Distinguishing between contemporary and historical agricultural crop development: an evolutionary perspective

Written by: Henry Ertl

Edited by: Ryan Schildcrout, Madeline Cooke, Austin Shannon, and Madeline Barron

There are many reasons why I’m not proud of shopping at Whole Foods. Near the top of this list are the “GMO-free” icons plastered everywhere denoting that a given food product is free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Even though GMOs are increasingly common, people of many backgrounds have strong feelings against GMOs, claiming they’re unsafe, unethical, or unnatural. Perhaps the only group consistently advocating for GMOs (aside from the CEOs of big agricultural companies with billions of dollars at stake) are scientists driving their technological advancement.

Continue reading “Distinguishing between contemporary and historical agricultural crop development: an evolutionary perspective”

Brain Myth 1 – Dopamine and Serotonin: The (Not Just) Happy Chemicals

Written by: Kane York

Illustrated by: Emma Thornton-Kolbe

Editors: Christian Greenhill, Kristen Loesel, and Jennifer Baker

Hey there, reader! This is the first in a series of articles addressing common myths about the brain. You can find my previous article here, in which I discuss the complexity of depression. Expect more to be coming soon! Enjoy reading.

Imagine eating a jelly donut. Imagine your first kiss. Imagine getting a good performance review from your boss. In each case, you may feel a sense of happiness, joy, or pleasure. Now, think about the brain functions that cause these happy feelings. You might guess that each of these scenarios triggers an instant boost of dopamine and serotonin in your brain. Dopamine and serotonin are two of the most talked about (and two of the most misunderstood) neurotransmitters, the chemicals that brain cells use to communicate. Yes, dopamine is associated with pleasure and serotonin with mood, but to stop there would be missing the full picture. Like many myths, there is some truth here. However, these molecules have a much richer role in the body and behavior than just the happy feelings.

Continue reading “Brain Myth 1 – Dopamine and Serotonin: The (Not Just) Happy Chemicals”

Injectisomes: the hypodermic needles of bacteria

Written and illustrated by: Jacquelyn Roberts

Edited by: Sarah Bassiouni, Sophia Hill, Austin Shannon, and Madeline Barron

Pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia, and Escherichia coli can inject proteins into target cells with an extremely small hypodermic needle called a type III secretion system, or T3SS. The injected proteins are called “effector proteins”, as they elicit effects in the host (in this case human) cell. The cell membranes of both the bacteria and host cell prevent large molecules like effector proteins from simply drifting inside, so bacteria need specialized delivery systems like the T3SS to do it. These specialized delivery systems are very similar to a syringe and needle, and have been nicknamed injectisomes (Figure 1). However, injectisomes are 10 million times smaller than the average syringe. In addition to being incredibly small, these syringes are extremely specific in the cargo that they accept for transport. Bacteria generally use these machines to inject effector proteins  that weaken the host cell, leading to easier bacterial infection. The mechanistic details of these molecular machines is of great interest to scientists for many reasons. Designing a specific inhibitor of the injectisome could render pathogenic bacteria harmless. On the other hand, engineering an injectisome for drug delivery could provide targeted biologic medicine to specific cells in the body.

Continue reading “Injectisomes: the hypodermic needles of bacteria”