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Issue 12

February 2019

CONSUMPTION


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2 | Consumption


Cover Illustration: Sandy Taboada

Health

SCOBY-Doo, What Are You?..........12 Is Butter a Carb?..................................14 Cracking Down on Diet Coke.........16

News

Sixth Mass Extinction......................18 The Siren’s Dirge................................20 Echo........................................................21 Laser-Focused Physicists.................22

Research

Checkmate, Chromosomes.............27 Ready_Patient_One...........................28 Beer Chemistry...................................30 CADRE to Cure Alzheimers..........32 The Human Race................................34 0.1 Percent............................................36

Profiles

Regenerating Interest in Spinal Cord Injuries........................................37 Vibing with Biophysics....................41

!

Contents

Ethics

Where’s the... Beef?..............................6 Running While Trans.........................8 Worth the Wait?.................................10

fFeatured Story Where's the... Beef ? In this issue’s feature, Where’s the...Beef? (p. 6), Austin Berger discusses the historical side of cannibalism and delves deeper into its ethical ramifications in order to investigate how it may be used the future. 3


My involvement with Scientifica Magazine has been the greatest privilege of my college career. In reflecting on my role, I am most proud to have helped others to realize their creative visions and transmit their passion for science to a larger audience. I am humbled to have worked with an incredibly talented team; a team whose extraordinary passion and capability inspired me to always reach for greater heights. I’ve learned the immense value of listening over speaking in tapping into collective wisdom, and how cultivating an environment of diversity

of background and thought sows the seeds of profound innovation. I am pleased to welcome Anuj Shah to the rostrum as Editor-in-Chief. Anuj has not only proven himself a brilliant writer, but also a natural leader. I have no doubt that Scientifica will continue to grow and prosper under his guidance.

Every living creature is a consumer - the process begins early in development and continues throughout life. In nature, there is a natural order which keeps the world in check. Mankind has no competitor other than itself. The purpose of this issue of Scientifica is to highlight the plight of humans. You consume the information in this issue, the food that vitalizes your life and the energy that powers your daily commute, all of which are resources at your disposal. It is up to us as individuals to decide what, how much and when we consume. In the pages that follow, we tackle a few issues relating to the harm that we can do to ourselves, each other and the environment. As our world’s population increases so too does the level of our consumption.

A great amount of resources on our planet are being used up at an alarming rate which leads us to ask, “how much longer will our planet support us?” Please enjoy our first issue of the New Year. It is with a heavy heart that I recognize Pantea Azizi Tourshizi, a fellow Scientifica member, writer and Microbiology and Immunology major. Pantea passed away during the fall semester while on Thanksgiving break and will be missed by all that knew her.

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Steven H Lang B.S./M.D., Class of 2023 Editor-in-Chief Scientifica Magazine

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

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, Dept. of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Chief of Pathology, Jackson Memorial Hospital Director, Dr. Jonn T. 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 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 Director of the Writing Center 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 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 2019 Steven Lang.............................. Editor-in-Chief Anuj Shah................................. CORE Associates Shravya Jasti............................. CORE Associates Nimesh Nagururu.................. Managing Editor Devi Nallakumar.................... Managing Editor Sandy Taboada........................ Design Director Parv Gondalia.......................... Copy Chief Leila Thompson...................... Art Director Fabiana De Luca..................... Director of Photography Joshua Zahner.......................... Webmaster Corey Fehlberg........................ Distribution Manager Wil Harris................................ Creative Writing Ryan Steinberg........................ Business Manager 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

Carolina Mallar........................ Copy Editor Nikhil Rajulapati..................... Copy Editor Giovanna Harrell.................... Copy Editor Avi Botwinick........................... Copy Editor Sean Walson.............................. Copy Editor Gaurav Gupta........................... Copy Editor Mateo Cardonas...................... Photographer Diana Matei.............................. Photographer Jill Weiss.................................... Associate Web Developer

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

Trevor Birenbaum............. Ethics Siena Vadakal...................... News Alexandria Hawkins......... Research Carolina Mallar................ Health Carolene Kurien................. Profiles Caitlin Smith...................... Designer Aaron Dyxhoorn............... Designer David Lanster...................... Designer Samantha Mosle................. Designer Austin Berger........................ Writer Robert Shore.......................... Writer Ka Lam Nguyen.................... Writer Natalia Pluta.......................... Writer Stefanie Suarez..................... Writer Anjou Sharma....................... Writer Gabi Lee.................................. Writer Greeshma Venigalla............ Writer Michel Wakim...................... Writer Vince Sferra........................... Writer Kimberley Rose.................... Writer Mahitha Kunamneni......... Writer Lucero Barrantes................. Writer Amirah Rashed..................... Writer Kathryn Gerlach.................. Writer Adam Arbiser....................... Writer Christina Paraggio.............. Writer Akshata Gunda..................... Writer Aaron Chait........................... Writer Sammy Roberts.................... Writer Grant de la Vasselais........... Writer Marc Levine........................... Writer

Steven H. Lang

5


A

NCESTRAL HUMANS BEGAN CONSUMING animal meat around 2.5 million years ago, at about the same time as the emergence of the Homo genus. They found the calorie-dense flesh of an animal more satiating than the plant food available at the time (sorry, vegans). If eating meat from an another species seems so normal to modern humans, why is there a taboo against cannibalism, eating one’s own species? In the animal kingdom, cannibalism is surprisingly common. Animals cannibalize in a form of natural selection, or “survival of the fittest,” to increase the species’ overall strength and ensure the species’ reproductive success. Incidentally, this action is not restricted to a certain animal, but rather it emerges in different types for different rationals. For example, Bill Schutt describes cannibalism in the Spadefoot Toad in his TED-Ed Talk “Cannibalism in the animal kingdom.” They begin their lives as tadpoles in quickly evaporating puddles across the deserts of the southwest United States and, consequently, their existence is short unless they can quickly adapt into a terrestrial being. In response to this dilemma, they eat their pond-mates (other tadpoles) to grow quicker and move to the land. This is not because of starvation, but rather a reduction in competition to increase their personal fitness. Humanity, in contrast to the animal world, adds complexity to the “simple” cannibalistic behavior of animals. “The act of putting human meat into a human’s mouth” doesn’t have one commonly known overarching word, so I will refer to this behavior as homophagy (thanks to Robert Gay on urbandictionary). There are two categories of homophagy, cannibalism and anthropophagy, each with their own motive (as stressed by etymologists). Alimentarium.org describes cannibalism as “[the consumption of human flesh] practiced in groups and is considered a ritual and social institution.” It is not done for survival or natural selection (like in the animal kingdom)

6 | Consumption

- Austin Berger and is considered both “more civilized” and an expression of culture. Dubbed “learned cannibalism,” it is further split into two categories: endocannibalism and exocannibalism. The former refers to consuming the flesh of a human in one’s own community, done to keep a deceased individual’s spirit alive, and is usually performed by relatives; endocannibalism is also referred to as “funerary” or “ritual” cannibalism for this reason. Tribes, such as the Fore people of Papua New Guinea, historically performed endocannibalism as acts of respect for the deceased. Exocannibalism, contrarily, is consuming someone of another group or culture (such as an enemy) in an act of revenge to gain qualities from the deceased or to commit one final act of desecration against them; exocannibalism was especially done to the most virtuous individuals to absorb their powers. Anthropophagy, in contrast to cannibalism, is the consumption of human flesh not for an intrinsic reason or value, but rather for survival or by choice of the consumer. Homophagy is not a behavior restricted to one time period either; Homo antecessor, an ancestral species to Homo sapien, lived around one million years ago. An anthropology research team that studied food remains, stone tools, and other finds led by Eudald Carbonell found that these ancient people treated human flesh as nothing more than another meal, rather than part of ritual or culture. Groups of “predators” hunted “prey” and coincidentally both groups were of the same species. Early Homo sapiens performed anthropophagy similarly, although the rise of tribes and a more discrete social ladder added the element of political gain. After this point, most civilizations stressed homophagy as the ultimate taboo, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Modern homophagy by people considered “more civilized” is most prevalently done for survival against starvation. Jamestown, Virginia, the original American colony, was swept with a horrible winter in late 1609, affectionately named the “Starving Time.” This


Design by: Samantha Mosle Title Graphic by: Leila Thompson

season resulted in the loss of 80-90% of the colony’s manslaughter, murder, or disturbing the dead. inhabitants and at least one case of anthropophagy: a 14 Is there a way that homophagy can be done ethically year old girl. Archeologists found “Jane” with markings and legally? Anecdotal evidence says yes. A Reddit user, on her skeleton that resembled chops and cuts. Similar to IncrediblyShinyShart, suffered a motorcycle accident this, in the winter of 1972, Uruguayan Air Force Flight that shattered his foot bones past repair. Essentially, he 571 crashed in the Andes mountains, killing 17 of the 45 was carrying dead weight, so he elected to have his foot people aboard. The cold weather preserved the deceased amputated. Since it was his own body part, he was able to and the surviving victims turned to anthropophagy obtain his dismembered foot from the hospital, which when food ran scarce. This act saved 16 passengers from he and 10 of his close friends ate in foot tacos. While this the original flight 72 days later. is far from the norm for homophagy, no one committed Now, it may seem like I’ve described homophagy a crime, as consumption of human meat is not illegal. So, as a natural part of human life and survival, but there a legal and ethical meal was made out of one man’s foot are a few choice problems with it, namely prions and and a case of (morbid) curiosity. legality. Prions are proteins that naturally occur in the The future of homophagy as a food source is, in a human brain that can misfold (turning them from word, grim. Dr. James Cole says that a human corpse only form PrPC to PrPSc). When ingested, PrPSc prions cause contains ~32,000 calories of muscle tissue (for a ~150 the misfolding of other neighboring prion proteins. lb human). For comparison, a deer contains ~163,000 In short, they can be transmitted to the cannibal and calories of useable meat. At a gross general average of degenerate the brain by killing neurons, creating human diet, a human equates to around 16 days of food a holey “swiss cheese” effect. Evidence for this can if you were to eat nothing but human meat and were able be found in the aforementioned Fore population; to gain every viable calorie. In short, don’t go looking for endocannibalism in the tribe declined sharply because human flesh in the farmer’s market anytime soon. of the neurodegenerative disease kuru, which can have So, this discussion of homophagy has yielded no symptoms for up to 40 years, but when symptoms much about the rich history and modern usage of the do arise, they are severe and always result consumption of human flesh. From the in death (no treatments exist). ancient people to modern ones, Homophagy is illegal in most homophagy has evolved Cuts of Man countries, not because from the norm to a small specific laws outlaw it, minority, yet it is still a but rather because topic that fascinates Brain Stew Stew Meat there is rarely a and horrifies the Meat Shank Shank feasible way of human mind. I Boneless Boneless Neck obtaining human leave you with Foreshank Shoulder Shoulder Foreshank Stew Meat Stew Meat Shank Shank meat without this question: Chuck Chuck incurring would you criminal be willing to Ribs Ribs Short Plate charges try ethically such as sourced Flank human Tip Roast meat? Round

Round

Round Steak

Round Steak Round Steak

Heel-of-round

Heel-of-round Heel-of-round

Stew Meat

Stew Meat Stew Meat

Ethics | 7


Running A

the elimination of transgender athletes in high school competition because their participation violates a right to fair competition. As a society, this desire for a level playing field comes from valuing the concept of justice as a moral principle that should be enforced by rules and laws. Justice, in this case, is defined as the process by which fairness is delivered, and from which our natural rights are derived. So how exactly does Andraya violate this societal right to fair competition? The answer comes down to a small, naturally occurring compound called testosterone. This hormone is responsible for male development of secondary sex characteristics and is present in larger quantities in the male body than the

While

NDRAYA YEARWOOD IS A sixteen-yearold girl from Cromwell, Connecticut. She is soft spoken, with long braids and a gentle smile. She is also transgender, meaning Andraya was born biologically male but identifies with the female sex. She began hormone therapy in June of 2018, and has fully transitioned her name, gender presentation, and pronouns. In 2017, Andraya competed in the 100- and 200yard dash at the Connecticut State Track and Field Championship and came in first for both events. Andraya was eligible to compete under rules put forth by the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), which enables student athletes to compete under whichever gender they self-identify with. This rule was put in place in order to prohibit discrimination based on gender identity or expression following the expansion of Title IX regulations. Despite Andraya’s eligibility under established policy, some of her competitors and members of the community have taken issue with her participation in female track events. They claim Andraya has an unfair advantage. As of May of 2018, two separate petitions were circulating and garnering support for

Trans -Stefanie Suarez

8 | Consumption


On the other side of the issue, advocates for transgender rights and inclusion have argued that exclusionary rules are demeaning and discriminatory. They advocate that transgender girls are girls and should be treated as such, not as boys masquerading as girls. The CIAC has policies in place which require a transgender athlete to update his/her paperwork to reflect proper identity and mandates that school officials confirm the student’s gender expression to prevent the individual from cheating the system to gain an unfair advantage. Pro-trans advocates argue that transgender girls lose more by not being allowed to participate than cisgender girls do from losing to trans athletes. This

view is based upon the higher levels of depression, suicide, homelessness, substance abuse, and school pushout that transgender youth experience. According to The National Center for Transgender Equality, trans youth are 75% more likely to feel unsafe at school, and individuals who push through this fear are more likely to have significantly lower GPAs. Familial and community support can counteract the effects of bullying and bias that transgender youth will experience. By the same token, participation in an athletic team can lead to higher self-esteem, social support, and general health status. Supporters of transgender participation believe that if the state limits or excludes them from competition, there could be a violation of anti-discrimination laws and a disrespect of students’ core identities. They also believe the improved outcome of the lives of transgender athletes to be more important than a perceived inequity in the playing field. Although opinions appear polarized, policies do exist that resolve the conflict between honoring a person’s biology or humanity. For example, the International Olympic Committee has implemented a rule that allows for transgender athletes to compete in their self-identifying sex category after undergoing one year of hormone therapy; data shows athletic performance decreases after a period of testosterone suppression. However, it is not typical for doctors to prescribe hormones for adolescents under sixteen, leaving Connecticut with the challenge of consolidating all perspectives into a viable high school policy. The CIAC must determine how it chooses to view and understand the nuances of transgender youth.

Design by: Caitlin Smith

female’s. Testosterone is also responsible for maintaining and increasing muscle mass and bone density in male, female and intersex bodies. The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported a study that found cisgender females with higher levels of naturally occurring testosterone possessed a “significant competitive edge” over women with lower levels. This study reinforces what the scientific community accepts about testosterone and its link to decreased fat mass, increased muscular power and aerobic endurance. Therefore, we can come to the conclusion that, being born biologically male, Andraya has a physiological advantage in competitive sporting events due to her higher levels of testosterone.

Ethics | 9


Worth The Wait?

N

OW MORE THAN EVER, all forms of multimedia promote and almost glorify underage drinking, smoking, and use of illicit drugs. The significant amount of partying at most colleges is already known, but its prominence is evident even in most high schools. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use & Health Indicators (NSDUH), which is directed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), supports this prevalence. SAMHSA is an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that has been collecting data on these activities amongst different age groups since 2002 and underscores the considerable trend. According to their latest published survey from 2016, 855,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 smoked cigarettes in the last month. Of those, 129,000 reported to smoking cigarettes every day in the last month. 2.3 million adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 reported using alcohol in the last month. 1.2 million of those considered themselves binge drinkers, which is drinking approximately 5 or more days out of 30. 191,000 of these reported that they were currently heavy drinkers. If we add 18 to 20 year olds to those, almost a quarter of our country’s adolescents are drinking illegally. Despite these stats, all 50 states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit possession of alcohol by anyone under 21 years of age. Then there’s illicit drug use, which includes use of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Approximately 2 million

10 | Consumption

- Robert Shore

adolescents ages 12 to 17 reported that they are current users of some type of illicit drug. In fact, the National Survey on Drug Use & Health Indicators specifies the amount that each drug is used for this age group. In addition, the National Institute of Drug Abuse also conducts a national survey called Monitoring the Future. This data is gathered at the University of Michigan and their most recent results from 2017 found similar results to the NSDUH, warning that there has been a slight uptick in the rates of marijuana and vaporizer use among high school seniors in the United States. Vaporizers are devices that can heat a particular substance, like nicotine or cannabis, into a mist that is then puffed or inhaled. The survey revealed that 27.8 percent of high school seniors reported “vaping” in the past year. It would appear that our country’s high schools and colleges are definitely party places. Unfortunately, with


Design by: Aaron Dyxhoorn

Bartsch, et al. 2014). The study showed that heavy underage drinkers had reduced volume in three brain regions (rostral anterior cingulate, left cingulate, and pars triangularis) compared to non-drinkers, and the gaps between the two groups widened over the next 3 years as the underage drinkers showed greater volume reductions. The surface area of the anterior cingulate is associated with executive control, including inhibitory functioning, attention, impulsivity, and self-regulation. In other words, the drinkers lost a lot of their ability to plan ahead, make good decisions, and force themselves to study when they would rather be partying. Perhaps most startling of all is recent research on the potential interplay of genetics with illegal substance use.

Photography by: Fabiana De Luca

the large amount of partying and drug use seen in high schools and colleges, there is substantial data that reveal the devastating and sometimes fatal consequences of using these substances. If we just look at the high school dropout crowd, almost all of them reported significantly higher use in all categories and more than double in some. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that alcohol use plays a substantial role in all three of the leading causes of death among youth—unintentional injuries (including motor vehicle fatalities and drownings), suicides, and homicides. Youth who begin drinking before the age of 14 have 5 times greater odds of being injured while under the influence of alcohol, 6.3 times greater odds of ever being in a motor vehicle crash, and 6 times greater odds of ever being in a fight as compared to youth who begin drinking after the age of 21. Youth who drink heavily have 23.6 times greater odds of intentionally injuring themselves, and young drinkers and binge drinkers are more likely than non-drinkers to contemplate or attempt suicide. Most of this information is not really new. Our students have had plenty of reasons to abstain from underage use of all of these substances throughout most of our lives. But now there is a different reason that may make it worth the wait. Researchers from the University of San Diego, University of Southern California, and Yale University School of Medicine conducted a longitudinal study of 40 healthy adolescents, ages 12 through 17, half of whom initiated heavy drinking over the 3-year follow-up from the start of the study (Squeglia, Rinker,

It is widely thought today that some addictions are genetic. While the prior study looked at alcohol use, this one, published in JAMA Psychiatry, investigated persistent smoking and nicotine dependence (Belsky, Moffitt, Baker, et al. 2013). Researchers looked at evidence from a database with 1,037 men and women over almost forty years. Indeed, as we might guess, they found that people who are genetically at risk of becoming heavy smokers, if exposed to cigarettes (or today, vaping) as teenagers, progressed more rapidly to full-fledged heavy smoking. But here is an unexpected and highly encouraging finding. If the adolescents who were genetically more prone to become heavy smokers were not actually exposed to nicotine until after adolescence (midtwenties), they were not more likely to become heavy smokers than others who were not genetically prone to smoking to begin with. This, my fellow Hurricanes, is an important finding. If we could all hold off on our partying until our brains have matured, we may be able to avoid the greater risk of dependence on these highly addictive substances and all of the heartache that accompanies them.

Ethics | 11


SCOBY-DOO! What Are You? -Ka Lam Nguyen

“K

OMBUCHA,” THE ONCE HOMEBREWED probiotic tea, is now commercialized and found in virtually all major supermarkets across the US. In recent years, health fanatics can now enjoy their beloved, purportedly “healthy,” Kombucha beverages in a variety of flavors from Pink Cherry Apple, Pomegranate, Power Greens, to many other questionable tastes like chili mango tea. Really, the possibilities for flavors are endless. If you go to Publix, or Whole Foods supermarkets, you will almost always be able to find Kombucha tea from brewers. If you don’t know what I am talking about, consider searching for information on the Internet, or asking advice from your “health-crazed” friends.

What is Kombucha? Kombucha is a probiotic tea made from the infusion of black tea leaves by the fermentation of sucrose by a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) in the process of glycolysis. It is sometimes mistakenly believed to be a traditional Russian tea, but in fact, the Kombucha tea originated in Manchuria during the Qin Dynasty, China in 220 B.C. In 414 A.D., Japanese physician Kombu brought the “tea fungus,” made from a SCOBY, to Japan, and used it to make medicinal tea, or “cha,” for the Emperor’s digestive problems. As trade routes blossomed, the tea made its way first into Russia as “Kambucha” and then later appeared in Germany as Kombuchaschwamm. The recognized word Kombucha today came from the Germanized form of the Japanese physician’s name (“Kombu”) and the Chinese word for tea (“cha”).

12 | Consumption


Kombucha tea is made by placing a “tea fungus” in a black tea broth for fermentation. Often, the sugar sucrose (table sugar) is used as the substrate for fermentation. The amount of tea, sugar, and “tea fungus” can vary by recipe, but usually the fermentation jar is kept at 18 to 26°C for optimal fermentation. Previously brewed tea is often added to a new batch to lower the pH in order to prevent unwanted organisms. The yeast in the SCOBY will ferment the sucrose into ethanol and carbon dioxide gas, forming gas bubbles within the tea. The bacteria in the SCOBY will then convert the ethanol into acetic acid, which gives Kombucha a distinctive bubbly but vinegar-like taste. The level of sourness is time-dependent. After the fermentation period, the tea is filtered and kept at 4°C (refrigerated temperature) for future consumption.

Chemically, most Kombucha beverages sampled by scientists around the world contained various organic acids (e.g., acetic, gluconic, glucuronic, citric, L-lactic, malic, tartaric, malonic, oxalic, succinic, pyruvic), sugars (e.g., sucrose, glucose, and fructose), vitamins (e.g., B1, B2, B6, B12 and C), amino acids, proteins, lipids and tea polyphenols.

Some species that we drink... Despite its name, “tea fungus” isn’t actually a fungus but made from a SCOBY’s ability to synthesize a floating cellulose network on the broth, which looks like mold to the naked eye. Microbial communities vary depending on the kombucha SCOBY used, but the most abundant bacteria found belong to the genera Acetobacter and Gluconobacter. In addition to bacteria, there are many yeast species of different genera, e.g., Saccharomyces, Saccharomycodes, Candida, and Mycoderma. Notably, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also known as brewer’s yeast, is the primary organism for making beer and bread.

Are there any health benefits? Well, I have to say sorry to health-conscious readers that, at the moment, there is no scientific evidence which shows that Kombucha is beneficial to human health. Most claims that Kombucha is “the ultimate health drink” come from tea drinkers’ testimonies. Although it probably doesn’t “detoxify your liver,” or treat “cancer,” like many questionable websites have claimed, many studies have shown that Kombucha has some antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Other studies have also shown that while there are cases of acute allergic reactions due to consumption of Kombucha, Kombucha tea is not toxic and is therefore safe to consume. Hence, while the benefits claimed by Kombucha lovers are not backed by science, it doesn’t mean that we can’t grab a bottle of Kombucha or two. After all, it has been consumed by humans for centuries.

Photography by: Fabiana De Luca

Chemical composition of Kombucha

Design by: Sandy Taboada

How do you prepare Kombucha?

ne

Health | 13


BRINGING FAT BACK

-NATALIAPLUTA

IS BUTTER A CARB? 14 | Consumption

T

HE KETO DIET WAS first introduced to the world in the 1920s as a method to treat epilepsy. Due to the development of antiepilepsy drugs, it is more commonly used today to treat type two diabetes by controlling glycemic levels as well a weight loss method. The diet is centered on a high fat, very low carb, and moderate protein intake to enable the body to enter the state of ketosis. It is very similar to the modified Atkins Diet, a weight loss programme structured around low carbohydrate intake, and therefore is often incorrectly characterised as the latest fad diet that isn’t useful for long term weight loss. Some people also argue that the state of ketosis is dangerous and isn’t healthy, often incorrectly citing diabetic ketoacidosis. However, is there any truth behind these statements? The keto diet is focused on entering nutritional ketosis, which is a metabolic state that the human body enters when it lacks sufficient carbohydrates. A healthy individual eating a well balanced diet, typically relies on glucose as its primary energy source. However, when there is an insufficient level of glucose for a prolonged period of time, and the body’s supply of acetyl CoA (a major metabolic currency) is depleted, the liver starts producing ketone bodies, to keep the Krebs cycle (one of body’s main energy production pathways) churning to meet metabolic energy (ATP) demand. Ketone bodies

include acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate, and are produced by the liver to be used for energy by various tissues. The human liver is able to produce ketone bodies through the breakdown of both fat and protein, but to avoid muscle debilitation, it almost exclusively uses the glycerol backbone of triglycerides or more commonly known as fat. Therefore, a starving individual with access to clean water can survive on average between 40-60 days on fat reservoirs alone. This phenomenon is possible because blood glucose levels normalise within three days and within ten days achieve a steady state equilibrium (3.7 mM) with ketone body levels surpassing blood glucose levels offsetting the body’s sole dependence on glucose for energy. This basic principle was utilised by the keto diet to burn fat and fuel weight loss. By minimizing carbohydrate intake to less than 50 grams per day, and eating a moderate amount of protein (120-150 grams per day), one enters the state of nutritional ketosis in which levels of the ketone body, beta-hydroxybutyrate, rise to about 0.5-3.0 mM.

Some falsely argue that nutritional ketosis achieved by the “Keto Diet” could lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) occurs in people with type I diabetes or in the end stage of type II diabetes due to the absence of insulin. The presence of insulin allows glucose to enter cells. Most common in type one diabetics, the lack of insulin production prevents glucose from entering cells, leading to a state of starvation that causes the liver to start producing ketone bodies. Even with ample food intake, the levels of the ketone body, beta-hydroxybutyrate, rise to about 15-25 mM because glucose is unable to enter the starving cells, causing a pH imbalance and leading to pathological illness and potentially death if left untreated. However, many fail to understand that it is impossible to induce DKA in a normal healthy person because even a miniscule amount of insulin would normalize betahydroxybutyrate levels preventing the pH imbalance that causes diabetic ketoacidosis. As a result, it impossible to induce DKA in a non-diabetic person.


Photography by: Fabiana De Luca

can be minimised by adding extra salt to meals or taking mineral supplements. Unlike traditional diets, the keto diet doesn’t restrict calorie intake. Instead it focuses on a high healthy fat intake, moderate protein intake, and less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day to allow the body to metabolically adapt to nutritional ketosis and become a fat burning machine. However, Kristen Mancinelli, RD, argues against permanent adherence to the diet. Despite the numerous benefits associated with it, long term medical studies are currently unavailable. As a result, she recommends cycling on and off the keto diet for about three to six months, and when off the diet eating 40-45 percent fat and limiting carbohydrate intake to 120-150 grams per day to prevent regaining the weight. Fortunately, this may not be as hard as it seems, because Mancinelli claims, “You likely won’t want as many carbs, and things will taste extremely sweet.”

Design by: Sandy Taboada

If the diet is followed correctly and one is in good health there are no serious risks associated with it, only benefits. For instance, in addition to weight loss, the diet has been shown to enhance mental clarity, reverse type II diabetes, increase energy levels and metabolism, control appetite and acne, reduce and slow Alzheimer’s disease, and even prevent or cure cancer by slowing tumour growth. It also lowers the risk of heart disease by lowering body fat, blood sugar, HDL cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. Due to a high healthy fat intake, moderate protein intake, and a very restricted carbohydrate intake, blood sugar levels decrease and a plethora of benefits follow. Although most people report no adverse effects, some report the keto flu, whose symptoms are similar to the regular flu, poor energy and mental function, hunger, sleep issues, nausea, digestive discomfort, and decreased athletic performance. Luckily, these side effects only last a few days as the body adapts to the lack of carbohydrates, and the side effects

Health | 15


I

N RECENT YEARS, there has been a -Lucero Barrantes decline in the consumption of diet sodas as a replacement for regular sodas. Initially, diet sodas were more popular due to their marketing as a “healthy alternative� to regular soda. On the contrary, it turns out that the artificial sweetener used in diet sodas, Aspartame, may pose certain health risks that affect our nervous system that regular sugar does not. Artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, cyclamate, and aspartame also may inhibit or reduce the stimulation by certain metabolic or hormonal factors following consumption. The effects of artificial sweeteners on our bodies are caused by the hydrolyzation of these products in our digestive tract. Aspartame is made up of two amino acids, aspartate and phenylalanine. These amino acids are bonded to a methanol backbone. In our intestines, Aspartame is hydrolyzed to forty-percent aspartic acid, ten-percent methanol, and fifty-percent phenylalanine, all of which are very toxic chemicals. Aspartic acid is an excitotoxin. It contributes to free radical damage in the brain. In the liver, methanol is converted to formate which can be converted to either formaldehyde, which is both neurotoxic and carcinogenic, or diketopiperazine, which is also a carcinogen. Phenylalanine is able to cross the blood-brain-barrier (BBB) in the brain and acts as a precursor of catecholamine, which may affect the body’s normal state by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose level. It can also lead to the development of phenylketonuria (PKU) which is a side effect of excess phenylalanine in the body. Phenylalanine plays a role in the effects of neurotransmitters in the central nervous system, while aspartic acid is thought to act as an excitatory neurotransmitter. The daily consumption of high volumes of diet sodas also has many long-term consequences. A study

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conducted by Dr. Jennifer A. Nettleton from the University of Texas Health Center showed that daily diet soda intake was positively associated with an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes. The risk for developing type II diabetes was significantly higher than that of developing metabolic syndrome. Artificial sweeteners have also been linked to excessive weight gain due to the fact that it induces metabolic derangements. In a study on the effects of ingestion of artificial sweeteners on glucose, insulin, and glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) in humans conducted by Rebecca J. Brown, it was found that artificial sweeteners synergize with glucose to increase GLP-1 release in humans. GLP-1, which is an incretin, decreases blood sugar levels by enhancing the secretion of insulin. Therefore, the artificial sweeteners in diet coke can increase the risk of hypoglycemia, resulting in an increase in GLP-1 levels via overstimulation of sweettaste receptors on L-cells. As a result of the studies on the negative effects of drinking diet coke, the consumption rate hit its low point in 2015. This decline in sales caused Coca-Cola to rethink their whole marketing angle. During the month of August of 2017, Coca-Cola launched a new version of


aspartame increased subjective hunger ratings when compared to glucose. Another problem is that aspartame does not activate the food reward pathway in the same fashion as natural sweeteners.

Since these artificial sweeteners are non-caloric, they do not produce the same effect as regular sugar post ingestion.

Photography by: Fabiana De Luca

Aside from eliminating postingestive components, consumption of aspartame has been shown to induce neurologic and behavioral disturbances in some individuals. For example, a study testing the effects of ingestion of aspartame on the brains of mice showed that aspartame mostly affected the adrenergic neurotransmitters in different regions of the brain. In the hypothalamus especially, there were increases of norepinephrine (NE) concentration of up to forty-nine percent in the groups that were given higher doses. There were also increases in NE concentration in the medulla oblongata and corpus striatum. Consumption of diet coke, as opposed to regular coke, may seem like a healthier option, but in reality it leads to more long-term health risks than its non-diet counterpart. With chemicals such as artificial sweetener, Aspartame, and caramel color as part of it’s ingredients list, drinking diet coke is definitely not a healthy alternative to regular coke and the effects are much more damaging.

Design by: Leila Thompson

Coke Zero, calling it Coke Zero Sugar. The artificial sweetener in Coke Zero Sugar was the same as the artificial sweetener in Coke Zero -- aspartame. In reality, the ingredients were not changed at all, but the physical appearance of Coke Zero Sugar was very different from that of the original Coke Zero. CocaCola diverged from Diet Coke’s grey color scheme and adopted a similar red, white, and black style to that of regular Coke. This marketing trick aided the rapid increase in the sale of the diet soda. The Coca-Cola company announced that their reasoning behind changing Coke Zero to Coke Zero Sugar was because they recognized that too much sugar was not good and they wanted their products and business to reflect that. What they failed to consider was that although less sugar is better, artificial sweeteners are definitely not a solution to the problem. They market saying that removing the sugar from their products would aid in reducing people’s overall sugar intake in the long run; however, exchanging natural sugar for artificial sweeteners does more harm than good through the various metabolic changes that artificial sweeteners induce. The United States is currently undergoing an obesity epidemic. The obesity rate for women and men in the US is around thirty to forty percent, with an estimated one hundred and sixty million Americans being overweight or obese. There has been a steep rise in the percent of the population that is obese, and this rise happens to coincide with the increase in use of noncaloric artificial sweeteners. In an interest to lose weight, people prefer non-caloric artificial sweeteners over regular table sugar because they believe that they will aid in their weightloss. Although these artificial sweeteners are advertised to help with weight reduction, they act in the opposite manner. Not only do they impede weight loss, but also–due to the fact that sweet taste enhances human appetite–a study showed that

Health | 17


-Anuj Shah

The sixth Mass Extinction 18 | Consumption

O

N MARCH 19, 2018, SUDAN, THE WORLD’S last male northern white rhinoceros, died. This leaves the population of northern white rhinos at two females, making the chances of survival for the species’ relatively slim and the worries of scientists and citizens grave. This rare creature’s tragic passing has stirred up fears about the wave of extinctions decimating our Earth’s biodiversity and has compelled us to ask the question, “are we in a sixth mass extinction?” The first five mass extinctions were catastrophic events that occured millions years ago, and each wiped out over 75 percent of the species on Earth. In recent years, hysteria regarding another possible mass extinction has enveloped the media. Upon the release of two scientific publications in the prestigious journals Nature and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, many news outlets jumped to report that a sixth mass extinction is underway. While the studies are meticulously detailed and scientifically sound, they do not claim that we have entered a sixth

mass extinction; rather, they highlight that evidence suggests that we are on the boundary of another extinction event. Many publications fail to clear up the misconception that a mass extinction occurs relatively rapidly. Instead, these sorts of events take thousands to hundreds of thousands to millions of years. One of the most widely known mass extinction events is the Cretaceous mass extinction, in which an asteroid impacted Earth 66 million years ago and eventually caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. Substantial fossil evidence reveals that it took, at the very least, several thousand years for the dinosaurs to die out, despite the severe degree of change in the dinosaurs’ environment. Similarly, the environmental destruction perpetrated by humans is undoubtedly serious, but it is inaccurate to claim that a new mass extinction could take place in a matter of a few centuries. Once we are more informed on what a mass extinction event actually entails, the reality of our situation becomes significantly scarier. The fact that we are close to a mass extinction–an event in which the majority of species would be irreversibly headed for annihilation–should be a final wake-up call for governments, businesses, and people everywhere. The statistics of the situation are horrific. Wildlife abundance has dropped over 50 percent since 1970, and certain subgroups of organisms have fared far worse, as evidenced by the loss of nearly 90 percent of large ocean predators. Coral reefs such as the Great Barrier Reef are suffering unprecedented losses as temperatures continue to rise. Of the land mammal species surveyed, close to half


Graphic by: Leila Thompson

geologic time, it is the acceleration of climate change caused by humans that is proving catastrophic to species. Organisms aren’t simply adapting to natural environmental changes as in the past; they are being forced to rapidly adapt or die out as a direct result of dangerous, unnatural human activities. Among these are habitat destruction, pollution, overpopulation, climate change, and most critically, overconsumption, especially by the wealthy. Though it’s undeniable that humans have played the major role in bringing the Earth to the tipping point it is at today, it is just as important to note that humans are likely the only force that can bring the environment back to a healthier, more sustainable state. We must fulfill our role as intuitive creatures with intelligent technologies, and work on saving the planet while we still can. A mass extinction, once started, is a snowball rolling down a hill–it is unstoppable and irreversible. Doug Erwin, a paleontologist who acknowledges we are close to another mass extinction, likens mass extinction events to power grid failures. The true catastrophe occurs not as a result of the initial shock (say, the power grid’s software malfunction or the Earth’s rising temperatures), but in the resulting cascade of tumultuous events (such as the subsequent failure of dozens more power grids or the collapse of regional and global food chains). Therefore, in recognizing that we are on the precipice of and not in the middle of a sixth mass extinction, we reaffirm the value of conservation biology and establish that there is still hope that we can prevent the extinction of countless more species.

Design by: Sandy Taboada

have lost 80 percent or more of their overall range. The aforementioned species can still be salvaged, but many others have already gone extinct. The mammal extinction rate over the past 65 million years has remained around two species per one million years, but in the last five centuries, at least 80 of the 6,000 known mammal species have gone extinct. It is crucial to note that decreases in populations and biomass have also been seen in the more hardy organisms of our biosphere, life forms like insects and robust plants–often the real victims by which we judge the magnitude of a mass extinction. Collectively, we have the tendency to gauge the severity of ongoing extinctions on Earth by very conspicuous, captivating species and ecosystems, such as rhinoceri and tropical rainforests. Many of the claims used by journalists focus only a few species, like lions, or even just on mammals, which aren’t enough to constitute a truly thorough study. There is no doubt that many of Earth’s more resistant and long-lived organisms, which currently inhabit the Earth in much higher proportions than mammals, are the organisms that end up composing the majority of the fossil record. Therefore, it is far more alarming that the extinction rates of the more rugged flora and fauna of our planet are increasing as well. These recent findings force us to consider a stark question. Is there still a point to conservation biology? As the evidence reveals, the answer is still unequivocally yes. In justifying this response, it is necessary to identify a key difference between the five previous mass extinctions and the sixth that is looming–humans are present. While the climate has changed throughout

News | 19


The Siren’s Dirge -Mahitha Kunamneni

S

EVERAL AQUATIC SPECIES in Florida are on the precipice of extinction, including the West Indian manatee, once mistaken for mermaids by mesmerized mariners, leading to its taxonomic family name of Sirenia. This species has been confirmed as vulnerable and opportunity to save it is winnowing further. These “sea cow” sirens could not be more disparate from their mythic counterparts, being instead friendly omnivores under two distinct subspecies, the Antillean manatee and the Florida manatee. These threatened mammals are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, yet their survival rates still continue to decline. Recently, they have moved from “endangered” to “threatened” after a push towards recovering their population, but many of the reasons for their initial decline still persist. Before a more enforced rule was put into place, the number one reason for manatee deaths was due to boat collisions. They are a species native to warmer water, and many people tend to enjoy their time in coastal areas, so large influxes of tourists tend to create a higher risk of injury to these gentle mammals, who easily fall victim to the mechanical noise of boats. Due to the shallow waters of coastal areas, very little area exists between the boat and the manatee. An even more painful form of death is when a boat is unaware of a manatee underneath and accidentally parks over that spot. This leaves no room for the manatee to resurface and due to their breathing limitations (air needed every 10-15 minutes) they suffocate and die on the spot. Further, manatees tend to get caught in fishnets and hooks and are injured by power plants that spew various chemicals into springs that are home to manatees and other aquatic species. While children may be told on field trips that boats are dangerous to large animals such as manatees, there is no guarantee that every single boat rider cares for these creatures’ cause. This specific form of mortality is currently addressed by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but there still lies a

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lurking factor that is much more majorly unavoidable than a boat locale change. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission holds monthly case-by-case reviews for Florida manatee deaths that show a very specific reason for the deaths of several hundred manatees. In 2018 alone, a majority of around 600 manatee deaths were due to a cold stress at the beginning of the year lasting through early April. Although there has been a huge direct human influence on the deaths of these mammals, there is a more global impact on the Florida manatees and other mammals that inhabit warmer water due to pollution and further improper care of the planet. Fortunately, there are many actions being taken right now by people reporting sick, injured, dead or tagged manatees in order to keep statistics up-to-date and society aware. In times of bad weather, such as during Hurricane Irma, aquatic wildlife rescue teams did their best to save the manatees after the heavy rainfall and flooding. Since everyone in Florida is not certified in rescuing manatees, there are various other ways to stay involved in protecting them like attending safe boating classes. As a general rule of thumb, boaters should always be aware of the waters they are using. Migration can create a population in shallow waters, making that area dangerous for manatees. It is also important to avoid boating over seagrass beds, where manatees are feeding, so plan to stay away from coastlines and marked manatee sanctuaries and remain in deeper water. Though they may be mistaken as scary, manatees are non-predatory, gentle cousins of elephants who deserve a chance to stay populated and safe.


Design by: Aaron Dyxhoorn

ECHO By: Wil Harris

Cavorting beneath the planate mien of the river, an alabaster serpentine nymph loomed August Calypso now instead ensnared by the ambivalence of the empire of man Unfeeling threads of the fates woven into the stygian nimbus tapestry, the Tribe of Ice doomed Beaked marble lips issue mellifluous notes with which a melancholic dirge began Imploring in sonorous tones betwixt ivory spires of conical teeth for reunion and recognition A sojourn back to its ancestral abode of icy temples and limpid sea, colored pallid and cyan Archaic halcyon eons had evanesced, officious empires leaving brothers bereft of volition One martyr blade amongst a lea appeared to be the new destiny for the curious sprite Solemn orbs of onyx peer out, powerlessness to return remains indelible erudition Coruscating Auroras, lianas of light spread across the bejeweled cloak of arctic night Cataclysm presaged by ominous clouds obfuscating Empyrean wisps above the tundra’s shore Shrieks echoing out across the indigo, beckoning home the solitary Wight As sepulchers of gelid glass fracture into iridescent jewels strewn upon the cerulean floor, Hyperborean stars glimmering in ethereal light as final breaths issue from crystalline lips Another resplendent kingdom fell, becoming one with the seamless sea as Atlantis of yore Melting beneath argent diadem and auric circlet, luminous pyres appear in near perfect eclipse Honoring the nascent victims of the clandestine crusade prosecuted by Perseus against Cetus, old Fortuna smiled only upon the most guileless it seemed, for their kismet was now apocalypse What of those who abjured selling their hearts and their brethren at the price of gold? Would they so easily steel themselves against the wailing hymns emanating across the open sea? Another tribe smothered beneath progression, is this the way the scroll of time must unfold? All of Gaia’s children stand as exquisite boughs stemming from the root of one sylvan tree It is not by sidereal forces nor ephemeral divisions that we are coerced to conflagration and frays Placid psychic pools will bequeath clarity needed to elucidate the nymph’s plea Shadows can abscond from the edifice of empire, untainted surface alight by scintillating rays Should man pause the inexorable machines and their noxious venoms and take heed Lacerations inflicted by the advancing hoplites of smog, peace always allays

(This poem was inspired by the discovery of a beluga whale in the Thames River in September 2018. Associating the peculiar sighting of the cetacean far from its endemic range with the severity of maelstroms due to climate change, the scientists of the London Natural History Museum have kept close track of its movements, with the hope it will eventually be reunited with its pod. I believe it is pertinent to act now and prevent further climate change which through capricious weather phenomena vitiate extant marine mammal populations.) News | 21


Laserfocused physicists

W

HEN DONNA STRICKLAND WAS informed over the phone that she had won the Nobel Prize in Physics, she wondered if the call was a prank. The prize was awarded to her and her colleague, Gerard Morou, for their development of chirped pulse amplification, a technique that amplifies laser power. Arthur Ashkin, who shared in this year’s prize, was recognized for this development of optical tweezers, which essentially use the power of lasers to move matter. Though her profound contributions to laser physics merit this recognition, Strickland, a physicist at the University of Waterloo, would be the first woman to be awarded this honor in the past 55 years. In fact, Strickland is only the third woman ever to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. Strickland was deemed worthy due to her research in emitting a short-period, high energy laser pulse allowing for a whole world of applications to be possible. The achievement was detailed in her publication which paved the way for implementations including corrective eye surgery. The last woman to win the physics prize, German-born American physicist Maria Goeppert-Mayer, took the award for her discovery of the nuclei of atoms. Before her, the famed Polish-born physicist Marie Curie shared the 1903 award with her husband Pierre Curie and Antoine Henri Becquerel for their research of radioactivity. The sparse nature of female wins brings attention to an interesting question: how far have women in STEM fields truly come and how many barriers are left to be overcome to reach equality?

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Anjou Sharma Gabi Lee

Some may see the answer as obvious: with only three women winners, this substantive inequality in recognition is not an indicator that womankind does not have the propensity for scientific achievement, but an indicator of persisting differential opportunity or environmental conditions for women in science and physics. However, to take such an approach is in many ways dismissing of the complexity of the issue and goes against the voices of women who are actually in physics. Some notable Nobel snubs include women like Cecilia Payne, Chien-Shiung Wu, and Vera Rubin. Payne discovered what stars are made out of, Wu discovered parity violation in particle physics, and Rubin discovered the odd behavior of galactic rotation curves. All of these women failed to be noticed by the Nobel committee for physics, raising many questions about the committee’s validity and prowess. Scientific institutions are viewed as maledominated establishments that make it even more difficult for a woman to participate in the field. There have been many instances in society that elucidate the harsh disparity in treatment that males and females face. For example, Wikipedia refused to give Strickland a page, stating that “she was not famous enough.” In fact, it took winning a Nobel prize for her to finally receive their “honor.” Strickland’s award also comes a few days after a physicist gave a “highly offensive” lecture at the Cern particle physics laboratory in Geneva in which he said that physics had been “built by men” and that male scientists were being discriminated


Design & Illustraton by: Leila Thompson Photography by: Fabiana De Luca

Donna Strickland 2018 nobel prize in physics

against. He has since been suspended by the research center. There are many complaints with how the scientific community is run. Some people, such as Michelle Stack, an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, feel it is biased toward men. She writes about all of the factors that make it easier for white men to succeed, a list she calls “the dirty dozen.� According to Stavck, evidence shows that women get lower paying jobs, higher teaching loads, and little time for research compared to men.

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D

R. HE WANG, AN ASSISTANT PROFESSOR of physics at the University of Miami, is a moving example of how female scientists are pushing the field of laser physics ahead. Dr. Wang actually began her scientific career in engineering, but it was physics that helped her better understand the fundamental mechanisms of her electrical engineering research. Dr. Wang spoke to the importance of women in physics, explaining that it was the confident “behavior and performance” of her female PhD advisor that taught her that women could indeed succeed in the harsh environment of academia. Currently investigating the fundamentals

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of optoelectronic devices like solar cells, Dr. Wang uses laser spectroscopy to understand how to efficiently convert the solar energy into electricity. Dr. Wang’s research contributions to her field are being duly recognized – in 2017, she received both the Young Investigator Research Program Award from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Provost Research Award from the University of Miami. To this day, Dr. Wang’s persistence continues to show us that Donna Strickland’s achievements with lasers and physics was hardly a one-time occurrence. Women are making their presence known in physics and countless other fields, and they’re here to stay.


other fields

Photography by: Fabiana De Luca

countless

Design by: Leila Thompson

Women are making their presence known in physics and

And they’re

here to stay News | 25


Camp Kesem is a nationwide community, driven by passionate college student leaders, that supports children through and beyond their parent’s cancer.

Make the Magic

04.06.2019

Camp Kesem Miami’s annual Make the Magic Charity Gala is only months away. We invite you to mark April 6th, 2019 on your calendars for you to join us at the University of Miami. For tickets, visit: donate.kesem.org/miamiMTM19 Email miami.mtm@campkesem.org

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icture this: you’re sitting in biology of that gene could express curly hair. In the lens class listening to the professor drone of game theory, we can view these genes as the on about inheritance and selection, but players. Each player has to assess how well each the words seem to flow in one ear and out of its alleles, or “choices” in this case, perform the other. The material is so monotonous in a current environment. If one “choice” and textbook that all you can focus on is performs better in the genetic environment, how far away the weekend is. Genetics and then the gene will place more weight on the evolution are daunting biological fields full better allele and downsizes the weight of other of complex biochemical processes bound to allele(s). For instance, in a cold environment, make the everyday person’s head hurt. They one allele may make the organism survive better are often regarded as some of the in the colder temperatures, making most challenging science classes the gene theoretically place more at the university level, and they weight on expressing that allele. become even more difficult when This “game” can then be played over taught through monotonous and over again, allowing biologists lectures that drag on for hours. to understand algorithmically However, a relatively new how populations evolve over time, approach has revolutionized the weeding out and selecting certain way these subjects can be learned. characteristics. It is here that classical -Greeshma Venigalla Research shows how biochemical game theory can be directly applied. processes in the study of genetics and One of the most famous game evolution can be interpreted in terms theory scenarios is that of the prisoner of a classical game theory derivative. experiment (note: different from the In a particular classical game theory, Prisoner’s Dilemma), which is a repeated the success of both players is determined coordination game in which the success of the by a cost-benefit analysis weighing various entire system is dependent upon both of the players factors. These same principles seem to exist in the field systematically choosing a mutually beneficial outcome. of genetics and evolution, where the factors are fitness In this classic example of game theory, two prisoners are and diversity. kept in different rooms without communication with Traditionally, evolutionary game theory is applied each other. They are both offered the option to turn to an individual organisms’ behaviors. However, the each other in. If one confesses, both players lose. The same concept can be stretched to both the genetic and comparable biological outcome, viewing the individual population level through a novel concept in which genes genes as the players and their gene expression as the act as game players within a genome that resembles choices of the players, both players lose when one factor, a molecular society directly comparable to game either diversity or fitness, overshadows the other. This theory. This perspective can be used to visualize the would cause the individual, and over time the species, to nature of population biology in a more holistic way. be evolutionarily unfit for its environment. Mathematically modeled, the genetic application of Evolution values fitness, but also diversity. In game theory derivatives can add further insight into other words, an organism’s genetic code may be perfect the molecular level of analysis, broadening popular for the environment it is in at a given time, but if the understanding of biology in unprecedented ways. environmental conditions change rapidly, a more diverse The foundation of genetics lies in the fact that genes, population is much more likely to survive. In the findings which are formally defined as stretches of DNA that code from the algorithm, the fragile mechanism of balance for certain proteins and RNA sequences, bring about between fitness and diversity is more easily observable certain characteristics within a given population. Each and quantifiable, which is a thunderous advancement gene contains different variants, called alleles. Each allele in both academic and popular biological intuition sure expresses a different trait; for example, one allele of a to peak your interest in an otherwise uneventful biology gene could express straight hair, whereas another allele class!

Design by: Leila Thompson

P

Checkmate Chromosomes Game Theory in Genetics

Research | 27


Ready_Patien I MAGINE YOU ARE A DOCTOR, ready to begin the day with your first patient: a young girl who is waiting in the preoperative room, terrified for her operation. The child’s anxiety is staggering; her parents are trying to comfort her, but making matters worse, even their nerves begin to rub off on her. Upon entering the room, she starts to scream, tries to get out of the bed and knocks the clipboard you are holding out of your hands. Her parents attempt to calm her down, but fail, leaving you—a stranger in your white coat—with the responsibility to cease the tantrum and begin the preoperative process. What are you to do now? While this scenario may fall under the category of an atypical response, it is not uncommon for children to experience preoperative anxiety and other negative postoperative effects. In fact, more than half of the children that undergo surgery experience some level of preoperative anxiety. No child wants to be in the hospital anticipating the scary needle or doctor they are soon to encounter. In addition, the hospital is typically a foreign environment, which often makes the child feel even less secure. Possibly the scariest moments for the young patient are those in the period of time between which the child first leaves their parents, to the moment they are anesthetized. Preoperative anxiety in pediatrics is a prevalent issue in the medical field today because children often exhibit prolonged recovery rates and postoperative maladaptive behaviors. However, doctors and innovators are developing technology based solutions to improve a child’s experience with

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surgery and reduce the fear and anxiety that that child may suffer. A case study performed by doctors and researchers of the American Academy of Pediatrics (2006) discovered that anxious children self-reported experiencing higher levels of pain than calm children did. Whether or not the reported data is an association with perioperative anxiety or a causeand-effect relationship has yet to be determined. However, significant amounts of research similar to this study supports the notion that anxious children have a prolonged recovery time and more difficulties

healing from an operation. In addition to reported increased pain levels, children have been noted to develop maladaptive short or long term eating and sleep habits. A new interactive device, called B.E.R.T (Bedside Entertainment and Relaxation Theatre), has been created by the CHARIOT program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University. The system works by a simple screen that is first clamped to the end of the bed, and a projector behind the bed out of the child’s view so that all of their focus is devoted to the screen. There are a variety of


Vince Sferra interactive options including games and videos that allow the patient to immerse themselves into a virtual world. The large screen is used not only to display the projection, but also to block the child’s view of medical equipment and personnel that could be the cause of their increased levels of anxiety. Children who will undergo operation have the opportunity to use B.E.R.T. to not only reduce their anxiety, but also to have a more enjoyable and fun experience. As the invention is relatively new, a variety of new programs and games are still being developed today by the team. For

example, one of these programs, “Sevo the Dragon”, allows children to choose a meal for Sevo the Dragon to cook by breathing fire on it. However, in order for Sevo to breathe fire, the patient must exhale into the anesthesia mask. Once the child exhales, or “breathes fire,” they then inhale the anesthesia gas and slowly fall asleep before they even realize what has happened. Prior to the invention of B.E.R.T., one of the only methods used to decrease child anxiety levels was to provide them with sedative drugs. These drugs consist of, but are not limited to: ketamine, fentanyl and

midazolam. While these drugs are effective they are not the optimal solution to treat children with high levels of preoperative anxiety. Some children face side effects from these drugs and in other instances, it can be very difficult to administer the drug to a distressed child. It is evident that the modernization of solutions for pediatric anxiety is creating a better environment overall for not only the patient, but the doctor and family as well. Having an operation, especially as a child, is always a stressful situation. In order to reduce the negative outcomes of preoperative anxiety and eliminate the ill effects from sedative drugs, doctors and innovators are beginning to drift towards technological based solutions. The benefits of using a tool such as B.E.R.T. is twofold: the patient is less likely to need sedative drugs prior to being anesthetized, and they can actually enjoy their preoperative experience. More specifically, for children who have chronic illnesses and diseases, they no longer have to spend the majority of their time in a mundane and dull environment. This new, innovative technology is beginning to launch itself into the world of anesthesiology and the medical field. However, many applications and programs need to be developed in order to accommodate the large, diverse group of pediatric patients. Although doctors still have some obstacles to overcome, this new invention has the potential to revolutionize the way doctors and medical staff handle pediatric patients prior to their surgery. Why stress about sending your child to the operating room if their best friend B.E.R.T. is alongside for the ride?

Design by: Caitlin Smith

ent_One

Research | 29


Be

4

Drink HOPS

MALT

YEAST

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Hops make important contributions to beer aroma and bitterness. Aromatic terpenes can be found in hop essential oil and undergo chemical changes during boiling and yeast fermentation.

The malting process converts barley starches into fermentable sugars. This process is halted by slowly heating the barly at low temperatures to produce malt and promote the flavor generating malliard reaction.

Saccharomyces cerevisiae (Baker’s Yeast) is the organism repsonsible for the conversion of sugar into ethanol, carbon dioxide, and hundreds of other flavor-active compounds by anaerboic cell respiration.


periodically breaking down the chemistry of beer

Aromatic terpenes OH

O

O

Graphic by: David Lanster & Leila Thompson

Er

68

O

H OH

O

OH

OH

OH

O

Hu

u lo

m

H

H

ne

not bitter

bitter

HO O

HO

O

OH

O

OH

O

HO O O

OH HO

HO

HO

O

R-NH

O

OH

β-glucanase

O

OH

HO HO

HO

O

Maillard

OH

H N

Furanones

O

OH HO

N

Pyrroles

N

Pyrazines

OH

O

Flavor compounds

O

Isoamyl acetate HO

O

4-ethyl phenol

H3CO

HO O

Ethyl caprylate

4-vinyl guaiacol

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Design by: Caitlin Smith

It Takes a CADRE to Cure Alzheimer’s

-Kathryn Gerlach

I

N 40 YEARS, A STAGGERING 13.9 MILLION Americans will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease – nearly three times today’s prevalence of about 5 million Americans – according to a study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

African Americans and Hispanic Americans will be hit hardest. Until recently, however, most research in this area – and medical research, in general – tried to predict, identify, prevent, and treat disease using data gathered from non-Hispanic White individuals. “Because the same genetic factors don’t necessarily carry the same level of risk in different populations, a lack of diversity in genetics research can be very problematic,” said Margaret PericakVance, Ph.D., Director of the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics (HIHG) at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Studying the relative significance of these genetic factors in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease using large datasets allows researchers to identify therapeutic targets, which will help us get closer to a cure. Previous research, for example, has found that carrying one copy of APOE-4 may double or quadruple the likelihood of developing this form of dementia and carrying two copies may confer up to 10 times the risk of developing Alzheimer’s Disease. Again, though, these studies were primarily conducted using data gathered from nonHispanic White individuals.

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That’s where CADRE comes in. CADRE stands for the Collaboration on Alzheimer’s Disease Research, and the National Institute on Aging (NIA) has tasked the organization, led by Dr. Pericak-Vance, Dr. Eden R. Martin, Director of the Center for Genetic Epidemiology and Statistical Genetics at the HIHG, Drs. Jonathan L. Haines and William S. Bush at Case Western Reserve University, and Dr. Lindsay A. Farrer at Boston University, with analyzing sequence data from ethnically diverse late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease patients using state-of-the-art approaches and translating these findings into high-priority therapeutic targets. The NIA awarded CADRE $14.6 million in grant funding over five years to complete the research across multiple sites. In other words, CADRE, while fulfilling requirements for the federally funded Alzheimer’s Disease Sequencing Project (ADSP) Follow-Up Study (FUS), will assess genetic data from diverse populations diagnosed with the world’s most common neurodegenerative disease in the hopes of identifying new factors that protect against or increase the risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease. This, in turn, will help uncover new avenues for drug development. The long-term goals of the ADSP-FUS are (1) to move the field closer to enabling prediction of who will develop AD; (2) to fully reveal the genetic architecture of AD in multiple ethnic groups; (3) to better understand the underpinnings of AD pathogenesis; and (4) to aid the quest for therapeutic targets. Genetic studies have pinpointed over 25 loci associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease protection/risk, but very few studies to date have recruited a diverse group of participants that comes anywhere close to representing the unique tapestry of human genetics. If drug development for late-onset Alzheimer’s Disease continues to be based on data gathered primarily or exclusively from non-Hispanic Whites, the resulting therapies will, inevitably, be tailored to benefit this specific subset of the population. By completing large-scale sequencing for CADRE, UM researchers and colleagues at other institutions will help characterize the genomic architecture of Alzheimer’s Disease, setting the stage for the prioritization of targets for therapeutic intervention.


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The Human

Race - Amirah Rashed

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In other words, it’s possible to be more genetically similar to someone of another race than your own. This idea contradicts the entire notion of race, which separates humans into categories based on distinct social or physical categories. Racial studies are intrinsically linked to population genetics, the study of genetic variation within and between populations. In 2002, a landmark study performed by Stanford explored the question of genetic diversity in humans and looked at the distribution of 4,000 alleles, or variant forms of a gene, across seven different geographic regions including America, Oceania, Africa, Central/South Asia, East Asia, Middle East, and Europe. For example, the purpose of alleles in genetics is to determine the color of your eyes, whether they are green, brown, or somewhere in between, like hazel. The study found that over 92% of the alleles were found in two or more geographic regions,

and almost half of the alleles studied were present in all seven major geographical regions. Next, they looked for a trademark allele that was exclusive to a single geographical region. They found that only 7.4% of over 4000 alleles were specific to one geographical region, and the region-specific allele only occurred in about 1% of people in that region. With such a low appearance of the allele, it could hardly be called a trademark. This finding effectively undermined the idea of race and the strict divisions it theoretically creates. A more recent study conducted in 2010 looked at complete Khoisan and Bantu genomes from southern Africa. They sequenced the genomes of four indigenous Namibian hunter-gatherers and a Bantu individual. Previous studies showed that these huntergatherers are genetically different from other humans, so they expected to find more genomic similarity between these individuals compared to other races. Instead, they found 1.3 million novel DNA differences genome-wide, including 13,146 novel amino acid variants. On average, the Bushmen were more different from each other than, for example, a European and an Asian. This begs the question: does race have anything to do with ancestry like the kits claim? Ultimately, race has more to do with identity than biology. It has been estimated that humans share 99.9% of their DNA. The fact that race is biologically unsupported is eye-opening, especially in light of the large role race has played in the past and and the one it plays in the present. While the slavery was taking place in the U.S., slave owners justified their ownership with the idea that slaves were genetically inferior and built to serve their masters. Today, racial issues dominate the headlines with everything from police brutality to casual stereotypes being pointed out. During times of racial tension, it becomes important to point out that race is actually a social construct. Using science to illuminate this may allow us to look past the 0.1% that makes us different and embrace the idea of one true race: the human race.

Design by: Saamantha Mosle

I

N 2003, THE HUMAN GENOME PROJECT finally made it possible for scientists to examine human ancestry using genetics. Not only was this advantageous for scientists, but also for ancestry testing companies, who were able to make large profits off of curious customers who wished to explore their origins. These kits are simple: spit into a collection tube and send it back the company. The company will then survey your genome at thousands of locations and use their ancestry databases to determine your unique racial composition. However, these kits imply that humans are divided into five major “racial” groups: African, European, Asian, Oceanian, and Native American. These groups are based off of the idea that a large amount of genetic variation exists. In actuality, little genetic variation exists between these racial groups. Although human populations can cluster roughly into geographic regions, the variation within a single region is large, which blurs the lines between regions. Think about this. If we look at every person in each particular racial group as composing a “racial” circle, then the people in the midpoint of each circle are more genetically similar than the people who are on the opposite edges of each circle.

Research | 35


Photography by: Samantha Mosle

0.1% By: Kimberley Rose 0.1% Has initiated infinite wars Obliterated a multitude of civilizations And seized countless lives Try as we might We will never escape it For it is inherently a part Of our humanity 0.1% Encompasses all of our differences A myriad of identical genes Yet we only see those Which distinguish We ignore the fact That we all grow ravenous without food Or parched for lack of drink That we all fall victim to fatigue without rest And that internal darkness and fears Spare none We forget that we all Experience exhilaration in times of elation Repletion in the arms of those we love dearly And that all of us Relentlessly chase the aspirations we possess Do we not all bleed the same red? What does it matter of the color By which it is repressed If the heart which propels it forward Is as sanguine as all others? Is there a significance to whether One’s head is crowned Curly, straight, blonde, brown, or red When the brain inside Forms its thoughts through the same mechanisms? Is a body worth more Slim, muscular, or heavy set When each one’s movements Are produced by the same muscle tissue? How do we justify Inflicting pain on others Pain that we ourselves refuse to endure In order to change them Are their nerves not constructed Identically to ours? Do they not experience pain Just intensely as we would? 99.9% similar Is this not enough? Not enough to say That we are one race

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The human race Not enough to say that We are in one fight For each other For our survival For our purpose Must we get caught On an external 0.1% An infernal 0.1% An iota of a percent? Must we give this almost indivisible fraction Such power as to divide us? Round up and we are all the same 100% human Round up 100% Of our human race To realize the triviality Of our phenotypes Abolish the infinitesimal divide Bridging the gaps which we so Ardently place betwixt us And we are one Let us be 100% human 100% unified 100% accepting 100% devoted to fostering an improved world For it’s next inhabitants Let us finally understand that The only true divisors In our lives Are the illusory lines We impose.


Written by: Carolene Kurien

Photography by: Fabiana De Luca

Research Profile on Hannah Lee

Design by: Leila Thompson

Regenerating Interest in Spinal Cord Injuries “D

UDE, WHY ARE YOU SITTING ON the carpet? You can sit on my bed; I really don’t care.” “Nah I’m good here”, says Hannah Lee—Hans, as I like to call her—as she gets comfortable on the floor of my room. Hannah and I go way back: we have been friends since 9th grade and roommates since freshman year of college. Throughout our seven years of friendship I have learned a lot about Hannah, like her love of hoop earrings and smoothies, but we have never discussed her interest in science—until now. “So Hans, I remember you telling me in 9th grade that you had wanted to go to MAST Academy in Key Biscayne, and now here you are, a pre-med student. What initially led you to be so interested in the field of science?”

Profiles | 37


Pdd

“My ‘aha’ moment happened in 6th grade. I went to George Washington Carver—which is actuallyright around the corner—and I had a wonderful, passionate science teacher. I distinctly remember this owl pellet dissection we did in her class. Owls can’t digest bone, so they cough it up along with fur and other things. What we did was essentially look through owl upchuck for bones to try and assemble different creatures that they may have eaten, like a rat or a mouse. It may seem weird and twisted, but I was really fascinated by that experiment and was interested in science ever since.” “Well you are weird and twisted, so this makes sense,” I say jokingly as Hannah gives me the typical deadpan look she always does when I try to be funny. “No but really, that’s actually interesting. I love that I just learned something new about you. But something I already know is that you’ve been working with the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis for a while now—can you tell me a little bit more about that?” “Yes. As a whole, the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis investigates central nervous system (CNS)

these mice, section CNS tissues using the cryostat, and examine the tissues using a microscope to analyze the presumably various physiological reactions of the mice following an SCI.” “Why are you specifically looking into the immune response at the injury site?” “There are two components of a CNS injury: the primary injury and the secondary injury. The primary injury is the one that takes place when the initial impact occurs, and this causes damage of nerve cells and blood vessels that eventually results in tissue death. The secondary injury is the immune response that occurs after the primary injury, and this is when inflammation occurs. There is an increased level of macrophages and other immune system components that make the injury worse during this time, so what we are trying to do is to minimize the scope of the secondary injury.” “And have you discovered any ways to do so?” “So there is one particular method that Michelle, the MD/PhD student I was working under, and I were previously exploring that involves BET proteins. BET proteins promote the inflammatory response. We

“Being in a lab has also entrusted me with a large sense of responsibility.” injuries, which includes brain and spinal cord injuries. Our lab looks at how scars form after spinal cord injuries (SCIs), methods of immunomodulation, and potential regeneration of neurons after a CNS injury. As you know, neurons do not regenerate, which is why CNS injuries are so devastating—once those cells are destroyed, there’s no hope of getting them back. A question that we are continuously exploring in relation to that is: do neurons simply not have the ability to regenerate, or is there something in their environment that is prohibiting them from doing so?” “How do you go about exploring this question and others like it in your specific lab?” “So I work in Dr. Jae Lee’s lab, and we study scar formation after a CNS injury using mice models. We specifically look into how different proteins can affect the extent of an SCI. One of the methods we use is called immunohistochemistry, which starts with breeding mice to have variable gene expression that could affect different immune responses. We then induce an SCI on

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administered a drug called JQ1, which is a BET protein inhibitor, into our mice. I’m actually going to pull up a picture that shows you the effect that JQ1 had on a lesion site.” As Hans pulls up the picture, I gasp because of the familiarity of it. “Is that the picture you showed me last year? The one you said was pretty?” “Yes! So you can see that the size of the lesion decreased after the JQ1 injection.” “Wow, I’m so happy I actually understand what is happening now. When you showed me this image before, I was just smiling and nodding.” As we both laugh, I look in admiration at what I considered to be a pretty sizeable decrease in lesion size. “So does this mean you guys have proven that inhibiting the BET protein reduces the extent of the secondary injury?” “Well, even though you can physically see that the


“Yeah so that’s definitely a field I have been considering. But being in a lab has also entrusted me with a large sense of responsibility that forces me to do work to the best of my ability because this isn’t just my project. The most intimidating time I had in the lab was when Dr. Lee told me that he wanted me to slice some SCI tissue that he had received from another institution for analyzation. There was very limited tissue, but he

Design by: Leila Thompson

lesion got smaller, we weren’t able to prove that the result was significant because we did not use enough mice. We are actually going to continue this project and use more mice to hopefully prove that the difference is significant.” “So is that what you have been working on for the past couple of years? Because you started this project in 12th grade right?”

“I really didn’t see myself going into research as early as I did.” “Yes, so back then I was mainly being introduced to protocols and was simply getting a grasp of working in a lab. Freshman and sophomore year of college is when I really started to learn different techniques like genotyping and PCR, eventually working my way up to being able to do the whole immunohistochemistry process.” “You’re a lot cooler than I thought, you know that?” “I know.” “So what motivated you start CNS research so early? How has the experience been so far?” “To be honest, I really didn’t see myself going into research as early as I did, and especially not in the neuroscience field, but the opportunity was presented to me during senior year of high school and I ran with it. Michelle has been my main mentor throughout my research experience. She taught me so many procedures, such as genotyping, cell digestion, staining, taking images on the microscope, etc. The fact that she was an MD/PhD student also opened my eyes because she did all of this while being enrolled in medical school. It was nice to work with a mentor who was going through all of the same experiences that I will be going through in the future.” “How do you think the skills that you learned in the lab will translate into your future profession as a doctor?” “I think my cryostat skills will definitely help me. Not to toot my own horn, but I have been complimented on my tissue slices before. It takes a lot of coordination and skill to get those tissue sections right—” “Surgeon. You gotta be a surgeon. You would be so good,” I interrupt, as I think about how skilled Hannah is when it comes to using her hands.

trusted me to section them. I remember thinking ‘Oh my God, I can’t screw this up.’ I had to make sure that I took as many meticulous slices as I could so that the tissues would be able to be properly quantified.” “It’s awesome that they trusted you. I’m sure that other undergraduates wanting to do research are afraid of these intimidating moments, so what kind of advice would you give them?” “From my experience, all of my lab members and mentors were really kind. They made sure that I knew what I was doing and that my concerns were heard, so I would tell undergrads to not be afraid to speak up to their PI or whoever they are working under and voice their concerns. Even after being in the lab for so long, there are still moments where I feel stupid, but that is a natural feeling that will go away if you properly communicate your concerns to your PI.” “So you said that undergrads should voice their concerns, and I personally have a concern that I would like to voice to you currently.” “Shoot.” “I’m extremely hungry—do you have any vegetables I can eat with my hummus?” “I have bell peppers and salad—would you want that?” “I actually have a bell pepper I forgot about—that’s a good idea. Thanks for that Hans, and for the interview. We’ll keep in touch,” I say with a wink. “Yes we will”, she says, winking back. “Let me know if you need any more information—I’m only a room away.”

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Ne

Wr ed a Cr itin edi g t?

Design by: Sandy Taboada

MIC 280: UMIAMI SCIENTIFICA MAGAZINE WRITER

●● Completion will fulfill 1/4 mandatory writing credits

To recEIve credit, one must: ●● Write two 200-300 word articles

●● Learn to communicate science to a general audience

●● Write one 1000-word article (full spread)

●● Publish writing in University of Miami’s Scientifica Magazine

●● Revise articles with Scientifica’s editorial team

●● Looks great on a CV or Resume

●● Submit articles to be graded by STEM faculty member on Scientfica’s Board of Faculty Advisors

●● Enrollment in the course is free and may be done at any time

For more information, please contact our Editorial Advisor: Mr. Roger Williams, M.S. Ed. (riwill@miami.edu) *Currently, Arts and Sciences is the only school accepting. Some may follow. *Summer session registration may result in charges if this is the only course taken.

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Design by: Samantha Mosle

Vibing with Biophysics RESEARCH PROFILE ON ALEX BERNE

I

MAGINE SCIENCE TO BE like a black box, a system that can be viewed simply in terms of its inputs and outputs with no knowledge of its internal workings. According to Alexander Berne, a senior student researcher majoring in Mechanical Engineering and Physics, science is the pursuit of a means to illuminate the phenomena that transpire within the elusive black box, thus shedding light on theories and pathways that remain unexplored. Berne found his black box in Dr. Klein’s biophysics lab, where he has the opportunity to explore how behavior is a product of communication between neurons through his studies on Drosophila—the common fruit fly.

The primary objective of Dr. Klein’s lab is to use insect model systems to better understand the transformation from sensory input to motor output, a fundamental goal of systems neuroscience. This input-output path travels from the molecular basis of sensing stimuli, to the encoding of sensory information in the brain, to the circuit-level processing of this information in neural networks, and finally to the animal's physical motor output. Berne has devoted his undergraduate career to gaining insight on how neurons transform information within the brain and how biological systems use behavior as a means for developing an overall navigational strategy for survival.

- Sofia Mohammad

Berne was born in Los Angeles, California but spent the majority of his childhood in Santander, a small city in northern Spain, where he lived until he was 12. He then moved to East Texas prior to starting school at the University of Miami. He attributes his diverse global perspective to his exposure to people of different cultures. This exposure to diversity at a young age gave Berne an understanding of how crucial it is to explore different perspectives in all aspects of life, especially in research. “Everyone you work with has a different perspective on what you’re researching, and each perspective is valuable. We’re all socialized to see things a certain way, and everyone is biased. There is nothing more constructive than presenting your results and saying, ‘this is what I’ve found.’ When someone is looking at and criticizing your work, that’s a valuable perspective. Even if they tear it up and say your work is worthless, when you change it, is more resilient to other people, and that makes your results more credible.” Berne states that he has been lucky to have mentor figures like Dr. Klein in his research career, and he believes that he would have never reached the milestone of research publication if Dr. Klein didn’t constructively criticize him on everything and encourage him to re-do procedures and revise methodologies. This feedback loop between mentor and mentee helped Berne learn to differentiate between research that is and isn’t scientifically viable, which has helped him learn to conduct and interpret research data more accurately.

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In the lab, Berne seeks to study the behavioral responses of fruit fly larvae after they are exposed to certain kinds of mechanical stimuli, like vibrations. Berne describes that there are only 4 discrete, measurable behaviors fruit flies can perform when exposed to vibrational stimuli: stopping, turning right, turning left, or moving forward. He analyzes the frequency of larvae performing one of the four behaviors and works to analyze the trends in larvae shifting behavior patterns over time. In his research over the past two and a half years, Berne observed that the fruit fly larvae initially move forward and begin reverse crawling upon being exposed to vibrations. After repeating this process of stimuli exposure over time, he found that the number of larvae that reverse crawl gradually decreases until all larvae in the population stop reverse crawling, thus indicating a decay in this one behavior type. He then cross correlates the decay in behavioral responses with processes that transpire on a biological level to gain more insight into how the organism develops a navigational strategy for survival. To test the extent to which these behaviors occur in the fruit fly larvae, Berne uses an electromechanical transducer to deliver the stimulus. He then tracks the movements that the larvae make on black agar gel using a camera that acutely tracks movements like speed, head movement, and crawling direction to gain precise data about larvae responses to mechanical stimuli.

Despite being so heavily involved in sciences presently, Berne’s path to biophysics was anything but conventional. As someone who places immense value in interdisciplinary studies, Berne is passionate about studying the intersection of different disciplines like biology, engineering, physics, business, and language. He believes that “ you need to study many different concepts in order to master one really well.” For this reason, he began his undergraduate career as a business major, and continued to explore his varied interests until he was able to recognize his calling for both physics and mechanical engineering. “As cliché as it sounds, my earliest memory of loving science was when I made an Icelandic volcano model in the 8th grade out of Vaseline and cotton balls. I always knew I loved science, but it wasn’t until I helped my friend

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with a physics problem freshman year (despite having no formal knowledge of physics) that I learned how much I loved physics. That day, I decided I wanted to pursue Physics and Mechanical Engineering, and I’ve loved it ever since.” Outside of the lab, Berne describes his life as a “constant pursuit of creativity.” He loves to make accidental discoveries and pave his own path, and traveling is the mechanism through which Berne accomplishes this. Recently, Berne embarked on a trip to Iceland and was able to see the Icelandic volcano he constructed as a middle schooler. Experiences like these have helped Berne become more open to embracing the unconventional and adapting to new perspectives and circumstances. Working in a biophysics lab has helped Berne gain valuable exposure to both fields that will serve him well throughout his undergraduate career and his future occupation. His occupational goal is simply to work in a field that can help people. He wants to pursue a career that directly applies the theoretical concepts of biophysics to everyday life, and he feels that a career in radiation oncology can help him achieve that goal. He hopes to pursue research on the topic of particle accelerators in graduate school, and he wants to delve into the possibility of using accelerated protons as a means of proton beam radiation therapy to treat cancers like glioblastoma. Berne’s advice to undergraduates seeking to pursue research is that “research is out there and it’s not hard to get.” As a freshman, he, like so many undergraduates, struggled with the notion of finding research and learning how to get involved with it. Berne describes that in his experience, “lab professors don’t make it obvious that they want researchers, but they love teaching [students] as much as we love learning. Ask them about their work and email them. Meet with them and talk about their lab. Pick something that captivates your interest, and put your all into it.” Berne encourages other students to push their intellectual boundaries to pursue the mysteries that exist within the black boxes of whichever subjects captivate their interests. Whether the subject be biology, anthropology, or even economics, it is clear that so much remains unknown in our world today. Students like us are the ones who will use the theories of today to craft the knowledge of tomorrow.


Design by: Samantha Mosle

Photography by: Fabiana De Luca

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Profile for UMiami Scientifica Magazine

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Scientifica Magazine, Issue 12

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Scientifica Magazine, Issue 12

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