Science Through the Ages

Page 1

Issue 14

November 2019



S T c h A rou ien G gh c E th e

Design by: Caitlin Smith





Jungle Medicine


Gene Therapy: The Elixir of Life?


Edward Teller’s Hydrogen Bomb


Let the Spices Flow


Natural Organic Chemistry


The Children of Asclepius


Don’t Cry Over Spilt Blood


Lamarck’s Redemption

Crichton’s Fables


Resist the Resistance!


Sustaining Our Health


Fly on the Wall


The Price We Pay


Finding Company in the Cosmos


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2 | Science Through the Ages

Cover Illustration by: Alexia Vignau


Students Battling Bacteria


Sensing the Future


Hamburgling Your Health


The Science of an Art


Bars on Campus


Reusable Straws Won’t Save the Turtles


The Powerhouse of the Lab


Finding Company in the Cosmos 06

Design by: Caitlin Smith


Martina Velichkovska Division I Biology


Alexander MacDonagh

In this issue’s feature, Finding Company in the Cosmos (p. 6), Leena Yumeen discusses the search to find life outside of Earth, and the scientific and sociological implications of such a discovery.

CONTENTS Section | 3

Core Staff Anuj Shah Shravya Jasti Parv Gondalia Sandra Taboada Leila Thompson Sneh Amin Mac Clifton Corey Fehlberg Trevor Birenbaum

Editor-in-Chief Managing Editor Copy Chief Design Director Art Director Director of Photography Webmaster Director of Finance Distribution Manager

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” -Carl Sagan I remember the first time I thought to myself, “are we alone in the universe?” It was late at night, and my sister and I were laying on a hill behind our house in Kentucky, staring up at the stars. Around me, the glow of fireflies and chirping of crickets permeated the air, accompanied by the occasional rustling of an animal in the underbrush. I was surrounded by so much life, but never had I stopped to consider whether it existed outside of our planet, in the vast expanse of space. From the time philosophers and scientists began asking this first, tentative question, fields such as astronomy, engineering, and ethics have been reinvigorated with new goals—to continue the search for life beyond Earth while bettering the way humans interact with one another. In this issue’s feature, “Finding Company in the Cosmos” (p. 6), Leena Yumeen considers the search for life elsewhere in the universe, its historical significance, and the enormous implications it has for the future of science and humanity. This issue delves into the theme of “science through the ages,” and considers how both the discoveries of the past and advancements of tomorrow affect our present-day life. Our exploration into the unknown, both here on Earth and beyond, reminds us every day that to be human is special.

Anuj Shah Microbiology and Immunology Class of 2021 Editor-in-Chief, UMiami Scientifica

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Wil Harris Ryan Steinberg Lucero Barrantes Austin Berger Sofia Mohammad

Creative Writing Business Manager Director of Public Relations Director of Public Relations Director of Community Outreach

Roger Williams, M.S. Ed Victoria Pinilla

Editorial Advisor Board of Advisors Liason

Though science is in a constant state of advancement, we can still appreciate the past for its importance and meaning to the field. Just as the field advances, so too does this magazine. I am humbled to work with such a talented team of undergraduates each year that continue to push not only their capabilities, but the magazine’s as well. The Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) has awarded us in the past and this year as well, and we are honored. I am excited to share with you, the reader, that our very own Sandy Taboada received an honorable mention for her cover design for Brain and Behavior! Leila Thompson won second place for her HIV infographic, and first overall for her entire portfolio of infographics! Design is a very important aspect of a publication and recognition like this is incredible to get in our fifth year. Another important aspect of our magazine is the quality of writing, and we are proud to announce that our staff writer Christina Paraggio won an honorable mention for her non-fiction article “The Vaping Gun.” Scientifica also won first overall in headline writing, thanks to Wil Harris and many others. I hope you enjoy this latest issue of the magazine and take an opportunity to look back at the magazine’s evolution over the years.

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

Scientifica Staff 2019 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


Trevor Birenbaum Siena Vadakal Alexandria Hawkins Carolina Mallar Carolene Kurien

COPY EDITORS Gaurav Gupta Carolina Mallar Siena Vadakal Avi Botwinick Nikhil Rajulapati Giovanna Harrell Sean Walson Greg Zaroogian Abigail Adera

WRITERS Isabella Lopez Austin Berger Sam Mosle Amirah Rashed Setareh Gooshvar Alexia Vignau Ka Lam Nguyen Riya Kumar Sofia Mohammad Nathalie Rodriguez Frank Gutierrez Juan Diaz Lucero Barrantes Vince Sferra Julia Armstrong Isik Surdum Kimberley Rose Marc Levine Sophia Meibohm Anjou Sharma Mahitha Kunamneni

DESIGNERS Aaron Dykxhoorn Emily Fakhoury Lucero Barrantes Sam Mosle Varsha Udayakumar

PhotograpHers Alexis Paul Raghuram Reddy Avery Boals Joseph Hughes Walter Benedict

Artists Megan Buras Anam Ahmed Varsha Udayakumar Alexia Vignau Celeena Memon


FINDING COMPANY IN THE COSMOS by Leena Yumeen Photography: Alexis Paul

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NE FATEFUL DAY IN 1924, Edwin Powell Hubble managed to single-handedly alter our perception of the universe. Night after night, the young American astronomer observed a curious star that revealed itself to be far beyond the boundaries of the Milky Way galaxy. The assertion seemed preposterous for the 20th century: until that point, the Milky Way was thought to be the entire universe. But from his astronomical perch in Mount Wilson observatory in Los Angeles, he knew that he had just uncovered something profound. Throughout history, the insignificance of humans in relation to the scope of the cosmos has become increasingly apparent. Just six centuries ago, humans were certain that Earth lay at the center of the universe, and just 90 years ago we believed that the universe was finite. But every time we think we know our place, the universe presents evermore mindboggling truths to knock our ego down. And thus, as it turns out, his documentation of the star’s estimated distance unambiguously yielded one of the most transformative discoveries in all of astronomy: the Milky Way must have a

neighboring galaxy. And just how far away was it? By his calculations, over 860,000 light years away. For perspective, a drive to Hubble’s newfound galaxy Andromeda would take over 140 billion years in the average sedan. The discovery was deemed so revolutionary that Hubble was immortalized through the Hubble Telescope—the beloved messenger of all of those colorful, galactic nebulae photos that are used as laptop screensavers. Not surprisingly, the finding prompted a stream of existential questions. If there are other galaxies, each with trillions of stars, are we alone? Or are there other “Earths” out there, exoplanets with their own sets of civilizations ignorant of our existence? These inquiries formed the basis of the Fermi Paradox. Posed casually by physicist Enrico Fermi one day in 1950 as he ate lunch with a colleague, the paradox follows as such: with the magnitude of galaxies in the universe, there must be at least a handful of planets like Earth, each suitable for life. Given that the universe is 13.8

billion years old, there’s been plenty of time for intelligent life to evolve and pay us a visit. So, where is everyone? Why hasn’t a reality similar to “Guardians of the Galaxy” manifested, with flying raccoons from distant worlds warring with intergalactic invaders? These questions kickstarted the search for alien life in the 20th century. The fascination with uncovering something otherworldly remains strongly with us today: pop culture is laden with references to lanky green creatures in savvy aluminum outfits. But make no mistake, real progress is being made. NASA will soon launch a mission to find life on the distant moon Europa. In the meantime, it has been declared that there is a suspicious amount of organic molecules—the chemical basis for life as we know it—present on Mars. “With these new findings, Mars is telling us to stay the course and keep searching for evidence of life,” says Thomas Zurbechan, a NASA headquarters’ Associate Administrator. Some scientists even posit that an intergalactic meet-up is imminent, albeit with single-celled bacteria. Exoplanet researcher Sara Saeger from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology states that “we have a shot—I’d call it a remote shot—of finding life within the next decade.” This explosion of research into the field of astrobiology truly begs the question: what would happen if humans crossed paths with another form of life? Stepping out of the bounds of chemical research and into the field of psychology, what could we predict about the human reaction in the face of such an event? The answer may come in the form of a theory posed by psychologist Henri Tajfel. According to the Social Identity Theory, as humans develop, their sense of identity becomes rooted in the groups to which they are assigned. This group could be something

Design by: Sandy Taboada


Ethics | 7

Design by: Sandy Taboada

as trivial as your sixth grade soccer team or as fundamental as your race. Regardless, according to Tajfel, in order to raise their selfesteem, humans attempt to advocate for the group to which they belong and discriminate against out-groups. In fact, Tajfel found that conflict between groups usually arises simply due to their categorizations. We see this manifest as prejudice and stereotyping at best, and racism, persecution, and warfare at worst. Considering this model of human behavior, it seems implausible that any longterm interaction with a foreign visitor would remain peaceful. What would stop us from treating aliens as menacingly as human civilizations treat each other on Earth? Or, vice versa, how would an advanced civilization greet us after crash landing on Earth? Human hubris often makes us believe that our space travels have been ambitious. We’ve gotten all the way to the moon, right? Well, any colony smart enough to travel light-years to reach us would make our around-the-block space trips seem laughable. It’s a hard thing to acknowledge, but maybe human civilization doesn’t truly fit the definition of “advanced,” or even “intelligent” for that matter. Just as there’s an intelligence gap between humans and dogs, there may be one between us and

8 | Science Through the Ages

arriving aliens. Just imagine: an attempt to understand their technology could be similar to a dog attempting to understand a Rubik’s cube. The famed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson argues the point further, stating, “I wonder if, in fact, we have [already] been observed by aliens, and upon this observation of human conduct and behavior, they have concluded that there is no sign of intelligent life [on Earth].” Fear not: not all outlooks are so pessimistic. The far more likely outcome of our search for life is uncovering microbial fossils or hidden extremophiles evolving on distant planets. If this were achieved, the implications would be astounding. If cells found on Mars resembled ours here on Earth, it could support the theory that Earthly life descended from Martian microbes. Some scientists, in fact, have hypothesized that life on Earth arrived on a colliding asteroid forged on Mars. And beyond providing a theory for the origin of life, the finding could revolutionize biomedicine. Perhaps the DNA of a cell strong enough to overcome the unforgiving environments of space could reveal how to enhance our own ability to survive on Earth. However, until NASA uncovers evidence of galactic companions, we can do nothing but keep looking up,



DWARD TELLER, a Hungarian-born nuclear physicist, was best known for his instrumental role in the construction of the atomic bomb and the development of the first thermonuclear weapon, the hydrogen bomb. The global influence of the hydrogen bomb cannot go understated: it has revolutionized modern technology and altered the course of history as we know it today. Its very existence has affected international relations among all countries, sparked political controversy across multimedia, impacted past and present federal decision-making and policies, and heightened the potential risks and consequences associated with war and its aftermath. But how exactly does a hydrogen bomb work? What is the science behind its mechanisms? How will nuclear weapons continue to impact future conflicts among different countries? And in the event that they are utilized, how would this impact health and environmental factors that affect our lives and society? In order to understand the mechanisms at work behind the hydrogen bomb, we must first take a look at Teller’s first technological breakthrough, the atom bomb. This was “the Manhattan Project,” the code-name for the American-led effort to develop a functional atomic bomb during the 1940s. An atomic bomb uses either uranium or plutonium and relies on fission, a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom breaks apart into two pieces. The first deployed atomic bombs were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6, 1945, during World War II, killing approximately 120,000 people in total. After the end of World War II, unsettled grievances and mutual distrust between the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) led to a hostile, yet restrictive rivalry known as the Cold War. This unspoken war induced the rapid development of vast numbers of nuclear weapons from both superpowers, including the hydrogen bomb. Although thermonuclear reactions involve the splitting of the atomic nucleus, they also undergo further processes to increase explosive intensity and use up more plutonium or uranium. More specifically, plutonium-238 that contains an area of hydrogen gas will undergo compression and fission. Hydrogen atoms will eventually fuse due to extremely high temperatures and pressures. This results in the release of neutrons that will return to plutonium-238 and cause more atoms to split, escalating the fission chain reaction at an extraordinary rate. The first hydrogen bomb was tested in November of 1952 and caused serious destruction within a 60 mile radius. The uneasy tensions fueled by the Cold War and the presence


of nuclear arms heavily affected the conflicts among the allies of both the USA and USSR. These globally significant events included the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, as well as civil wars and inter-state conflicts in North and South Korea, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan, and Guatemala. Although tensions did ease at certain periods of time with the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, the Cold War did not officially come to a close until the dissolution of the USSR and the birth of 15 new states, including an anti-communist, democratic Russia. Today, relations between Russia and the US are generally much less hostile and concerning, yet there is a lot of controversy about this topic among historians and stateaffair experts. One thing is for certain: both countries have more than enough nuclear weapons to destroy all life on Earth several times over. It is important to note that other countries over the past three decades have developed nuclear weapons of their own, including India, the United Kingdom, China, France, and those most scrutinized by mass media coverage, Israel and North Korea. Despite the fact that the number of these projects are far below the number developed by both superpowers, all nuclear arms pose serious threats to national security and to the safety of all people on this planet. Very commonly, a detonated nuclear bomb will form a “mushroom cloud” of vaporized debris caused by fire, shockwaves, and intense radiation. The immediate extinction and vaporization of most life forms within the bomb’s vicinity, along with powerful blasts that tear away trees and buildings, are just some of the serious consequences of this devastating event. Another is global fallout; a process in which radioactive particles of dust and bomb debris falls back down to the Earth. This extreme exposure to radiation can then lead to genetic mutations that later may induce cataracts, hair loss, loss of blood cells, leukemia, cancer, infertility, and birth defects among the remaining survivors of the explosion. Researchers have also hypothesized that if countries engage in nuclear warfare, clouds of thick smoke could block out sunlight. This would decrease our planet’s surface temperatures dramatically and kill off many animal and plant species, leading to the fracturing of food chains, mass starvation, and climate change. Overall, the use of hydrogen bombs is a pressing issue that continues to be on the minds of government officials, scientists, and activists across the world. It is important to understand how Edward Teller’s contributions to this field have changed politics and history to this day, and how they may continue to change policies in the future.

Ethics | 9

Library of Alexandria Galen


Rebirth of Anatomy

10 | Science Through the Ages


HE ANCIENT GREEKS AND ROMANS were engrossed in medicine. Each civilization was extremely influential in their respective times—so influential, in fact, that their impact continues to be cast upon today’s world of healthcare. When the Greeks began their medicinal journey, they had just mere glimpses into the body. Over time, their understanding increased exponentially, a leap in knowledge that soon inspired scientific inquiry within the Romans. Asclepius (Latin: Aesculapius) was the ancient Greco-Roman god of medicine; doctors of the time were thereby referred to as children of Asclepius as a homage to him and in hopes of channeling his divine medical prowess.


One of the most prominent ancient Greek physicians (and widely considered to be the father of Western medicine), Hippocrates was born on the island of Cos around 460 B.C.E. His various

by Austin Berger


460 B.C.E. Cos Aesculapius

The Hippocratic Oath


Four Humors

Design by: Emily Fakhoury

works culminated in the creation of the Hippocratic Corpus, a collection of writings thought to be written by Hippocrates and his contemporaries. The “Hippocratic Oath” is one of the most recognized pieces from the Hippocratic Corpus, and it is still in use today, albeit in a modified form. “The Oath” is meant to be a collection of rules and regulations that ancient doctors were meant to follow, and they include respecting one’s teacher as much as one’s parents, using the art of medicine to the best of one’s ability to heal a patient, intending never to harm a patient, and a refusal to “cut” (i.e. perform most surgeries on) a patient. This inability to “cut” into a patient combined with the primitive nature of medical tools of the time led to some strange ideas about the cause of disease. One such theory which was widely known was the concept of the body’s Four Humors, dubbed phlegm, blood, black bile and yellow bile, which varied in concentration and abundance in different parts of the body. Phlegm was thought to be cold and wet, and a high concentration was thought to make a person introverted and lethargic. Blood, which was hot and wet, made a person joyful and sanguine. Yellow bile was hot and dry, causing one to be angry and irritable. Finally, black bile was cold and dry, resulting in melancholy and depression. A proper mixture of these Four Humors, or eucrasia, resulted in a person who was healthy and could properly grow and act. An improper mixture, or dyscrasia, would cause disease and bodily imbalances according to the characteristics of the Humor that were affected. Because of this theory, and similar ones of the time, diet, exercise, and drugs were the primary forms of reactive care in ancient Greece. Luckily, this whole medicinal method shifted during the Hellenistic Period. It is impossible to discuss Greco-Roman medicine without paying homage to the Egyptian city of Alexandria, established in the late fourth century B.C.E. The city housed the


black bile blood yellow bile

Library of Alexandria, a massive collection of academic materials with thousands upon thousands of scrolls from all over the ancient world. The thirst for knowledge by the people was so great at the time that the Ptolemies, the rulers of Egypt, would search every ship that came into port for new books and scrolls and if any were found, would confiscate them, produce a copy of them, and then deliver the copy to the original owner with compensation for the new knowledge gained. This accumulation of worldwide understanding caused medical advances to become mainstream, changing the face of medicine. The aforementioned ban on cutting was temporarily lifted in Alexandria due to new knowledge that the Egyptians were practicing the removal of organs from their dead. This shift allowed for the rise of the father of anatomy, Herophilus, and the father of physiology, Erasistratus. During their time exploring the human body, they made advances in knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the brain, eye, liver, reproductive organs, and nervous system, among other things. These contributions led to changes in how diseases were viewed, as they dispelled myths such as the thought that nerves were hollow and filled with air. Consequently, these discoveries led to more questions and more discoveries. The next big chapter in medicine occurred after Rome rose to power and conquered the Greeks. Galen, born in 130 A.D., was one of the most recognized ancient physicians, and while much of his work has been lost to time, his legacy remains important. At the time, he was at the forefront of medicine, combining the philosophy of his predecessors (Plato, Aristotle, and Hippocrates) with surgical and medical practices he picked up on his travels around the Mediterranean. First serving gladiators, he eventually became the personal physician to Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor from 161 to 180 A.D. One of Galen’s limitations, however, was that the ban on cutting had been reintroduced following the rule of Rome. Because of this, some of his findings were flawed, as he had to resort to dissecting animals like pigs and primates in order to discover the “secrets of the body.” For example, Galen proved the existence of the “rete mirabile,” Latin for “the wonderful network,” in the brains of sheep; it is a structure of the circulatory system in some vertebrates that allow for the exchange of gases, heat, and ions. Galen propagated the myth that the rete mirabile existed in humans. This myth, along with most of the other discoveries and writings of Galen, laid uncontested for over a millennium, until the “Rebirth of Anatomy” during the Renaissance, as by then the prohibition of cutting had been lifted. Medical advances continued, building upon the great works of the Greek and Roman physicians. Medicine advanced further and is still changing today, but it is always important that we look to the past, not only to see where we have come from, but also to frame where we are going. We must do this so that we may not repeat the mistakes of the past, but rather learn from them, and understand that what we see now may not be the same in the future.

Ethics | 11



t h on c i r ’

Fables by Amirah Rashed


HEN JURASSIC PARK PREMIERED in 1993, the Golden Age of dinosaurs and paleontology began. Young viewers of the movie saw paleontology as a field of endless adventures and innovation. As someone who has watched Jurassic Park at least five times, it is easy to understand how the movie could influence a person’s career goals, but if anyone decided it was a great idea to create dinosaurs after watching the movie, they may have missed the point. Jurassic Park is set in the fictional Isla Nublar, upon which industrialist John Hammond is in the process of

12 | Science Through the Ages

building a theme park featuring prehistoric life forms brought back to life. The movie details the process through which the dinosaurs were created. Dinosaur DNA was extracted from mosquitos preserved in amber. Frog DNA was used to fill in any gaps in the dinosaurs’ genomes, and all dinosaurs were modified to be females to control unwanted breeding. Simply put, the movie’s scientists used genetic engineering to create dinosaurs. Genetic engineering is the deliberate modification of an organism’s genome to change its characteristics. Through all this, chaos theorist and mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm is a voice of reason in the movie—best known for his quote, “life

“[Y]our scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Design by: Emily Fakhoury

finds a way.” Dr. Malcolm is right; life does find a way, often leading to unforeseen consequences. Although the dinosaurs in the movie were genetically programmed to be female, they were still able to reproduce due to the trait of hermaphroditism which they acquired from frog DNA. This trait allowed some female dinosaurs to undergo a sex-change to male and breed with the remaining female dinosaurs. Despite the scientific inaccuracies about how the dinosaurs were created, a very relevant message about genetic engineering arises from the events of the movie. Genetically engineered organisms have been a source of controversy in recent years. At the forefront of this controversy are genetically modified foods and gene-edited human babies. According to National Geographic, people in the U.S. have been eating genetically modified (GM) foods since the mid-1990s, and more than 60 percent of all processed foods in the U.S. contain ingredients from engineered soybeans, corn, or canola. GM foods are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and are considered comparable to their conventional counterparts in terms of safety. However, many believe that we haven’t been eating GM foods long enough to understand if there are hidden long-term consequences associated with their consumption. Most GM foods are transgenic, meaning that a gene from one organism is artificially inserted into the genome of another organism. This creates the possibility of the gene taking on a completely new function in the host DNA. For example, in the mid-1990s, a biotech company launched a project to insert a gene from the Brazil nut into a soybean in order to create a more nutritious soybean for use in animal feed. The Brazil nut was known to contain a protein allergenic to humans, so scientists tested for allergic reactions in humans to the GM soybean after its creation. When they saw that humans suffered adverse allergic reactions to the GM soybean, they abandoned the project. But what if they didn’t find the protein? It’s possible that the transgenic soybean could have produced an entirely new protein for which scientists wouldn’t have the hindsight to test for, and humans could be equally allergic to that novel protein. Given the fact that we eat GM foods all the time, they don’t seem as revolutionary as the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park. But in December of last year, the scientific community erupted when news broke of the the first gene-edited babies. Chinese scientist He Jiankui claimed that he used the geneediting tool CRISPR/Cas9 to disable the CCR5 gene in fertilized human eggs. The CCR5 gene encodes a protein that allows the most common version of HIV to enter cells. By disabling this gene, the babies supposedly have a reduced risk of contracting HIV. Experts in the field said that gene-editing in eggs could lead to a multitude of unknown genetic complications for the children. The ability to edit the genome of an unborn child could become a

socioethical problem since the wealthy may choose to introduce superior genes into their children, creating an even deeper system of inequality than what exists now. Furthermore, Jiankui’s research did not serve to address any area of clinical medicine that was previously unaddressed since effective ways to prevent generational HIV transmission already exist. The main issue with genetic engineering lies in the uncertainty of what it can create. Science embraces and explores uncertainty, but with genetic engineering, a slower and more tempered approach may be needed to prevent a genetic calamity from which we may not recover from. As Dr. Ian Malcolm once said, “[Y]our scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Ethics | 13

Sustaining Our by Samantha Mosle

“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.� - World Health Organization

14 | Science Through the Ages

N AN EVER-CHANGING and often negative political and social climate, it has become ever more important to stand together in solidarity and work towards building an ethical, sustainable world that we can leave behind for generations to come. The 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the United Nations in 2015, provide nations with an ambitious agenda for ensuring that people can live in peace and harmony with not just each other, but also with the planet as we look forward into the future. The SDGs represent a global partnership between developing and developed countries with the common goal of ending inequality and human suffering while promoting education and health and addressing climate change. There are 17 intertwined goals that tackle issues that are often interconnected. Based on the SDG index, which measures 149 countries and compares their current progress with a baseline measurement taken in 2015, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries are the top performers and heading in the right direction, especially in access to healthcare systems. In Sweden, the healthcare system is largely tax-funded, a system that ensures everyone has equal access to healthcare services. In stark contrast to the successes of Sweden, the Central African Republic (CAR) is struggling to work towards achieving any of the SDGs and, in particular, healthcare in the CAR is dysfunctional in every area, and at every level. There is an estimated one doctor for every 3,000 people, and one nurse for every 1,000, whereas more developed nations often have one doctor for every 400 or 500 people. The severe shortage of qualified healthcare providers severely limits access to care for every resident of the country and exacerbates inequity. The life expectancy at birth in the CAR is only 43 years old with child mortality rates in the range of 176 per 1,000 births, compared to only 2.8 deaths per 1,000 births in Sweden. Twenty percent of children die before they reach five years old, and ten percent of children under the age of five suffer from severe malnutrition. Although achieving all of the SDGs is imperative for the health of the planet and her residents, access to healthcare is an issue that is both attainable and long overdue. The SDG that directly refers to healthcare is SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being. This specific goal targets many healthcare issues: reducing maternal and child mortality, ending epidemics (HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria), reducing premature deaths from non-communicable diseases, preventing and treating substance abuse, ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care, achieving universal health coverage, supporting funding for vaccination research, and strengthening the healthcare capacities of all countries, among many others. Many of these sub-goals are key indicators that help public health officials determine the degree of access to quality care for an entire country. High levels of maternal mortality, child mortality, and certain communicable diseases indicate that there is a large population with little to no access to care. Technological advancements are one of the most important ways to work towards meeting the SDGs. One recent advancement is a new piece of equipment that will help reduce child mortality in developing countries in an affordable way. Preterm, or premature, birth is the leading cause of death for children under five years old. It is estimated that 15 million babies are born before 37 weeks gestation every year, and nearly 1 million of those children under five perish due to complications associated with preterm birth. Approximately three-quarters of these lives could be saved with current interventions; unfortunately, these children do not survive due to the low levels of

infrastructure and lack of health care professionals that reside in many impoverished countries. In high-income countries, almost all of the babies born after 32 weeks survive, but in low-income countries, only half survive. Hypothermia is one of the major killers of preterm babies and many countries cannot afford the equipment required to keep these infants warm. Embrace infant warmers, which were developed through a project class at Stanford University called Design for Extreme Affordability, were designed to meet the unique challenges of developing countries such as cost and accessibility. This team created a cheap, portable device that is able to maintain the body temperature of infants without being connected to an electricity source. Special temperature-regulating materials, called phase change materials, melt or solidify near body temperature, maintaining constant temperature from the process of the phase change rather than from the infant's own body. These warmers look like a little swaddle with a temperature-regulating element that contains the phase change material placed between the inner and outer layers of the warmer. Technological advancements, such as the Embrace warmers, represent a key step in a positive direction towards reaching the SDGs. Although reducing mortality is of utmost importance, other technologies are focused on improving the overall well-being of people, globally. A Botswana-based company called Deaftronics has developed the first solar-powered hearing aid. Each unit includes a digital hearing aid with a solar battery charger, along with rechargeable batteries. These batteries are versatile and can be used in 80% of hearing aids that are already currently out on the market. This technology provides an opportunity to give patients the gift of hearing while simultaneously reducing the number of visits that patients need to make to care centers in low to middle-income countries such as those in Africa, Brazil, China, India, and Southeast Asian countries. By spending less time traveling to care centers to get batteries checked and replaced, patients are able to save money and spend more time living their lives. University of Miami students are in a position of great potential. We can advocate for sustainable practices on campus as well as pursue research opportunities focused on developing sustainable healthcare practices. As a part of an endeavor to make our university more “green,� UHealth has become a part of the Florida Hospital Association Sustainability Collaborative, which is focused on improving environmental health and sustainability in partnership with Practice Greenhealth. Practice Greenhealth is a national nonprofit focused on empowerment and support for sustainable healthcare. Their mission is to empower our members to increase their efficiencies and environmental stewardship while improving patient safety and care through tools, best practices and knowledge. Organizations such as Practice Greenhealth are able to allow health institutions, especially those that are slow to adopt green practices, to develop a more environmentally and socially healthy medical practice. As students, we are the champions of innovation, and the ideas and beliefs that we advocate for will close the gap to meeting the targets of all SDGs, not only the SDGs related to healthcare. In this day and age, it is more important than ever to take the initiative and look for innovative solutions to the problems that we face today. With pressing climate change, overpopulation, malnutrition, disease, and inequality plaguing our planet, now is the time to go forth and do good.

Design by: Samantha Mosle


Ethics | 15

the price we pay

by Setareh Gooshvar Illustration: Leila THompson

My tiny heart flutters. The strain of starvation and fear has pushed my emaciated body to the limit to get away. The colossal leviathan only glides closer, harboring no regard for the storm roiling inside my minuscule, spiny body. I’m one of the last remaining morsels of food in this waste and like me, he’s only focused on getting a pure morsel of nourishment. Despair falls over me as I realize that I can’t get away. This is the end. Desperately, I search around myself thinking that if only I found a tether I could hang on, blend in and save my own life. Once upon a time, I could have found millions, even billions of hiding spots in the coral I lived in. It used to be vibrant, filled with the promise of life, and safe from danger. That was before the ocean came crashing down around us, making us aliens in our own home. The coral reefs are dead, bleached a sterile, unfeeling white. The polyps inside heaved their last breaths long ago. The prey suddenly understood the panicked desperation of a starving predator. We all want to live, but in this haze filled with that strange shiny material, there’s no hope. My tail catches on something and my heart leaps into my throat. Have I been saved? A tether has found me but as I look back, panic rises in my heart. It’s the wrong color. Long and thin, a soft pink, with fuzz attached at the ends. Against my own orange, it’s like a beacon in the dark. Calling out, waiting for someone to notice the panicked seahorse caught on this infernal piece of trash. These are the new inhabitants of our world: shiny, insistent, immortal. We mistook them as food at first, then my friends started to choke on them, the turtles suffocated, bodies twisting, thrashing, betrayed by themselves, their patterned shells a tomb. No one was safe from the trash soup we had begun to live in. The shadowed ray comes closer. As my anxiety rises with his growing nearness, I see that he’s been blinded. There’s a sheet over his face, his eyes covered in the shiny material as he swims right past me. I should be glad that my life was spared. Through the clouded yellow water, there’s nothing to see anymore, no beauty to be found. All we can do is remember what the ocean was – filled with iridescent fish in their tightly knit schools, the orange feet of seagulls piercing the surface, and the warm caress of the pure ocean current. I wish I could have called the ray back, asked him, begged him even to eat me. Maybe then I’d be free, free to join the departed in a place where we belonged again. A vibrant, living, breathing ocean, free of the trash and death this new one seems to be eternally filled with. Until then, I’ll float, hopelessly lost, tail stuck to this abomination, an alien in an ocean I used to call home.

16 | Science Through the Ages

Design by: Leila Thompson

Ethics | 17

Author: Alexia Vignau Illustrations: Leila Thompson


INGERLY, I ACCEPTED THE DAGGER the guide offered me, and marveled at how the tree bark gave way as I slit into it. The tree itself towered and was noticeably riddled with scars, indicating I wasn’t the first perpetrator. Moments later, the slit I had made began dribbling sap that resembled blood. Our guide instantly wiped it from the bark and began rubbing onto the rashes we had developed from the Amazonian underbrush. Surprised, I felt immediate relief after rubbing the sap onto my legs; I watched it turn from crimson to a white-pink salve, appropriately coined by Ecuadorian Amazonian natives as “sangre de drago” or “Dragon’s Blood.” I later learned that this plant, Croton erythrochilus, had been used for centuries by locals for its medicinal properties. This past spring break, I had the privilege of participating in a medical mission trip in the Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest near Tena, Ecuador. Our close team of university students and Ecuadorian doctors visited remote pockets of the jungle to provide medications and medical attention to a population who otherwise wouldn’t have access to what we term “modern medicine.” Their lack of access to high-powered pharmaceuticals, however, should not be mistaken for a lack of resourcefulness. In fact, the knowledge that the village people sported and their utilization of medicinal herbs and remedies was incredibly impressive. At first, I was very tempted to chalk up the medicinal herbs the people mentioned as pseudo-medicine.

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After all, I am conditioned to think as an American that medicine can only be served as yellow plastic bottles with tiny white pills. However, my experience with “Dragon’s Blood” spurred the realization that medicine does not always have to be synthesized in a lab. Recalling the textbook example of penicillin (an antibiotic derived from mold), I wondered if there was any scientific proof behind the efficacy of the herbs and remedies which the natives hailed as viable alternatives to our syrups and pill bottles. My road of fact-checking was not only fascinating, but shocking. “Dragon’s Blood” is often used by natives for rashes and open wounds. A study done by researchers from the University of Antwerp analyzed active ingredients present in the Croton sap and tested its wound-healing capability in vivo on rats. This study found that one of the lab-isolated constituents of the sap (3’,4-O-dimethylcedrusin) “improved wound healing in vivo by stimulating the formation of fibroblasts and collagen.” What was very shocking, however, was that the researchers found that the crude sap was more effective than the derived constituent at healing the wound and went beyond the power of the constituent by assisting in contraction of the wound, development of a crust, creation of new collagen, and repair of the epithelium. These were effects of proanthocyanidins, which encourage wound contraction and assist in the precipitation of crust-forming proteins on the wound. In this case, the raw version of the sap had a greater level of efficacy than the lab’s isolated version.

basis. In fact, the aforementioned Capsicum annuum (chili pepper) extract has been found to express antiviral activity against herpes simplex virus 1 and 2, and banana peels have been found to contain antimicrobial properties. It’s easy to label “modern” as advanced and “refined” as better, but that may not always be the case. My experience in Ecuador was incredibly humbling, because although our team was swooping in to these small towns and trying to educate them on how to live in a healthier and more sanitary way, the villagers were actually teaching us too. They likely didn’t realize that it was the 3’,4-O-dimethylcedrusin that gave their dragon sap its properties, but their knowledge of the beneficial herbal effects were just as valid. If anything, they just skipped the whole “lab rat” phase and went straight to human trial and error, passing down and refining their knowledge from generation to generation. Their herbal and natural remedies are an untapped treasure of potential future medications. Who knows? Maybe, one day, “Dragon’s Blood Salve” will be making its way to a pharmacy near you.

Design by: Leila Thompson

Something else also resonated with me during my trip to Ecuador. There was a disproportionate amount of Ecuadorians, especially children, who were hosts to gastrointestinal parasites. As a microbiology major, I had heard one of my professors, Dr. Arba Ager, talk about the ubiquitous nature of worms in places where access to potable water is limited. For this reason, at the outset of my expedition, I seriously doubted whether I would find support for the other jungle remedy I learned about, the usage of Carica papaya seeds as an antiparasitic. The indigenous people prepared this remedy by grinding the seeds and filtering them before adding water and drinking it. As it was, during the mission, our team had been disseminating antiparasitic medication like candy, so I was very speculative of this remedy’s power. Again, I was surprised. One study stated that the Carica papaya seeds were used to treat sixty asymptomatic Nigerian children whose stool provided microscopic evidence of intestinal parasites. Treatment was given in two forms: air-dried papaya seeds and honey or honey alone (placebo). The experimental group was given the papaya seed elixir and saw significantly higher numbers of stool clearance than the placebo group. In fact, stool clearance was at a rate of 71.4% and 100% for the group given the papaya seeds versus just a 0% and 15% clearance in the placebo. The study held that not only was the treatment “cheap, natural, [and] harmless,” but also boasted about its “proven anthelmintic and antiamoebic activity.” Maybe this treatment isn’t very widely or consistently used in the region I visited (with the parasitic proliferation so high), but based on these findings, I definitely think that more research and programs should be implemented to explore this as a potential public health solution. Yet, these examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Notions that seemed bizarre to me, such as using chili peppers to treat herpes virus or a banana peel to improve dental health, have significant scientific

It’s easy to label “modern” as advanced and “refined” as better, but that may not always be the case.

Health | 19

Let the Spices Flow: Culinary Chemistry By Ka Lam Nguyen Photography: Sneh Amin


PICES ARE USED IN EVERY MEAL, everyday, and in every cuisine from around the world. While some cuisines, such as those from India, are internationally renowned for their extensive use of spice, there are other regional cuisines, such as Japanese, that use fewer spices and rely heavily instead on the natural flavors of the ingredients. However, it is an unequivocal truth that spices and herbs have played an important role in human culinary history. Centuries of experience in spice manipulation within the culinary arts have formed the foundation of every nation’s food heritage. Undoubtedly, spices impart flavor to the meal and make the dish palatable to the tongue. They are valued for their medicinal properties as well as their aroma. Studying the history of spice is essentially studying the history of human interactions between different cultures across time. That said, the history of spice revolves around the cravings of ancient nations to commercially monopolize native spices. Historically,

20 | Science Through the Ages

Europe got its spices from the silk road from the Arabs. The Arabs got their spices from India and China and retained their monopoly of the spice trade until other maritime routes were created by European explorers. Fueled by the desire to directly access the spice supply for cheaper spices, which had been quite expensive up until the 13th century because of the monopoly, Europe was eager to find new routes to China and India. Marco Polo’s exploration of China was the first recorded major attempt to find a new trade route to bypass the monopoly of the Arabs. His exploration of China brought prosperity to Venice as a major trading port, providing many products including spices to the rest of Europe. However, the status of Venice steadily declined as the major trading port of Europe when other explorers found new routes. Portugal was the first European nation to take the lead in finding maritime routes after the Portuguese explorer Vasco

products to give a note of sweetness. Terpene is a large and diverse group of organic compounds that are found in many plants, and are often used as a defense chemical to deter herbivores. One of the most interesting terpenes is carvone. Carvone exists in two enantiomers, meaning the two versions of carvone are mirror images of each other. Although they have the same molecular weight, L-carvone is found in spearmint, and has a hint of mint and sweetness, while the D-carvone is found in caraway, and has a spicy, licorice-like aroma. Aldehydes are organic compounds or functional groups containing a carbonyl center bonded to a hydrogen atom and an alkyl group. Aldehydes are found in cinnamon as cinnamaldehyde or in cacao seeds as isovaleraldehyde. Isovaleraldehyde gives a malty, chocolatey note, and thus, the cacao seeds are able to contribute to the chocolate flavor profile as the main ingredient. Sulphurous compounds are often foul-smelling in high concentrations. Pure sulphur is odorless, but many of its compounds are found in rotten foods (hydrogen sulphide in rotten eggs) and the odors are detected by our olfactory receptor OR2T11. Our ability to detect sulphurous compound most likely arises from our evolutionary need to detect rotten food for survival. Although many cuisines, such as Italian and Indian, use garlic extensively in dishes like spaghetti aglio or garlic naan, it is undeniable that raw garlic is quite pungent. Depending on the person, its odor could be described as pleasant or putrid. This is due to allicin being released when the clove is crushed or damaged. Allicin is also a natural antibiotic, and numerous studies have been conducted to examine its antimicrobial, antifungal, and analgesic properties. There are endless possibilities for spices to be used to create novel flavor profiles and elevate dishes. However, some spices can dominate others with their overwhelmingly strong smell. Thus, a carefully crafted mixture of spices is needed to balance aromas to create a potent background while letting the other ingredients shine. Some spices take on new flavors when their chemical compositions are changed. For example, black cumin seeds contain the essential oil called thymoquinone which has a rather grassy taste and a hint of bitterness. However, after a photochemical reaction it dimerizes into dithymoquinone. Dithymoquinone has a more nutty, earthy, and toasty aroma when compared to thymoquinone which allows it to be used in different dishes. Studying spices is like studying organic chemistry because the method of processing the spice can alter its flavor profile by changing the chemical composition. It’s fun and interesting, yet challenging. In truth, there isn’t a big difference between an organic chemist and a chef when it comes to spices and how to combine them effectively.

Design by: Aaron Dykxhoorn

da Gama became the first European to reach India by sea, therefore establishing the maritime link between the West and the East for the first time in history. After Portugal’s success, Spain sent its own explorer, Christopher Columbus, to bypass established paths. His accidental discovery of the New World introduced Europe to many new spices. As the world grew smaller, spice prices fell and spices became available all over the world. Hence, cuisines have evolved to adapt and improve upon old flavors to create new ones. However, the historical importance of spice begs the question: what are spices, scientifically speaking? While herbs are exclusively derived from plant leaves, spices are derived from seeds, fruits, roots, stems, flowers, or bark, spices are any parts of plants that can enhance and add flavors to food. Some exceptions such as bay leaf, curry leaf, kaffir lime leaves, and some tea leaves are considered spices because they are not usually used in their fresh form, but as flavor enhancers. Most spice aromas are derived from organic oils, contained within the plant and released only when environmental factors affect the plant. Biologically speaking, many plants use these substances to deter herbivores from eating them, and the antimicrobial properties of the oils can even protect them from disease. Since plants do not have an adaptive immune system, these flavor compounds are potent innate immune defense mechanisms that function to protect themselves from harm. However, we often find these protective compounds to be palatable when added to certain foods. Take capsaicin, for example. It is derived from chili peppers, which are plants belonging to the genus Capsicum, such as jalapeno, serrano, and Scotch Bonnet. Even though consuming capsaicin-containing spice produces a burning sensation on the lips and tongue, which is followed by profuse sweating and oversecretion of nasal mucus, many people from around the world use a lot of chilies in their dishes. Indian and Thai dishes, such as lamb vindaloo or tom yum kha, are both famous for their extensive use of chili peppers. Capsaicin isn’t the only unpleasurable compound that is used extensively in cooking; many other spices contain various questionable aromas and are still used in various cuisines. There are many distinct groups of flavor compounds, each with different physical and chemical properties containing different functional groups. Most of them belong to these four categories: phenol, terpene, aldehyde, and sulphurous compounds. Phenol is an organic compound or functional group containing an aromatic phenyl group attached to a hydroxyl group. For example, eugenol, or 2-Methoxy-4-(prop-2-en-1-yl)phenol, is found mainly in spices such as cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Not only is it used in culinary arts, but eugenol is also found in many perfume

Health | 21

Design by: Caitlin Smith

Don’t Cry Over Spilt Blood by Riya Kumar Photography: Sneh Amin


T WAS THREE O’CLOCK in the morning and I found myself wide awake staring blankly into the darkness of my bedroom. It was the night before my blood test appointment. As the hours passed, all I could think about was getting my blood drawn. Images of the waiting room, the clinic chair, blood-filled test tubes, and nurses flashed in my head. Repeatedly reminding myself that all of my thoughts were ridiculous and unnecessary did not put me at ease that night. Before I knew it, the sun was rising, and I had to get ready to go to a place I dreaded the most— the infusion clinic. Taking deep breaths, I got up and repeated “you will be fine, you will be fine” over and over in my head. As a pre-medical student, I knew there was nothing life-threatening associated with getting my blood drawn, but somehow fear overcame my body and all my rational thoughts. Aware of my unreasonable angst, my mom met me at the clinic, but even her calm presence could not put me at ease. After only waiting for 10 minutes, I could feel my arm throbbing, as if my blood flow was being stopped. I could not remain still. I was on edge, my hands

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and feet were jittery, and I was counting the seconds until my appointment would begin. With my luck, all appointments were delayed by over 30 minutes. Sitting in the waiting room, my eyes began to water, and I continued to fidget until the nurse called “Riya.” The nurse sat me in the chair and asked me to put one arm forward. He prepped the test tubes and was now ready to insert the needle. I sat there chanting to myself that everything would be okay. But, before he even touched me, I began to cry. He then inserted the needle, and within a few seconds, he noticed me hysterically crying. He asked, “Oh, no! Am I hurting you?” I responded “No,” as I continued to weep. I had not even looked at the needle or the blood being drawn nor had I felt any pain, I thought I was going crazy. I took more deep breaths as he finished taking my blood. I wish that this was the end of the story, but it was not. The nurse asked me to put pressure on my arm as he finished

are found to avoid certain treatments and tests when they are needed, which leads to further complications. There is no direct cause for this phobia; however, it is assumed that it is a learned phobia from a social environment. Previous studies performed have shown that over 60% of blood injury phobics’ first-degree relatives also have the phobia. This research suggests that there could be a genetic component to the phobia. The current treatment that is recommended for BII is Applied Tension (AT). Unlike other phobias, tensing your muscles in these situations is recommended to help, although this does not work for everyone. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is another form of psychotherapy treatment that is used to improve people’s way of behaving and thinking. It is a common treatment for many phobias. BII is important to consider because it contributes to the low level of blood donations in the U.S as well as the low levels of diagnoses of other diseases within these patients. Phobias such as these really make us question the extent to which our subconscious thoughts can control our behaviors and bodies. Whether it be a blood injection phobia or a phobia of heights, we learn that the brain is a powerful and sometimes uncontrollable modulator of our internal states.

Design by: Aaron Dykxhoorn

packaging the blood-filled tubes. At that moment, I was profusely sweating, and I began to feel very light headed. I whispered out, “I don’t feel so good,” and within seconds I was coming in and out of consciousness while drooping over the clinic chair. I remember certain glimpses from this point on. I saw a doctor come to me with two more nurses, and they tried asking me questions but I did not have the breath to answer. I soon went unconscious, and when I came to, I found myself in a wheelchair in a hospital room. I was then laid down on the hospital bed with a juice box next to me and a new nurse monitoring me. After 30 minutes, I was fine to leave the clinic. Looking back on my past experiences, I find it bizarre that I have such an irrational fear of getting my blood drawn. I try hard to mentally prepare myself and understand that it’s all in my head, but it is a fear that consumes every normal thought, with no explanation for it. Blood injury injection phobia (BII) is known to be a common, specific phobia, as it has a 3% to 4% prevalence in the general population. It is a unique phobia in the way that it has a diphasic cardiovascular response. Other phobias are monophasic and generally result in an increase in blood pressure. However, BII begins initially with tachycardia (high

“At that moment, I was profusely sweating, and I began to feel very light headed. I whispered out, ‘I don’t feel so good,’ and within seconds I was coming in and out of consciousness while drooping over the clinic chair.” heart rate) followed by bradycardia (low heart rate), hypotension, shock, and other effects. The vasovagal syncope, which results in fainting, occurs when your nervous system does not regulate your heart rate and blood pressure and allows them to drop in response to a trigger. A component of the parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus nerve, stretches from the brainstem to the abdomen. The main function of the vagus nerve is to help control involuntary reactions of the body. When the function is overreacting, including reactions such as vomiting, severe coughing, and standing up too quickly, this lead to a vasovagal response. As a result of the vasovagal response, the heart rate drops and the blood vessels in your legs dilate. The blood that then is pooled in your legs, lowers your overall blood pressure. With the decrease in heart rate and blood pressure, there is a limited amount of blood flow to the brain, and you faint. Usually, a person with BII expresses these symptoms or similar ones before the age of 10. Many patients with this phobia

Health | 23

Resist the Resistance! G

LOBILIZATION IN THE 21st CENTURY marks an unpresedented paradigm shift in human development as it pertains to the migration of people, innovations, and microbes across the global frontier. Globalization has undoubtedly enabled us to have greater exposure to the world around us. The transfer of innovations and ideas across intellectual borders has also been accompanied by the transfer and diversification of another group across physical borders—microbes. The migration of microbes in an era marked by frequent, unnecessary drug use has ushered our society into an unintentional war between the advances of modern medicine, namely antibiotics, and powerful and everevolving strains of drug-resistant bacteria. Just under a century ago, seemingly “incurable” diseases, such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, and scarlet fever, ravaged our world’s population and claimed the lives of millions. These life-threatening infections were often regarded as death sentences as a result of the lack of an effective means to treat them before the disease became too severe for an individual’s immune system to combat. However, in the 1940s, the discovery of penicillin, the first antibacterial drug used to combat bacterial infections, revolutionized modern medicine by reclassifying formerly life-threatening diseases as both treatable and curable. The advent of penicillin marked a global health transition and heralded what global health experts regard as a post-World War II “Medical Care Era.” This time period is characterized by the advent of vaccinations, penicillin, pharmacological drug development, and general advances in medical care that enabled people to treat conditions that had previously been responsible for elevated mortality rates. Today, these very advances pose significant risks to our safety. The World Health Organization (WHO), defines antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as the ability of a microorganism to deter the destruction delivered by antimicrobials (such as antibiotics, antivirals, and

24 | Science Through the Ages

by Sofia Mohammad Illustration: Megan Buras

antimalarials). As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, and infections persist and may spread to others. Essentially, multiple strains of bacteria have been acquiring immunity to antibiotics that have previously been used as tools to kill them. With the widespread use and misuse of antibiotics, fewer and fewer bacteria are sensitive to treatment with antibiotics, a trend that has perilous implications on a global health front. Antibiotic resistance is therefore regarded as a top threat to health, food security, and development on a global scale. It is regarded as among the WHO’s top ten threats to global health for 2019. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 2 million people in the U.S. are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 people die as a result. Beyond the U.S., conditions such as Multidrugresistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB), a condition caused by strains of

Design by: Aaron Dykxhoorn

Mycobacterium tuberculosis, have acquired resistance to isoniazid and rifampin, the two most powerful antituberculosis drugs. MDR-TB is especially prevalent in Peru, and has been reported in over 117 countries worldwide. Complex problems, such as the aforementioned MDR-TB, demand complex solutions. Thus, it is vital for experts in economics, epidemiology, global health policy, sociology, and the physical sciences to address antimicrobial resistance at its root cause. This root cause is two-fold: the overuse and misuse of antibiotics and the unregulated usage of antibiotics in agricultural practices. Currently, antibiotics are being taken unnecessarily by individuals with viral infections such as the flu, who are then gaining resistance to different antibiotics as a result of unregulated and unwarranted usage. Additionally, antibiotics are being used extensively in agricultural practices, such as in animal agriculture, to prevent livestock from developing infections. As a result, many potent, last-resort antibiotics are being used across the globe to heighten agricultural yield. Until just recently, Colistin, a powerful last-resort antibiotic, was being used to maintain the health and profitability of livestock in agricultural arms in India. By standardizing the treatment of the chickens with a powerful antibiotic that is supposed to be reserved for dire circumstances in which no other antibiotic can be used, resistance is being bred among organisms on a global scale. This has negative health implications for human, animal, and microbial populations across the world. Presently, researchers across the globe are working to devise strategies to combat antibiotic resistance creatively. For instance, a collaborative research project conducted amongst Brown, Harvard, and Emory University repurposed bithionol—a drug previously used to treat parasitic infections in horses—to kill bacteria with AMR,

particularly methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a common hospital-acquired infection. They reasoned that standard antibiotics were no longer an effective means of targeting complex bacteria that have acquired immunity to potent antibiotics. Instead, a creative repurposing of old drugs in combination with traditional antibiotics is needed. According to William Wuest, an associate professor involved in the study at Emory, “the future for overcoming antibiotic resistance is these combination therapies where we can use lower doses of the more toxic antibiotics.” The results from their study invites optimism for other routes of inquiry that can potentially make certain resistant strains of microbes more vulnerable. Another technique researchers have devised is to seek help from the microbiome itself for further insight into finding potential solutions for AMR. However, it is not the microbiome you might expect. A study published in Nature Communications describes that scientists have been exploring the microbiome of insects to find bacteria that are able to treat the microbes that cause infirmity in humans. They are exploring the concept of biological warfare among virulent bacterial strains to develop antibiotic-like treatments using toxins produced by various microorganisms. The researchers were able to extract cyphomycin, a compound found on Brazilian fungus farming ants, and are hopeful with the belief that a drug derivative made of this compound can treat yeast infections in people. Although further studies are necessary, this study provides a promising new route for research that address AMR. Despite modern progress in the fight against AMR, it is clear that antimicrobial resistance remains a prominent threat to global health. The WHO postulates that one day, a gonorrhea or tuberculosis pandemic could threaten our entire world population if we are not careful about regulating antibiotic usage in both the sectors of medicine and agriculture. Despite the bleak circumstances surrounding our society’s war against antibiotic resistance, a simple solution exists—join the resistance. The resistance against the resistance, that is. The war we are waging against microbial resistance requires a concerted effort by patients, doctors, farmers, policymakers, and economists worldwide to combat both misinformation and a lack of awareness of the small steps we can each take to combat the greater issue of antibiotic resistance. When dealing with a resistance movement, especially one involving microbes, change begins within you! If we each make an effort to resist misinformation and improper antibiotic usage, AMR will be an issue best left in the past.

Health | 25


Author:Nathalie Rodriguez Photography: Anuj Shah

AVE YOU EVER WALKED INTO YOUR KITCHEN AND been annoyed to see dozens of fruit flies aimlessly buzzing around week-old oranges? These minuscule insects that the common person thinks of as pests are in reality more important in our lives than we can imagine. If it weren’t for these “pests,” science as we know it would be nowhere near the level of advancement it is at now. The use of fruit flies—or Drosophila melanogaster—in research has allowed for some of our century’s most significant scientific discoveries. Next time you see Drosophila buzzing around your fruit, consider if swatting them is the right choice. Drosophila melanogaster is now used as a model organism for scientific research as often as yeast and plants are. But it hasn’t always been this way. One noteworthy individual, Thomas Hunt Morgan, was the pioneer of Drosophila research. He began observing the common fruit fly in a laboratory setting in the early 1900s at Columbia University in New York. It was in Morgan’s famous cockroach-infested “Fly Room” that he performed his groundbreaking research. One of his many findings was the central dogma of genetics. This concept applies to every living organism: genes are located on chromosomes, which in turn influence heredity. It’s easy to imagine how our knowledge of basic genetics may not have been the same if Morgan had used another model organism. By observing a unique fly that had white eyes among a batch of red-eyed flies, then isolating it and crossing it with a red-eyed individual, Morgan noticed that the number of white-eyed flies began to grow, especially in the second generation. But there was something

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that intrigued and confused Morgan: all the white-eyed flies were males. He later discovered that one of Drosophila’s chromosome pairs is sex determinative. Males contain the chromosome pair XY and females the pair XX, and thus the trait for white eyes only appeared on the X chromosomes. By crossing all the flies of the filial (first) generation with red-eyed flies, the females produced became carriers for the whiteeyed male’s recessive X chromosome, and in turn, only a quarter of the males were white-eyed. Through the observation of natural changes in allelic frequencies and his momentous findings, Morgan received the Nobel Peace Prize for Medicine in 1933. The reason why this finding is considered significant to our everyday lives is that it applies to humans as well. Approximately 60% of readily identified genes in humans have a counterpart in Drosophila. In other words, humans and flies have retained 60% of the same genes from their common ancestor. For this reason, the similarities to the human genome, many researchers choose Drosophila as their model organism. The study of Drosophila in areas of behavior, development, and disease have allowed for substantial research to be conducted to understand these concepts in humans. Neuroscience is a rising field that relies significantly on the use of Drosophila to understand neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s. The nervous system of Drosophila is so similar to that of humans that several significant findings have impacted the diagnosis and treatment of these diseases. Alzheimer’s, the most common cause of dementia in humans, is associated with the formation of neuronal aggregates of beta-amyloid

Design by: Leila Thompson

plaques and Tau proteins. When flies are genetically engineered to exhibit the same etiology, there is an apparent correlation to the symptoms common with Alzheimer’s that are present in humans, such as the eye appearing rough, showing the breakdown of the neural fibers in the optic fiber. Apart from its similarity to the human genome, Drosophila’s short life span, high reproduction rate, and small size, make it easier to work with the genome. One of UM’s own professors, Dr. James Baker, has been studying Drosophila for over 20 years. When asked how he became interested in using Drosophila as a model organism, Dr. Baker replied that in graduate school he joined a lab that was studying endocrine regulation of behavior in moths and butterflies; however, he noticed that much of these immune responses were so well studied in most insects, but not one that had made so many additions to the scientific community—Drosophila melanogaster. His interest in studying endocrine regulation of behaviors stemmed from the idea that these behaviors are significant in understanding evolutionary changes in insects because they are represented in the subsequent filial generations. He mentions, “Drosophila serves as a great tool to allow us to answer scientific questions because it has many correlations to other genomes, especially the human genome. This particular research study was a topic in which little was known and it’s such a vital part of understanding evolution and behavior. So, I began studying how particular peptide hormones are responsible for regulating behaviors and behavioral transitions in Drosophila.” During

this time, Dr. Baker was doing his senior thesis. He states, “I was able to come to an important finding. We figured out that the behaviors that occur in flies when they come out of the pupal case, similar to when a butterfly comes out of its cristae, are regulated by a specific hormone that is also responsible for the darkening and tanning of the flies. While noticing this, I also came along another finding—that the hormone in question was binding to a receptor that was very similar to the luteinizing receptor in humans. In humans, this receptor is responsible for cycling in women, but in Drosophila this receptor is responsible for causing the transition in behavior and appearance when the Drosophila comes out of the pupal case.” This research’s experimental findings are published in the paper, “Mutations in the Drosophila glycoprotein hormone receptor, rickets, eliminate neuropeptideinduced tanning and selectively block a stereotyped behavioral program.” This paper discusses Dr. Baker’s most significant findings relating to developmental-behavioral processes responsible for ecdysis in Drosophila. After publishing these findings, Dr. Baker’s interest and curiosity in Drosophila only increased. He explains that he has never considered utilizing a different model organism because Drosophila has so many aspects that can be researched. Just as Dr. Baker studied and continues to study Drosophila, many researchers also see Drosophila as a model organism that has transformed the scientific community and will continue to revolutionize it.

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Gene Therapy

The Elixir of Life? by Frank Gutierrez Illustration: Leila Thompson

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the beta globin gene and knock off the incorrect copy. In addition to bypassing the need for invasive and potentially dangerous procedures with a newborn or young infant, this technique may also provide a sense of reassurance to parents who would rather cure their child of a potentially harmful disease before birth. Fortunately, the discovery of gene therapy has also given some hope to older individuals living with beta thalassemia. Scientists hope that gene therapy will be able to “fix” bone marrow cells by transferring the normal beta globin into hematopoietic stem cells, which will then permanently give rise to normal red blood cells only. This could give the patient the opportunity to get cured of beta thalassemia and never lack hemoglobin throughout the body. The discovery of gene therapy has revolutionized the way we think about medicine. For the longest time, doctors and scientists have only used traditional techniques of treating severe diseases, such as through radiation, surgery, and medication. Now, gene therapy enables patients with specific diseases to undergo a single procedure and have a high chance of being cured of their condition. But like most new discoveries, gene therapy has its potentially negative aspects as well. Some of the biggest discussions about the use of gene therapy revolve around the ethical ramifications and the cost of using it. In addition, the introduction or modification of genes may often have unforeseen side-effects as many genes interact with each other in complex ways. Most physicians and researchers agree that these new, powerful technologies should only be used to cure ailments, rather than to introduce new genes and traits into humans. In terms of cost, in the United States it has been reported that the price tag for the treatment of gene therapy can be up to or more than one million dollars, hardly an affordable amount. As with every new discovery, it takes time for scientists to find new ways to make the treatment cheaper and more accessible to everyone. Overall, gene therapy has given us a new hope to cure diseases that were previously considered incurable. Though the methods are incredibly complex, the goal is simple—replace or fix defective genes that are causing a specific disease. As shown in the case of beta thalassemia, this simple modification, done in utero or potentially in a live patient, can have drastic effects. Fortunately, some of the brightest minds are hard at work, crafting gene therapies to provide humanity with a brighter future.

Design by: Sandy Taboada


MAGINE A WORLD where humans are able to cure terminal diseases and even prevent them from developing before birth. People across the globe wouldn’t have to encounter or suffer from deadly, incurable, chronic diseases. Currently, scientists and doctors have continuously tried to find new discoveries on how to stop and prevent these harmful diseases from killing humans. Luckily, scientists have recently discovered a technique that holds promise as a way to prevent and stop these diseases from developing in humans: gene therapy. In recent times, gene therapy has been the most common experimental technique that has been discovered to actually prevent and cure specific diseases. When faced with faulty or mutated genes, this new technology can be used to modify those genes or deliver new, functional copies to prevent the diseases that those defective genes would cause. Once implemented, these medical treatments can give humans the opportunity to live a normal life and doctors the chance to provide patients with a way to combat diseases that may otherwise have no other solutions, such as inoperable cancers. Recently, several clinical trials have resulted in the curing of various cancers and other diseases in patients. As a whole, the discovery of gene therapy has created a whole new meaning for medicine and foretells a positive outlook for the future of medicine. One of the most serious diseases that is currently being addressed with the use of gene therapy is beta thalassemia. Beta thalassemia is a blood disorder that reduces the production of hemoglobin, which can lead to less oxygen circulating throughout the body. Beta thalassemia causes people to have severe symptoms that could possibly lead to death, and generally appears in individuals at a young age, during the first two years of life. So far, there has been no new discovery on how to completely cure the patients that suffer from this disease. Currently, the only option are lifelong blood transfusions that only serve to prolong an individual’s lifespan. Ongoing research has proposed a mechanism by which gene therapy can successfully cure beta thalassemia. In “The fix is in utero,” Sarah Deweerdt discusses how prenatal gene therapy could possibly lead to the curing of beta thalassemia and other diseases before the infant comes out of the womb, a technique which has already shown positive outcomes in mice. Injecting peptide nucleic acid, a gene therapy vehicle, in utero can insert the correct copy of

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Natural Organic Chemistry A Robert Burns Woodward Story 30 | Science Through the Ages

Author: Juan Diaz Illustration: Leila Thompson

Design by: Samantha Mosle

“Every aspect of the world today— even politics and international relations—is affected by chemistry.” - Linus Pauling, 1954 Chemistry Nobel Laureate


RGANIC CHEMISTRY is quite an intricate and inquisitive subject in the world of chemistry. The American Chemical Society defines the field as the “study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions and preparations of carbon-containing compounds” The compounds are not just hydrocarbons (carbons bonded with hydrogen), but also carbon bonded to other elements such as oxygen, nitrogen, halogens (elements in the 7th column of the periodic table), and many others. Considering that the four elements, hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen, make up around 96% of our composition by mass, organic chemistry can determine and explain a lot of what makes us human, chemically-wise. Organic compound synthesis makes up a significant component of current scientific literature and has applications in various parts of society. These polymer-bound materials can be found in the bristle of our toothbrush, the plastic containers of our food, and even the food we eat. Organic synthesis has influence in all sorts of modern infrastructures. Most relevant to this article is natural product synthesis and the renowned work of Dr. Robert Burns Woodward, an American chemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1965. To illustrate how important his work was, we should take a look at vitamin B12. This vitamin, also known as cobalamin, is responsible for the production of red blood cells and DNA synthesis in eukaryotes. Red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen and nutrients to the entire body through arteries and capillaries, and DNA is the genetic blueprint that makes us who we are. It determines the uniqueness of our self and codes for the production of proteins that essentially make us human. Vitamin B12 is also a very complex compound. It is unique in the sense that it contains a metallic ion, cobalt, and it is also the largest and most complex of all the B vitamins (Vitamins B1-7, 9, and 12). The unfortunate conclusion is that eukaryotes cannot produce this compound on their own, which is a predominant characteristic of vitamins in general. This is why medical professionals either recommend diets that have these vitamins or to supplement one’s diet with multivitamins. Interestingly enough, this molecule is actually made by bacteria and enzymes in the rumen of cows and sheep. For such an important and life-sustaining molecule to exist in nature, scientists of the day were looking to synthesize this molecule

in a laboratory setting. Achieving this was no small task. It took Dr. Woodward and a 91-person team to provide a retrosynthesis method for vitamin B12 in his 1973 paper. In an impressive, 72-step reaction, Dr. Woodward discovered a way to synthesize cyanocobalamin, another name for vitamin B12. He managed to mimic a naturally occurring process of vitamin synthesis in the laboratory to produce a vitamin made by neither animals nor plants. Such an instance exemplifies the essence of natural organic synthesis—to be able to understand the processes of how nature produces compounds and to manufacture them on our own terms. Woodward’s research also gave way for the synthesis of chlorophyll. As one may recall from biology class, Chlorophyll is the main component of plants that give them their light-absorbing capabilities. It is responsible for the absorption of light and transduction into chemical energy, which is then processed into oxygen and sugar. He was able to again follow in the steps of the natural world through organic synthesis and was able to synthetically create such an important natural component of life on Earth. Cholesterol, a very important lipid in animal cell membranes and a precursor to vitamin D, was synthesized by Woodward in 1951. Cholesterol serves as an important component that determines the fluidity of the animal cell membrane, thereby affecting its selective permeability. Vitamin D is important in healthy mineralization (consistency) of the bone and promotes proper bone growth. Dr. Robert Woodward carried out the total organic synthesis of many significant biomolecules throughout his lifetime as well as other non-synthesis-related chemical work. He showed the possibility of creating many important compounds in a lab that were otherwise only able to be accessed through natural sources. There may be times in which these compounds may not be as prevalent in the future, but we now have the knowledge and toolset to create them in our own metaphorical lab-backyard. Imagine if a new biomolecule necessary for healthy human living in the future becomes scarce in nature, to which we cannot gather enough from natural means alone. Now imagine that chemists find a way to create that in a lab, meaning that we no longer have to worry about its scarcity in the wild. This is the work of natural organic synthesis, and the legacy of Robert Burns Woodward.

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Design by: Leila Thompson

l a RE mD E aM P rT c OI kN s

“Through epigenetics, we find explanations to questions we did not know how to tackle before.” short, they’re the changes that occur above the DNA level. Epigenetics has recently become a topic of interest in the field of biology because it demonstrates how the environment in which we live may influence our gene expression. These effects on how our genes will be expressed ultimately affect other factors of our lives and the lives of our descendants. Epigenetics focuses on the expression of genes rather than on changes in the genetic code of the organism. The primary tools of epigenetics are posttranslational modifications (PTMs), which include histone and DNA methylation, acetylation, and phosphorylation. PTMs allow for the regulation of DNA transcription and translation. Histone and DNA methylation are the tools our cells use to silence genes. DNA methylation silences genes by changing the activity of the DNA sequence without altering the sequence itself. In contrast, histone acetylation tends to activate the transcription of genes. Phosphorylation of histones, which usually occurs on threonine and serine residues, is very important for signal transduction in the body and leads to the regulation of gene expression. Through epigenetics, we find explanations to questions we did not know how to tackle before. Twin studies that sequenced the genes of identical twins at a young age (~5 years old) and then again later in their lives (~50 years old) demonstrated

by Lucero Barrantes Illustration: Varsha Udayakumar


N ANY GENERAL biology class, we learn about Jean Baptiste Lamarck’s theory on how an organism will adapt to its environment by “changing.” Known as the Theory of Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics, it states that if an individual organism changes, and this change allows it to adapt better to its environment, the change will then be passed onto its offspring. Lamarck’s theory was proven to be genetically incorrect, but it is epigenetically correct. Epigenetics is the study of the changes that occur in organisms due to modifications in gene expression—in

32 | Science Through the Ages

that at a younger age, their genomes showed methylation in all the same places, but as they grew older and were exposed to differing environments, the methylation of their genomes varied greatly in both location and concentration. Identical, monozygotic twins share almost one hundred percent of their genetic makeup, so the fact that the methylation of their genomes was so different is significant because it demonstrates that there are other factors at play in gene expression. In a recent study, the inheritance of parental traumatic exposure was observed in the offspring of adult male mice that had received olfactory fear conditioning to acetophenone. To test for fear learning, the behavioral test, fear-potentiated startle (FPS) was used. FPS is displayed when there is an increase in startle response in the presence of an unpleasant conditioned cue. These male mice were crossed with females that were not exposed to the conditioning. Incredibly, the offspring of these mice demonstrated enhanced odor-potentiated startle only when acetophenone was present, implying that the behavioral sensitivity to that specific odor was inherited through epigenetic changes. Epigenetic inheritance and the role it plays in controlling gene expression is a field that is still relatively unknown. The study of epigenetics may shed light on the otherwise inexplicable inheritance patterns of diseases such as Type I Diabetes, as well as neurological and behavioral conditions such as schizophrenia. Expanding our research in the field of epigenetics, we can possibly find cures to diseases we thought incurable. Since fifty percent of epigenetic modifications are heritable, knowing what factors play into their inheritance could help prevent countless diseases from developing.

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Design by: Leila Thompson

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Design by: Caitlin Smith

STUDENTS BATTLING BACTERIA UM Microbiology Joins Forces with Local School District

by Vince Sferra

36 | Science Through the Ages

OT OFTEN DO YOU HEAR about the opportunity for prospective high school students to conduct an experiment at a university laboratory under the mentorship of its own staff. Over the past year, Delaney Dvorsky, Aiden Kong, and Julian Orrego (currently tenth graders at Miami Palmetto Senior High School) were granted just that. The three students worked diligently throughout the year on their project, “The Oligodynamic Effect on Surfaces and Synergies in the Germicidal Properties of Metals,” with the help of the University of Miami Undergraduate Laboratory Director, Mr. Roger Williams, M.S. Ed; the Laboratory Assistant and President of the UM’s Microbiology Club, Marina Wylie; and Professor from the Department of Mathematics, Dr. Anna Bystrik. The collaboration is a remarkable example of the University reaching out to local school systems and fostering learning environments for innovative students. Inspired by her Microbiology class and her own effort to learn the computer language “R,” a program often used for statistical data processing, Delaney Dvorsky came up with the concept for research and quickly engaged her two enthusiastic classmates. After Dr. Diana Lopez, director of UM’s Microbiology program, kindly connected the team with the lab, the students were given a chance to pitch their ideas. Mr. Williams welcomed and encouraged the students to utilize the equipment and offered to provide mentoring himself and through his laboratory assistant, Marina Wylie. Additionally, Dr. Anna Bystrik, who advised the team on data processing, noted the exceptional devotion of the team to the scientific method as the students performed multiple, highly involved experiments. The trio frequented the lab for months. They tested the germicidal properties of pure and mixed metals. The bacteria used were E. coli and M. luteus, as suggested by Mr. Williams, due to their relevance and instead of some harder-to-handle strains that the students originally proposed. The team conducted statistical tests of the data collected to reach their conclusions.The team’s goal is to create a more affordable public health measure that utilizes metals in small (and thus non-toxic) dosages to disinfect surfaces. The project was granted the Superior award at the Annual South Florida Regional Science and Engineering Fair and the “Most Researched Project” award at the Fairchild NASA Challenge, thus contributing towards the combined Silver and $700 prize for their school. Encouraged and enriched by their experience at UM’s microbiology and immunology laboratory, they hope to participate in the UM Summer Scholars program, which offers an attractive exploration of the University’s educational process and campus life.

“My time spent at the UM Laboratory has been a huge learning experience. I learned a plethora of skills, including gramstaining, proper pipetting technique, dilution, and many other basic microbiology techniques. My favorite part was using all the tools and techniques to carry out the experiment since the types of high-quality tools used in the UM lab are not used in a middle school setting. In the future, I also hope to further this experiment with my fellow group members to find out more questions pertaining to the oligodynamic effect.”

Design by: Emily Fakhoury


Aiden Kong:

Julian Orrego:

"My favorite experience working in the lab was getting to learn many different techniques such as diluting bacteria and preparing cultures of it. I hope that these skills will assist me in future work, as I wish to continue working with microbiology. Working with the people at the lab gave me confidence in speaking to adults as I had previously been afraid of doing so. It was also interesting to see the results of the experiment. I hope to continue our work to find answers to more questions that were left unsolved previously."

Delaney Dvorsky: “The UM Laboratory had shifted me forward in many ways, they were well-equipped, and the mentoring of Mr. Roger Williams, Marina Wylie, and Dr. Anna Bystrik really engaged me in the discipline of Microbiology and helped in understanding the data collection and interpretation techniques. It kindled a flame, inspired me, and taught me to vigorously chase after any goal in mind. I learned a variety of invaluable skills, dilution, gram-staining, and other basic lab maneuvers. It was an uplifting experience which surely has driven me in the direction of microbiology and science.”

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Design by: Aaron Dykxhoorn

Sensing Future Sensing the the Future The Ever-changing World of Prosthetics by Julia Armstrong Photography: Joseph Hughes


MAGINE THE POSSIBILITY of replacing a limb a patient has lost. Imagine if we were able to make that limb functional. Finally, imagine this: what if we were able to have that limb feel just like the original limb once did? The time for imagination to become reality is now. Of all the senses, one that gets little attention is the sense of touch. We’re very cognizant of our sense of hearing, our sense of sight, and our sense of taste. However, when it comes to our sense of touch, we often take it for granted unless it is snatched away from us. Losing the ability to feel a hot stove or the touch of a loved one can create a sense of detachment in life. Right now, approximately 2.1 million people are living in the United States with a missing limb. That might not shock you, but that number is expected to double by 2050 due to increasing rates of amputations. Starting in March 2013, researchers and engineers have been working on an incredible and life-changing new invention— prosthetics with a sense of touch. In Denmark in 2007, a man named Dennis Aabo Sørensen got into a fireworks accident so horrific that the doctors were forced to amputate his hand. Thankfully, this was around the time that the first sensory prosthetics were being invented, and he was chosen to use the first bionic fingertip. This extraordinary bionic hand not only allows for sensation, but its electronic sensors detect these senses and send signals to the nerves, which eventually make their way to the brain. For hundreds of thousands of amputees, an average morning involves waking up with the sensation and thought of having a certain limb, only to end with a glance down and the realization that their minds have played tricks on them again. The agony and suffering faced every day by these individuals alongside their loss of touch disconnects them from both the world and themselves. “Phantom limbs” are just one of the painful side effects that amputees deal with, but these new innovations are working to fix this problem. Thinking about what comes next? Well, our thoughts are the new focus of robotics and prosthetics researchers! “Thought” prosthetics with a sense of touch attempt to enable users to control their new limbs in ways similar to how we normally control them. Researchers from the University of Utah have established a mind-controlling robotic hand with around 100 touch sensations. This incredible machine functions by placing a device into the patient’s residual nerves, stimulating and transferring signals that the brain recognizes as “touch.” According to University of Utah doctoral student Jacob George, “People often think of touch as a single sense, but it’s subdivided into other senses, such as pressure, vibration, temperature, pain, etc.” This invention considers these complex factors, and not only aims to bring back a more realistic sense of touch, but also offers an entirely new life to those suffering from paralysis or amputations.

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Design by: Caitlin Smith

News | 39

How India


IET IS ONE OF THE MAIN CONTRIBUTORS to human health, and people are not nearly as informed as they should be about what constitutes healthy eating habits. Maintaining a well-balanced diet is a very important factor of living a healthy lifestyle, and new research emerging about the benefits of following a vegan or vegetarian diet raise some concerns about the Standard American Diet (SAD). SAD, also known as the Western Pattern diet, is characterized by being “rich in red meat, dairy products, processed and artificially sweetened foods, and salt, with minimal intake of fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes, and whole grain.� This diet is known to be extremely harmful, and puts the body at risk of disease, infection, fatigue, and poor performance. Western Pattern dieting does not stop in America, and has unfortunately been spreading to various other countries in the world as the westernization of these countries has been increasing in the last two decades. This becomes a much larger, worldwide issue, as the negative impacts of poor nutrition start as soon as someone is born. Children with a poor diet run the risk of growth and developmental problems and poor academic performance; bad eating habits can persist for the rest of their lives. An example of a country that has recently been picking up the SAD is India, where the typical diet prior to westernization was primarily vegetarian and vegan foods. A recent study shows that a vegan diet conferred a 15% reduced risk of incidence of cancer and a 25% reduced risk from the incidence of ischemic heart disease. These numbers show the importance of cutting down on animal products in reducing the risk of disease. Another study showed that gut hormones vary wildly in people following various diets. The study concluded that eating vegan helps produce more healthy gut hormones, which lead to higher levels of satiety, and

40 | Science Through the Ages

ultimately, to weight management. These benefits, along with helping regulate insulin production and glucose levels, are two important factors in diabetes, and ones that applied to the original Indian cuisine prior to westernization. Despite all this information about the benefits of a plant-based diet compared to the negatives of the Standard American Diet, the spread of the SAD is only on the rise. Many ethnic groups who have generally adhered to a plant-based diet have now transitioned into following the culinary norm set by Americans. When looking at immigrant Indians in the United States, high rates of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and obesity are reported, compared to typical numbers for their ethnic group. This increase in disease can be accounted for in the different eating styles between a traditional Indian diet and a SAD. Unfortunately, this health damage does not stop at immigrants who are living in the United States. Recently, cardiovascular diseases became the leading cause of mortality in India, and constitute 25% of all deaths. This shift has happened within two decades, and death by cardiovascular disease has increased by 59% from 1990 to 2010. Although there are many factors for this rise in cardiovascular disease, it is important to look at the change in diet within recent years as a potential cause for this epidemic. India is known for following a plant-based vegetarian diet filled with the necessary intake of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, this has not been true in the past few years, and this seems to be linked to the spread of the American way of eating that comes along with westernization of a developing country. This, along with the exponential growth of American fast food chains in the past two decades in India, give more insight to the increased rates of cardiovascular disease and obesity. The rate of consumption of fruits and vegetables in India is currently the lowest it has

Design by: Varsha Udayakumar


by Isik Surdum Illustration: Leila Thompson

been in decades, and it is reported that half of the population consumes 0 or 1 servings of fruit per week. Along with this decrease in fruit and vegetable consumption, there has been a decrease in the consumption of whole grains and an increase in the consumption of refined grain products. Additionally, an important aspect to analyze is fat intake per day. Indians went from consuming 36 grams of fat per day (g/d) in 2000 to 50 g/d in 2008 on average, and this heavily consists of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils with high trans fat content. This increase in fat intake can be explained by the spread of American fast food in India. People are now more than ever going for a quick and cheap fast food meal instead of following their typically healthy diets. The Indian fast food industry has grown exponentially since it was introduced two decades ago, and this growth is only on the rise. The market of chain restaurants in India was 2.5 billion dollars in 2013 and is expected to grow to 8 billion dollars by 2020. There are many factors for this increase, and it is impossible to point to just one cause, but there are a few main reasons that seem to have contributed to this increase. It is now more common for women to have occupations outside the home than it was 20 years ago. In India, the role of caretaker of the home typically fell on women, but as times have progressed, this is no longer the case. Both parents are now out of the house working, which means that many no longer have time to make meals at home. People are resorting to ordering fast food meals in order to feed their families. Along with parents not having enough time to cook, families are now making dual incomes, leading them to have more disposable income to spend on the fast food industry, which has undeniably seen massive growth in recent years. Undoubtedly, the westernization of India’s traditional plant-based diet is detrimental to the citizens of India and has proved to impact their health dangerously. In order to resolve these health concerns, Indian citizens should be made aware of the declines in health the people of their country have suffered due to the westernization of their food options, and should be encouraged to re-establish their healthier plant-based eating habits once again.

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“Dancing will get you nowhere” My father said to me “Art is nothing but A simple frivolity” “In numbers” he declared “Is where your success lies Use your brain, not your body To obtain life’s prize” Words of wisdom, they may be Yet still I heeded them cautiously A life without dance seemed boring and bland A life I was certain was not for me I knew I would dance as long As my life would allow me And to appease my father His beloved numbers I’d study Then one plus two plus three plus four Became 5, 6, 7, 8 Long division shifted digits around As I transitioned between formations onstage Baby steps evolved to chassés and battements Idle tapping bore complex rhythms As basal operations coalesced to form equations Capable of calculating the world around me Numbers were no longer just numbers They were a means of quantifying and examining Experiences which until then I had only defined by feeling and movement

42 | Science Through the Ages




by K i Phot mberley ogra phy: Rose Alex is P a

of an ul


My two worlds which I had thought Were galaxies apart I witnessed colliding faster than light Impossibly and yet, elegantly

Design by: Aaron Dykxhoorn

I learned to choreograph the chaos To manipulate the madness of the symbols before me Leaden performers scratching their way around a paper stage Slowly revealing their solutions, their stories

The rotational inertia of a pirouette The distribution of force in landing a leap The center of gravity controlled in all positions Always maintaining a necessary balance This equilibrium which rules over all Whether physical or symbolic Wormed its way into the core of my life A steady heartbeat driving my passion Body and mind caught in a tide Drawing on each other for encouragement Without one, the other would become inert Movement generated thought, and thought, movement I would recall the polarity Which my father so ardently fixed Upon the two concepts of An art and a science But if you attempt to study magnetism In a unipolar fashion The theories begin to crumble and fade Our essential life-force turns obsolete The negative must balance the positive Repulsion and attraction in harmony Science must fraternize with the arts To create a masterpiece And so, my journey continues on No longer living a double life, but one Choosing to integrate, rather than exclude The foundations on which my solution rings true.

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Design by: Varsha Udayakumar

Bars on Campus

A Risk Factor Analysis of Xanax


N 2013, 7,000 OF ALL DEATHS from overdose were due to Xanax, equating to 30% of all overdose casualties. One of the most commonly abused prescription medications on any given college campus is a benzodiazepine called Xanax. Xanax (a drug often referred to as “bars”) is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that produces sedation, induces sleep, and relieves anxiety. Xanax is the number one prescribed psychiatric medication in the United States. In 2011 alone there were 49 million prescriptions written for Xanax in the US. More importantly, most of the recreational Xanax usage on college campuses involves the illegal purchasing of the drug from users with prescriptions. The drug is extremely addictive, and as many as 44% of chronic benzodiazepine users become dependent on it. However, if used appropriately, Xanax can reduce anxiety in individuals and lead to a better well-being. In this way, Xanax is a double-edged sword, where if abused, can be detrimental to health, but, if used properly, can greatly enhance quality of life. Xanax is commonly prescribed by psychiatrists for patients with anxiety disorders, for example, general anxiety, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder and phobias. It is a fast-acting drug, and effects may be felt half an hour after consumption or earlier. Xanax and other benzos work by acting on the brain’s GABA receptors. GABA is released into the brain, calming nerve receptors. For users that actually have anxiety issues, Xanax can help relieve anxiety and allow users to function normally and live their every day lives. However, when it is used recreationally, there is an increased risk of death, especially when combined with alcohol. Memory impairment and dependency are among the long-term side effects that frequent Xanax users can experience. A dependency on Xanax can lead to a higher tolerance to the medication to feel the same effect. This increase in tolerance promotes the possibility of having an overdose. People with decreased functionality in their livers and kidneys are warned against taking this medication because those organs metabolize the medication. If the liver and kidneys cannot properly metabolize the medication, overdose can likely occur. On campus, recreational Xanax usage involves mixing the benzodiazepine with alcohol, which intensifies the effects of the drug. Alcohol is also a CNS depressant, and, in combination, with Xanax, increases the risk of excessive sedation, dangerous accidents, respiratory depression, and loss of consciousness. There åΩXanax recreationally. For example, some students that take ADHD medication, like Ritalin or Adderall, also take Xanax at night

44 | Science Through the Ages

by Marc Levine Photography: Sneh Amin

time for help sleeping as amphetamines (like Adderall) can cause difficulty sleeping. Also, some students merely take Xanax as a means to fall asleep, as if it were a substitute for an over- the- counter drug like Melatonin. Dependency can occur easily, and after a while users may require the drug to be able to fall asleep. Research has demonstrated that Xanax abuse is extremely common among college campuses, but also that holders of a valid Xanax prescriptions are not generally the major abusers of the drug. Rather, Xanax abusers typically procure it from a friend or relative or purchase it illegally. Some may even come by the substance through opportunistic theft, and students possessing Xanax are advised to keep it out of sight and preferably in a secure location. An unfortunate reality is that many patients who are appropriately prescribed Xanax will sell or even give away some of their medication to those not licensed to use it, whether out of financial exigency, peer pressure, or just a desire to make some extra cash. Due to Xanax’s high risk for abuse and the danger its misuse poses, the Drug Enforcement Agency has categorized Xanax as a Schedule IV controlled substance. Xanax has been very helpful for individuals diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD). While Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are the commonly prescribed medication for this disorder, Xanax works as an alternative as well as complements other treatment medications. Xanax can also be used to effectively treat panic disorders, repeated episodes of anxiety, phobias, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Xanax can also produce a euphoric feeling in users, which may help mitigate depression and other issues. Despite all of the risks discussed in this article, Xanax remains invaluable to millions of Americans suffering from anxiety. Psychiatrists have largely retained an optimistic view of the drug, despite its potential for misuse and abuse. According to Dr. Sonny Joseph, a seasoned, Harvard-educated psychiatrist, “If Xanax is used responsibly, it can improve an individual’s quality of life and work performance of everyday tasks by mitigating feelings of anxiety.”

by Sophia Meibohm Illustration: Leila Thompson

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Design by: Sandy Taboada


ICTURE THIS: you and your friend are grabbing lunch. As you reach to take a sip from your cup of water, you notice her rummaging through her bag. Moments later, she unearths a small pink box and pops it open to reveal a folded metal straw. After unfolding it and placing it into her water, she laughs seeing the look on your face, and cheers “save the turtles!” Maybe you’ve been in this situation before, or maybe you’ve been the one with the reusable straw. There’s no doubt that this is hardly uncommon; the reusable straw has been on the rise for quite some time now. The trend arose in 2015 following a viral video showing a straw stuck in a sea turtle’s nose. Since then, the idea of using straws to “save the turtles” has grown tremendously, even leading to companies like Starbucks and McDonalds choosing to replace plastic straws with paper ones and cities like Seattle banning plastic straws in restaurants. Despite the great amount of attention that plastic straws have gained from people in hopes of lessening plastic waste in oceans and “saving the turtles,” these straws comprise only about 0.025 percent of ocean plastic waste and are therefore only a small cause of the endangerment of several species of sea turtles. This plastic waste and the dangers it imposes results in the deaths of at least 1,000 sea turtles per year. However, more plastic in oceans is not the only problem that sea turtles face. Other lesser known threats to these ancient creatures include the consumption of turtle eggs and meat, the accidental catching of turtles in fishing gear, ocean pollution such as oil spills, and the poaching of turtle shells used in jewelry-making. In addition, a surprising but quite urgent threat to sea turtles is global warming.

Sea turtles have survived on Earth for more than 100 million years, and can be found in various parts of the globe ranging from Australia to Florida, where 90 percent of sea turtles within the continental United States nest. However, although sea turtles have evaded extinction for millions of years and survived rising and falling temperatures through the ages, the global warming of the world today could ultimately lead to their extinction. According to a study published by National Geographic in January 2018, female Pacific green sea turtles “outnumbered males at least 116 to 1” in northern Australia. This means that 99 percent of all green sea turtles in the area are female, leading to a huge potential problem in sustaining population. The reason for this great disparity between the sexes of green sea turtles is that the sex of a sea turtle, similar to that of alligators and crocodiles, depends on the sand’s temperature as the eggs are incubated. According to the National Ocean Service, if incubated below 81.86 degrees Fahrenheit, the eggs develop to be male. The eggs develop to be females if incubated above 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit. If incubated between these two temperatures, the turtles could be either male or female. Since temperatures in Australia have recently almost always been above 87.8 degrees during incubation, the vast majority of hatchlings are female. After testing several different reefs along the Australian coast, scientists concluded that the disparity was similar among all populations of green sea turtles. Even experiments in the United States, such as in San Diego and Florida, conclude that the ratio of female to male sea turtles is steadily increasing, though the disparity is not as dramatic as in Australia. With temperatures increasing

As egg incubation temperature increases, the sex of the hatchling becomes undetermined until it reaches a certain threshold in which all the eggs that hatch are female. 46 | Science Through the Ages

at a rate quicker than the time needed for sea turtles to adapt to this change, the ability for populations of sea turtles to sustain themselves is likely to decrease. This current projection for sea turtle populations has holes as only a few of the world’s sea turtle populations have been measured, leaving even more uncertainty as to how much time sea turtles may actually have left before becoming extinct. Global warming continues to impact our ecosystems every day, in ways known and some still unknown or yet to be discovered. Only recently did scientists notice the massive effect that global warming has had on sea turtle populations. Saving the turtles, therefore, is not as easy as simply choosing to use a reusable or paper straw over a plastic one. But while you may be tempted to poke fun at your quirky lunch date, remember that being conscious of reducing plastic waste is a great place to start.


News | 47

The Powerhouse of the Lab

by Anjou Sharma


ARTINA VELICHKOVSKA left the safety of Macedonia to travel thousands of miles to America with one goal in mind: to become a researcher. Growing up, Martina was an extremely well-rounded student with a diverse array of interests. She was a consistent competitor in math competitions since the age of nine, but she found time to

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explore her more artistic interests in the fields of photography, music, and acting. As she was passionate about multiple subjects, Martina was determined to find the best way to integrate all of her interests in a potential career choice at the onset of high school. However, when she ended up getting a scholarship to come to the U.S. and take a university level course through the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth, she became enraptured with the world of research. Through the program, she took her first genetics course and realized that her path in life would involve research. From the onset of Martina’s time at UM, she began conducting research on the changes in mitochondrial activity and brain cell function in response to different stressors, such as HIV. Specifically, her independent project in Dr. Michal Toborek’s lab at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine primarily focused on mitochondrial dysfunction in neural progenitor cells induced by antiretroviral therapy. Some of Dr. Toborek’s previous work focused on neurodegenerative diseases and the function of the blood brain barrier. During her time at the lab, Martina studied the mechanisms of the development of mitochondrial dysfunction in different brain cell types, the damaging effects of methamphetamine and HIV on neural progenitor cells, and the different ways of improving the current mouse model that serves as the foundation for understanding HIV. Neural progenitor cells (NPCs) in our brains are key in HIV studies because HIV infection affects how well these cells differentiate into mature neurons. Martina discovered that NPCs undergo some specific changes after they are treated with antiretroviral therapy meant

to target HIV infection. These changes include the production of harmful reactive oxygen species, a change in mitochondrial membrane potential, and a decrease in oxygen consumption and ATP levels. Additionally, NPCs proliferated less, and more cellular aging was observed. These findings led Martina to the conclusion that antiretroviral therapies, including combination treatments that are used today, lead to mitochondrial dysfunction and cellular damage. However, she found that if she treated cells with nanoparticledelivered Coenzyme Q10, a known antioxidant, many of the harmful effects were decreased. This treatment was particularly effective as it was specifically targeted to be delivered to the mitochondria of cells. Martina’s research, published in Molecular Pharmaceutics, is an important step forward in HIV research that will be used to better the lives of patients receiving treatments. Martina has had numerous mentors throughout her years of research. She joined Dr. Toborek’s lab from the first day of freshman year and stayed there all three years. She also took a group research class with Dr. Richard Myers that she states has helped her grow as a researcher. She was also mentored by different post-docs, Dr. Bertrand, Dr. Skowronska, and Dr. Avila, who taught her about the value of diligence and critical thinking in the lab. When asked about failures, Martina mentioned how failures happen all the time in research, but people often don’t see them— they only see the publications that highlight new discoveries. According to Martina, failures are just as important as successes in

Design by: Lucero Barrantes

Research Profile on Martina Velichkovska research because they may take you in a different direction that you might not have thought of before. Martina also believes that any person wishing to be successful in research should dedicate a good portion of their time to it. The time Martina spent on her research has clearly benefited her, as

she is currently pursuing a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology at UC Berkeley. Her biggest advice to undergraduates interested in research is to reach out to a principal investigator (PI) doing research on a topic they find interesting. Most PIs are searching for highly motivated students that are passionate about their research. Throughout her life, Martina’s desire to understand the unknown and become one of the pioneers for discovering the complex cellular responses to diseases has pushed her to start a lifelong journey in the sciences. Above all else, Martina is driven by one thing: her belief that the answers to some of life’s greatest challenges can be found while wearing a white lab coat.

Profiles | 49


Research Profile on Alexander MacDonagh

LAYING A SPORT FULL-TIME while taking a rigorous class load at UM alongside a paid position in research is a grueling task. Not many undergraduates can manage this; sometimes, it is impossible to succeed because of how thin you are spread. However, there are a handful of determined and exceptional students at this university who can handle this challenge with grace, and Alexander MacDonagh is one of them. Alex, a 2019 spring graduate, started his baseball career in Milton, Massachusetts as a hitter and catcher. This eventually lead him to the University of Miami, where he was scouted by Jim Morris to play for the Division I baseball team from the start of his freshman year. He continued to excel in his career as a UMiami baseball player through the fall of his sophomore year in 2016. Following this, he stepped away from Division I baseball, and landed in the University of Miami club baseball team as an outfielder and catcher through his senior year. During his time as a club baseball player, Alexander got a chance to really explore his interest in science and the opportunities UM offered to foster his growing passion. Balancing a demanding science career, Alex switched into club baseball to take rigorous, science-based classes at the University of Miami. Some of Alex’s most notable experiences in the science classroom include Cellular and Molecular Biology and the Biology of Cancer that he took with Dr. James Baker, and Molecular Biology of the Gene with Dr. Rick Myers. He enthusiastically mentioned that Dr. Baker was his favorite teacher at UM, and that Dr. Myers helped him realize that biology is much more than just the discrete facts that are shown in lecture. He was able to use his coursework as a way to learn about the current gaps in cellular biology research. After taking various courses with science professors, Alex decided to look into jobs that were research-related through the ASPIRE program with Dr. John Twitchell, the program mentor, so that he could get a chance to test his knowledge as a biology major. Alex was placed in the Dr. David Watkins laboratory as a research intern at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, where he studied vaccines, therapeutic

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by Mahitha Kunamneni Photography: Sneh Amin development, and diagnostics. After joining this lab, Alex got extensive opportunities to work with deadly viruses such as the Zika virus, Yellow Fever virus, and Dengue virus, all under the department of pathology. One of his and the lab’s goals was to investigate novel ways of making an effective vaccine against HIV using the current yellow fever vaccine. A large part of this current investigation is to look at patients or individuals referred to as elite controllers. Surprisingly, elite controllers, who make up a very small percentage of the population, have immune systems that can keep HIV infection at bay and prevent AIDS from developing without any antiretroviral treatment. Therefore, identifying specific cellular characteristics and receptors that these individuals is of great importance. Much of Alex’s work was related to taking the already successful yellow fever vaccine and making certain modifications, with the goal of improving the CD8 T cell response against HIV in various cells and organisms. Alex conducted the majority of this research under the postdoctoral mentorship of David Watkins, who imparted his wisdom and knowledge to Alex on a daily basis. Alex says that the lab has a history of success with their publications and positive attitude towards undergraduates, so he recommends joining for anyone interested in research related to pathology. Alex also says that it was easy to communicate with Dr. Watkins, one of the most important qualities to a research experience—a chance to build great relationships with your co-workers. After having spent four years at UM working broadly with vaccines and therapeutics for HIV infection, Alexander moved on to get more experience at another UM—the University of Massachusetts. At the University of Massachusetts Medical School, he currently works in the Fazzio Lab, a stem cell genetics research lab. Alexander fondly recalls his time at the University of Miami, and the experiences he had in both baseball and research. He recommends that any student interested in entering a lab first try ASPIRE with Dr. Twitchell, and to never be afraid to try new things. Division I baseball and biology are very different activities, but Alexander’s excellence in both is a testament to his absolute focus and determination.

Design by: Emily Fakhoury

Profiles | 51

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