carved blades to hunt a variety of wild animals. Additionally, the team discovered evidence of multipurpose plant-based matting that could have been used as sleeping mats. The tools and fossils at the site were all radioactively dated to be 177,000194,000 years old, which is consistent with the jaw fossil. This newly uncovered evidence from Misliya cave could serve as the cornerstone to better understanding of human evolution, as it suggests that multiple waves of ancestral migration occurred, dispersing modern humans across Europe and Asia. In addition, this could also signify that previous humans were interacting and potentially mating with each other for tens of thousands of years. These findings also raise the possibility that the eastern Mediterranean served as a crossroads for previous ancestors and Neanderthals. Neanderthals at this time would have already been localized in Europe, and previous discoveries have shown interbreeding with human ancestors


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and Neanderthals. In fact, current Eurasians carry between 1-4% Neanderthal DNA, further validating the interspecies interactions. Recent DNA analysis of a Neanderthal leg bone found in Germany implied that encounters occurred as early as 200,000 years ago and this jawbone discovery adds credibility to this theory. Although Neanderthal blood runs through Eurasian veins, the past humans whose remains were found at the Misliya cave were probably not ancestors of any modern humans. This could have occurred for a variety of reasons, the most likely being natural selection. Like other species, some previous human lineages did not experience successful procreation and eventually were unable to sustain their family lines. As a result, their genes went extinct when they had to compete with other modern humans that were migrating out of Africa at that time. Scientists must now reconstruct a portion of the timeline of human evolution. This discovery pushes human history back from 200,000 B.C.E. to around 500,000 B.C.E. Despite shedding light on previous puzzling discoveries (120,000 year old bones found in China) this breakthrough raises questions surrounding the first migrants. In particular, researchers must search for the cause of failed settlement experienced by the first pioneers, and the shift that allowed for future success. While some courses of human evolution may forever be lost to the depths of time, the uncovering of evidence leaves modern humans with a clearer picture of the past. With the knowledge of human evolution scientists can better understand the biology of humans and the process of evolution, an understanding that holds great weight for future scientific findings.

Design by: Alexis Paul



Coral Bleaching:

Killing One of the


HERE’S NO DOUBT that climate change is real. We’re seeing ice caps melting and polar bears starving, birds are washing up covered in oil, a complete devastation of marine life. Once beautiful and flourishing reefs are losing their color and, more importantly, their lives in a global calamity called coral bleaching, impacting almost every coastal community in the world, including South Florida. Oceans have warmed and become more acidic, with surface temperature rising 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit since 1969, and pH falling by about 0.11 units, becoming 30% more acidic than it was in 1751. This temperature change may not sound alarming; It’s only a fraction of a degree. There are so many other major effects of climate change that seem more urgent, such as the plight of the polar bears and other arctic life that are rapidly losing their habitat. So why does this minor change in temperature matter? Well, marine life, especially corals, are incredibly sensitive to any change in temperature. When water temperatures remain higher than average for a prolonged period of time, corals experience metabolic stress and lose their zooxanthellae, a single-celled photosynthetic dinoflagellate that provides up to 90% of their host’s energy. Since the zooxanthellae are photosynthetic organisms, they provide the yellowish and brownish colors typical in corals, and without the presence of the organisms, corals turn white, or become “bleached”. What happens when coral becomes bleached? According to Stephanie Wear, the director of coral reef conservation at The Nature Conservancy, “If these algae aren’t reabsorbed in the near term, the coral will die. They just can’t survive long-term without them.” And when coral dies, reefs die, and without reefs the marine life that they sustained go too, catalyzing a chain of deaths with massive, inconceivable consequences. Even though these coral reefs make up less than 1% of the ocean ecosystem, their loss would be disastrous. Coral reefs are prevalent in typically warm waters close to the equator, and mostly cling to the shoreline, one of the its most valuable qualities because it protects our shores from coastal erosion. Furthermore, reefs absorb waves that would break directly on shore, helping to protect coasts from the full brunt of tsunamis and tropical storms, and shielding important ecosystems like mangroves and marshes that provide water purification and food. Reefs also shelter about 25% of marine species, providing a valuable home for organisms that are vital to human industries such as fishing and tourism, which are especially important in South Florida. The Florida Barrier Reef is the third largest reef in the world, and the only living one in the continental United States. It stretches


War & Wildlife

- Marisa Stephens

Design by: Joshua Zahner

Last Remaining Coral Reefs 170 miles, from Biscayne National Park to the Dry Tortugas, and it consists of three different types of reef communities. It also encompasses many famous reefs, such as Alligator Reef, Cheeca Rocks, Molasses Reef, and John Pennekamp State Park: all places in my backyard growing up. I’m a born and raised South Floridian, as are both of my parents. I grew up on the water, in the Keys, and I’ve been snorkeling and diving on the same five by ten mile section of the Florida Reef since my mother was pregnant with me. I can’t imagine a better environment to grow up in. My summers were filled with sun and salt, chasing after brightly colored fish, and trying and failing to catch a lobster with my bare hands. I have vivid memories of flourishing reefs covered in fish and rainbow corals, bright and alive. But within the past ten years, it’s painfully obvious that corals are losing their vibrant, essential color. Of course there are still plenty of reef communities that are alive and relatively prosperous, but they seem to be few and far between. I’ve personally seen reefs that I’ve been going to for years change dramatically. When I go on the water now, I see bleached coral covered with sand replace my once beloved thriving reef. Of course, bleaching is a cyclical process, but the accelerated rate and intensity of these changes is not natural. Staghorn corals, one of the three most important Caribbean corals that build reefs and habitats, are dying at an unprecedented rate. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “After surviving for millennia against their natural enemies, the most important reef-building corals of Florida—staghorn and elkhorn corals—are now at such great risk that they were designated as threatened species in 2006.” I’ve seen reefs that were once covered in bright orange staghorn corals become brittle and white as a bone with their death. Major changes like this threaten the health and wellbeing of marine life as a whole,Staghorn coral numbers are down 96% at Molasses Reef in the Upper Keys and 98% at Looe Key in the Lower Keys. Eric Billips, the owner of Islamorada Dive Center, has seen these dramatic changes firsthand. He says, “I will see extreme bleaching towards the end of the summer, especially at certain sites with staghorn corals and shallower patch reefs,” as bleaching is directly linked to higher temperatures, which occurs more during the summer in shallower waters. He’s been diving on the Florida Reef four times a day for the past ten years, and says in that time he’s “seen dramatic changes...it’s unbelievable the amount of bleaching.” We’ve all seen these drastic changes in the health of the reefs that protect us and provide so much life and food. And it is unbelievable. The Florida Reef is paramount to South Florida, both environmentally and economically. Not only does the reef protect us environmentally, but coral reef recreation is a major contributor to our economy. According to a Hazen & Sawyer study, coral reef recreation accounted for 70,000 jobs and $5.5 billion in annual sales in 2008 in Dade, Broward, Monroe, Martin, and Palm Beach counties. Continued destruction of reefs could elevate unemployment rates and weaken our coastal communities. An exponential increase in the amount of tourists isn’t helping either; divers and snorkelers of all skill levels touch and disturb sensitive corals, leaving dangerous oils in the water. Human pollution in the form of trash is also strangling and poisoning corals, as well as killing off other marine organisms such as turtles and manatees. But hope is not lost. There are numerous programs aimed at restoring reefs, such as Rescue a Reef and the Coral Restoration Foundation. Studies have shown that many tourists would be willing to pay more if the extra money went to protecting the reefs. Along with this, as Eric Billips stressed, divers have to make a “conscious effort”, and dive shops should guide their customers on the reef to ensure minimal coral disturbance. While no one person can fix the rising temperatures that are causing coral bleaching, we as a society can lobby for regulations, and try to do everything possible to save the Florida Reef and protect the natural beauty of South Florida.




-Trevor Birenbaum

THE ADAGE THAT “science doesn’t care

what one believes” has never been more relevant than in today’s emotionally and politically charged environment, where facts are often refuted simply because they neither agree with what people want to be true nor fit policymakers’ agendas. Rejection of basic scientific principles has led to the popularization of urban myths such as the link between child vaccination and developmental disorders. People are willing to risk the lives of their children on what was often thought of as an urban myth, trying to find a nonexistent causality between their personal circumstances and what a celebrity has told them. They give up long-standing scientific principles for rumors and speculative thoughts supported by loosely-credentialled medical professionals and public figures. This refusal to accept science is not without consequence; when the line between what people believe and scientific fact is blurred, lives are unnecessarily put in danger. All too often in today’s politically charged climate do we see opinion overtake scientific fact, where decisions are made for the purpose of satisfying political donors and securing reelection instead of recognizing what science has shown. Emotions are being favored over logic. Politicians want to believe in what they agree with, so instead of understanding and accepting what has been proven scientifically, they blindly push


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forward their agendas. For example, the myth of “clean coal” pushed forward by the current presidential administration is completely ridiculous. Burning coal for energy is an enormous contributor to climate change, but instead of supporting sustainable and renewable energy sources, a false narrative is created to placate a small number of people for political gain. On April 22, 2017, more than a million scientists, activists, and concerned citizens took to the streets around the world to protest a number of anti-science policies and actions during the first few months of the Trump administration, such as the appointment of a climate-change denier to head the Environmental Protection Agency, the placing of a gag order on environmental scientists from disseminating climate change findings, and the censorship of words including “sciencebased” and “evidence-based” from Centers for Disease Control reports. “What do we want? Evidence-based science! When do we want it? After peer review!” was a popular rallying cry. The goal of the March for Science was for scientific findings (which by their very nature are nonpartisan) to be considered in making governmental policy. Organizers of the March stated that “American government that ignores science to pursue ideological agendas endangers the world.” The advancement of science is an arduous process. The scientific method is so rigorous

because it is designed to ensure that scientific findings are legitimate, weeding out ideas that do not merit further consideration. One of the most crucial aspects of science is that it builds upon the work of others—most papers cite dozens of previous papers that assist the researchers in making their claims and performing their studies. It is not possible for someone to concoct a frivolous experiment to “prove” a claim and have their findings published in a reputable journal. Rather, every scientific finding must be analyzed by a board of their peers to determine if the paper is worth publishing. Only after rounds of peer review can a finding make it to the general scientific body of knowledge. Scientific findings can and should be treated as fact not only because they are checked so heavily but also because they are concurrent with previously accepted bodies of work that follow the same process. Far too often, scientific topics such as climate change are presented as opinions, and are debated on major television networks as one person’s argument against another. No matter what the motivation is for having the debate, this practice is very dangerous and is responsible for the dispensation of misinformation en masse. Non-scientists create false narratives that rely on cherrypicked information and emotional appeal to present their arguments. This can trick the uninformed viewer, who must decide between a potentially complicated or nuanced scientific

Design by: Lucero Barrantes Marin

deals in facts “Science and facts alone” argument or a set of lies that while untrue, reassures them that there is no problem. In the case of climate change, it is very easy to erroneously have the mindset “if it’s happening, then it’s not going to affect me.” This leads to the trivialization of the issue and is a distraction from the issue that actually should be debated, “What steps should we take to combat climate change? Science deals in facts and facts alone. People disseminating opinions that directly contradict what has been shown scientifically should be corrected, and those who adamantly refuse the science for the propagation of their agendas should be ignored. The deliberate refusal of facts has led to the dangerous trend where news that contradicts people’s opinions leads to the labelling of the news as fake without regard to its validity, and instead “alternative facts” are presented. This is a social trend that must be immediately stopped and countered if we are to avoid entering a “post-information age” where we believe only what we want to and don’t care about the actual science. And if that means challenging our previously held beliefs, so be it. The body of credible scientific knowledge supersedes the opinions of those who refuse to accept it in their world-view. As renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, “The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.”



Striving for

ZERO Casualties:

The Role of School Psychologists in Preventing School Shootings - Anuj Shah


Virginia. Columbine, Colorado. Parkland, Florida. Every year, senseless school shootings such as these leave the nation reeling, searching for a decisive preventative solution to this disturbing pattern. Though an endless debate ensues over what constitutes a school shooting, the dozen or so firearm incidents that have occurred at schools in the United States in 2018 alone are a cause for worry. The U.S., without a doubt, is the only developed nation in which these types of attacks consistently occur. While common sense gun control and social and emotional development training are statistically supported and logically sound methods to minimize these tragedies, another complementary approach is beginning to gain traction, an approach researchers and administrators hope will reach students before they decide to commit this sort of heinous crime. It all begins at school, where these students live, laugh, and learn on a daily basis. Schools possess powerful but underutilized tools to reach out to struggling students–school psychologists and counselors. But if counseling and outreach for troubled teens have been present in schools for years, why do students continue to commit violent crimes in schools? A simple surface examination of the school system reveals just how sparse school psychologists are. On average, one school psychologist serves 2,000 to 3,500 students, evidence that they are vastly outnumbered, despite mental health issues affecting one in five students. Logically, schools are the best place to reach students, but when a single school psychologist is forced to split his or her efforts between five or six schools, connecting with students and understanding their issues becomes a monumental challenge. As school budgets continue to shrink, a greater percentage of counseling staff, including social workers and psychologists, is deemed “nonessential,” allowing a student who may


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be leaning towards committing a school shooting to fall through the gaps and never receive attention, much less a psychological intervention. A lack of connection between school psychologists and students permeates the majority of high schools and colleges around the country. Upon learning of this alarming trend, I couldn’t help but fear that at my school, some troubled kids could have slipped past the few counselors present. My fear was even greater for the underserved and underdeveloped schools I heard about, where students living in conflict-filled homes likely only dreamed of having their issues heard. As researcher and counselor educator Carleton Brown describes, the majority of students who engage in violent school attacks “often lash out because they feel it is their only avenue to ‘be heard,’ either by their peers or by society at large.” This sense of hopelessness is a major psychological factor in identifying a possible school shooter, an individual who feels he has no choice but to act out. Extensive psychological studies, including FBI reports analyzing over a dozen school shootings, have identified some commonalities among what are relatively hard-to-characterize events. Most importantly, a school shooting is nearly always preceded by a trail. This may involve social media posts, an obsession with guns, or seemingly offhand remarks to friends. This is where a genuine connection between students and counseling staff can save countless lives. If a friend of a possible attacker trusts school counseling staff enough to reveal plans to them, a significant amount of action could be taken to prevent an attacker from following through with their threats. Because students are exponentially better at describing the going-ons of a school, it is vital to develop a healthy school culture, where students never feel the need to stay silent about threats. An abundance of evidence supports the successful outcomes that result from

suffered from a mental illness; rather, many felt that they were victims of injustice and wanted revenge against peers at school and society as a whole. These patterns are hardly limited to schools, as they are seen with most mass shooters in general. However, a commonality that connects both types of mass killers–those with and without mental illnesses–is their ability to be reached and helped through a concerted effort by school psychologists, counselors, and administrators. Finally, it is imperative for all involved to realize that people do not snap. There is never an instant switch from nonviolence to violence; instead, it is an evolution of warning signs that leads to an eventual violent outburst. Improving the state of counseling and school psychologists is a potent plan; however, it is defunct without other necessary changes. This includes implementing proper gun control, such as regulations on gun manufacturers and online gun purchases, a national permit to purchase firearms, and background checks to prevent those with violent misdemeanors, like domestic abuse, from owning firearms. While gun reform is a solution heavily

Design by: Gabi Lee

school psychologists instilling feelings of unity and belonging, through group discussions focused around dealing with loss, resolving conflicts, and improving self-esteem. Bullying and, to a much lesser extent, non-compliance with psychiatric drug prescription are the two leading causes of school shootings. This suggests that with an adequate counseling staff, preventing these school shootings is largely a task that school psychologists can tackle. One of the most destructive habits of both school administrators and the media is the creation of a universal school shooter profile. These lists of traits are often sensationalized by news media following an attack, but primarily label nonviolent kids in an unfair manner. Recent statistical tests have shown the only way to accurately judge an individual is to consider a multitude of influences, including their family and home life, social and economic situation, interactions with peers, and personality. Attackers aren’t necessarily unsuccessful and withdrawn– they often come from two-parent families, at least half are academically successful, and many are considered mainstream students. Many also don’t show disciplinary issues or learning problems, or

Mental health issues affect one in five students. a previous history of violence before attacking, though they may think about suicide or experience depression. Most students will agree they know many introverted and quiet individuals, some who may even shun socialization, that would never come close to engaging in anything violent. Psychologists suggest that, if anything, spreading the claim that all school shooters are resentful, isolated, antisocial individuals might actually push more young males who share some of those characteristics to engage in violence. Creating these lists of stunningly inaccurate descriptors is only one of the many misconceptions that surround the majority of school shootings. Another major misstep is to correlate all school shootings with mental illness, when in reality the majority of violent attacks in schools are a consequence of an aggressive desire for power and dominance spiraling out of control. Most aggressors won’t show signs of actual mental disorders, and the small percentage that do would resist or avoid therapies because of their tendency to blame their flaws on others. Recent studies have found that less than one in four teenage mass murderers

substantiated by evidence, it continues to be locked up in debate. For that reason, it is imperative the country also begin instituting less divisive changes. Schools can become safer places, but all personnel must be trained in identifying pre-attack signs and engaging with students who may be troubled. Psychologists urge that all staff, from coaches and cafeteria workers to bus drivers and janitors, have proper training in crisis intervention and the ability to gauge the severity of a threat. After all, in the time before or during a crisis, everyone has a role in mitigating the damage done. Two. Thirty-three. Fifteen. Seventeen. While these numbers are of those who died in the aforementioned school shootings, many more lives were affected by these events. Nicholas Cruz was a student who struggled with depression, was obsessive about guns, and expressed disturbing thoughts on social media. With the proper psychological tools, staff, and training in schools, we may be able to find and help others like him before they commit a crime. Only one value accurately represents the number of school shooting deaths we must fight to achieve–zero.



Redefining Mental Health & Gun Violence

1 2 3

4 5


Every death is preventable.  It is time for a change. War & Wildlife

Infographic by: Shravya Jasti



Design by: Sandra Taboada


There’s NO Monkeying Around When Cloning Monkeys S

CIENTISTS IN CHINA have successfully cloned the first non-human primates, a breakthrough in genetic technology. This represents a major milestone, as we share about 98% of the same DNA with our bannaphile cousins. The first cloned primates are Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, identical monkeys that were born on November 27 and December 5, 2017, respectively, at the Institute of Neuroscience of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai. The crab-eating macaques monkeys were cloned using the same method as Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal two decades ago. This process is known as the somatic cell nuclear transfer method (SCNT). 79 embryos were implanted into 21 surrogate monkey mothers through in-vitro fertilization; six of them became pregnant, and two babies were born. Although at first glance this does not seem to be a great success, many years ago it took 277 embryos to clone Dolly. The cloning process involves inserting the nucleus that contains all the DNA from a somatic cell -which is a mature body cell-of a monkey into an egg cell that has had its DNA removed. Inserting the same DNA into the egg cells ensures that the DNA of these monkeys is identical. Each body cell contains a nucleus which holds DNA. Once a fetus begins to develop, cells become specialized. Specialization means that a cell’s size, shape, and purpose becomes modified to achieve a specific task. For example, a cell might develop into a blood cell, muscle cell, or nerve cell. For this reason, two enzymes were used to return the donated DNA back to its original embryonic state, the state before it becomes specialized. 79 identical embryos were created and inserted into surrogate mothers to produce the two identical monkeys. Due to the close similarity between monkey and human physiology, the scientists plan to use the monkeys as models to study neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease by utilizing gene editing. Additionally, the researchers plan to monitor the neurological development of the monkeys to observe if there is any discrepancy between the development of both of their brains. This is interesting as both monkeys share the exact same DNA and are living in the same environment. Evidently, a discrepancy in the development in the monkeys could indicate that DNA is not the only thing that determines their characteristics.

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- Caitlin Dowell-Esquivel

Research with these primates can be used as a substrate for gene editing. CRISPR-Cas9 (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) has the ability to alter genes. CRISPR technology can be coded to recognize DNA sequences that have been altered. Typically, these mutations result in monogenic disorders, caused by a mutation in a single gene, such as sickle cell disease, cystic fibrosis, and certain forms of retinitis pigmentosa. After detecting the mutation, CRISPR is programed to cut the DNA at that specific site. Then, it can be programmed to repair the DNA. CRISPR technique holds the potential to fix a mutation that has occurred. On the one hand, this could be used to change genes that make people predisposed to diseases, but it also holds the capacity to change the genes of human embryos. CRISPR has the capacity to create “designer babies.” Embryos can be edited to show certain characteristics in children, such as blonde hair or blue eyes. The ethical implications of engineering a perfect human baby through the use of editing DNA with CRISPR-Cas9 highlights the moral and controversial issues of cloning. One major benefit of cloning is that it could save an endangered species from extinction and can also be used to maintain biodiversity. This cloning process can enable scientists to replicate species, preventing their extinction. Despite potential benefits, the use of non-human primates for research raises ethical concerns regarding the treatment of these monkeys. Animal experiments can be cruel, unreliable, and dangerous. Typically, the cloned species only survive for short periods of time due to their reduced telomere size, which refers to the repetitive DNA sequence at the ends of chromosomes that allows the cells to divide. Furthermore, the use of animal research does not ensure reliable results, especially since the animal genetic makeup differs from humans. On the other hand, primates are the closest relatives to humans, so this research could lead to novel findings directly helpful to mankind. While many facilities do not need to abide by the animal welfare laws, the Institute of Neuroscience of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai is following the international guidelines for primate care. Although the scientists say that they have no interest in cloning humans, there are many countries, such as the United States, that presently do not have federal laws prohibiting reproductive cloning of the human species.



- Taylor Lindstrom


IVING IN SUCH an advanced time allows us to identify “problems” more easily than ever before. With scientific advances, we are now able to sequence the human genome and locate exactly where problems lie. This revolutionary technology provides many answers, but answers are not solutions. Identifying the problem is crucial, but it is only the first step. Solutions are so difficult to find in medicine because the “correct” answer is not always right, and the “incorrect” answer is not always wrong. Medical treatment in the past has often been approached with the goal of benefiting the population as a whole, but the problem with this is that clinical trials like these leave too many subsets of patients with atypical etiology behind. Now that we have the technology to sequence the human genome, it is time to change our approach to medicine by treating the individual instead of the problem. The solution lies in the missing data. That is why the National Institutes of Health (NIH) created the All of Us Research Program. The NIH is looking for one million volunteers to help create what could be the largest, most diverse genetic dataset in the world. The goal of the All of Us program is to extend precision medicine to all diseases by building a national research cohort of over one million U.S. participants. Precision medicine is a revolutionary approach for disease prevention that accounts for genetic, environmental, and lifestyle variability to provide personalized health care. Creating a platform to compile the information to make this happen is the mission of the All of Us Research Program. The All of Us program is a major component of the Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI), and in his State of the Union Address on January 20, 2015 President Barack Obama announced its launch. Through the PMI, the framework for building a national research cohort of one million or more

Design by: Lucero Barrantes Marin

World’s Largest Genetic Library is Almost Here

d The

Americans was developed. On September 17, 2015, the PMI Working Group delivered a report to the advisory committee director providing the framework for creating this research cohort. Volunteer contributions include biological and physical measurements, lifestyle habits, and environmental information.

Participants will have access to their study results, and will be study partners, rather than subjects.

NIH wants more than half of the participants to be people that come from traditionally underrepresented communities in biomedical research. Program director Eric Dishman said, “we want the All of Us community to be as diverse as our country, so that the knowledge we gain from the research will benefit everyone.” The NIH is approaching this challenge by designating up to $5 million per year to support community-led outreach efforts. This kind of data creates the statistical power to discover disease signaling biological markers, and identify the causes of individual differences in response to treatment. We no longer have to depend on the one-size-fits-all approach to medicine, and individual treatment options and cures are finally in our reach. All of Us has the potential to not only find the problem, but more importantly use data to determine a solution. The future of medicine is finally here, and you can be a part of it.



Traditional Remedies:

Modern Medicine’s New Frontier


- Ka Lam Nguyen

HEN I WAS LITTLE, I used to complain to my grandmother about the home remedies that she concocted out of traditional Chinese medicinal ingredients. She would make them for me whenever I got sick, and that did not sit well with me, of course, as most of the remedies were incredibly nasty. Yet, the results never failed to amaze me, and I am forever grateful for her wisdom. One time when I was eight years old, I got infected by the fungus Malassezia furfur, which caused the disease pityriasis versicolor that led to discolored patches on the skin of my upper back and shoulder. It was a pretty common condition in the summer, as sweating can increase the risk of infection. Because it would take a long time to make a doctor’s appointment, my grandmother and I decided to take matters into our own hands by following our ancestors’ medicinal recipes. As a little boy, I was quite spoiled; I would complain a lot when I smelled something intolerable. “Alright, lay down on the couch,” my grandmother told me after I had taken a shower with


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Jesuits for medicinal purposes. Perhaps a more astonishing story of another antimalarial cure was the discovery of artemisinin by Chinese chemist Tu YouYou, who shared the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work. In the 1970s she was working as part of the Chinese government’s Project 523, which was established to aid the Vietcong’s military in fighting against malaria. After reading and testing many recipes in the Chinese Medica Materia (literally means medical materials), she finally found artemisinin, which is extracted from the qinghaosu plant (Artemisia annua), a traditional Chinese herb. Artemisinin and its derivative, dihydroartemisinin, later became artesunate, which is used today in the form of ACT (artemisinin-based combination therapy) to treat cases of malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly strain of the disease. The cure has saved millions of lives since its creation, and it is but one example of what traditional folk medicine has given us over the past several decades. At this point, you may be wondering: if these folk remedies are indeed effective in treating infections, why are doctors still prescribing antibiotics? Although it is true that folk remedies are effective in treating some illnesses, antibiotics such as penicillins or sulfonamides are still the most efficient and preferred treatment for infections. They are truly the pièce de résistance of modern medicine; however, this paradigm shift from traditional remedies to modern antibiotics has come at the price of new resistant strains of bacteria. The abuse of antibiotics has led to the rise of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which causes a variety of illnesses, among others. Perhaps it’s just nostalgia for the past. My grandma has always told me, “You need to take this everyday, it will prevent illnesses,” referring to her remedies. In the modern world, we often take synthetic medicines because they work much more efficiently than natural remedies, which heal sickness with a “holistic” approach that takes a longer time. Still, as ambitious scientists are studying them, perhaps these “foul-scented remedies” may one day be the norm again in medicine.


Design by: Shruti Karnani

pine tar soap. She brought out a freshly made ointment composed of raw garlic, onion and a hint of white vinegar, and she applied it onto my skin. For a kid who hated garlic and vinegar, the treatment was dreadful. Not only did I smell like raw garlic, which seemed to me like stinky feet, the strong and foul odor of the remedy lasted every day during the two weeks of treatment. Incredibly, the infection went away completely, and I did not get a relapse. For almost a decade, as someone who had mostly taken prescription drugs, I had questioned the efficacy of these home remedies as they didn’t seem effective to me; however, I believe that this perception is outdated as scientists are now exploiting these home remedies (most of them derived from natural products) and developing them into medicine. Since ancient times, garlic (Allium sativum) has been appreciated for its numerous health benefits as well as the delicious meals that can be cooked with it. Different cultures have different uses for garlic, but the most famous use in pop culture is its vampire-repellent property. In Chinese culture, it was historically used as a medicinal ingredient, and studies over the last decade have found that allicin (the active ingredient found in crushed or chewed raw garlic) has several antimicrobial, antifungal, anti-atherosclerosis properties; some even suggests that allicin is also anticancer. With this newfound knowledge, I now understand why my grandmother’s remedy treated my pityriasis versicolor infection. Furthermore, allicin is not the only compound with roots in traditional medicine; many other groundbreaking medications and their respective active ingredients used today were extracted from traditional folk medicine. Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease caused by a parasite (Plasmodium spp.), has killed hundreds of thousands of people, mostly children, every year. While it is a devastating disease, the incredible stories of the various medicines used to cure malaria demonstrate the importance of studying traditional medicine in the field of medicinal chemistry. Quinine, the world’s first antimalarial cure, is made from the bark of the Cinchona tree, native to South America. Indeed, the ancient Peruvians were the first to discover its medicinal uses; the bark was later brought to Europe by


Genetically Modified Food:

Breaking Down a Stubborn

- Nikhil Rajulapati

FOR MILLENNIA, the production and harvest


of crops has served as the backbone for the structured development of civilization. In order to maximize crop yields, new techniques and tools have developed over time from the cotton gin to satellite tracking. A more recent groundbreaking method to enhance farming appears to be the most controversial. Throughout its ongoing development, Genetically Modified Foods, or GMFs, still appear to be a hot topic of discussion. People tend to look at GMFs with unsubstantiated claims that view the crops as the reason behind the spread of cancer and other diseases. Such a bias continues to develop because people view GMF’s as unnatural and man-made, making it susceptible to errors. On the other hand, many do not realize how GMFs can actually help societies by increasing crop yields as well as fighting climate change. As GMFs continue to expand across the world, they must face an uphill battle against their negative reputation. Many vigorous opponents see GMFs as responsible for the rise of cancer in recent years; however, with research and science, it becomes clear that genetic modification doesn’t necessarily create an increase in cancer rates. Kevin Folta, professor and chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida explains that no rigorous peer-reviewed study has linked modified foods to cancer. He claims that through subtle and well-understood alterations of a plant’s genes, it becomes almost impossible for the crops to cause cancer. Furthermore, future plants may be designed to produce nutrients that may in fact help fight cancer or remove compounds that increase cancer risk. Currently, this type of specialized product is close to commercialization, according to Folta. For example, normal potatoes produce a small amount


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of acrylamide–a potential carcinogen–when heated to high temperatures. GM-potatoes have been engineered to not produce the compound in the first place, and that will lead to safer foods in the future. Clearly, we cannot look at GMFs as the reason behind incidentally rising rates of cancer in recent years. In reality such genetic modification can actually decrease the prevalence of these diseases . Beyond the unwarranted claims of human harm, some see GMF’s as harmful to the environment as well. People have been quick to label these crops as extremely dangerous to the environment and nature as a whole. Many think that artificially creating crops requires additional land and supplies. However, in comparison with many non-GMF’s, GMFs require less resources to cultivate. A study by Peter Barfoot and Graham Brookes examining the impact of GMF’s over the past seventeen years found that when considering their environmental impact, GMFs have shown to have a reduced environmental footprint associated with pesticide by about 19%. GMFs have taken great strides in becoming more environmentally friendly, especially in comparison to non-GMF crops. Many people fail to see how these “man-made” crops could possibly help the

yields and smaller land requirements. Furthermore, these products also have the capacity to fight against the looming issue of climate change. Whether people choose to believe it or not, climate change is a major problem that threatens our food supply. Sea levels have been rapidly increasing, especially near major rice exporters such as Vietnam and the Philippines. The Mekong delta, a major waterway in Vietnam, is responsible for over half of the 42 million tons of rice produced in the delta. Eventually, the region will be flooded and the high salt concentrations will kill out all the rice crops. Fortunately, genetically modified rice could tolerate higher salinity. “The future of the delta is at stake. That is why we are working with IRRI to develop a rice variety to deal with floods and salinity,” says Nguyen Van Bo, president of the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Science,. In Australia, over two thousand different strains of salt tolerant crops have been developed and some are in the final field trials before commercialization. Thus, these GMFs could be the solution to not only increasing our food supply, but also preserving the food we have currently. Modified crops have almost always had a bad reputation in society. Their name is associated with disease and destruction; however, when we take the time to look past harsh labels, it becomes easier to see the potential good these crops can do. By paving the way for increased food production and an environmentally friendly future, GMFs may be seen not as a problem, but rather more of a solution.


Design by: Caitlin Smith

environment. Hence, while some people view GMFs as a gateway to disease and destruction, they don’t necessarily see the current and potential good that the crops can do. By creating a reduced ecological footprint while removing harmful compounds, GMF’s are proven to make a difference against the harms in today’s agriculture. Looking beyond the potential danger of GMF’s these crops have shown the capability to address several major issues that our world is facing currently. For instance, food insecurity has proven to be a significant issue for generations, and as populations grow food supplies and technology fail to meet growing demand. In spite of this, GMFs could serve as the potential solution to world hunger because of its ability to significantly increase crop yields. David Zilberman, an agricultural and environmental economist from U.C. Berkeley, looks at the modification of staple crops such as corn, cotton, and soy. GMFs have been able to increase the overall output of these crops by 20 to 30 percent. Zilberman finds that if GMFs were more widely adopted, the price of food would decrease and fewer people would die of starvation. These crops have the capacity to bring food to areas to various deprived countries in the world. With less land and resources required to farm, these crops appear viable to almost all regions in the world. GMFs may prove to be a unique form of solvency for small farmer in developing countries, where subsistence farming can benefit from faster crop


How to Taste Wine

Like a Scientist Flavor Sweet

The sweet, sour, and bitter flavors of wine can be traced back to certain compounds.

Gallotannins, ellagitannins, complex tannins, and condensed tannins




Gallotannin 4-methyl-4-mercapto pentan-2-one

For red wines (which use grape skin), the color is based on the Anthocyanin substituents:





The more blue in color = more Hydroxyl groups


The more red in color = more Methyl Groups


Horse/Bacon Brettanomyces


Earthy/Beet Penicillium Spp



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Saccharomyces cerevisiae


Fresh Oak

Lightly Toasted



Highly Toasted Smoky Guaiacol




Vanillin Decalactone


Infographic by: Melissa Huberman & David Lanster

Aroma from Oak Barrel

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Grapes from different regions have compounds that corrospond to certain aromas.

Swirl your glass and watch how it collects on the sides of the glass. These are known as wine “Legs” or Compounds from the oak “Tears” barrels wine is aged in add to the aroma of the wine.


Aroma: Winemaking Microbes


Microbes involved in the fermentation process produce compounds which corrospond to the certain aromas.

Oak Barrel

The more the wine "legs," that appear, the higher alcohol concentration

The slower the “legs” fall, the more viscous the wine. The more viscous, the more sugar

In collaboration with Have nightly feasts of “Cup Noodle” lost their charm? Join UCook and learn to cook a meal with gusto! From tapas to tagliatelle, monthly classes taught by some of Miami’s most renowned chefs will be sure to sharpen your culinary acumen. Health 27


b e T

n g i k n u

HE YEAR IS 2010 and the United Nations have declared access to clean water a basic human right. Domestically, processes for water purification from the 1900s were recognized as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century by the Centers of Disease Control, and life expectancy has increased 30 years from 1900 to 1970, according to a UC Berkeley study. The threats of cholera and typhoid fever that once plagued the nation were nearly eliminated by the implementation of water sanitation treatments that rid the water supply of sewage and waste matter. Now, flash forward to the present, 2018, where detox teas, supplements, and fad diets abound. Instead of focusing on survival, society is obsessed with wellness as a brand, but the extremes come at a price. Enter the “raw” water trend. With roots in Oregon and Silicon Valley, companies marketing this product promote water that is completely unprocessed- or “raw.” But why? One such company asserts that purified water is essentially a GMO, because, like GMO seeds, it cannot reproduce, and that as a result, drinking purified water may have a detrimental effect on human reproduction as well. This idea of water as more than a molecule is a common thread in their marketing, with claims that the ozone used in purification changes the chemical structure of the water itself. Sure, it sounds like science, but changing the structure of a compound results in a different chemical species entirely, and the ozone mentioned is actually used to remove harmful microbes and compounds which are subsequently filtered out through purification measures. Furthermore, since water is a molecule, it never had the capacity to produce life, be it filtered or raw. However, with a public waiting with bated breath for the next health trend, and an increasing percentage of the population buying into conspiracy theories, such companies have their market, and the “raw” water trend its foothold. But this fad differs from avocado toast- it has potentially major public health repercussions. Natural springs and rivers are home to millions of microorganisms, many of them nasty bacteria and


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parasites. Among their ranks are Legionella pneumophila, Giardia lamblia, Pseudomonas oleovorans, and Cryptosporidium. While it is true that “raw” water companies claim to screen their product for harmful bacteria, the big players are frequently ignored. For example, Legionella pneumophila often slips through the cracks. This is no ordinary harmless microbe; it is the bacterium responsible for Legionnaires Disease and for 57% of the waterborne illness outbreaks from 2013-2014 as reported by the CDC. In fact, from 2013 to 2014, all acute respiratory illnesses as a result of waterborne pathogens were due to L. pneumophila. Even Giardia lamblia, the most well known and most common waterborne parasite according to the CDC, is neglected from screenings. Found in fecal matter and accounting for 29% of waterborne illnesses in 2013-2014, G. lamblia colonizes the small intestine, causing a disease known as giardiasis which can be self-limiting, but also chronic if untreated, leading to irritable bowel syndrome. But these would not be the only threats facing society if this trend persists, and what is caught in the screenings of “raw” water samples is no better than what is overlooked. An example of this is the Pseudomonas oleovorans bacteria. Granted, a Pseudomonas infection can be treated with antibiotics, but resistance is increasingly common. Worse yet, although not usually fatal in immunocompetent people, P. oleovorans ia an opportunistic pathogen that can cause severe infections in the immunosuppressed, a distinction encompassing cancer, HIV/AIDS, and cystic fibrosis patients, to name a few. Like Pseudomonas oleovorans, more dangers lurk beneath the surface of “raw” water that cause serious health complications for the immunosuppressed. Dr. Arba Ager, parasitologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, notes that another concern is the parasite Cryptosporidium, especially because only one new drug exists with activity against it. The parasite itself is unique because it is enclosed in a protective shell, allowing it to stay alive for longer periods of time and under harsher conditions. A Cryptosporidium infection, called “Crypto,” lasts for under a month in people with a healthy immune system, but causes symptoms like

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diarrhea, nausea, fever, and dehydration. In these cases, the infection is localized in the small intestine. However, for the immunosuppressed, Crypto can spread to the digestive and respiratory tracts, causing prolonged symptoms and even death. According to the CDC, this parasite can be found in every region of the United States, and has become a leading contributor to waterborne illnesses over the past 20 years. Pathogens with such severe complications for the immunosuppressed would have a major impact on the local community. Miami-Dade county has the highest HIV infection rate in the United States, leaving a significant percentage of the population immunosuppressed and exposed to the most dangerous consequences of these infections. Furthermore, people suffering from such conditions are often susceptible to the allure of natural products which advertise a holistic lifestyle, making them an easy demographic to target in “raw” water marketing. Beyond the living microorganisms themselves, dangers like cyanotoxins produced by a myriad of cyanobacteria are a concern in untreated freshwater systems in all 50 states. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, human exposure to the three most common cyanotoxins-- Microcystin-LR, Anatoxin-a group, and Cylindrospermopsin- comes from ingestion of contaminated water. Symptoms can range from headaches and abdominal pain, to numbness, blistering, and pneumonia. In animals, the EPA found that exposure to Anatoxin-a group lead to respiratory paralysis, although this has not yet been observed in humans. The poisonous effects of cyanotoxins are not a concern in conventionally treated water, as noted by the EPA. Overall, 79% of cases of waterborne illnesses are caused by pathogens in untreated surface water, whereas bottled water accounts for only 0.2% of these cases, according to the CDC records from 2013-2014. The logic behind the “raw” water trend is bunk, but the danger is very real, especially since many companies urge their customers to look for their own rivers and springs to collect the water themselves. Microscopic dangers dwell in all natural

Design by: Lucero Barrantes Marin

t h e ‘R a w’ W a t e r - Christina Paraggio

bodies of water, and are largely invisible to the naked eye. Moreover, although visible, cyanobacterial colonies are often mistaken for algae, so the exposure to toxins still goes unseen. The only surefire way to avoid these afflictions is to stick with purified FDA and EPA approved water. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that a misrepresentation of science is deceiving the population. If this trend continues to gain momentum, it could approach the severity of the anti-vaccination movement initiated by Andrew Wakefield in 1998, who published a paper claiming to link vaccines and autism. His article was later retracted, as it was fraudulent and had no scientific backing, however, pockets of people across the world fell victim to the pseudoscience and began boycotting vaccinations. This past summer, Minnesota experienced its largest measles outbreak in 20 years, according to CNN, an outbreak blamed on the vocal anti-vaccine groups in the area. The uptick in recent years of measles, mumps, and other infectious diseases due to the vaccination resistance is causing a modern public health scare. Pseudoscience is dangerous, and just as the anti-vax groups pull away from the clinical norm of vaccinations, people are being lured away from pristine filtered water, in favor of purchasing “raw” water, or worse, visiting their own local springs and consuming the water they find without testing it. Public health must not be influenced by a fad- it concerns mass protection of the population. The “raw” water movement must be stopped at the source before anti-filtration movements jeopardize the water and sewage sanitation processes that have shaped public health in our country for over a century. Think before you drink; stay away from “raw” water.



Making the Most

of Your Meds

- John Tsatalis

ABDOMINAL PAIN, bloating, diarrhea,

constipation, heartburn, indigestion, chest pain, nausea, rash, shortness of breath, swelling of the face, troubled breathing, unusual bleeding and bruising, weakness, vomiting, weight gain, abdominal cramps, agitation, bleeding gums, blistering of the skin, bloody urine or stool, blurred vision, change in vision, coma, confusion, depression, dizziness, dry mouth, fatigue, racing heartbeat, fever, hair loss, headache, hives, increased blood pressure, muscle pain, loss of appetite, back pain, muscle twitching, nosebleeds, painful urination, seizures, wheezing, difficulty sleeping, sweating. These are only a few of the listed side effects…of Motrin. It seems every time we turn on the television we are bombarded by commercials for prescription drugs. Invariably, at the end of the commercial, the narrator recites a long list of side effects ranging from amusing and seemingly harmless to deadly and entirely too vague. While we largely consider these commercials to be a waste of our time, they also serve to underscore the normalization of drugs and medicine in our society. Sore or have cramps? Take a Motrin. Have a headache from too much studying? Grab some Tylenol. Can’t stop sneezing? Pop a Claritin. For the most part, modern drugs are terrific. They have transformed the way that we deal with illnesses and allow us to overcome and live with otherwise debilitating disease. But too often we fail to properly acknowledge—even underestimate—the dangers that accompany the powerful ingredients we ingest into our body.


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Complicating the side effects of these powerful agents are storage requirements, expiration dates, and drug interactions. Any one of these factors can cause disastrous changes to the functions of drugs in our bodies. For this reason it is paramount that we are conscious of how we handle our medication. Proper storage of medicine goes beyond the bathroom cabinet. Many medications have specific requirements printed on their labels: “keep refrigerated,” “keep out of warm or hot places,” “store in dry areas.” Ignoring these recommendations can result in medication expiring sooner than it would otherwise. As a general rule, cool, dry places such as a dresser or closet are the ideal place to store medicine (unless otherwise stated on the label). Another consideration is access. If you live with a young child or pet, it is important that medication is kept in a place where they are unable to obtain it. Proper disposal of drugs serves a two-fold benefit: it reduces the risk of consuming expired medication and avoids intentional misuse. Studies indicate that many abused prescription drugs are obtained from the medicine cabinet. Beyond intentional abuse, children and pets are liable to ingest drugs if they are kept in the home and not properly disposed of. Since 1979, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has included expiration dates on prescription and over-thecounter medication to help consumers determine if their product is still effective and safe to use. Unlike the carton of milk in your refrigerator, ignoring this expiration date for a prescription can be harmful to your health and even fatal. Over time, medications can become less effective, undergo chemical

Design by: Sandra Taboada

change, or grow bacteria. Antibiotics are susceptible to weakening; improper use of expired medication can result in antibiotic resistance and more serious illness. Acknowledging these reasons, it is apparent that unneeded medicine should be expeditiously disposed of. The DEA hosts an annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, and some communities have their own takeback programs that operate year round to remove unneeded and out-of-date drugs. Oftentimes, medicine labels will detail specific disposal instructions for certain medications that should be flushed down a toilet. These medications can be harmful or fatal if accidently taken. For other medications, the following federal guidelines should be observed to minimize the risk of medication being accidently consumed: 1. Mix medicines with an unpalatable substance such as dirt or coffee grounds 2. Seal the mixture in a plastic bag 3. Throw in household trash 4. Scratch out all personal information on the label of your empty pill bottle, then dispose of the container Drug interactions are a serious danger; they occur when a given drug reacts in an undesired way with something else, and fall into three categories: drug-drug, drug-food, and drug-condition. Any of these potentially harmful interactions can cause side effects, loss of drug effectiveness, or increased action of the drug. Typically, your physician or pharmacist will take the time to check that

prescriptions will not interfere with each other. Asking your physician to list any drugs or foods you should avoid when taking new medications is always a good idea. The number of potential drug-drug interactions is greater than the typical consumer can be expected to be aware of. Luckily, there are multiple reference databases online that the consumer can use to check for interactions. Entering basic google search for “drug interaction checker� will yield multiple reliable options. Drug-food interactions are similarly extensive, so being aware of some common interactions that occur can be useful. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages--despite what you told the doctor--while taking analgesics (aspirin or acetaminophen) causes faster alcohol consumption that can cause liver damage, combining alcohol with antihistamines has a sedative effect, and drinking while taking antibiotics can cause a slew of side effects (as well as a slower healing process). Grapefruit is another substance that can interfere with multiple medications, including those that lower cholesterol, manage blood pressure, and treat anxiety. Ultimately, the best course of action when taking any new medication is to first consult your physician and pharmacist, and then to check interactions online. Leveraging these databases can ensure your health and help avoid any unwanted side effects.




HE UNITED STATES is one of the richest nations in the world and has the largest government spending budget. With all of the resources that the United States possesses in medicinal advancements, it is not surprising to many that healthcare is the second largest sector of government spending. However, what is surprising to many people is that out of the $1.05 trillion spent in the healthcare industry, 20 percent is wasted. This wastage is particularly salient in the field of obstetrics, where hospitals often elect to performance unnecessary C-sections for monetary gain. The inflation of C-section rates beyond what is medically indicated is startling, research shows that “1 in 3 babies are delivered by Caesarean section (C-section), despite medical indications suggesting that C-section rates should be 15% at most.” The United States, however, has allowed a little bit of leeway room and has set the national target for C-section rates at 23.9 percent. Interestingly enough, in 2017, Consumer Reports conducted a study looking at over 1300 hospitals in the United States and their C-section rates. Over 56 percent of the U.S. hospitals in the study were over the national target rate of 23.9 percent. This shockingly high rate indicates that a huge improvement needs to be made nationally. C-sections are 30-50 percent more expensive than vaginal births, contributing to the increasingly high cost dedicated to obstetrics including pregnancy, childbirth, and newborn infant care. In addition to being more expensive, C-sections are a major surgical procedure that pose greater risks and complications to both the mother and baby when performed without a specific medical reason. C-sections should be the preferred method of delivery only in instances when a women cannot give birth vaginally because there are very little to no benefits in doing so. Research shows that increasing rates of C-sections has done little to lower infant mortality; the overuse C-section by hospitals is done purely for monetary gain, convenience, and insulation from liability by hospitals–at the risk exposing mother and child to unnecessary injury. Because a C-section can be performed within 45 minutes to two hours, most physicians prefer to

Out of the $1.05 trillion spent in the healthcare industry, 20 percent is wasted. perform a shorter procedure than a vaginal birth that can last up to 24 hours. Additionally, if there are instances where a hospital is understaffed or there are a large number of expectant mothers, a physician’s convenience can take priority over a woman’s preference. C-sections can also serve to protect hospitals from lawsuits. In order to avoid legal complications, many physicians maintain a belief that C-sections are a “safer choice” when any doubt about a vaginal birth arises. For this reason, physicians prefer to take precautionary measures so that in case a legal situation arises it is much easier to argue that they “did all they could’ when performing an alternative measure of a C-section as opposed to a regular vaginal birth. However, there are much too many instances in which physicians jump to the

Reducing the Rate of Unnecessary 32

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Design by: Caitlin Smith


conclusion of a C-section without carefully assessing the mother’s condition. C-sections are an extremely unsafe procedure to perform when there is no medical reason and although every case may not lead to extreme complications, C-sections result in longer recovery time, permanent scarring, and a 90 percent chance a woman will have to have another C-section to give birth again. In order to convince expectant mothers to comply with a C-section for the purposes of monetary gain, convenience, and insulation from liability by the hospital, physicians often utilize a number of coercion tactics. A common technique is a blanket consent form that is presented to the woman before admission into the hospital. This form usually states that a woman is required to have a C-section if at any point the physician thinks it is necessary. If she refuses to sign it, the doctor can refuse to admit her. Another technique physicians or hospital administration utilize is the threatening an expectant mother with a lawsuit or threatening her with Child Protective Services. Additionally, physicians can label a patient “non-compliant” if she denies a C-section against their suggestion. Moreover, the use of multiple doctors to “bully” a patient into having a C-section is another highly popular and effective method of coercion. Although there are many steps that women themselves can take to reduce the amount of unnecessary C-sections being performed, according to Dr. Doris Peter, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center, “reducing C-section risks for women is ultimately the responsibility of hospitals and providers”. It is in the hands of hospitals and physicians to ensure that they not only provide the best care to their patients, but also place their patient’s needs above their preference and convenience. The first step in achieving this goal is educating physicians, hospital administrators, and policy makers on the importance of reaching the target rate of 23.9 percent. It is important for people in a position of power to realize that they can use their resources to make changes for the better. Hospitals in the past have both internally and externally posted C-section rates for each physician, serving as

motivation for each physician to decrease his or her rate and keep them aware of their need to improve. In addition to being responsible for consistently updating C-section rates and data, hospital policy makers and physicians must establish limits and consequences to ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to decreasing C-section rates. The increase in C-section rates has not only become a problem medically, but it has also become a problem both legally and economically. The responsibility to decrease theses rates lie in the hands of physicians, hospital administrators, and hospital policymakers. Physicians must advocate for their patients and continually place the needs of patients above their own. Additionally, administrators and policymakers play an equally important role in this change to improve and should look towards other successful hospitals as examples. While it is very likely that it can take years or decades for the United States to reach the national target, change is definitely possible. With new practices being implemented, many hospitals in the United States have been able to lower their C-section rate. Thus, it is evident that with education, perseverance, and consistency, all hospitals have the power to lower their rate.

C-sections in the United States

- Alexandria Hawkins News


- Sonali Khiyani


ID YOU KNOW we have a garden on campus? Christina Villar, a junior majoring in Biology, has been a part of the university’s garden, fondly revered to as CommUnity Garden, since her freshman year. As treasurer of the club, she was eager to share and answer questions about this organization! Q: What is CommUnity Garden? What is the purpose of this club? A: CommUnity garden is a student organization on campus which aims to engage students from all areas of “the U” to develop sustainable, educational, and visually impressive gardens. This year we are incorporating shifts during the week where people can come and garden in their free time since everyone has their differences in class schedules. Q: What inspired you to join this organization? A: I'm a part of this club because I enjoy gardening as a hobby. My dad has quite the green thumb so I have a plethora of food bearing plants in my backyard at home. My grandpa back in the Philippines was a rice farmer so that may have contributed. Other members have joined for a variety of reasons such as an opportunity to learn how to garden, meet new people, and destress! Q: Who is involved? A: On orgsync we have 157 members, but roughly around 16 members actively help upkeep the garden. It's mostly undergraduate students involved, but other members of the UM community (graduate students and staff) can join in too! No gardening experience is needed, we will guide you through it.


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Design by: Melissa Huberman

Q: Where do you see this club going in five years? A: We plan on expanding the club, in terms of active members and adding new locations. Other innovations include hosting an annual garden day, collaborating with meditation gardens in the Lennar Health Center, and starting a sustainable gardening class for credit! Q: Where can I find the garden and what do you grow? A: The garden has two locations. One is located outside of the Hecht residential college, and the other is outside Mahoney Pearson Dining Hall. We grow dil, peppers, tomatoes, pineapple plant, kale, lettuce, brussel sprouts, as well as herbs like basil, thyme, and rosemary. Since it’s not a large scale garden right now, the CommUnity Garden members can harvest what they want if it’s ripe. At the end of the semester we utilize what we can and cook it for our banquet! Q: How can someone who is interested get involved? A: They can join our club via Orgsync or contact our club email if they have any questions at miamicommunitygarden@gmail.com!



Science Bowl THE SOUTH FLORIDA Regional Science

Bowl is a grassroots organization on the UM campus that is committed to giving high school and middle school students across the South Florida region the opportunity to compete in a trivia-style competition, with round robins in topics ranging from mathematics and biology to organic chemistry and earth sciences. Winners of the South Florida competition qualify to compete in the National Science Bowl (NSB) in Washington, D.C.. Sathvik Palakurthy, who is currently a junior at UM, founded the chapter at UM because having competed in National Science Bowl as a high school student, he wanted to bring the competition to the local Miami area to inspire students to become more involved in harnessing their passion for STEM. This year, the endless preparation by the NSB E-Board produced a very successful turnout on February 24th as 33 top-tier teams competed neck to neck for the grand prize of traveling in an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C. The enthusiasm and anxiety that each student exuded throughout the competition, specifically in the later rounds, was palpable as the audience of coordinators, parents, fellow teammates, and coaches grew larger and more tense by the minute. The University community was more than eager to host the students as more than 60 college student volunteers donated their Saturday to help out. Each round was coordinated by three of these volunteers: a moderator to read the questions and answer choices, a science judge to control the competition, and a timekeeper. The students were asked


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- Shravya Jasti

a series of questions in two eight minute rounds with a two minute break in between. The day was not simply about science, as the students enjoyed their break periods interacting with their peers and playing ultimate frisbee with students from other schools. To get a first-hand recounting of the competition, we asked Felipe Parodi, who is the regional coordinator and a junior at UM, about his experience running this year’s competition. He exclaimed, “The third annual South Florida High School Science Bowl ran like a well-oiled machine! These high school students train all-year long for this one-day competition and it’s inspiring to hear how appreciative they are towards the end of the day. This event wouldn’t have happened without the help of our executive board, our passionate college student leaders, and the coaches!” By encouraging students across the South Florida area to pursue their passions in science-related fields, the South Florida Regional Science Bowl is a club that is breaking barriers across the region by motivating high schoolers to engage, learn, and apply their scientific knowledge.

THE WINNING TEAM from American Heritage Plantation High School stand proudly along UM Regional Science Bowl Coordinators to celebrate their first place win at the regional competition and their bid to compete at the National Science Bowl in Washington D.C.

- Sonali Khiyani

ON THE MORNING of February 17th, young

scientists from 22 middle and high schools in Miami-Dade County came together to compete against each other at the University of Miami’s first regional Science Olympiad Tournament. This year’s Science Olympiad was nothing short of a success; from crime busters to building battery buggies, middle school and high school students had the opportunity to experience a full day of STEM like never before. Co-Chairs, Siri Choragudi and Ankit Shah, brought this event to the university due to the fact that they had participated in it throughout their own middle and high school years. They attribute this very event to their

STUDENTS MAKE LAST MINUTE changes to their mousetrap powered vehicle to ensure the axles will turn correctly. Building mousetrap vehicles tests the students ability to analyze and solve an engineering problem.

interest in science today. Science Olympiad is a non-profit organization with a purpose to spark a passion for STEM in students early on and have them experience science at the collegiate level. Teams, designated based on grade level, chose three events they were interested in and competed in them for awards. By providing recognition for achievement, students are motivated to excel in the events they are interested in. Examples of events include actual chemistry pre and post labs, allowing the pupils to be introduced to lab techniques that they may not have the chance to encounter in high school. This mock setting gives students an idea of what their future may hold if they pursue a career in science. Ivana Fegson from Everglades High School said,

“This event secured my decision to continue a profession in STEM.” Students competed in an array of subjects such as anatomy, chemistry, earth science, engineering, geology, genetics, and physics. Skills in critical thinking and teamwork were put to the test as these were needed to move forward and win the competition. Contests were in the form of written, oral, and practical exams along with integrated events. For example, in the “Write it, Do it” contest, one team wrote the directions of the experiment and the other team had to perform the experiment. By bridging the gap between communication and science, events like this are eliminating problems that are seen today in STEM. “The science we are doing is important, but it is also important to be able to communicate and articulate that science,” said event supervisor Anoop Desai. By holding events like this we are encouraging students to be excited for the future of STEM. The most exhilarating part of the event was the award ceremony. Students were sitting at the edge of their seats, anticipating the results, and became ecstatic when their team was called. In the words of event advisor Dr. Leslie Knecht “I felt like the students did a good job organizing it, and the kids got a lot out of it. It was invigorating to see so many students into science, and thinking outside the box.” As a community we, at the University of Miami, are glad to foster knowledge into the next generation of scientist and hope that this event can continue to be held at our university.

Design by: Sandra Taboada

Science Olympiad

STUDENTS COLLABORATE over exam questions meant to test their knowledge across an array of STEM topics.



United Against Inequities in Disease ESTABLISHED IN 2012, UAID has been very

involved with the University of Miami in events that raise awareness about health inequities within our community and globally. The club itself stands for United Against Inequities in Disease, although it is often mislabeled as United Against Infectious Diseases, a topic commonly discussed within the club. The club meets on Tuesdays to discuss various topics regarding substance abuse, different diseases, and long term effects on the climate like the sea level rise in high and low risk communities and more. These risks include possibilities of floods, which have major effects on poorly established communities. Since the club is young, many students on campus are more aware of the popular events known as World Aids Day, The Bone Marrow Registry and Upward Bound. Upward Bound, held most frequently, is a much more popular event that allows people outside of the club to unite for a day to raise awareness on topics like substance abuse, clean drinking water, flu and vaccines, and climate change in partnership with the Frost Science Museum. Within this program, UAID educates the middle-school students on the aforementioned topics, and due to recent natural disasters, the club’s focus in the climate change presentation addressed hurricanes Irma and Maria. This semester, the inequities in climate change section has shifted away from the storms and towards the club’s approach to addressing the people who are challenged with these potentially harmful weather patterns. One of the most recent Upward Bound events took place on February 10th of this year, when the UAID members came together at the Doubletree


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UPWARD BOUND is done in collaboration with the Frost Foundation to raise community awareness of public health matters including substance abuse, clean drinking water, and vaccination.

- Mahitha Kunamneni Grand Biscayne Bay Hotel to work with middleschool students in the math and science program. Of the four teams, one of them focused on climate change and those who are challenged in order to illuminate the students on the basics of climate change. R as well as the real life effects found in Miami were used in order to better connect with the students. The presentation began with a simple explanation of climate change which UAID defines as the distribution of weather patterns over an extended period of time and the change in weather over transient seasons as average temperatures increase, especially in the last century, which indicate a changing global climate that is warmer. The great part of Upward Bound is that they try and involve the adolescents in the presentation as much as possible, such as by asking the middleschoolers what they thought the causes of climate change were. Furthermore, the leaders explained how climate change affects an individual and can cause shocking trends like sea level rise, loss of commercial crops that drives up food prices, water scarcity, and warmer oceans that may lead to stronger hurricanes. Each consequence was thoroughly explained with real life examples that would hopefully catch listeners’ attention in order to really make an impact on the middle school students. In the past 20 years, sea level rise, due to thermal expansion, has increased 0.13 inches every year according to National Geographic. This thermal expansion has to come from somewhere, and UAID agrees that the expansion comes from the melting of glaciers and ice sheets. These sea level rises are having a huge impact on the city of Miami itself and can cause disasters such as beach floods.

be incorporated into our daily lives. Alternative choices used in the presentation by UAID include cutting red meat out of one’s diet, biking or utilizing public transportation, and doing something as menial as checking a carbon footprint calculator. These actions are crucial in order to restore the planet for everyone by at least 2050, so no one has to face the chocolate shortage horror.

Design by: Sandra Taboada

Some of the monospecies discussed in terms of loss of commercial crops were cacao, 21% of all fish species, coffee crop, and corn. The problem with cacao cultivation is that by 2050 89.5% of land used now to grow it will no longer be suitable, causing chocolate to become a rare delicacy that is not affordable for many. Though saying “goodbye” to the annual trick or treating on Halloween is hard to think about, equally alarming is the fact that of the 1,851 species of fish worldwide, 21% of them are now endangered species. This long list of consequences does not even begin to encompass the domino effect of ramifications that could occur around the world, and many of them will be felt in our backyard. One of the dangers that South Miami will have to endure is the advantage that pests will have in these warmer climates; with warmer temperatures pests such as mosquitos will be able to thrive and spread diseases like malaria, Zika, and encephalitis. All these diseases have the capability to fatally harm people of lower socioeconomic status who may not have access to fully enclosed spaces with air conditioning. Along with mosquitos, termite overpopulation in the Southeastern United States has been recorded as early as 2017, and in every region of America there are various statistics on the different types of bugs that have taken over due to atypical winter climates. There was an influx of invader populations in the Northeast, an increase in ant populations in both the Pacific Northwest and Midwest, and an increase in flying pest populations in the Southwest and West coast. Countless populations are at risk due to the warming of the planet, but UAID focuses on addressing the most vulnerable populations who are restricted due to factors like age or income level. Since inequity is in the title of UAID’s club name, much of the focus falls onto the different at-risk groups, in order to shed some light on the various gaps that separate these individuals from those who are less vulnerable to the increase in temperatures. A few of these populations include the elderly, disabled, immunocompromised, disenfranchised, and low-income persons as well as ethnic minorities. The negatives seem to outweigh any efforts that could be done to restore the planet even a little, but if more than a few sparse communities change their lifestyles, later generations will not have to face such a harsh future. There are many solutions that can

UAID MEMBERS take bucal swabs during a bone barrow registry drive in partnership with Gift Of Life.

Interested in getting involved ? Contact: Hannah Kenny, UAID president, @ H.kenny@miami.edu News


Alyssa Levy: The Yeast Researcher Who - Carolene Kurien Can’t Be Beat


YEAST LAB?” I ask as I look at Alyssa Levy, whose neon pink workout tank reflects the late afternoon sun that streams from the trees in the Knight Physics Courtyard. We both laugh as she says “Yes, I’m in a yeast lab, that’s what it’s called—technically it’s a microbio lab, which is the nicer word for it. It actually started with the HHMI PRISM labs freshman year.” “No way.” “Yeah! I’ll go from the beginning, so everything makes sense. There were two parts to the HHMI lab. In the first part of the lab we dealt with yeast— Saccharomyces cerevisiae was the species—and we learned how to transform it, how to manipulate it, and how to observe its growth—basic stuff. In the second part of the lab, we had to somehow apply the use of microfluidic devices with yeast.” “What exactly are microfluidic devices, and what is the point in using them?” “Microfluidic devices are devices that contain channels where fluids can flow or be confined. Our experiment consisted of making paper channels where we can grow our yeast—think of a bunch of bowling alleys printed onto paper. These channels allow you to place multiple environments in one channel—which usually takes robots to do at the micro-level—or compete different strains within the same channel. It’s all about forcing the yeast to grow however you want. Since these are literally channels on paper, you can print whatever design you want. We are showing that you can use paper as opposed to plates to grow yeast. We aren’t necessarily trying to find out anything new about yeast itself; we are trying to prove that this method of using paper channels to grow yeast actually works.” “Okay, so what is so revolutionary about this method?” “It’s all about high throughput. High throughput means you can test a lot of strains at the same time in an efficient way. When I was doing traditional assays to compare their efficiency with the paper channels, I had to use 30 plates and a spectrophotometer to analyze the yeast. But with the paper channel method, I tape the paper channels


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into used pipet boxes, grow my yeast, and re-use the boxes for the next test. So in comparison to the traditional method, my method is cost efficient, its high throughput—I only need four boxes for the equivalent of 30 plates—and instead of using the very expensive spectrophotometer for analysis, I use my phone to take pictures of the samples and analyze the pictures on Photoshop. It’s a faster, more economic, and more environmentally friendly method of growing yeast that works just as well as the traditional method.” “In saying all this, you’ve already found that this method works, right? “Yeah so we’re finishing up the project as we speak; I’m actually writing up the paper right now. The whole point of the paper is to explain how we optimized these channels for the experiment and how other researchers could optimize their own designs for their specific experimental purposes.” “Does this method only work on yeast?” “No; part of our paper is to show that you can use different species. We used two different strains of immobile yeast and we also used motile E. coli. By using two different species that grow in two different ways, we showed that there are a lot of possibilities for microbe growth using the paper channel method.” “So walk me through the process of how you actually make these paper channels.” “First, we print the channels with the wax printer, which is just a regular printer. That’s another thing— since this is just a regular printer, you could buy it for any lab to use whenever you need it. We then melt these channels onto the paper using any hot plate or oven so that the ink bleeds through and covers the whole span of the paper and is uniform on both sides. After that, we use clear nail polish to paint in-between each channel on one side of the paper. Since the agar—our growth medium—is hydrophilic and the paper absorbs water, the hydrophobic nail polish and melted wax outlines create boundaries for our agar-based environments. We then sterilize this entire system by taping the paper channels into the pipet boxes and placing the boxes into the

Design by: Samantha Mosle

autoclave. Our setup allows for eight different channels in one box, which is another way this method is more efficient. In the traditional plate method, one plate only contains one trial.” Being the visual person that I am, I had to ask: “You don’t happen to have a picture, do you?” “I do; I think I actually have more pictures of yeast on my phone than people.” “That’s a great pickup line”, I joke as Alyssa scrolls through her phone. When she finally lands on a picture, she tilts her head and admires it, saying: “This is a pretty picture, wow”. She immediately looks at me with her large hazel eyes and we both laugh on cue at the sheer hilarity of her statement. Secretly though, I am admiring her obvious dedication to the project and her tangible ingenuity—Alyssa Levy is going places. “So, do you think other people can use this method?” “Yeah, that’s what I love about this project; there’s so much applicability. What I think is most interesting about this is the creation of different environments in each channel. When you pour an agar plate, it’s hard to make half the plate one environment and half the plate another, but with these channels you could theoretically have multiple different environments and see them all. Even though this isn’t necessarily revolutionizing anything, it is more efficient to use than a typical agar plate assay.” “Earlier you had mentioned to me that at first you wanted to go to law school but then you decided on medical school for the same exact reason—to

ALYSSA LEVY, center, dissolves sucrose in LB broth prior to setting up a paper channel based E. coli motility assay. The results of this assay will be compared to E. Coli grown using a traditional petri-dish based approach to detect differences in growth sensitivity between the two methods.

be around and help people. How do you think—or rather, do you think working in this lab has helped you with your future goals?” “Well I realized a lot about myself and a lot about research—it’s a mental marathon. I came in with this mentality that I would start this project and I would be in and out in six months and everything would be okay…” We both burst into laughter, recognizing the naivete of her freshman self. “A year later…” “Yeah”, she says, still chuckling. “A year later, we’re finishing. I also learned that people need a humbling experience. This was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. You know, you come in as a freshman and you think you’re all that; you think you know everything. On my first day with this lab I remember sitting there, working for four hours, only for a grad student to come to me and basically say “What the hell are you doing, you did this all wrong”. I wanted to get out of the lab at that point and just start crying; it was so humiliating. But as I look back, I’m thankful that happened. I go into every class and every lab now with the mentality that there are more things I don’t know than I do know. I don’t know all the answers and I’m happy to admit that I don’t know it—I think it’s liberating to be able to say that. Pretty deep stuff from yeast.”

Research Profile


Agustin Tavares: Swimming Into - Sofia Mohammad

NEXT GENERATION genome-sequencing has

uncovered thousands upon thousands of genetic mutations, across thousands of individuals suffering from neurological diseases. These mutations may influence human behavior and cause disease states in the brain. For any type of genetic disorder, mutations in an array of genes can affect behavior, yet how these disparate mutations converge on similar behavioral phenotypes remains largely unknown. This is especially true for autism spectrum disorder, a complex neurobehavioral condition that includes impairments in social interaction, developmental language, and communication skills combined with rigid, repetitive behaviors. Agustin Tavares, an undergraduate student at the University of Miami, is passionate about studying the genetic basis of autism to gain greater insight into how genetic mutations can result in behavioral changes. He began conducting research in a research lab with Julia Dallman, PhD., and Robert Kozol, a graduate student in the lab, because he felt inspired to learn more about the neurobehavioral aspects of the disease based on his prior exposure to children with autism. Tavares grew up in Manhattan, New York for the earlier part of his life, which he found to be an “immensely diverse community, like South Florida.” He remembers the strong presence of a thriving Dominican community in his area, and he gained a lot of cultural competence through his exposure to so much diversity from such an early age. “Coming to Miami was a way for me to continue my exposure to diverse cultures and people,” Tavares says. Throughout much of his adolescence, Tavares remembers developing a keen interest in science through TV shows like the Magic School Bus and Bill Nye. He built upon his passion for science through his parents’ work, who are both physicians that conducted research in New York City. “My mom did research on dementia at Columbia University and my dad did research on heart disease and depression at New York Presbyterian Hospital. It is a bit funny that I pursued research in neurological conditions just like they did; I was unaware that they even did these research projects until recently. It just shows that I’m their son” Tavares was not initially very keen about delving into research, but with encouragement and guidance from his parents and teachers, he ultimately


War & Wildlife

developed a deep passion for learning about the sophisticated genetic mechanisms and mutations that underpin disease. Tavares’s experiences with conducting research ignited the flame of curiosity within him at a young age, and this innate curiosity for science remains with him to this day. In the lab, Tavares works directly with zebrafish, a model organism, to generate zebrafish models of inherited human behavioral disorders to understand how mutations impact neural circuit development and behavior. Tavares’s research project involves conducting genetic engineering in zebrafish by knocking out the SHANK3 gene and analyzing the behavioral effects in comparison to zebrafish that contain a functional copy of SHANK3 (wild type). A missing or defective SHANK3 gene disrupts communication between neurons and is associated with repetitive behaviors, avoidance of social interaction, anxiety, and difficulty with motor coordination. After Tavares and his research mentor Robert Kozol knocked out the SHANK3 gene, they both worked to film the zebrafish throughout each of their developmental cycles to analyze the behavioral differences between zebrafish with an intact copy of the SHANK3 gene and those that lacked the functional copy. This process required filming the fish for several hours each day and subsequently mapping their behavior to uncover observed patterns and variations among the varying fish populations. Tavares stated that patience is key to conducting this type of research; he and his research mentors had to film the fish for several hours each day. He even recounts an instance where the lens was out of focus and they had to start the filming process over. The central focus of Dr. Dallman’s lab is investigating multiple genetic causes of a single disorder in model organisms like zebrafish to elucidate the shared mechanisms by which different mutations affect behavior. The lab’s long-term goal is to map out the precise neural circuits linked to SHANK3 behavior, from the organismal to the cellular and molecular level. These models could eventually be used translationally to inform treatment strategies for individuals with inherited disorders of the nervous system. Outside of the lab, Tavares is passionate about pursuing creative writing as an outlet for

expression amid his busy research schedule. “I’m so passionate about creative writing that I made it my second major. It could be anything, from fiction to poetry to song lyrics; I just get immersed in the meaning and emotion that can be found behind every word. The process of creating my own writing is what I love the most; my room and computer are filled with countless pages of my ideas, my characters, my fictional worlds that sprung from my mind,” says Tavares. He feels that it is essential for students to establish a balance between their academic interests and their non-academic interests because it is a way for them to learn to express their feelings. “Funnily enough, the aspect of creating new characters and telling their stories makes me a better researcher. I create new characters and stories outside of the lab just like I work to create new knowledge while I’m in the lab”, says Tavares. Working in a research lab has given Tavares the exposure to genetics research that he feels will serve him well throughout both his undergraduate career and his future profession. Tavares plans to attend graduate school in the future in pursuit of a PhD in Neuroscience, and he strongly believes that his experiences in his current lab are helping him gain the skills he needs to be successful in his field. “Even though I don’t know exactly what I want to research in the future, the foundational skills I’ve learned in the lab like genetic engineering, bioinformatics, PCR, and gel electrophoresis will definitely be useful in what I hope to study as I work towards my PhD.” Tavares’s advice to other undergraduates who are seeking to pursue research is to not be afraid to seek out research opportunities with professors whose area of study matches their interest. “My first research experience was in a lab studying the genetics of leukemia, and though the topic was interesting, I didn’t feel that the lab was the best fit for me in terms of my research interests. This often happens in research, and I think that other undergrads should be proactive in using resources like the Undergraduate Research Office to find the lab and the principle investigator (PI) that they can get the most wholesome learning experience out of. I am so happy that I found the lab that best suited my interests, and I encourage other students to do the same.” Tavares strongly encourages students to find

a project that they are passionate about pursuing, because he believes that a research experience is only complete when the student is motivated to commit 6-10 hours per week, not to fulfill research requirements for medical school or PhD programs, but to satisfy their innate curiosity about the subject they are studying. Tavares believes that research is a highly rewarding experience for any student’s undergraduate career, and he encourages students from all disciplines to pursue it to get practical learning experiences beyond the classroom.

Design by: Samantha Mosle

o The Deep End of Autism Research

AUGUSTIN TAVARES, right, inspects his equipment prior to pouring an agarose gel to analyze the results of a PCR. Augustin hopes that his early training in these essential molecular biology techniques will prepare him well for a PhD program.



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