Avian Biodiversity in Your Own Backyard: Nesting and Parenting Strategies of Southeast Michigan’s Birds

Author:  Bethany Beekly

Editors: Will Dana, Claire Shudde, Christina Del Greco, and Jennifer Baker

Illustrator: Katie Bonefas

Picture this: It’s Cinco de Mayo, but you don’t know it as a day of tacos, tequila, and mariachi. From your perch, about 40 feet off the ground in the branches of a cottonwood tree, you observe a different kind of revelry. 

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How can bioplastics help curb our dependency on lab plastics?

Author: Devon Hucek

Editors: Ryan Schildcrout, Sarah Bassiouni, & Will Dana

Illustrator: Saaj Chattopadhyay

New research papers are published daily, reporting advances in every scientific field. However, science can’t happen without proper equipment and materials, many of which are made out of plastic. Why? Plastic is often the cheapest available material and is safer than glassware, which has a much higher likelihood of breakage. A study done at the University of California-Santa Barbara found that 80% of laboratory plastic waste at MIT consisted of pipette tip boxes alone. A microbiology lab in Edinburgh, UK found that in a four week span, they had produced 97 kg (213.8 lbs) of plastic waste. Using plastic is not inherently bad, especially since there are many available resources and regulations (both local and state) for recycling and reusing plastic waste. However, the volume of unrecyclable plastic waste generated in labs across the globe is massive, and seems like an impossible problem to tackle. Enter, bioplastics.

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Can protein levels in the brain predict early stages of psychosis?

Author: Sofia Ruiz-Sierra

Editors: Chloe Rybicki-Kler, Emily Eberhardt, & Madeline Barron

Illustrator: Jacquelyn Roberts

Imagine a world where doctors had no way of measuring blood pressure. They would have a hard time determining how hard your heart is working or whether you were at risk for serious conditions, like heart disease or stroke. Blood pressure is an example of a biological marker, or biomarker. Simply put, biomarkers provide insights into your health status.

Similarly to how blood pressure serves as a biomarker for heart health, biomarkers may also be critical in understanding psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. These biomarkers would allow researchers to obtain objective and reproducible measures to prevent, diagnose, and treat psychotic disorders. Providing an accurate diagnosis to patients increases their opportunities for early treatment and improved prognosis. However, identifying reliable biomarkers that allow scientists to understand and quantify complex cognitive disorders is complicated, as results are often inconclusive. Nevertheless, over the past decade, a brain protein called the Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) has emerged as a potential biomarker for cognitive deficits in psychotic disorders. 

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IPF: Stubborn Scars in Stiff Lungs

Written and illustrated by: Fa Wang

Edited by: Jennifer Baker, Zechariah Pfaffenberger, Olivia Pifer Alge, & Madeline Barron

Imagine a healthy 50-year-old man had a dry cough that wouldn’t go away. His cough disrupted meetings, interviews, and even prevented him from getting sleep. He visited his doctor, who diagnosed him with a cold and sent him home with antibiotics. Not only did his cough persist, the man also started having an insidious shortness of breath with activity, and occasional severe chest pain. He went back to the doctor, who sent him home with more antibiotics. Months later, his symptoms still were not better, and he started having trouble walking up stairs because he felt like he couldn’t breathe. He went back to the doctor, time after time, for additional tests. After 18 months, he was finally diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a disease he had never heard of before. He was shocked to realize that he had only 3 to 5 years to live.

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Dr. Gigi Storz: RNA-mediated regulation within protein-coding sequences

Live Blogger: Liz Tidwell

Editor: Henry Ertl

Because they do not encode instructions for protein products, the role of non-coding RNA in biological processes was overlooked for decades. With the discovery of regulatory RNA, such as small RNA in bacteria (sRNA), noncoding RNAs (ncRNA) are starting to be appreciated for their role in gene regulation. During her talk at the University of Michigan’s 2022 RNA Symposium, Dr. Gigi Storz presented compelling data to extend the limited definition of sRNA: sRNA within translated regions, some of which may be coding something after all.

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Dr. Michelle Hastings: Tiny genetic patches for the treatment of disease

Live Blogger: Christian Greenhill

Editor: Emily Eberhardt

This piece was written live during the 6th annual RNA Symposium: Towards our Future of RNA Therapeutics, hosted by the University of Michigan’s Center for RNA Biomedicine. Follow MiSciWriter’s coverage of this event on Twitter with the hashtag #umichrna. 

A tiny “genetic patch” can be used to cure common diseases that affect millions of people. At the 6th Annual RNA Symposium, Dr. Michelle Hastings gives us a taste of what goes on in her lab in the Windy City at the Chicago Medical School. The @HastingsLab focuses on designing tiny “genetic patches,” or oligonucleotides, to repair genetic processes that lead to severe neurodegenerative diseases, such as Usher syndrome, Batten’s disease, and cystic fibrosis. Over the last decade, Dr. Hastings’ work has led to numerous patents and FDA-approved therapies to improve symptoms associated with these diseases. Her work demonstrates that RNA is a powerful platform and target for future therapeutics.

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Dr. Wendy Gilbert: The 5′ UTR region of mRNA controls gene expression

Live Blogger: Emily Eberhardt

Editor: Christian Greenhill

This piece was written live during the 6th annual RNA Symposium: Towards our Future of RNA Therapeutics, hosted by the University of Michigan’s Center for RNA Biomedicine. Follow MiSciWriter’s coverage of this event on Twitter with the hashtag #umichrna. 

Dr. Wendy Gilbert’s lab Twitter biography is simple: We love RNA. However, the intricate details of mRNA specific regulation are complex and tightly-regulated. Dr. Wendy Gilbert starts her presentation with a bold image of a female superhero with the title “Control.” It is immediately clear that she is passionate about her lab’s research and seeks to understand the control of mRNA regulation in the process of translation. Dr. Gilbert has good reason to be interested in better understanding this process, as misregulation has dire consequences: heritable diseases and cancer. 

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Dr. Chris Burge: The impact of RNA-binding proteins on human genomic variation

Live Blogger: Henry Ertl

Editor: Liz Tidwell

This piece was written live during the 6th annual RNA Symposium: Towards our Future of RNA Therapeutics, hosted by the University of Michigan’s Center for RNA Biomedicine. Follow MiSciWriter’s coverage of this event on Twitter with the hashtag #umichrna. 

The genetic code for amino acids was cracked in the mid-20th century. Since then, biologists have had much more difficulty deciphering the code of gene regulation–when, where, and how much a gene is expressed. This problem is made difficult in part due to the relative complexity of gene regulation, which is primarily carried out by both protein-DNA and protein-RNA interactions. Chris Barge’s lab at MIT works on the protein-RNA part of this problem by applying experimental and computational approaches to ask: what are the genetic determinants and consequences of RNA binding protein (RBP) binding to RNAs? 

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Dr. Jack Szostak: The emergence of RNA from heterogenous prebiotic chemistry

Live Blogger: Jennifer Baker

Editor: Madeline Barron

This piece was written live during the 6th annual RNA Symposium: Towards our Future of RNA Therapeutics, hosted by the University of Michigan’s Center for RNA Biomedicine. Follow MiSciWriter’s coverage of this event on Twitter with the hashtag #umichrna. 

When Dr. Jack Szostak is asked to start at the beginning, he takes that request seriously. In the first keynote address of the 6th annual RNA Symposium, Dr. Szostak took attendees back to the beginning of RNA itself. While this may seem like a strange decision to people attending a symposium centered around the future of RNA therapeutics, Dr. Szostak knows the wisdom of this approach well. 

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Hold the Salt

Written by: Daniela Tapia Pitzzu

Illustrated by: Devon Hucek

Edited by: Sarah Bassiouni, Olivia Alge, Peijin Han, and Madeline Barron

During high school chemistry, my teacher gave the class a handout describing the perils of dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO). There were reports of DHMO causing suffocation, proving fatal if inhaled. This parody on water (which has the molecular name dihydrogen monoxide) was to advocate for science literacy. However, there was another buried message: even one of the most innocuous of chemicals can be dangerous if used improperly. 

Enter chloride. Not chlorine gas, not vinyl chloride, but sodium’s better half, the chloride in sodium chloride (table salt). 

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