Health & Medical

Left Hand, Left Hand, Right Hand, Right

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Why are some people right-handed and why are some people left-handed? For years it was believed that “handedness” (i.e. if you are left-handed or right-handed) was determined in the fetal brain. Researchers from Ruhr University Bochum in Germany recently suggested that asymmetrical gene expression in the spinal chord might help determine handedness. The researchers looked at gene expression in the spinal chord of fetuses between the eighth and twelfth week of pregnancy. Differences in gene expression on the left and right side could already be detected and those areas of activity correlated with arm and leg movement. The researchers also suggested that differences in left and right gene expression could be due to environmental factors.

The study of changes in genetic expression that occur without changes to genetic sequences is called Epigenetics. Environmental factors can act as a trigger for expression of certain genes both in our fetal development and throughout our lives. It will be interesting to find out more about how environmental factors determine handedness and perhaps we may also find out why left-handed people are superior 🙂

About the Illustration: Watercolor with some Photoshop magic. I kept the illustration pretty basic because handedness is a very basic part of our identity. The title is a play on the first line of the “Foot Book” by Dr. Seuss. It was his birthday a few weeks ago and I have read that book enough times this past year that it’s content might rattle around in my brain for all eternity.

Sugar in the Morning, Sugar in the Evening

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Back in the 1960’s the sugar industry, under the guise of the Sugar Research Foundation, funded research by Harvard scientists to basically dismiss sugar as a serious health concern and instead point their fingers at fat. This went on for years. At the time of these studies researchers were not required to disclose funding sources to peer-reviewed journals so no one knew the truth. A recently published paper in the  journal  JAMA Internal Medicine uncovers this sweet (or rotten) tale.

Today with dwindling federal research dollars, corporate sponsorship of research is even stronger. In some cases that is not a cause for concern but when corporations stand to benefit from that research it can be a different story. One well known example being Coca Cola funding obesity research that, surprise surprise, questions the role sugary drinks plays in obesity.

 

About The Illustration: Watercolor, gouache, acrylic ink, micron pens-I used all the stuff. Unfortunately it scanned a bit funny. I will fix it…at some unknown time in the future when I have the time.

On My To Read List: The Case Against Sugar by Gary Taubes. His book focuses on how sugar impacts our health and the sugar industry’s role in shaping the American diet through the years.

My Cover Illustration for Lateral Magazine

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My illustration for the cover of Lateral Magazine. This issue focuses on the heart-medical research, social science, etc… My illustration is inspired by research into why some folks do not incorporate facts into their belief system. “Thinking with you heart and not your head”.

Lateral Magazine is a collection of new voices exploring the relationship between science and society. This relationship encompasses every aspect of human life, from the details of our everyday lives to parts of the wider world we never properly consider.

And the Nobel Goes to…

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At the beginning of October Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for his research into the genetic underpinnings of autophagy. Autophagy is the process by which cellular material is destroyed and reused. His work is crucial to understanding the molecular mechanisms behind cancer and other diseases. Mutations in autophagy genes have been linked to illness in humans.

About the Illustration: My illustration is an abstract version of autophagy where autphagosomes (an organelle-a specialized subunit of a cell that serves a specific purpose in the functioning of a cell) consume damaged organelles or other cellular contents and then fuses with lysosomes (another type of organelle) to degrade the cellular materials to be repurposed within the cell. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Other Nobel Prizes in the Science went to:

Nobel Prize in Physics-David Thouless, Duncan Haldane, and Michael Kosterlitz for  explaining strange phenomena in unusual phases (or states) of matter.

Nobel Prize in Chemistry-Jean-Pierre Sauvage, Sir J. Fraser Stoddart and Bernard L. Feringa for their development of molecular machines that are a thousand times thinner than a hair strand. Yes, you read correctly.

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So a starfish, now what does a starfish have to do with the Nobel Prize? In the 1960’s Dr. Robert Paine observed the impact of removing the ochre starfish (Pisaster ochraceus) from a small area of the Washington coast. Without the starfish present the diverse community devolved into a species-poor area. Based on his observations Dr. Paine formulated the theory of “Keystone Species“.  This is a species that has a large impact on an ecosystem and when it disappears that ecosystem essentially falls apart. A major theory that helped shape ecology, keystone species have been identified in a variety of ecosystems. Both terrestrial and aquatic.

After the Nobel Prizes in Science were announced an opinion piece came out in the New York Times about updating the Nobel Prize. The author, Gabriel Popkin, discusses the role of Dr. Paine in furthering the field of ecology and how the diversity of scientific disciplines has grown since Alfred Nobel created the Nobel Prize through his will. He writes about possibly expanding the Nobel Prize to include other fields such as ecology, climatology, geology, etc… So? So what? Consider that the Nobel Prize brings money and prestige and consider how that could be used in fields where there is little of either. Consider that funding for science in the United States is diminishing. Also consider that the ochre starfish is dying out due to sea star wasting disease. What does that mean for the ecosystem that it supports? What does it mean for us?  Had Dr. Paine studied the role of the ochre starfish  in coastal ecosystems in the current funding climate he may not have been able to come up with his monumental findings. There is still much to learn and discover but with shrinking funding some research will loose it’s seat at the table.

 

 

 

Wildlife on the Brink

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This recent illustration appears to incorporate some random critters at first glance. Salamanders, bats, and starfish-what could they possibly have in common?

Bat populations in North America are suffering from White-Nose Syndrome. I wrote about White-Nose Syndrome in “Cave Fresh“. Starfish along the Pacific coast are dying out from Sea Star Wasting Disease. I wrote about Sea Star Wasting Disease in “Trouble Among The Stars“. Salamanders (as well as frogs) around the globe are succumbing to Chytrid fungus. I have yet to write about Chytrid but I did write about Snake Fungal Disease in “Fungus Among Us“.

Disease, unfortunately, is the common thread but it is that common thread that scientists are beginning to see across the globe and across taxa. That is why the science and health community created the One Health Initiative. A collaborative effort connecting human and animal health with environmental health in order to understand the global picture for health. The impact of viruses and warming sea water on starfish may not seem so important to you but it is an indicator of environmental health and what is to come if we do not take notice and act. We are all connected…

 

115 Is The New 40

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A recent paper published in the journal Nature claims that the ceiling for earthly existence for human beings is 115. Dr. Jan Vijg from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and his colleagues examined global demographic data and determined that we are reaching our life span limit. Human life spans have increased through time with medical and technological innovations but, according to Dr. Vijg and his colleagues, that has stagnated since the 1990s. Have we reached the limit? Would you really like to live to see your 150th birthday?

 

Brave New World

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Ladies and gentlemen, I give you man-made human sperm (made in a laboratory and not by the birds and the bees).

French researchers recently published the results of their work to create human sperm in the journal Biology of Reproduction. The researchers even patented the process. They are not the only players in this field, Chinese researchers made mouse sperm as a stepping stone to eventually create human sperm. If (and when) any of these methods actually lead to a viable human fetus is still unknown.

Sounds very Gattaca.

About This Illustration: Forbidding-looking sperm in a petri dish. Micron Pen.