RESEARCH WOULD YOU SWIPE RIGHT? THE SCIENCE OF DATING APPS.........6 INTO THE WORMHOLE.........8 POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA........10 POP PSYCHOTROPIC.........12 MAD SCIENCE: ANALYZING A VILLAIN’S PSYCHOLOGY.........14 SUPERHERO SCIENCE.........16
ETHICS BBL & THE DARK SIDE OF PLASTIC SURGERY.........18 FICTIONAL APOCALYPSE A REALITY?.........20 CUT; PASTE.........22
Cover Art by Meera Patel 4
C ONTENTS NEWS 24.........MONKEYPOX 26.........WHAT U SAY 27.........ADVANCED INTELLIGENCE & SEPSIS 28.........PERIOD POVERTY AS A PUBLIC HEALTH CRISIS
HEALTH 30.........PAY TO PLAY: THE ETHICS OF SEX WORK 32.........THE SCIENCE BEHIND DEJA VU 34.........WELCOME TO GENE CINEMA 36.........ARE MEDICAL TV SHOWS ACCURATE?
PROFILE 39.........THE MAN BEHIND JURASSIC PARK 42.........ANDREW PORTER, PH.D
Letter from the Editor Welcome Back Scientifica Readers, My team and I have been working diligently since returning back to campus this August to create another extraordinary issue of Scientifica Magazine and we are so incredibly excited to finally share Issue 23 with you! Issue 23 - Into the Upside Down - explores the interconnectedness of the scientific and popular culture communities. So much of what we see in the media whether it be in movies, television shows, social media platforms, or music draws inspiration from real world scientific discoveries or, better yet, pushes past what is possible to explore all of those “what ifs’’ that scientists can now only dream of. The goal of our magazine has always been to make science and research interesting and accessible to readers from all backgrounds which is why I’m so excited for you all to read the incredible articles Into the Upside Down has to offer.
Megan Piller Microbiology & Immunology, Public Health, Class of 2023 Editor-in-Chief, UMiami Scientifica
Letter from the Editorial Advisor
I am sure that each of us has seen a movie, television series or read a book on a scientific topic due to the popular nature of a disease or a scientific field in general. Television shows like House, Bones, Scrubs, and movies like Outbreak, Hot Zone, Star Trek, and Star Wars all paint pictures of a serious or futuristic idea that has strong roots in our society. Oftentimes, depending on the show, one with a scientific background may be able to point out inconsistencies with these. One the other hand, those with limited knowledge may believe them for face value. When science and popular culture meet is where we are able to see significant divergencies in our fantasy vs. real worlds. Problems occur when one does not separate these two and their reality becomes one of fantasy. Please enjoy this issue and always remember to fact check your beliefs or, you too will become stuck in a belief that is rooted in fantasy.
Roger I. Williams Jr., M.S. Ed. Director, Student Activities Advisor, Microbiology & Immunology Editorial Advisor, UMiami Scientifica
Megan Piller Abigail Adera Snigdha Sama Meera N. Patel Isabella M. Lozano Caleb Heathershaw Gaby Torna Avery Boals Ainsley Hilliard
C O R E T E A M
EDITOR IN CHIEF MANAGING EDITOR COPY CHIEF ART & DESIGN DIRECTOR ART & DESIGN DIRECTOR DIRECTOR OF WRITING & CREATIVE WRITING DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC RELATIONS DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY DIRECTOR OF DISTRIBUTION
SCIENTIFICA STAFF 2022 - 2023 Board of Advisors Section Editors ETHICS NEWS RESEARCH HEALTH PROFILES
Aarohi Talati Yashmitha Yazmin Quevedo Emily Danzinger Aarohi Talati
Designers Abigail Adera Ethan Bentley Avni Bhalgat Emily Danzinger William Deseueza Kimberlee Gibson Caleb Heathershaw Alejandra Hernandez Ainsley Hilliard Melissa Holguin Bella Jimenez Yahnell Judah Chloe Cristina Kirk Isabella Lopez Sabrina Merola Megan Piller Snigdha Reddy-Sama
Copy Editors Hanna Ebrahimi Kelci Grooms Olivia Hennon Kiara Khemani Sophia Meibohm Rodney Michel Sarah Mohammad Jasmine Tebbi Justin Yang
Genesis Leiva Cerna Isabella M. Lozano Meera Patel Megan Piller Aris Montero Portugal Veronica Richmond Gaby Torna Lucy Xu
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. Professor of Computer Science Yunqiu (Daniel) Wang, Ph.D. Senior Lecturer Department of Biology *Deceased
Genesis Leiva Cerna Isabella M. Lozano Meera N. Patel Megan Piller Aris Montero Portugal Veronia Richmond Gaby Torna Lucy Xu
WOULD YOU SWIPE RIGHT?
Swipe, Swipe, Swipe: Swiping is a relatively simple (and often addictive) activity that requires very little investment of time, concentration, or energy and absolutely no emotional investment. Dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge make your profile widely available to an incredibly broad age range - we’re talking 18 to 100 - and the paid version of these apps shares your profile with eligible singles all across the world. The expansive network of individuals whose profiles are available for your swiping pleasure provides not only entertainment but an opportunity for immediate satisfaction and reward. Part of the intrigue of dating apps and what really keeps us all coming back is the idea that we never know when or with who we will match. Dr. Greenfield, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, says that “When what you’re looking for is unpredictable, it creates a resistance to extinction; this is why people endlessly search through these apps.” The next individual to appear on your screen is so randomly coordinated, that your chances of finding an atypical Australian juggler is equal to those of finding “the one”. So, if you ever find yourself having fallen down a swiping rabbit hole, you can legitimately blame your brain as these apps have been designed to “involve areas of the brain that make them into a kind of sport” which prevents us from getting bored and creates this sense of urgency to swipe.
You Are What You Swipe: Dating apps, like Tinder, for example, are constantly reevaluating your desirability or attractiveness based on both the quantity and quality of those people who “swiped right” on you. It is said that Tinder specifically utilizes an “Elo rating system, which is the same method used to calculate the skill levels of chess players: You rose in the ranks based on how many people swiped right on you, but that was weighted based on who the swiper was. The more right swipes that person had, the more their right swipe on you meant for your score.” Interestingly enough, women are often more likely to be open to a wider variety of romantic partners and take into account things such as values, goals, humor, etc., while men on the other hand rely primarily on physical appearance and the established societal standards of beauty and attractiveness to determine who to swipe right on. Data from a Western University study in London, Canada found that “being very, very attractive as a man offers no advantages over being fairly average. Women like men who rate themselves as five out of 10 as much as men who think they are 10 out of 10s, whereas men would ideally date someone who self-rates their physical appearance as eight out of 10.” However, our need to be continuously validated and rewarded often serves to harm us on dating apps, more often than not forcing us to lower our original standard - that which we used to evaluate potential matches at the beginning of our app experience - and encourages us to “match
THE SCIENCE OF DATING APPS
by Megan Piller Illustration & Design: Megan Piller
with” or “swipe right” on someone we had previously skipped over. Nick Saretzky, director of product at OkCupid, emphasized this idea saying “It actually means that every time you swipe, the next choice should be a little bit worse of an option. So, the longer you’re on an app, the worse the options get.” It’s A Match!: When you get a match on Tinder or a rose on Hinge, your biological reward system is activated, meaning you experience a dramatic increase in your dopamine levels that acts as a catalyst for those feelings of excitement and intrigue that you experience. “There are two primitive circuits that have to do with pleasure in the limbic system of the brain: one has to do with sex and procreation, and the other has to do with food. This is what originated those reward circuits in the brain, particularly the nucleus accumbens. When you use dating apps, you’re piggybacking on these original survival pathways that were designed millions of years ago in the limbic systems of mammals.” In other words, the biological response pathways that served to keep us alive many years ago have evolved to become activated by potential sexual rewards. He Said, She Said: Interestingly enough, an analysis completed in 2021 and published by Toward Data Science showed that “57% of conversations on Tinder are one-message conversations — meaning that more
than half of first messages on the app go unanswered.” So despite the addictive nature of dating apps and the alluring act of swiping or liking potential partners, a majority of dating app users do not even make it to the “talking” stage. Most users are in it for the rush - or dopamine hitthat stems from matching with someone on the app rather than being genuinely interested in forming deeper connections with the people they match with. 9 is the Magic Number If you are truly interested in forming a deeper connection with the people you meet on dating apps then I recommend following the guidance of Helen Fisher - a senior research fellow in biological anthropology at the Kinsey Institute and the chief scientific adviser for Match.com. Fischer has found that “the brain is not well built to choose between hundreds or thousands of alternatives” and that if you hope to establish a genuine relationship, app users should “stop swiping as soon as they have nine matches — the highest number of choices our brain is equipped to deal with at one time.” The disconnect between matching, messaging, and physically meeting often has to do with cognitive overload. Our brains, especially the more primitive parts that are now activated by dating apps, are not well equipped to manage and judge more than nine solid options. So, the more matches you have the less likely it is that you will actually successfully date one or more of them.
The Stellar Scientific Accuracy of Interstellar
by Emily Danzinger Illustration & Design: Lucy Xu
WARNING! Minor/major spoilers for Interstellar ahead! Read at your own discretion. If anything, go watch the movie before reading this.
few months back I finally got the opportunity to watch Christopher Nolan’s 2014 Academy award-winning science-fiction film Interstellar, which describes the plight of retired Navy pilot Cooper (McConaughey) as he volunteers to accompany a group of scientists through a wormhole, previously found in a black hole, to find a potential new home for humanity, who, having overfarmed and rendered the soil useless, sees their existence threatened by natural disasters and famine. The film was critically regarded well by film critics and scientists alike, for its scientifically-accurate inclusion of major astrophysics concepts like the viability of wormholes, time dilation in relation to gravity, and black holes, specifically if one can even survive or utilize its power. Nolan felt it was absolutely vital to ensure that the real-life concepts he worked into his plot remained scientifically accurate, thus moving him to hire Kip Thorne, a professor of theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), as one of the movie’s executive producers, thus allowing Nolan to accomplish his goal of “[inspiring] another generation to really look outwards and to look to the stars again” (BBC). In the process of rendering the movie’s images of black holes, designers used scientific equations to help accurately depict them and visual effects company Double Negative “developed a new suite of software that enabled them to calculate the way light rays travel across the warped space around the black hole… [and] the resulting pictures revealed delicate filigree patterns never observed before” (BBC). This need for scientific accuracy stemmed from Nolan’s personal love and curiosity for the unknown, as he told BBC News that “he has always been interested in science and was inspired by Carl Sagan’s popular science TV programme Cosmos when he was younger” (BBC). And thus, if not just through his love for the subject, Nolan’s passion project has turned into one of the most influential films of the early 21st century.
Let’s begin with the possibility of a wormhole existing, and how exactly the images displayed were rendered accurate. Wormholes are essentially considered portals from one side of the universe to the other - imagine folding a piece of paper in half and poking a hole through it with a pencil - and are widely regarded as real in the scientific world, but questions are raised regarding the possibility of being able to travel through one, given that it would require perfectly aligned circumstances to remain open long enough for any object to travel through them. For this portal to remain open, Princeton cosmologist J. Richard Gott explains, “would require what’s known as negative energy—an energetic state less than zero—to create the portal and keep it open” (Time), which is a topic not explored by the film, but for the sake of our analysis, it could technically be possible and thus we’ll regard it as a win for Nolan. Further, given the wormhole’s depiction in the film as a spherical portal with the other side directly visible, we can also say that a wormhole was portrayed accurately, even if it took the spaceship some time to travel through it. Next, let’s move on to the concept of time dilation, which is explored when the crew of astronauts are exploring a water planet situated on the brink of the black hole Gargantua. On this planet, every hour spent equates to about seven years in earth-time, a concept interestingly explored by musical director Hans Zimmer, whose score for the scene features a repetitive and ominous ticking noise every second, where each tick is meant to represent the passage of one day on Earth. As incredible as this concept may seem, it’s actually entirely possible. Let’s assume the fabric of space-time, which is made up of vertical threads of space and horizontal threads of time, is a flat plane, or a flat sheet of fabric on a table; this represents how we perceive time on Earth. Now, imagine someone, as Time editor Jeffrey Kluger explained, put a bowling ball in the center of said fabric square, which is being held up and not resting on a flat, hard surface. The fabric around the bowling ball would sink and stretch to accommodate for the bowling ball around it, affecting both the horizontal and vertical threads of space and time equally. Thus, this stretching of thread by the bowling ball can be equated to a massive black-hole stretching out the fabric of space and time, moving the threads further away from one another and thus stretching out the
The final three topics I wish to explore all have to do with the potential physics of a black hole, including communication through them, using the energy from a black hole to slingshot an object outside the event horizon, and potentially even surviving a black hole, all concepts explored in the film that were widely criticized by casual scientists, but raised curiosity in those who dedicate their lives to the study of black holes. Let’s begin with the idea of being able to communicate through a black hole, an idea widely disregarded by those with an elementary understanding of black holes, as we’ve been led to believe nothing can survive beyond the event horizon and anything that tries is ripped to shreds and basic molecules. However, in a loophole theory otherwise known as Hawking’s Radiation, the act of a particle falling into a black hole creates a form of negative energy, think of kinetic energy being used up endlessly as a particle falls further and further into a bottomless pit. However, the presence of this negative energy calls for a necessary positive energy, if only to keep things in balance; this positive energy is obtained by a black hole emitting a particle. Thus, hypothetically, with all the energy that flows into a black hole on any given basis, an equal amount of emitted “particles create a form of outflowing energy—and energy can be encoded to carry information, which is how all forms of wireless communication work” (Time). Next, in the movie’s (albeit long) climax, we see Cooper willingly sacrifice a part of the spaceship that he’s manning to send the rest of the ship, which holds his one surviving crewmember, out of harm’s way and to the final potential home planet they had yet to explore, causing him to fall into the event horizon, which is the boundary where the velocity needed to escape a black hole becomes greater than the speed of light. This slingshot event, besides making for one of the best and most suspenseful moments of the movie, raises questions about its feasibility, but it actually relies on the same physics concept explained in the previous paragraph! Formally known as the Penrose Theory, when a “projectile disintegrates into the ergosphere, one of the fragments falls into the event horizon in a direction opposite to the black hole’s rotation, while the other fragment can leave and be recovered, carrying more energy than the initial projectile. Replace the projectiles by a spaceship which leaves a part of it to fall into the black hole along a carefully chosen retrograde orbit, and le tour est joué” (Futura Science). Essentially, when a part of the spaceship falls into the event horizon, the negative energy created by falling causes a positive expulsion of other particles, thus giving the part of the spaceship that is close to the event horizon, but not in it, an extra boost of energy by which to send it flying with renewed energy and power. Finally, I want to discuss the most controversial concept explored in the film, which is that of potential survival in a black hole, as Cooper falls into the black hole along with his ship when propelling his crewmate out of harm’s way. As Columbia University cosmologist Brian Greene explained, “Most people would agree that a person who jumps into a black hole is doomed”, and the idea of being turned into human spaghetti upon immediate entry had people scratching their heads when Cooper travels into the black hole and remains alive enough to discover a tesseract where he can use gravity to communicatewith his daughter in the past (it makes more sense in the movie).
However, Greene explained that this otherwise “spaghettification” won’t occur immediately upon entering a black hole if the black hole is large enough, and, frankly, that’s all Nolan needed to know to make his plot work. The movie, and its scientific accuracy, has been so well-received by physicists that two separate scientific papers were published in the American Journal of Physics and in Classical and Quantum Gravity encouraging science teachers to show the film in their classrooms. One of the authors of these papers, Dr. David Jackson, explained that “The physics has been very carefully reviewed by experts and found to be accurate…[and the film succinctly helps] to get across ideas about general relativity.” Thus, Nolan might have just accomplished his goal of inspiring the astronauts of tomorrow. And if he didn’t? Well, he definitely had groups of grown adults shedding tears at the idea of sacrificing their personal comfort with their loved ones for the sake of the greater good, a concept we see being debated today as modern Mars missions would require astronauts to leave their homes, lives, and families behind, with zero promise of return.
THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA TO PROMOTE SCIENCE by Chloe Kirk Illustration & Design: Veronica Richmond 12
he average elementary school child spends 20 minutes a day on science instruction, compared to 60 minutes daily for math and 90 minutes for language and reading (National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, 2021). When you ask a student what a scientist looks like, most picture white men, like Albert Einstein, with a genius IQ to match (Quartz, 2022). Science provides vital tools for solving the biggest problems of our time yet, we devote so little time to teaching and changing the way we think about science. Perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the poignant examples of society’s need to better assimilate science into our lives and improve our applicable comprehension of it . Misinformation about both the disease and vaccine spread like wildfire, in part, from a lack of trust and transparency between scientists and the public. (The Royal Society Publishing, 2021). Had science been less of a daunting subject for most people, the public wouldn’t be inclined to follow scientific misunderstandings that seem understandable enough to believe. In some instances, science misinformation can stem from ineffective communication to an audience who is not equipped with the tools to understand scientific topics (Nieman Lab, 2022). Scientific jargon is thrown around, analogies are oversimplified, and a journalist with little to no science background ends up running a story that drinking wine is good for your heart (J Cardiovasc Dis Res, 2010). How do we combat science misinformation and promote science education? “There isn’t a straightforward answer” as Dr. Ben Rein explains, but one very powerful tool is right on your phone: social media. While many highlight the issues with social media, one often overlooked benefit is its ability to educate. “Social media allows you to infuse the human aspect into science...the discovery, the awe,” describes Emily Calandrelli, former MIT Engineer, Emmy nominated TV host, and social media content creator. A 2014 study of Canadian school children found that as
Dr. Ben Rein
children age, science and technology exposure out-of-school makes a larger impact on their interest in pursuing science higher education (J Sci Educ Technol, 2014). Social media is one of the most prevalent out-of-school exposures for any child growing up today, providing a ready-made construct for delivering science education at the palm of one’s hands. Similarly, science misinformation can be combated using these same social media tools. Having more scientists consciously providing scientific information in a layout the public understands is critical to our generation who rely on ‘bitesized’ 30-second reels and catchy headlines (Cell, 2022). “We need to increase the narrative between science and communication” as Dr. Sophie Milbourne, a science writer and communicator, puts it. Better science communication leads to more interest in science education and may also help reduce the amount of science misinformation. And this can all be accomplished through the power of social media to promote science. Overall, social media makes scientific knowledge accessible and breaks down barriers of what a scientist looks like on platforms where the whole world can listen, thus helping to bridge the gap between science and society, overall improving the world in which we live and learn.
If you want to learn more about science on social media, I highly recommend checking out the three individuals I interviewed for this article:
Dr. Sophie Milbourne
adiolab, a podcast hosted by WNYC, hosted a segment on the elements of the periodic table. The podcast starts with an interview with a writer, Jamie Lowe. During her time as a writer, she says how she would often conjure these big plans to work at MTV and how insistent she was on setting up debates with large political figures like Fidel Castro and George H.W. Bush. Her obsession with these big plans affected her sleep; her mother said she would have episodes where she would spin around in her room late at night talking non-stop about how she could save Central America from disaster. In the end, Lowe was admitted to a psychiatric hospital – her prescription was an “element”, lithium. Lithium is a very simple yet potent drug that can specifically target one mental illness: bipolar disorder (BPD). Later down the line in Lowe’s story, her lithium prescription completely transforms her life and curbs a lot of the emotional extremes she had experienced in the past. After some time, however, she had to quit the drug because it turns out that lithium consumption can lead to kidney failure. She was faced with the decision of switching treatment or getting an organ transplant. This dilemma serves as a great microcosm of the challenges that face psychiatry and its presentation in pop science today. Although Radiolab’s episode gives a good perspective on the ups and downs of the prescription, it is easy for the public to get lost in Lowe’s story and come out with a black-and-white perspective on lithium.
by William Desueza Design: Genesis Leiva Cerna Some may see it as evidence of the power of prescription drugs, while others may see it as evidence of its toxicity instead. These concerns may have important outcomes on the relationship between the patient and their prescription. Lithium, which has proven to significantly reduce the suicide rate of BPD patients, has staggeringly low compliance rates with their medication as demonstrated by research. This aversion to psychiatric treatment is not limited to lithium – estimates predict millions of Americans are currently undiagnosed and untreated. This peculiar dynamic is rooted back in the history of psychiatric drug prescriptions. It so happens that the drug which paved the path for modern psychiatry today is no other than lithium. In the 1940s, there was little to no practical treatment for psychiatric patients. Most were confined to mental wards and shunned from the rest of society. John Cade’s father worked as a fellow psychiatrist, thus at a young age, Cade would be exposed to a lot of mentally ill patients that society had cast away. Cade would eventually follow in his father’s footsteps and become a professional psychiatrist in Australia. Later down the road, he put a lot of effort into attempting to find treatments for mental illnesses when not much work had been done in the field.
However, Cade decided to enlist as a medical officer during World War II before pursuing psychiatry fulltime. During the war, he was captured as a prisoner in Singapore and sent to the infamous Changi prison camp where he was assigned to the psychiatric ward due to his prior training. There, he got a lot of professional experience and exposure to the lives of soldiers who were traumatized. Early on, he believed that a lot of these mental illnesses he worked with were linked to physical causes such as a poor diet. This belief behind the connection between physical treatments and mental illnesses would prove to be critical to his discovery of lithium once he began professional research. Cade would go on to tirelessly experiment on whatever he could to find better practical treatments. He took the urine samples of psychiatric patients and injected them into guinea pigs. The urine of these patients was toxic; however, mixing the urine with lithium carbonate would reduce its toxicity. Moreover, guinea pigs that took higher doses of this lithium were observably more relaxed. Cade reasoned that it could therefore be a potentially great treatment for BPD. In 1949, Cade would begin prescribing lithium to manic patients and it seemed that their lives improved. However, some would go on to die of lithium poisoning and the treatment was canceled altogether. Decades later, more research was invested to figure out if lithium was as effective as Cade had once claimed it to be. Larger and larger trials were conducted and eventually, an ideal dose was settled upon which did not put the patient at risk of getting lithium poisoning. In 1970, the FDA approved lithium as a viable drug for treating BPD and it had officially carved the way for other antipsychotics and antidepressants to enter the market.
There is still a lot of ongoing debate about the exact mechanisms behind lithium. However, there are some prevailing hypotheses that scientists agree on. Neurons contain ions such as sodium and potassium pumps which flow in and out of the cell to generate electricity. This reaction activates the neuron and helps mediate communication within the brain and nervous system. As only the third element on the periodic table, lithium is far lighter in mass than sodium and potassium, however it still exhibits the same properties that allow sodium and potassium to generate electricity in the neuron. Therefore, it is hypothesized that if one were to take lithium, it would replace some of these ions and weaken the signal in the neuron. Those with bipolar disorder who might have hyperactive neural activity can thus slow down their emotional extremes with lithium prescription drugs. Even with this understanding of lithium, it is easy to forget there is still a lot of ongoing research on the drug despite its lengthy history. As a result, media outlets that communicate science shave off the nuances that will always be prevalent in lithium and other drugs in the industry. The reality is that these drugs are not free from side effects as shown in Lowe’s story but are also an incredibly powerful tool in improving the lives of patients around the world. By teaching the public about the ever-developing understanding that is backed by this scientific process (which is especially important in the history of lithium), the psychiatric institution can make great strides in improving the trust of the public overall.
The Psychology of a Movie Villain By Bella Jimenez
eople often hold the heroines and heroes in movies to the highest regard. How could you not? They’re the representation of model citizens, the good guys. We’re not supposed to support the bad guys. In fact, shouldn’t we root against them? That’s what we’re taught from a young age; it’s a good thing the Evil Queen falls to her death at the end of Snow White and, I was elated to see Umbridge spend the rest of her life in Azkaban. Yet if this is the case, why are movie villains so captivating? Their job is to make the hero’s life a living hell. Yet we still find ourselves drawn into their backstory, motives and methods. I can’t help but wonder how villains keep viewers coming back for more, sometimes with more intrigue in their lives than the heroes themselves. One reason villains intrigue audiences may be linked to our brain’s biology. Researchers at the University of Southern California conducted a study examining participants’ “pain matrix.” Neuroscientists have classified the pain matrix
Design: Gaby Torna
as areas of the brain including the anterior cingulate cortex, thalamus and insula that respond to pain stimuli. That’s a bunch of fancy wording for parts of the brain that respond when you see someone else in pain. The study has white, male, Jewish participants watch videos of anti-Semitic and Semitic-accepting people experiencing pain. The pain matrix was activated more when the participants were looking at the anti-Semitic people in pain. Lead author Glenn Fox stated that “the brain’s response is likely tied to the relative increase in the need to attend to and understand the pain of the hateful person”. This finding indicates that the brain tries to relate to people, regardless of who they are as a person. Many people are intensely concerned with their self-image and refrain from resembling the actions of someone considered bad. The fact that parts of the brain are more concerned with the wellbeing of the bad guys came as a total shock to me. However, if someone subconsciously resembles a villain, it makes sense that they would be somewhat concerned for them; in reality they are also being partially concerned for themselves. It works the same way for fictional villains as well. It was observed by researchers at Northwestern University that people find movie villains more admirable if they share similar personality traits with them. This could explain why some people find movie villains like Kylo Ren, Loki and The Joker so iconic, and why the pain matrix is activated when we see bad guys suffering. A few movie villain fans go as far as keeping shrines for their favorite villains, dressing up as them for Halloween and going to conventions dedicated to villains. While all of this is wonderful, the question remains. What makes these villains so attractive? They have to have some redeeming qualities if we’re willing to look past all their wrong-doings to avoid completely hating them. Take Professor Snape, for example. His most redeeming quality is arguable that he is one of the most misunderstood characters in the Harry Potter franchise. As an outcast who was bullied growing up, he was drawn closer to the villains. Throughout the series, we are made to despise him for most of his actions. However, by the end of the film, it seems as though everyone in the audience forgave him; Some may have gone as far as falling in love with his character even after all the mental, physical and emotional turmoil he caused. Some people have whole rooms of houses dedicated to him and make actual thirst traps to post
on social media. Snape had this obsession-inducing effect on people because they see themselves within him. Lots of people feel misunderstood and like an outcast. As a result, they find comfort in seeing a movie character, despite it being a villain, portraying the same characteristics. It doesn’t seem to matter how these characteristics are displayed — just that they are represented. Now, if you’re saying to yourself “Snape isn’t even that bad of a villain. He’s more of an antihero,” let’s take a look at a movie villain that is arguably 100 times worse than Snape. As for the theme of anti-heros, that is another layer to dissect. Mary Harron’s 2000 horror film American Psycho features a sadistic killer named Patrick Bateman. Although not explicitly said in the movie, it is a widely held consensus that Bateman has an antisocial personality disorder. You may have heard this term being replaced by “psychopath” or “sociopath”. Symptoms include deceitfulness, manipulativeness, impulsivity, lack of restraint and lack of empathy or remorse towards harming others. Even with all of his unnerving, murderous tendencies, there are members of society that idolize him. They view his ability to use his high status, wealth, and guilt-free power over people as advantageous rather than barbaric. Perhaps they resonate with Bateman because they share some of his tendencies. Watching Bateman use his wealth and power to his advantage provides an outlet to those, particularly men, who wouldn’t go as far as murder to get what they want. For them, Bateman symbolizes strength and the “alpha male” complex. Admirers live vicariously through him but without the consequences. With that being said, more intense movie villains, like Bateman, allow viewers to relate and vicariously let their excessive anger and unconventional ideologies out into the world. The outlet that movie villains provide leads to viewers rooting for them to win regardless of the consequences or negative impacts of their actions. Take a moment to think about what feelings movie villains elicit in you. Did excitement or fear come to mind? These are two of the most popular emotions that movie villains evoke and the line that separates them is thin. The amygdala is the area of the brain that is responsible for fear and arousal. When we see movie villains come on screen, the amygdala takes over and controls our fear/arousal response. Because of this, we may confuse fear for excitement which drives the admiration we feel for villains. We want to be afraid of them; we should be afraid of them, but their charisma and the way they resemble human nature without regret or worry makes them almost irresistible. Villains represent humanity’s flaws, greed and desires under the
safety blanket of film-making. Viewers can watch pieces of their personalities, good and bad, acted out whether they know it or not. Oftentimes people don’t realize how they relate to a villain, only that deep down they somehow feel sympathy and a sense of self. This sense of self isn’t a bad thing either. Recognizing and having compassion for villains is human nature because we continue to try to see the good in people and believe they can change for the better. Taking an introspective look provides a means for self-reflection and possibly personal growth. Movie villains will forever have a hold on us, whether we like it or not. That hold is what draws us in every time and it might be a good thing. In hindsight, maybe that’s the one good deed villains can do for society.
A SCiENTiFiC PERSPECTiVE ON SUPERHERO SUPERPOWERS
by Yahnell Judah
Design: Gaby Torna
uperheroes are today considered one of the world’s greatest phenomenons. Many kids dream of having the ability to fly, or jump across buildings, or be invincible, but often these dreams fade into oblivion as they grow up and realize it’s not humanly possible. However, many of the abilities exhibited by our favorite superheroes can actually be explained by science! Superman We’ll start our journey into Superhero Science with Superman, the Man of Steel, undeniably one of popular culture’s most iconic superheroes. His science fiction adventure story tells of a citizen of the distant planet Krypton, who came to Earth with strange powers and donned a secret identity. The source of his powers was credited to Krypton having a greater gravitational field, which allows him to accomplish feats such as leaping across tall buildings in a single bound. Unlike some of his other superpowers, this ability can be explained by the principles of physiology and physics. When you jump, your legs contract tightly like a loaded spring before subsequent uncoiling of each joint from the top down. The gluteus maximus and hamstrings uncoil first, followed by the quadriceps which extend the knee, and the gastrocnemius and soleus cause plantar flexion, allowing you to point your toes before leaving the ground. According to Newton’s third law of motion, the force you exert on the ground causes you to lift once it surpasses the minimum force required to keep you standing. With Superman’s muscles and bones being suited to support his heavier weight on the planet Krypton, which has a higher gravitational force, it’s no surprise that the force generated by his lower body and therefore his liftoff velocity is greater than that of the average human on Earth. A greater liftoff velocity, or his initial upwards speed over time, means greater overall heights reached. The relationship between his initial liftoff velocity and the final height of his leap can be defined as v2= 2gh, which takes into account his initial velocity and the force of gravity that would cause his deceleration to determine how high he could jump. Based on this equation, he would have to leave the ground at an astounding 140 mph to clear an average 60-story building. His one weakness (as every superhero has one) was Kryptonite. Kryptonite in the Superman comic books was described as mineral, radioactive elements of the remnants of his home planet. This makes sense as radioactive elements from the Earth are harmful to us Earthly humans. Radioactivity is the release of energetic particles from the decay of unstable nuclei of certain atoms. The energetic particles can ionize and disrupt important cellular molecules such as DNA. Although all of the radioactive chaos happens very quickly, it can take much longer for the biological effects of DNA and cell damage to become apparent. Wolverine Wolverine is another fan-favorite; he has interesting powers, like enhanced healing, fighting with metal claws, and looking good in a tank top. He belongs to a group of super-mutants, who all possess a “mutant-gene” which canonically gives
carriers a wide range of different superpowers. Although this might fly in the world of superheroes, it doesn’t align with natural biology. Mutations are indeed a core driving force for evolution and random genetic mutations happen often. Most of the ones with any noticeable effect are detrimental but some turn out to be advantageous to the organism, allowing it better odds of survival. Better odds of survival can mean the carrier is more likely to reproduce and pass the mutation on, changing the genetic pool of the population over time. However, the idea of a single mutant gene responsible for this assortment of powers strays from science into science fiction. In actuality, most complex traits are based on combinations of different genes. For example, something as small as your eye color is based on 16 different genes, and even then, those genes only code for a limited possibility of colors. The idea that the same single gene could give Storm her weather control and Mystique her shapeshifting ability only works in the X-Men Universe. Wolverine’s ability to heal quickly is loosely based on science, with an added twist. When a normal person is injured, a complicated series of synchronized actions from many cell types is initiated to heal the wound. First, platelets join together at the site of the injury to stop bleeding. They release cytokines that attract the attention of immune cells, namely neutrophils and macrophages, that rush to the scene to meet invading microbes and generally clean up the area. Following this immune response known as inflammation, cells in the area begin to undergo mitosis at a faster rate than normal, a process that creates more identical daughter cells to ultimately repair the wound. Wolverine also goes through this synchronized process of immune defense and mitosis of native cells. However his cells do this at a much faster rate than a human with a cut, a sort of “hyper-mitosis”. This gives him regenerative abilities and even immunity against disease or poisons. It also fares him well of course, given that his skeleton is made of metal. Scientists have actually been investigating regeneration in real life by studying animals such as the axolotl, a salamander that can regrow almost any body part and by identifying genes like Lin28 that might help with regeneration. However, it is unlikely you’ll be invincible like Wolverine any time soon; the science is still very far off from being used clinically.
Peter survived, much less with arachnid attributes that allowed him to save the world several times over. One of his most recognizable traits was his gain of a sixth sense that alerted him to potential danger, dubbed his “Spidey-Senses.” This ability to sense and react to danger before it happens may even be responsible for the quick reflexes necessary to glide over and through Manhattan at breakneck speeds with ease. His Spidey-Sense detects otherwise non- perceivable shifts in his surroundings. These changes register as electrical impulses picked up by nerve endings at the root of hair cells on his arms, which send the signal to his brain. This signal is met with a fight or flight response that happens so reflexively he might not even be aware of the danger or his own actions until after the danger has subsided. This isn’t as far-fetched as it may seem. Spiders are also covered in tiny hairs, known as trichobothria, which allow them their own Spidey-Sense. Just like Spider- Man’s, these hairs alert the spider to vibrations in the environment that could signal danger. Some spiders even use their webs as an extension of this system, feeling vibrations and shifts amplified against it. Interestingly enough, the tales we were told as children, the stories of people with abilities only the imagination could fathom, have all gradually become realities with explanations. Superheros, who often humble humanity with the thought that we will never achieve such greatness, now also work as reference points. They remind us that what we had thought impossible at the time of their writing’s origin now can be thought of realistically because of society’s development in math and sciences. Maybe our superpower resides in our ability to connect numbers and scientific knowledge to what was once simply a comic book’s doodle character.
Spider-Man Spider- Man is one of the more physiologically unique superheroes. Bitten by a radioactive spider, his DNA was forever altered and he drastically changed from the nerdy, thin boy who would get picked on relentlessly. As we know the dangers of radioactivity, it’s a wonder
Is tHe BbL EfFeCt WoRtH It? ThE DaRk SiDe oF PlAsTiC SuRgErY by Snigdha Reddy Sama | Design: Megan Piller
6-24-36: representing the size of the bust, waist, and hip of an ideal woman’s body in inches, this seemingly arbitrary series of numbers sets the stage for an industry that rakes in billions of dollars every year— the field of cosmetic surgery. While diet and exercise can go a long way towards shaping your body, increasingly, people have been turning to surgery to attain the “hourglass” look dictated by these proportions. Of the vast number of surgeries dedicated to achieving this look, a particularly popular one is known as the Brazilian butt lift (BBL), simultaneously the fastest-growing and deadliest cosmetic surgery to date. How and why exactly did the field of plastic surgery see such a dramatic rise in popularity? Believe it or not, the field of plastic surgery is not as new as it seems— some techniques have been around for tens of hundreds of years. The roots of plastic surgery come from the Greek term “plastikos”, meaning to mold or shape. Plastic surgery can be broken down into two main categories, reconstructive ( to restore function and normal appearance) or cosmetic ( to make anatomy more visually appealing). The earliest record of reconstructive techniques dates back to 800 BC in early India, where forehead flaps were utilized to reconstruct amputated noses. However, early plastic surgery was not limited to reconstructive procedures: in the 1st century, Roman physician Aulus Cornelius Celsus wrote “De re medicina,” a book covering broad topics of disease and therapies which notably mentions a technique for a primitive nose job that has been utilized for over a thousand years since the book’s publishing. As science gave way to religion, the spread of Christianity presented an impediment to further research in surgery— at one point, Pope Innocent III declared that surgery in any form was prohibited by Church law. Nevertheless, scientific advances during the Renaissance were able to make significant headway into the development of safer surgical techniques. However, it wasn’t until the twentieth century, driven by the heavy casualties of World War I, that the study of reconstructive surgery was deemed a necessity. Shattered jaws and gaping wounds on the skull were only a couple of the severe injuries suffered by soldiers on both sides of the battlefield. Simultaneously, developments in cosmetic surgery also flourished, albeit for distinctly different reasons. Plastic surgeon John Orlando summed it up best by explaining that the rise in cosmetic surgery was caused by the realization of “how much valuable talent [had] been… lost to the world and society by reason of embarrassment… caused by the conscious… influence of some physical infirmity or deformity or unsightly blemish.” By 1950, the specialty of plastic surgery had received board certification and its very own medical journal and was well on its way to becoming integrated into routine medical practice. Following the invention of implant devices made from silicone in 1962, implants were developed for use in
just about every part of the face and body. The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reported an increase of 446% in cosmetic procedures in the decade since 1997. Researchers have attributed this rise to the availability of plastic surgeons, media influence, evolutionary interests, and personal factors related to a patient. Especially as technological advances have made surgical procedures more affordable with faster recovery times, people have been more willing to consider cosmetic surgery as an option for altering their appearance. A study that examined the willingness of young American women specifically to obtain cosmetic surgery concluded that this interest is guided by four factors: body dissatisfaction, physical appearance, teasing (especially about body parts), and media influence, especially with the rise of social media and the increasing pressure to look “perfect.” The pandemic has not been kind to this trend: according to a poll conducted by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in 2020, 11% of women surveyed said that they are more interested in cosmetic plastic surgery and non-surgical procedures now than before COVID-19. Dr. Edward Reece, the chief of Adult Plastic Surgery at the Baylor College of Medicine, credits the higher use of video conferencing technology to making people more conscious of how they look in public settings to increasing desire among the public for cosmetic surgery. In the past few years, one of these procedures has seen a rise far exceeding the rest. Titled a gluteal fat transfer in medical literature, in a BBL procedure, excess fat is removed from the rest of the body with liposuction and inserted into the buttocks to increase their size. It is the fastest growing cosmetic procedure, and also the deadliest; a report by the Aesthetic Surgery Education and Research Foundation noted that one to two out of 6000 BBLs results in death, the highest mortality rate of any cosmetic surgery. What makes BBLs in particular so dangerous? Dr. Sidhbh Gallagher, MD, a cosmetic plastic surgeon in Miami speaks on their high mortality rates: “BBLs in themselves are not prohibitively dangerous if done by the correct individual as in a board-certified plastic surgeon. The problem we are seeing is when high volume clinics especially in Miami— prioritizing profit—allow unqualified individuals to do the actual surgeries. This is when the death toll skyrockets. This has been a problem for years, but the pandemic saw a boom in cosmetic surgery overall and subsequently a record high of patients dying from these procedures [due to surgery and post-surgery complications].” Whether or not the implications of the rise of cosmetic surgery bode well for body confidence and satisfaction, this practice is here to stay and will only see increases in future years. It is clear, however, that further medical oversight and regulatory mechanisms will need to be established to ensure that risk is minimized to those undertaking these invasive procedures.
The Science Behind Fictional Apocalyptic Pandemics: Assessing the Prospect of a “World-Ending” Microbe
ince the dawn of humanity, microbes have been an elusive and ever-changing part of human life on Earth, even before we knew they existed. Humans have always known that diseases, caused by nasty microbes called “pathogens”, were a destructive force. Before the Germ Theory was proposed in the 1860s by French chemist Louis Pasteur, the most accepted theory for why diseases existed was as a way for God to punish humans for their mortal sins. However, in the 21st century, we now know the extensive science behind the microscopic critters that cause humans such colossal problems. Diseases have given human beings anxiety for thousands of years. As a result, many movies and video games have had the fictional plot of a deadly microbe spreading worldwide and causing an apocalyptic scenario. One of my favorite media pieces depicting this premise is the movie I Am Legend. The award-winning 2007 film I Am Legend is a spinechilling fictional story about a manufactured plague with a 90% kill rate that caused symptoms many would recognize as “zombie-like.” Named the “Krippin Virus,” this microbe was genetically engineered by scientists from the Measles vaccine as a ground-breaking cure for cancer. Eventually, the virus mutated (as most do) and caused extreme rabiestype symptoms in these experimental cancer patients. The virus then spread to the rest of the world, eventually killing 5.8 billion people. I acknowledge that this movie is a “Hollywood exaggeration”; however, some truth may be hidden under all of those extremely unsettling CGI zombies. Most people are quick to think that films and video games depicting a deadly virus/bacteria killing most of the Earth’s population or turning humans into blood-thirsty zombies is a far-fetched premise, but after assessing the science behind them, they would be surprised. With this in mind, I recently thought: “Could humanity ever experience a real world-ending pandemic in our lifetime?” To address this daunting question, I will attempt to answer three crucial questions by analyzing the science behind “plague-related” modern media. by Kimberlee Gibson | Design: Megan Piller
What properties would this hypothetical, apocalyptic-causing microbe have? An overwhelming majority of the modern media I sifted through shared a crucial similarity: a virus was the main microbial villain. The science behind this is reasonably valid; viruses are unpredictable, mutate like crazy, and cannot be treated with antibiotics, making them the perfect microbe for the job. Extremely contagious and airborne RNA viruses, such as influenza, mutate more than regular viruses and are microbiologists’ mortal enemies. Even with the extensive knowledge scientists’ have on creating vaccines, it’s challenging to keep up with an RNA virus that mutates on a day-to-day basis, and without a way to protect those who are healthy, the virus would inevitably spread rapidly and infect a large portion of the planet. “Probably the biggest threat to humanity are those microbial pathogens that can spread silently. If you look at how Covid spread throughout the world, it wasn’t quite silent but it didn’t cause the serious symptoms in most people for us to take seriously.” Dr. Kurt Schesser, an associate professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Miami, highlights another crucial point in this quote. Suppose the symptoms of this theoretical disease are not as severe as some other grotesque infamous diseases, such as Ebola or Smallpox. In that case, the average person wouldn’t take it seriously, and the spread of the disease would then explode exponentially. Do scientists possess the technology to create a novel virus in a lab? Viruses are beautiful, complicated microscopic machines that took nature over a billion years to develop and perfect. So, is it even possible for the brightest human minds in science to outsmart mother nature? I asked Dr. Schesser this question. He answered, “Creating an artificial virus in the lab is certainly possible, and that in fact is done to some degree…like gene therapy and vaccines. What we are still probably a long ways away from is creating a virus that could actually survive in nature on its own.” With this, I can deduce that humans currently do not possess the capability to create an entirely novel virus in a lab; this hypothetical apocalyptic virus would most likely have to be engineered from a pre-existing virus. As Dr. Schesser stated, scientists happen to do this all the time to make vaccines; they remove specific genes from the virus that causes the disease and inoculate humans with the harmless form, generating immunity against that particular virus. An example of a piece of media that depicts viral genetic engineering is the video game Dying Light. In this game, scientists work to create a vaccine for a nasty strain of rapidly spreading rabies, accidentally creating a new strain that ends up escaping the lab. The escaped virus infects billions of people and inflicts symptoms that are, you
guessed it, zombie-like. However, rabies does not spread through the air, so this scenario in Dying Light would not be that plausible in the real world, as the virus would have been able to be contained before killing most of the population. Would the world’s governments be able to combat the spread of the disease? The short answer to this would, fundamentally, have to be “no”; for an apocalyptic scenario to occur realistically, the world would have had to fail at containing the spread of this deadly microbe. The longer answer to this question, however, can be explained after analyzing the 2011 film, Contagion. This movie portrays a realistic modern global pandemic and how the United States would deal with the rapid spread of a highly contagious, lethal novel disease. In this film, government officials and scientists struggle to figure out the virus while keeping the public calm and not causing chaos (spoiler alert: chaos does ensue). This movie is a valuable reference for how fast this hypothetical microbe would spread worldwide and how the world’s governments would most likely not be able to contain it fast enough. After assessing statistics from past pandemics, I surmised that it would probably take around three months after the first reported case before every government worldwide enforced any quarantine or border closure. Considering how fast this microbe would theoretically spread, mutate, and kill people, this would be much too slow of a response, thus resulting in the eradication of humanity. The purpose of this article is not to add to the pre-existing anxiety everyone has about pandemics and zombie apocalypses but rather to “debunk” certain fictional elements of diseases that are depicted in popular modern media. To prove that, here are some ways in which I don’t think we will experience an apocalyptic pandemic in our lifetime: Humans have been able to contain the spread of disease for quite a while now, at least on the scale of not letting it wipe out the entire world; and for an extremely evil, calculated pathogen, such as the one I have been discussing in this article, to cause an apocalyptic-type scenario, it must have a perfect set of conditions. This pathogen would most likely have to be: a rapidly-mutating RNA virus engineered from a previously existing organism, have multiple modes of transmission, be highly contagious, spread faster than the world’s governments can physically keep up with, and have mild symptoms that then swiftly kill its host. So, whether or not you want to start preparing for a zombie apocalypse after reading this article is entirely up to you— just keep in mind that nature has always been disturbingly unpredictable.
The promise and perils of germline genetic editing by Caleb Heathershaw | Design: Megan Piller
OS ANGELES USA, NOVEMBER 2019
“You’re in the desert, walking along in the sand when all of a sudden you look down and see a tortoise. It’s crawling towards you. You reach down and flip the tortoise over on its back, Leon. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs trying to turn itself over. But it can’t. Not without your help. But you’re not helping. Why is that, Leon? … Describe in single words, only the good things that come into your mind. About your mother.” Leon jumps to his feet.
SHENZHEN CHINA, NOVEMBER 2018
The promise of genetic editing lies in a simple question. If we could eradicate genetic disease, why wouldn’t we? Children with Tay-Sachs (a recessive monogenic disease) have an enzyme that slowly eats their spinal cord and brain until they die around age five. In Huntington’s disease (onset juvenile to age 40), the brain breaks down, causing uncontrollable movements, emotional disruption, and relentless cognitive decline until they die 10 years later. If we had a simple genetic procedure no more challenging than in-vitro fertilization, we could cure sickle cell anemia, Huntington’s disease, or Tay-Sachs disease. Just as vaccines have made polio almost nonexistent, so could germline genetic editing make monogenic disease nonexistent. But is this possible?
In 2018, Dr. Jiankiu He announced the birth of Lulu and Nana, the first ever humans to be born after being genetically edited with CRISPR-Cas9. Using a procedure similar to invitro fertilization (IVF), Dr. He and a team of scientists at the
Genetic editing is simple in principle. Organisms, like us, are made of organs, which are made of tissues, which are made of cells, which are made of proteins. Proteins are constructed following specific DNA instruction sequences called genes.
“Let me tell you about my mother.” Leon flings out a pistol and blasts a hole in his interrogator. Why? When answering those questions, his unflinching heartbeat, his lack of emotion, had betrayed his identity. Leon is a replicant, a soon-to-be-hunted genetically engineered superhumanoid in the 1982 cult classic film Blade Runner. Science fiction has long imagined a world where genetically engineered versions of our species become our salvation or our destruction. In reality, however, genetically modified humans look quite different. The story you are about to read is no fiction.
Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen China tried to insert the CCR5 gene into the genome of two human embryos. The CCR5 gene increases HIV resistance, an important trait for children with an HIV positive parent. Not only did the scientists fail to insert the correct gene, they unintentionally affected other genes which could affect Lulu and Nana in the future. The international scientific community responded swiftly and sternly. Their principal grievance was not that Dr. He edited human embryos, but that he did so without proper permission and oversight. In 2019, Dr. He was thrown in jail. The age of genetically modified humans had begun.
CUT CUT CUT CUT CUT
Gene editing tools, like CRISPR-Cas9, act like scissors that cut the genetic sequence in a specific place. After the sequence is cut, researchers can introduce templates to guide DNA repair. In only ten years, CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology has become a universally useful scientific tool. Scientists are using CRISPR-Cas9 to create mosquitos that can’t carry malaria, mice that have muscular dystrophy, and even coffee without caffeine. High school biology classrooms are using CRISPRCas9 to edit bacterial genomes and teach genetic principles hands-on. Self-proclaimed “biohackers” are using CRISPR-Cas9 to haphazardly edit their own biology, going DIY on their own bodies in an extraordinarily Darwinian fashion. All that is to say, CRISPR is everywhere. Genetic editing falls into two categories: somatic editing and germline editing. Both types of editing use the same process but take place in different kinds of tissue. Somatic editing, also known as gene therapy, involves editing mature tissue and will not pass changes to offspring. Germline editing, also known as heritable genome editing, involves editing genetic information that will be passed onto offspring. This typically entails editing eggs, sperm, zygotes, or embryos. Germline genetic editing affects not only the embryonic patient, but also all descendants of that patient, effectively editing evolution itself. Somatic editing has recently become a powerful therapeutic tool in clinical trials for cancer, diabetes, HIV/ AIDS, lymphoma and anemia. In sickle cell anemia, a single letter mutation causes blood cells to be formed in a crescent (or sickle) shape. This makes blood cells less efficient at carrying oxygen and creates a risk for blood clotting, leading to stroke. A CRISPR-Cas9 treatment by Vertex Pharmaceuticals for sickle cell anemia has made it to phase II and Phase III clinical trials. This treatment extracts a patient’s own blood progenitor cells from bone marrow, uses CRISPR-Cas9 to re-activate a fetal hemoglobin gene (to enhance oxygen transport), grows a robust population of cells, and then injects the corrected cells back into the bone marrow. According to early results, the treatment has been successful and dramatically renewed the quality of life for patients with sickle cell anemia. Somatic treatments like this will cure diseases, but not eradicate them. Germline genetic editing carries a few inherent risks to the patient’s safety. First, genetic editing is not a precise technology; CRISPR-Cas9 has an efficiency rate that ranges from 30% to 90%. Unfortunately, this means off-target mutations may be too common for clinical application. Second, scientists do not yet have a complete understanding of genetic expression. Although researchers can easily sequence (read) a full human genome, the phenotypic expression of all genes is not known. Tampering with the base code of the genome could have unexpected consequences. Because off-target mutations are currently not preventable, harmful physiological consequences are not preventable either. The risk to patient safety is simply unknown.
Germline genetic editing also explores intense ethical questions. According to the NIH National Human Genome Research Institute, there are three areas of possible ethical concern. First, germline editing completely bypasses informed consent. Neither the embryonic patient, nor future generations have the ability to understand and accept treatment. To alter one germline is to alter generations. Second, germline editing raises an issue of justice and equity. Racism, classism, and ableism are already devastatingly present in today’s society. If only the wealthy can afford germline editing, we risk creating a classist caste system where genetically privileged bloodlines receive preferential treatment. We also risk creating a neoeugenics movement where the sick and genetically uncorrected are discriminated against. Third, germline editing involves research on human embryos, an ethically controversial firestorm. All of these ethical risks are not limited to germline editing, but are broadly relevant to medical technology in general, and reproductive medical technologies like IVF and prenatal testing specifically. In response to Dr. He’s research, Dr. Jennifer Doudna (one of the scientists who discovered CRISPR-Cas9) called for a moratorium on all human germline editing until the international scientific ethics community could reach a consensus on how to regulate heritable editing. In 2021, the World Health Organization released two publications that outline the ethical recommendations of an international expert advisory committee. After years of discussion with scientists, ethicists, religious leaders, and societal influencers, they have suggested a regulatory framework that relies on governments to provide insight and oversight on germline editing. Currently, Congress has mandated the FDA (the regulatory structure in the United States for medical technology) to ban all germline editing in the US since questions of safety and ethicality have yet to be resolved. As we enter the era of genetically modified humans, we must remember that no matter how we decide to manipulate our evolution, we are still just that, humans: humans with hopes and hurts, humans who are heroes and villains and everything in between. While medical technology often engages these discussions of grandiose ethical consequence, it is important to remember that medicine is not about science fiction, cult classic movies, or villainous technological doom. Medicine is about treating the baby with Tay-Sachs, crying in her mothers arms in front of you at the grocery store. Medicine is about helping. In April of this year, Dr. He was released from jail and is helping pay for Lulu and Nana’s healthcare. Lulu and Nanu are currently toddlers, living ordinary lives in their Chinese family, walking along with their mother’s help.
by Ethan Bentley Illustration & Design: Veronica Richmond
he World Health Organization (WHO), effective July 23, 2022, announced that the outbreak caused by monkeypox, a viral zoonosis, is a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). This declaration is the highest health alert given by the WHO and it is meant to trigger a more coordinated response across international health organizations and nations. While endemic in Africa for decades, the new monkeypox immersion has spread to over 75 countries reaching up to 1,600 cases in a very short period of time. This resurgence in so many non-endemic countries including much of Europe as well as the United States has caused concerns that a new, more infectious strain has arisen. This concern has caused alarm as many of the cases came from those without a history of travel to areas where monkeypox is prevalent, which suggests a high amount of human to human transmission. In 1970, a child in the Dominican Republic was found with the first ever detected case of the monkeypox virus. Since that time, the disease has been endemic to Africa and several outbreaks have emerged across the region with mortality reaching as high as 10 percent. The disease has an incubation period of 6-13 days before symptoms appear; these symptoms include fever, headache, myalgia, aches, and chills. A couple of days after symptoms start, victims will develop rashes on their face, limbs, torso, and other areas of the body. Monkeypox victims can usually recover within 2-4 weeks, however, the virus can leave significant scarring which can disfigure and debilitate patients long after the disease’s main effects have subsided. The virus is from the Poxviridae family and thus has similar symptoms to other more well-known diseases such as chickenpox and smallpox. The name “monkeypox” is based on the fact that the virus was first isolated from a monkey and while it is unknown what the natural animal reservoir is, the virus has been detected in several species of rats and mice. The main method of transmission for the virus is animal to human, however, human to human transmission is also possible through respiratory droplets, sexual intercourse, contact with bodily fluids, and through mother to child. While the disease delivers relatively mild symptoms and hasn’t sent many people to the hospital, if the disease continues to spread, the severity could increase in more vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, pregnant women, and immunocompromised individuals. The current resurgence has seen a significant amount of sexual transmission amongst men who have sex with other men. This suggests that monkeypox is exploiting a specific social group, however, this observation should not be linked to a social stigma amongst individuals who may fall into this category; if anything, it just stresses the need for a united approach in order for the
greater good of all. The alarming spread of the monkeypox virus and its potential to increase in severity demonstrates the need for the international community to provide a coordinated response to control the disease. With the world still recovering from the economic and healthcare impacts of COVID-19, monkeypox is quickly becoming the next major viral outbreak. The experience gained from COVID-19 may be helpful in planning how to combat this new virus and safely treat patients. The declaration of the disease as a PHEIC should allow for greater funding and effort to be placed on disease containment. The first emergency committee initially did not declare monkeypox to be a PHEIC however this decision was reversed due to the unexpected increase in the rate of infection. While the WHO assigned monkeypox a moderate risk internationally, the risk was assessed as much higher in European nations. The first step in controlling the recent outbreak of monkeypox is surveillance and while this is easier to do than with other viruses, clinicians have had difficulty diagnosing patients with monkeypox due to many patients only presenting milder symptoms. The necessity for improved surveillance is important to the process of isolating and aiding victims to prevent them from infecting others. This surveillance effort is hindered by the limited amount of tests available which obscures how prevalent the disease is in certain countries. Also, the negative social stigma attached to the disease has hampered case detection as individuals suffering symptoms do not seek immediate medical attention. Preventative measures underway to limit further spread of monkeypox include self-isolation of patients, use of personal protective equipment, and the development of vaccines. Currently, the smallpox vaccine is considered as possibly providing some protection from monkeypox infection but more refined vaccines are under development to limit the virus’s spread. As for treatments, patients can usually recover without therapy and there are currently no specific medical treatments. While some smallpox antiretroviral treatments have shown some limited effectiveness new antiretrovirals are under development. The disfiguring nature of monkeypox as well as the lack of medical therapy has made prevention rather than treatment the main priority for controlling the current outbreaks. Monkeypox has the potential to develop into a pandemic and as such, healthcare services need to prepare for such an event. The infrastructure to counteract the spread of monkeypox exists, however, it will take a more coordinated international approach including surveillance, prevention, and treatment to stop the virus from turning into a global epidemic.
”With the world still recovering from the economic and healthcare impacts of COVID-19, monkeypox is quickly becoming the next major viral outbreak.” 27
What U SAY
A curated column of your opinions on Pop Culture and Science by Avni Bhalgat Illustration & Design: Aris Montero
47 Students surveyed 45% undergrads
Would you buy an electric car as your next vehicle? 77% said yes | 23% said no
55% grad students
How much does TikTok play into your understanding of scientific topics? On a scale of one to ten, the average was two.
Avg: 2 Would you rather watch a movie or listen to a podcast? 68% would watch a movie 32% would listen to a podcast
What percentage of TV do you think is scientifically accurate?
Do you think that traveling can be considered a career? 72% said yes
28% said no
of respondents believe TV is scientifically accurate
Have you ever watched a Bill Nye show or movie?
Said “Of course I’ve watched one of his shows or movies”
Said “Umm no isn’t he just the science guy”
Are you a part of a fandom?
51% said no 49% said yes
Yay or Nay? Neil DeGrasse Tyson
64% said yay
36% said nay
by Ethan Bentley
Design: Megan Piller
Free the Period! What You Need To Know About Menstrual Equity From A Public Health Lens
by Isabella Lopez Illustration & Design: Veronica Richmond
cotland recently made headlines for being the first country to make pads and tampons free of cost for everyone. Known as the “Period Products Act,” the bill mandates all government bodies, universities, and educational institutions to have a variety of period products available in their bathrooms. Mobile apps have also been developed to find the nearest locations where free period products are available. Wth the enactment of this bill, Scotland now leads in providing equitable access to menstrual hygiene products on a national scale. Other leaders in this movement, such as Kenya and New Zealand, have only paved ways to provide access in public schools. In many countries, including the United States, people pay a relatively high cost to access and use these products. Scotland’s initiative is just one of many around the world fighting to end period poverty. What is period poverty? It is the lack of access to period products due to high costs and lack of available resources. Millions of people around the world face issues with period poverty, especially menstruators who experience socio-economic poverty, homelessness, pre-existing health conditions, and/or incarceration. Globally, many individuals have difficulty other available community resources. Five hundred million women around the world lack access
to menstrual products and hygiene facilities. About seventeen million U.S. citizens experience period poverty and live in impoverished areas. Out of these, a third have not been able to acquire period products in the past year. Many individuals end up choosing between purchasing period products or food and other basic necessities. To show how prevalent it is for the demographic of the majority of this magazine’s readers, 14.2% of college-aged menstruators have experienced period poverty in the past year. With the COVID-19 pandemic, these disparities have widened greatly. Accessibility issues have only been exacerbated, and resources have become more limited. According to a 2020 study conducted by the non-profit Plan International UK, during the first nation-wide lockdown, a third of females between the ages of 14 and 21 struggled to afford or gain access to period products. In the United States, pandemic measures such as quarantine and social distancing have led to a phenomenon called loneliness that refers to individuals experiencing different types of barriers that have prevented equitable access to appropriate health care. In the case of menstrual health and hygiene, these include social factors (such as embarrassment or fear of embarrassment), environmental factors (lack of sanitary facilities or waste management), and cultural factors (taboo stigmas and religious isolation).
14.2% of college-aged menstruators have experienced period poverty in the past year.
Research across the board has shown that there is a direct At the University of Miami, we already have pads and correlation between accessibility of period products and a woman’s tampons available in almost every bathroom on campus ability to prosper economically. Many menstruators miss school thanks to campus-wide initiatives taken on by dozens of or work because of menstrual cramps and for fear of blood stains student leaders. We also have student organizations like seeping through their clothing. Often, school absenteeism leads GirlUp and PERIOD that host period product drives and to poorer grades, which increases the likelihood of withdrawing donate period products to homeless shelters, non-profit from school and enlisting in a lower-paying jobs. Women in these organizations, and prison systems. situations are often left to face additional healthcare and financial Recently, a medical student and well-known menstrual obstacles throughout their lives due to their lower socioeconomic equity activist from Ohio State University Medical School status. Contributing further to the gender wage and education gap, named Anusha Singh came to talk to UM students at the period poverty is a social justice issue that has continuously created first PERIOD meeting of the semester. During the event, limitations for women, within a variety of different contexts. she talked about how one can advocate for legislative Additionally, women of color (especially BIPOC and Latinx women) measures in Florida that advocate for menstrual equity are disproportionately affected by this public health problem. The and inclusive policies. As an undergrad student, she was Alliance for Period Supplies has heavily reported on this racial able to successfully lead a group of students to advocate for disparity: a quarter of Black and Latinx menstruators find the repeal of the Ohio Pink Tax and was the former PERIOD themselves struggling to afford period products. chapter leader. When asked to offer her own insight into why Incarcerated menstruators face even greater challenges. everyone should care about period poverty, regardless of whether Often, they are denied safe period products and have to deal they menstruate or not, she said the following: with harmful health outcomes, as well as humiliation “[The] culture needs to change around and/or sexual abuse. Many menstruators have been menstruation so that every person can reach their coerced in the past by prison staff for sexual favors in full humanity regardless of whether or not they exchange for sanitary wipes and pads. Without these menstruate. Equitable access to menstrual products materials, menstruators in prison are forced to use and education is a very intersectional issue; it connects mattress stuffing, ripped bedsheets, socks, or soiled to racial justice, gender justice, economic justice, pads, which can lead to reproductive infections and healthcare justice, and so much more.” even toxic shock syndrome. When we think of social justice, we think of the It is important to note that period poverty affects different barriers that exist within the social structures individuals across the wide spectrum of gender, not that make up the framework of our society and how we exclusively women. Nonbinary people, trans men, collectively can address these barriers. Period poverty and people of other genders can also experience is a decades-old, global social injustice that extends menstruation. Thus advocating for menstrual equity throughout economically developed and developing is not just a women’s rights issue, it is a human’s right nations. It is a major public health crisis. Yet, it is one issue. It is a fight for the right to health. of the most underestimated social problems we are The Global Menstrual Collective has come experiencing today. There are not enough discussions up with several proposals to guide employers, about period-related issues or menstrual equity. organizations, and all types of institutions in Many students and adults are not fully aware of how reducing period poverty. These include: offering intricately connected period injustice is to other forms opportunities for individuals to receive access to of injustice, nor even know what period injustice menstrual healthcare for diagnosis of menstrual cycle is. Now is the time for communities to gain more disorders, inviting period poverty experts to engage awareness about period equity, as well as to confront in talks to make periods normalized, promoting their own biases or misconceptions about current access to information about menstruation and menstrual health practices. hygiene practices, and employing zero tolerance In the words of Anusha Singh, “Access to period towards offensive jokes about periods. Bottomline, products and menstrual health education is a matter of normalizing and accepting menstruation is the key to human dignity.” addressing complications that arise later and to offer helpful resources when needed.
Let’s work together to make a difference today, even if it is just a small one. 31
PAY TO PLAY
THE ETHICS OF PAID SEX WORK IN THE UNITED STATES
he United States still continues to question the ethical dilemMa of selling sexual acts for money. Although paid sex work has always been a part of our society, the act is illegal in most parts of the nation. Historically, sex work can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt, where the profession was widely accepted - unlike today. In current times, the profession’s question of legality has caused concern for the workers who fear for their safety because the public often believe workers are coerced into the work and thus need to be “rescued.” As a result, they are not given the same workers rights compared to the rest of the working class and have a lower hierarchical stance in society. It is also a common misconception that most sex workers are victims of sex trafficking. However, a growing amount of consensual sex work is produced through online media platforms such as Twitter or OnlyFans. This growing industry signals a shift of cultural acceptance in sex work. Lack of legislation on sex work can be disproportionally detrimental to specific populations of women who may experince harm from law enforcement. Having a cultural shift to accept consensual sex work will introduce new legislation to protect the safety of the employee.
by Melissa Holguin | Design: Megan Piller
In 1995, the United Nations hosted a worldwide conference on women’s empowerment with the intent of advancing women’s rights globally. During the conference, officials demanded the word “forced” be prefaced before every mention of prostitution as a form of violence against women. Today, the public continues to confuse sex trafficking with sex work, a field which many women enter by choice. Although, there exists a handful of women who are coerced into sex work, officials missed the opportunity to change societal discourse that bashes sex work and divert discussion to progessive policy change surrounding sex worker safety. While sex workers typically face opposition globally due to cultural stigma and societal taboo, nations such as New Zealand and the Nordic countries have, in contrast, chosen to amplify the voices of sex workers. In New Zealand, sex work was decriminalized in 2003, meaning it became legal for citizens of legal age to sell sexual services. Unlike most countries whose elected officials dictate regulations without proper knowledge about or exposure to those employed in the profession, New Zealand consulted real sex workers to help improve legislation. In three of the five Nordic countries, buying, not selling, sex is considered illegal, thus shifting the responsibility from the demanded
to the demanders. Unfortunately, many sex workers globally are forced to engage in underground business, putting them at risk of being harmed without justice. Despite this, progression in many countries is slowly transitioning to uphold sex worker safety and rights, regardless of societal norms and opposition, showing that although there’s a lot more work to do, progress has occurred regardless. Given the widespread misconception that sex workers are coerced into their work, police are seen as saviors, even though they threaten sex workers’ safety and vitality. Throughout pop culture, and on shows like Cops, we often see glorified the work of cops for arresting sex workers trying to make a living rather than serving the public and providing assistance to those who truly need it. Before the legalization of sex work in New Zealand, sex workers reported mistrust between themselves and law enforcement because sex workers felt law enforcement’s actual intent was not protection but suppression. After legalization, though, focus shifted to ensuring the rights, safety, health and well-being of sex workers. In the United States, the only “assistance” a police officer can offer a sex worker is arrest, not resources. Furthermore, a disproportionate number of sex workers of color get arrested compared to their white counterparts because the black community is overpoliced and disproportionally accused of sex work. From 2016 to 2020, 89% of the prostitution arrests in New York City were nonwhites, often for reasons too vague to justify appropriately, such as talking to a stranger on the street or dressing inappropriately being seen as a form of loitering for prostitution. These arrests can affect a sex workers’ escape from the industry because if they do choose to leave, they are stuck with a criminal record that will impede their
attractiveness on the job market. Recently, there has been a trend of sex workers taking autonomy of their work and posting it themselves on online websites such as OnlyFans and Twitter for profit. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, many sex workers found it hard to make ends meet and transitioned to working online. On sites such as OnlyFans, where users purchase a subscription for access to erotic content directly from content creators, growth has become exponential; there were only 120,000 creators in 2019, but by December 2020, the number of content creators rose to 1 million. For many people during this time, OnlyFans was seen as a financial lifeline to make ends meet during the pandemic but has now led to a boom in directly selling content to creators through other social media websites such as Instagram and Twitter, without ever having to meet clients in person. The transition of self-rule when it comes to selling sex has caused a dramatic shift in the way we view the profession of sex work, an occupation that has existed since the construction of the pyramids. Although many countries still have not taken action, the transition to legalizing sex work is critical to improving the safety of everyone involved. In the future, the self-rule of selling sex should no longer be considered an illegal method anywhere. By improving the autnonomous rights of sex workers, we can create a society and economy that empower its people with greater respect for personal decisions.
The Science Behind
Deja Vu Why Does it Happen to You?
by Kyle Banker Design: Isabella M. Lozano
ntroduction Have you ever walked into a restaurant in Key Biscayne for the first time that you swore you had already visited? What about having a conversation about the emerging University of Miami football team that you felt sounded familiar? You suddenly feel convinced that you have been in this situation, but you are unsure why. When you tell your friends, “I swear we have done this before,” they will likely give a confused look and respond, “What are you talking about?” From this, you feel bewildered and wonder why you had an eerie sensation as if that experience had previously occurred. This typical and trending feeling across college students is known as déjà vu, or “already seen” in French. Almost two out of three people worldwide have experienced déjà vu, with rates being the highest among people between the ages of 15 and 25. As a college student, and someone that falls between the prevalent age range, it is likely that you have had this experience throughout your time at the University of Miami. However, it is still somewhat misunderstood why déjà vu happens and what triggers this experience in our brain. As a result, let us understand why we thought we already talked about Sebastian the Ibis at Smoothie King or how we listened to the same song in the car while driving past the exact same Publix. After this article, you will understand why déjà vu exists and its role at the University of Miami. What is Déjà Vu? The expression “déjà vu” originated from the French
philosopher Émile Boirac in 1876, where Boirac had a similar experience as one you may have in a few weeks. After using the term in his book L’Avenir des sciences psychiques in 1917, the concept of déjà vu has since been applied internationally. In the present day, we use the following universal definition to describe déjà vu: “any subjectively inappropriate impression of familiarity of the present experience with an undefined past.” To expand on this definition, there is no issue with your brain if you occasionally experience déjà vu. Most individuals experiencing these illusions are entirely healthy; only in rare cases does déjà vu indicate a neurological disorder. According to multiple studies done in the past few decades, people who report experiencing déjà vu experience it about once a year. The frequency of déjà vu is also experienced equally by both men and women, and its occurrence has been found to decrease with age. Another interesting finding is that those who are more educated or have higher socioeconomic status are more likely to experience déjà vu. Despite many studies involving déjà vu, it is very difficult to study the phenomenon as the feeling occurs randomly. Some scientists have even tried using hypnosis or virtual reality as a method of influence; unfortunately, these researchers did not achieve obtainable results. This fleeting and unpredictable time block makes déjà vu a very intriguing area of research. While we cannot understand everything about this feeling, scientists have generated strong reasoning behind its occurrence through neuroscience and psychology. Explanation Through Neuroscience & Psychology Scientists have found that feelings of exhaustion and stress tend to
result in experiences of déjà vu, but questions remain as to why our brains respond to those areas of fatigue with feelings of déjà vu. While there are multiple theories explaining déjà vu, they all share a common theme: the temporal lobe. The temporal lobe is the section of the brain that controls memory, and when your body is under immense amounts of stress, the temporal lobe cannot function properly. As a result, the hindrance of the temporal lobe can cause these episodes or feelings of déjà vu to occur. While connecting déjà vu to memory retention still needs further research, scientists developed this shared understanding from people who suffer from temporal lobe epilepsy. Temporal lobe epilepsy is a condition where nerve cell activity in the brain is disturbed. Results from these studies suggest that déjà vu events may be caused by an electrical malfunction in the brain. For those with temporal lobe epilepsy, clinical reports show that some of these patients experience déjà vu before an epileptic seizure event. It is found that seizure discharges from the temporal cortex simultaneously activate two circuits in the hippocampus. One of these circuits represents our ongoing experience of the present world while the other retrieves memories. By activating both these circuits at the same time, it is possible that these two brain functions colliding cause us to remember the present situation, or, in other words, experience déjà vu. While these overall findings between déjà vu and memory are not concrete and solidified within the scientific world, they are a significant first step toward our understanding of the origin of déjà vu. However, it is interesting to see why this feeling frequently occurs among college students, as our fatigue can cloud short and long-term memory in the frontal lobe. This is very apparent at the University of Miami, where students are typically exhausted due to exams, a late football game, or other events. I was inspired to do further research into the connection of déjà vu within the University of Miami undergraduate student body. Initial Research at the University of Miami While gathering data from University of Miami students, I wanted to target three areas of interest: (1) student demographics that affect episodes of déjà vu, (2) how often a University of Miami student experiences déjà vu, and (3) where respondents experience déjà vu. To collect all this data, I sent out a Google Form on September 13th, 2022, to over 200 undergraduate students at the University of Miami. The Google Form contained a few questions aiming to answer the goals mentioned above, and I received 57 responses on this day. Based on this preliminary data set, I could extract some key findings from my research. The respondents were aged 18-22 years old, ranging from freshmen to seniors at the University of Miami. About 95 percent of the respondents (54 of 57) said they experienced déjà vu at some point in their life, and 82 percent (47 of 57 respondents) estimated that they had this
eerie feeling anywhere from 2 to 5+ times a year. Specifically to University of Miami students, about 83 percent of respondents have experienced déjà vu while at the University of Miami, including at The Rat, Herbert Wellness Center, and in various classes. Due to the small and convenient sample size, it is challenging to extrapolate whether these results apply to the entire University of Miami student body; but based on survey results, it appears that University of Miami students frequently experience déjà vu. We should consider that some respondents who replied “no” may not have remembered these experiences if they had occurred a few months or years prior. It is also significant to point out that experiences of déjà vu can be easily forgotten over time. As a result, the responses involving the frequency of déjà vu experiences from the surveyed University of Miami students are purely estimated and are not exact. Nevertheless, these responses provide a limited yet intriguing range of how often University of Miami students personally experience déjà vu on an annual basis. Next Steps There is more research needed to solidify our understanding of déjà vu, both from a neurological and psychological perspective. Nevertheless, it is an interesting trend to keep an eye on, both in pop culture and in the scientific world. Why does déjà vu occur more frequently for college students than for older populations? What is the best theory for describing déjà vu? What triggers a random déjà vu reaction? These questions will likely remain unanswered for the short term, as the difficulties of researching a random neurological process is not time efficient nor easily replicated in a study environment. However, after reviewing available findings from primary and secondary sources, we can now better understand why the human brain is sometimes “tricked” by memory. That, Scientifica readers, is the power of déjà vu.
Hello everyone and Welcome to Gene Cinema! Please take your 3D glasses as you enter the first theater on your right. The movie will begin momentarily... Enjoy the film!
e live in a world based on gene engineering. Coexistence must be reached. It was here before us; and if we’re not careful, it’s gonna be here after. We’re going to have to adjust to a new threat that we can’t imagine. We’ve entered a new era. We live in a generation that seeks explanations and asks questions. By starting with an open mind to explore the truth in various ways, we can determine the veracity of people, books, movies, etc. However, in our voracious and endless search for truth and answer, we face a major roadblock: we, as a society, don’t believe in fantasy as much as we used to. The majority of movies today that fall under the magical realism genre end up there because they blend magical elements into a realistic narrative of the modern world. The movies that we watch today cause us to reflect and consider which movie elements are real and which are pure fantasy. Producers are aware of the need to mix reality into a fantasy film so that viewers, particularly students of science, can still find an element of enjoyment and immersion in a plot they would otherwise find unrealistic and uninteresting. In order to create films that appeal to the new generation, which is constantly asking “why?”, film producers strive to incorporate an element of scientific realism into the most fantastical and unrealistic plot points. For example, techniques of gene-splicing, gene editing and gene therapy are prevalent plot points in Morbius, The Adam Project, and Jurassic World: Dominion, thus demonstrating to a wider audience how gene modification actually functions and the advancement of practice over time. Further, the X-Files, Marvel’s Luke Cage, and Rampage, among other media, have all made references to CRISPR’s potential to produce genetically altered creatures or people with superhuman abilities. Movies tend to give the audience one main take-away to ponder over, and science fiction films typically raise lots of questions for science majors like myself. In 2022, there were a plethora of developed films that incorporated genetics-based plotlines, including Morbius, The Adam Project, and Jurassic World: Dominion. The exponential advancement in genetic engineering in the past few decades has led to an incredibly clear difference in understanding between older generations and younger generations. Science fiction movies have
had a significant impact on the percentage of individuals who are influenced by the areas of research mentioned in film plots;. people relate the most to movies that spark their interests and question things that may seem impossible in today’s world. Watching how a doctor can use gene-splicing from the DNA of a human and a bat to gain supernatural powers is obviously appealing to the audience, but not exactly scientifically accurate. It does, however, signify the lengths an inquiring mind can go to imagine a world like that, thus planting a metaphorical seed that may grow into a full-blown project and innovation. A “door of possibilities” for the future of gene editing, science fiction movies captivate the hearts and minds of those who enjoy both science and action-packed films while allowing for the freedom of creativity. It is evident that CRISPR is a revolutionary gene editing tool that has been showcased in movies and TV shows for over twenty years, and its only a matter of time before the “impossible” applications dreamt up by producers become entirely possible, thus bridging the gap between wondering if fictional gene editing is scientifically possible and if our future could resemble the fantasy worlds portrayed on screen. If you’ve seen The Adam Project, you might have noticed the scene at 21:53 where young Adam questions how his older self has muscles now. He mentions, “maybe in the future, there’s, like... gene therapy or nanotechnology.” Good questions lead to good answers, but to fully understand, we must know what gene therapy actually is. Gene therapy is accomplished by using viral vectors (a tool for gene transfer) to deliver functional genes to our cells (Note: it is not delivering a virus’s genetic material). This delivery method is done by the insertion of the healthy gene in the virus, and taking advantage of the viruses’ molecular mechanisms to bind to our cells and transport the genomes to treat genetic disorders. Would it be possible to use gene therapy to gain muscles? A breed of cattle, the Belgian Blue, are well-known for naturally having a mutation in the myostatin gene (“myo” = muscle and “statin” = stop). Due to this mutation, the protein, myostatin, cannot inhibit muscle growth leading to these cattle having approximately double the normal muscle masses. This rare condition that can also be seen in humans, known as Myostatin-related muscle hypertrophy (dubbed the “Hercules gene”), where individuals have an abnormally large muscle
size and reduced body fat. In 2015, researchers at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health in China created the first genetically engineered Beagles. CRISPR therapy allowed scientists to intentionally break the myostatin gene in these dogs causing twice the muscle mass. Typically, changes in the myostatin gene occur before birth, but as expressed in the film, could we utilize gene therapy to induce muscle development later in life? Scientifically, it seems impossible to modify every skeletal muscle cell in the body, but then again, there was a point in history where we didn’t even know what a gene was; nearly
“It is evident that CRISPR is a revolutionary gene editing tool that has been showcased in movies and TV shows for over twenty years, and its only a matter of time before the ‘impossible’ applications dreamt up by producers become entirely possible” anything is possible, especially with time. For example, gene therapy is currently being used to target muscle cells for treating a genetic disorder known as Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD). This rare disease is due to a mutation in the dystrophin gene that is responsible for the proper functioning of muscle cells, strengthening muscle fibers and preventing injury. The big question is how far gene therapy will take us in accurately “knocking-out” disease-causing genes and delivering normalfunctioning genes, or even implementing super genes? Being the last movie in the franchise, Jurassic World: Dominion received mixed reviews, but it certainly raised some questionable concerns about current humanity with the
antagonist creating a swarm of genetically-engineered locusts to threaten food supply and drive us towards an ecological disaster for the sake of profit in his new “non-infectable” grain. The antagonist of the first movie in the trilogy, Dr. Henry Wu, realizes the extent of damage his original creation has caused, thus explaining his determination to use Maisie Lockwood’s modified DNA to “fix a terrible mistake” by engineering a pathogen that would kill the locusts. The message on bioethics with genetically-modified organisms is quite clear:. if gene science falls into the wrong hands, it can pose an unimaginable threat. A pivotal moment in the storyline was when Dr. Henry Wu told Maisie Lockwood her mother changed her DNA to prevent her from developing the same blood disease that killed her: “She altered every cell in your body to eradicate this disease. No one on earth has ever known how to do that.” Now, despite making for a fantastic climax, one can start to question the validity of such a plot point. Do we have to genetically alter every cell in the body to fix a genetic disease? In short, not exactly. It depends on the genetic condition and the area it primarily affects. For example, an FDA-approved gene therapy called Luxturna has been used to treat patients with a rare form of inherited vision loss called biallelic RPE65 mutation-associated retinal dystrophy or any type of inherited retinal disease. All individuals born with this mutation in both copies of the RPE65 gene have it present in every cell; however, the only cells that must be corrected with gene-editing technology to prevent vision loss are those in the eyes. Gene editing allows for genome modification either by deleting, replacing, or inserting a target DNA sequence and this is currently being seen as the leading option to “fix” genetic conditions. Now, please take off your 3D glasses as we enter the era of questions... There is a platform for engagement and education as well as an encouragement of a more grounded interest in both movies and science in general as a result of people from generations asking open-minded questions about the tolerant and intolerant science of today.
by Sabrina Merola Design: Meera Patel
t’s no secret that medical TV shows are some of the most watched pieces of content on all of television. Shows such as Grey’s Anatomy have been running for 19+ seasons, a testament to the consistent entertainment that these shows can provide. Medical dramas are one of the most varied yet consistently well-performing shows on television. Why are medical dramas so consistently popular, though? Television has always had an escapist quality to it; people are drawn to the idea of turning to fiction to escape reality. But it seems that medicine has an especially strong escapist effect, and the reason why might have to do with our bodies themselves. The argument could be made that this might just be a form of mental voyeurism: a way for viewers to see their bodies get experimented on, toyed with, and saved from extremely debilitating diseases. Gore may also play a factor here: watching spurting arteries and pulsing organs shocks viewers just as much as it holds their attention. From a purely plot-driven perspective, medical dramas grab the attention of the viewers in a unique way. The most gripping quality of medical television lies in its humanity. Seeing a patient lying in bed, regardless of the complex ethical issues behind something they have done or had done to them, tends to evoke empathy in viewers. It’s cathartic, even more so when the drama stems walks the thin line between life and death. From the satirical comedies Scrubs and This is Going to Hurt, to the gritty dark miniseries’ Dopesick, medicine as a subject has the capacity to be spun into many different genres, adding to its widespread appeal. Oftentimes, though, the realism and medical accuracy of these dramas are sacrificed in the name of entertainment. The norms of professionalism are far too often disregarded in medical dramas to create the drama itself. House’s titular character is portrayed as a genius doctor with an uncontrollable opioid addiction, an unconscionable quality to have as a practicing physician, even if it’s prevalent in the real world. Yet, the addition of this potentially fatal flaw to House’s main character adds an aspect to the drama that hooks viewers of all kinds. Watching the longterm struggle occur over the course of nearly a decade of seasons develops a strong sense of empathy and attachment to the character. It keeps viewers entertained and sometimes helps them to see themselves in these characters. The personal lives of the characters in these types of shows also tend to be pulled into the limelight (sometimes more than the medicine itself), but their humanity is what allows viewers to relate to them. Shows like The Good Doctor have a large following for this reason: the representation of real-life issues, such as living with a disability, helps people connect with the characters and appreciate them more. Some other drama-related aspects can most definitely be taken too far, often for the sole sake of entertainment. Take, for instance, the ever-constant sex in Grey’s Anatomy. The rotating doors of the
Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital’s on-call room seem to indicate that office flings are commonplace in real life. Office hookups, though, are nearly impossible in real life because of the constant presence of cameras and HR violations. However, there is a grain of truth to it: nearly 40% of doctors marry other doctors. While reality may not have the frequency of the shortterm flings depicted in our favorite medical dramas, medicine does seem to give the mere exposure effect some credit. It might often feel like these shows are just too far-fetched, but Chicago Med and House do get a few aspects of medicine right. Over the past 20 years, television has not shied away from the use of medical and scientific jargon. The use of these terms might not always be correct (case in point: shows like House that extensively showcase only the rarest diseases in their diagnosis process), but they are correctly pronounced. Everything from the longest of symptom names to medical slang in the form of abbreviations has been adopted by a majority of television shows, often to maintain a realistic atmosphere. But simply put, medical dramas aren’t watched for their realism. If they were, it would be impossible to watch shows like The Resident and Scrubs without pointing out the gross indiscretion carried out by their characters; it isn’t the point. While the appeal of medical dramas could be attributed to the potentially darker tastes of viewers (shock factor, gore, curiosity about the human body), the reason might be even simpler: viewers watch medical dramas to see humanity at its worst and best. Medicine is filled with stories of people at their most vulnerable being helped by others. As gripping as the interpersonal tension might be, the majority of these shows boil down to regular people trying to make it through the day while helping others in the process. A bit feel-good, sure, but we all need a bit of faith in humanity restored nowadays.
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Study Global Health at the crossroads of the hemisphere THE UNIVERSITY OF MIAMI’S MASTER OF ARTS IN GLOBAL HEALTH AND SOCIETY provides an innovative, social sciences perspective to understanding how global health outcomes relate to society, culture, and the environment.
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by Ainsley Hilliard Illustration & Design: Isabella M. Lozano
hat do rats in space, fossilized insects, and precision medical tests have in common? George Grills, currently the Associate Director of Shared Resources at the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, has worked on all of them. Seem like an odd combination? Not to him. All of these projects have to do with the genome, a collection of genetic information in the cells of all organisms, which is Grills’s specialty. Granting us the power to perform incredible feats from determining someone’s identity with just a drop of saliva to developing life-saving treatments for previously fatal illnesses (including AIDS and cardiomyopathies), research in genetics grants us access to a plethora of incredible scientific opportunities. From his interest in playing games with realworld impact even as a young child, Dr. Grills had always known that his future was going to be in science. He spent his undergraduate years at Columbia University in New York studying biology, and credits his work there as a lab technician to developing his passion for research and an understanding of contexts in scientific applications. Even as just a technician, he was able to follow projects from beginning to end and offer input on them as they developed.
Eventually, he was able to co-author publications and write his own grants, but this first step propelled his career up to where it is today. After finishing his undergraduate degree, he started his graduate studies at the Weill Cornell School of Medical Sciences, where he eventually completed his medical degree. Of the many projects that make up Dr. Grills’s extensive repertoire, one of the first was from a portion of the NASA space biology program that he was a part of while still a graduate student. What does space have to do with biology? That is where Dr. Grills was able to find a connection between his interest in biology and apply it to his interest in space. For this project, he researched the effects of gravity on mammalian fertilization. The genomes of pregnant rats in space were compared to those of pregnant rats on earth. He found that gravity does have an effect on biological and developmental studies, which will be important to know if life was to expand out beyond our planet. From bringing billionaires on day trips to Mars to storing away trash from landfills on the moon, it seems as if the next big “thing” is to increase our reach beyond our stronghold on Earth. However, to establish the viability and logistics of habitation in space, we need many more answers than we have now, and Dr. Grill’s research serves to shed light on this concept. He served as a co-investigator on the NASA Twins study, which involved the selection of a pair of
monozygotic identical town astronauts for NASA’s very first 1-year mission, in which one was chosen to go to space and the other to remain on Earth. Measurement and comparison of the same variables in the space-bound and Earth-bound twin indicated what biological measures will be best to determine the effects of spaceflight. This 340-day investigation found significant changes in many data types within the spaceflight period, with telomere length, gene regulation, body weight, and retinal thickness only including a few of them. However, the majority of the health variables were found to return to baseline within the 25 month period of data collection, providing evidence of the safety of spaceflight for human health. After completing graduate school with the NASA space biology program, Dr. Grills went on to work at the American Museum of Natural History. During his time here, Dr. Grills cracked open a piece of amber with a mosquito in it and was able to find about 200 bases of DNA, confidently allowing him to declare it as termite DNA. Sound familiar? This is similar to the plot of the worldfamous Jurassic Park movies. Although Dr. Grills did get DNA from triceratops teeth and 6 million-year old insects, the similarities to the classic dinosaur movies stop here. While Dr. Grills didn’t crack open the amber to try and recreate a dinosaur, he was hoping to use this DNA to answer questions regarding the ancestry of termites and cockroaches. A common question in the study of genomics is to determine exactly at what point in time and from what lineage the organisms we see today come from. While it can be hard to top the discovery of insect DNA from times before dinosaur extinction, his next role at the Albert Einstein Cancer Center was no less revolutionary. Here, Grills worked with administration as the Director of DNA Sequencing to establish and supervise six Cancer Center core facilities. Even more impressively, he established and ran a novel Genome Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. The following years, he took his talents to the prestigious Harvard Medical School and as the Director of DNA Sequencing at Harvard, he played a leadership role in establishing and running the first ever Genome Center here. One innovative venture he helped set up was to introduce precision medicine tests to these institutions. Precision medicine involves the analysis of genetic markers and factors specific to a person’s condition to determine which compounds will be the most effective for a particular person. Dr. Carmen Calfa, a breast medical oncologist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at UM, explains that “the speed of scientific breakthroughs in precision medicine is leading to groundbreaking therapies.” Following impressive accomplishments and innovations at the Albert Einstein Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School, Dr. Grills took a position as the Assistant Dean for Research Resources at Cornell University, where he established a large facility
center used by 600 Principal Investigators from more than 30 US States and over 20 countries. After a stint at Augusta University and a medical school in Qatar, Dr. Grills joined the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center about two years ago, at the height of the pandemic. He now acts as the Associate Director of Shared Resources, where he ensures the quality and availability of shared resources in the complex, develops strategic plans for the development of more resources that meet the educational and research needs of Sylvester, and meets with stakeholders to effectively implement these plans. These shared resources are classified into the following seven broad categories: genomics, biostatistics and informatics, behavioral and community-based resources, biospecfin, cancer modeling, and molecular therapeutics. His role involves integrating these shared resources with a
collaborative approach in leading oncology-based research projects through the center. At Sylvester, in his work with about six other associate directors, he most appreciates being able to work together with other members of the administrative team to develop high-impact initiatives and improve the delivery of healthcare of the millions of people that stand to benefit from innovative oncology research. One particularly complex and impactful project he helped initiate relates to environmentally surveying the spread of SARS-CoV-2 using air and wastewater surface sampling. This large, multi-institutional effort involves the sampling in schools and college campuses throughout the nation to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Researchers can then isolate these areas based on COVID positivity data to analyze and collect data on variants that are currently in circulation, and then use this information to inform public health decisions. As Dr. Grills explains, it is important to remember that “science is a local, regional, and international team effort.” The development of high-impact initiatives takes work from all of these tiers, and Dr. Grills’s work is a testament to this fact. For example, his work on the SARS-CoV-2 wastewater sampling effort brought in professionals from Sylvester here at UM, bioinformatics researchers from Cornell, the director of the Institute of Data Science and Computing at UM, professors from bioengineering and environmental engineering d epartments and many others. To undergraduates of all majors, Dr. Grills recommends that students keep an open mind to find out what their passions are and to make a career out of it, keeping in mind options for graduate school in their respective careers and opportunities for job progression as they come up.
SEX, SOCIAL JUSTICE, AND STANDING TOGETHER
ANDREW NDREW P PORTER ORTER,, P PHH.D D A 42
r. Andrew Porter is, simply put, a public health god. Adored by his students at the School of Nursing and Health Studies, Dr. Porter turns his classrooms into spaces of collaboration, vulnerability, and empathetic problem-solving. A sexual health researcher by specialty, he is also the co-founder of the widelyadored podcast The Sex Wrap, an evidencebased production dedicated to bringing high-quality sexuality education to its thousands of listeners. At the Sexual Health Messaging Dissemination Lab, he shares this project with his students, allowing them to expand the podcast’s reach while adding skills to their own public health toolboxes. Dr. Porter’s impressive work is a product of his past: his decades of experience in social justice work and academic background in bio-behavioral health cultivated his sharp eye for interdisciplinary solutions and a belief in the power of coalitions and team science. There are good professors, and then there are good professors; Dr. Porter is part of the latter group. Energetic, out-of-pocket, and wickedly smart, he challenges his students in lecture to answer tough questions central to the field of public health: How can we design health solutions that are equitable? What vulnerable populations are we forgetting? How can we be warriors of social justice through our work? Most famous for his teaching of Human Sexuality and Vulnerable Populations (BPH301) and Introduction to Health Disparities (BPH305), Dr. Porter frequently blends social justice and public health together, reminding his students that achieving equitable solutions involves everyone.
“The LGBTQ community can’t move forward without the help of straight people, just as the feminist movement can’t move forward without men.”
Some of his students go on to become public health leaders, while others go on to be physicians or nurses or lawyers, but they all take with them a shared desire to do good, advocate for equity, and call out disparities. The best professors practice what they preach. And boy, has Dr. Porter been practicing. He credits his first social justice advocacy experience to his undergraduate years at Penn State. There, he worked to organize a coalition of diverse student
When I say Public Health, you say Porter. Public Health! Porter! groups, resulting in the creation of a brand-new LGBTQ student resource center in an environment far more conservative than the modern-day University of Miami. He credits the success to the nature of the coalition itself. Coalitions, in Dr. Porter’s eyes, are pure power: disparate groups with a shared agenda bringing the capacity to breed creative, interdisciplinary solutions and establish deeper support across gender, ethnicity, and political standing.
“It is easy for the status quo to ignore you when it’s just a few voices raised with yours, but if you can tap into many other people’s drive for a much better world, multiplying these voices, it is much harder for that status quo to remain blissfully ignorant to the problem.” Post-graduate Porter knew interdisciplinary thinking equaled success. Securing a Ph.D. in Bio-Behavioral Health, Dr. Porter learned to view public health issues across the lifespan and as an interaction among biological, cultural, social, and behavioral factors. Giving the example of eradicating poverty in a certain population, Dr. Porter explains that a poor solution would be to view it in a “discipline vacuum”: limiting the explanation of the problem to one field. To consider poverty as a strictly economic issue would ignore other social explanations like investigating the population’s access to affordable, healthy foods, the quality of schools in the area, the safety of neighborhoods, etc. Viewing this problem with
a narrowed lens produces “band-aid” solutions that resist targeting the real root of the problem. Dr. Porter believes team science, the bringing together of experts from diverse fields, offers one of the best safeguards against solving problems in a discipline vacuum. Every passionate scientist has their niche. Dr. Porter’s niche? Sexual health. The Sex Wrap Podcast, co-founded by Dr. Porter and his long-time colleague Dr. Spring Cooper of the City University of New York, delivers the sexuality education so desperately needed by students who received low quality, inaccurate sex-ed (or lack thereof).
by Abigail Adera Design: Megan Piller & Meera Patel
Episodes are produced weekly and spotlight submitted questions that people are “too afraid to ask at home, too embarrassed to ask at school, or [find] too hard to ask their partners.” Dr. Porter and Dr. Cooper have accomplished a major public health feat— they’re able to deliver pertinent health information in a bite-sized package that is relevant and entertaining. Their Instagram arm boasts over 41,000 followers and features trendy gifs, memes, and videos, meeting the current tech-savvy generation where they are at. Dr. Porter also manages the aforementioned Sexual Health Messaging Dissemination Lab, and notes that the most rewarding part of the lab is witnessing his undergraduate lab members’ creativity in amplifying The Sex Wrap’s message; their shared experience makes the project exciting. Be it in the classroom or on-air, Dr. Andrew Porter dazzles: blending humor, tons of evidence, and authenticity. In his students, he develops an instinct to be interdisciplinary and equitable, and in his listeners, he develops a confidence in themselves and their innate right to be healthy, sexual beings. Like any good public health leader, he uses both sides of his brain: nailing both the science and art of the field.
If you haven’t been convinced already, do yourself a big, fat favor: take a class with Porter. 45