Neutrophil: An emerging villain in COVID-19

Author: Shuvasree SenGupta

Editors: Lisa Pinatti, Lihan Xie, and Whit Froehlich

 

Keeping our immune system functional is important to stay healthy in the time of the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic. However, the same immune system is behind some of the worst symptoms of COVID-19, which may seem paradoxical. Components of the immune system, when not regulated properly, can boomerang back and cause harm to our own cells. As such, scientists speculate that some of the fatal complications seen with COVID-19 are because of the aberrant activation of a member of the innate immune cell population, known as neutrophils.

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Activating Vitamin B12 in Humans

By: Harsha Gouda

Edited by: Emily Glass, Lisa Pinatti, and Sarah Kearns

 

Vitamins are the essential micronutrients required in tiny amounts for the healthy development of an individual. They play a crucial role by initiating various chemical reactions inside the cells like production of pigment that is responsible for your vision or synthesis of red blood cells that carry oxygen in your blood. Early discovery of the importance of vitamins such as B12 in diet was identified in patients suffering from abnormally large red blood cells. Vitamin B12 is one of the most complex chemical molecules among all the other essential vitamins. Owing to its complexity, this precious and rare vitamin is mainly acquired via diet as humans are unable to synthesize it for ourselves. Low dietary B12 intake or defects in the transport pathway to its target place of utilization inside our body result in heart and nerve related disorders in humans.1 As such, evolution developed a very sophisticated trafficking pathway to transport and deliver B12 from the food we eat to the cells that use it.1

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Curbing Addiction: Buprenorphine and the Opioid Epidemic

Author: Ruiqi Tang

Edited by: William Dean, Sophie Hill, and Noah Steinfeld

 

Less than 35% of the 2.3 million people with opioid misuse in the United States receive treatment. Opioids are a class of drugs that mask pain by interacting with opioid receptors in the brain, producing pleasurable sensations. These “euphoric” feelings can lead to addiction when patients begin taking opioids for non-medical use. Despite the growing crises of opioid addiction, there is a dire shortage of physicians approved to prescribe a medication approved by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) for treating opioid addiction: buprenorphine. Buprenorphine works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain, but unlike opioids, its sedating effects are relatively lower and it is frequently co-formulated with another drug (naloxone) to prevent overdose. Despite its safety advantages in suppressing withdrawal symptoms, physicians must undergo additional training to obtain a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)-issued waiver in order to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid addiction–a restriction that does not exist for opioid medications like oxycodone that have a greater risk of adverse outcomes.

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Science Communication through the Lens of the Thirty-Meter Telescope Controversy

Author: Zechariah Pfaffenberger

Editors: William Dean, Alyse Krausz, and Sarah Kearns

 

The next-generation of astronomy and astrophysics might happen near the beautiful, sandy shores of Hawaii, but for astronomers, reaching this dream is no day at the beach. A battle is being waged in Hawaii’s tropical paradise, drawing in people from scientists to celebrities. On one side of this battle are the kānaka (native Hawaiians) and on the other, a partnership of astronomers from governments and universities. The cause of their disagreement is a thirty-meter telescope (TMT) and a sacred mountain. Although we might be disappointed by any delay in scientific progress, the story of the TMT teaches scientists about the current state of science communication practices and how we might do better. 

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Outdoor Journaling in Nichols Arboretum: A Study in Mental Health and the Power of Green Spaces

Author: Lily Johns 

Edited by: Lihan Xie, Genesis Rodriguez, Kristina Lenn, and Sarah Kearns

 

The Restorative Effects of Nature

“People in all walks of life, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad times, find in nature something that comforts and restores” (Kaplans, 1995, pg. 175). 

University of Michigan faculty members Rachel Kaplan and the late Stephen Kaplan pioneered much of the research on the role of natural environments in benefitting well-being that exists today. With a multitude of publications, their research encompasses a variety of topics surrounding human cognition and the environment, notably the restorative effect that nature can have on the mind. According to the Kaplans, the restorative effect of nature is traced back to its role in preventing and ameliorating “directed attention fatigue”. Stephen Kaplan outlines the theory and importance of “directed attention”, which “plays a central role in achieving focus…and controls distraction.” This ‘directed attention’ is “susceptible to fatigue,” which often occurs due to a limited ability to direct their attention and leads to impulsivity, irritability, and distraction (Kaplan, 1995, pg. 17)

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Microbial α-L-Rhamnosidase: an important enzyme for the pharmaceutical and food industries

Author: Vinita Yadav, Ph.D.

Editors: Callie Corsa, Zena Lapp, and Noah Steinfeld

 

Molds or fungi are generally known for their pathogenic properties, but they are also used in the food and pharmaceutical industries. We can find several examples of uses in our daily lives including yeast used in brewing and baking, Aspergillus species used in making Soy sauce, and Penicillium species used in cheese industries. Penicillium species also make antibiotics like Penicillin.

During my thesis, my project was to search for fungi which produce alpha-L-Rhamnosidase, an enzyme that cuts the terminal L-rhamnose from several glycosylated compounds: compounds that have sugar attached. L-rhamnose is sweet in taste but not found in nature in its free form. It is always attached to several other biomolecules from lipid/fat molecules to proteins to other metabolites like flavonoids, steroids, or terpenoids (Figure 1).

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A Window to Ancient Earth Lies at the Bottom of Lake Huron

Author: Becca Dzombak

Edited by: Zuleirys Santana-Rodriguez, Emily Glass, and Whit Froehlich

 

In Lake Huron, off the coast of Michigan, lies a window to an ancient world. An underwater sinkhole holds water that’s chemically more similar to the ocean than to the rest of the Great Lakes. Microorganisms (microbes) thought to be very similar to those that thrived on Earth billions of years ago live at the bottom, moving around to chase the light and their preferred water chemistry. Geobiologists and biogeochemists are fascinated by this spot, called Middle Island Sinkhole, and the opportunity it presents to understand how ancient lakes may have supported oxygen-generating microbial communities, contributing to the rise of oxygen in our atmosphere. Using environments like Middle Island Sinkhole can help us understand the conditions in which life evolved on Earth (maybe even giving us hints for what to look for in our search for extraterrestrial life) and predict how carbon cycling in lakes might respond under climate change.

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It’s Not Always Mind Over Matter

Author: Kristina Lenn

On October 10th of this year, #WorldMentalHealthDay was a trending topic on social media as users posted their experiences with mental illnesses and their support for those who also suffer. “Live, Don’t Leave” was included in posts, trying to encourage those who are suicidal to seek help for a more hopeful future. Seeing this level of support as people band together across the world to break the stigma about mental health is heartening. However, it also intimates at the enormity of the situation and the lack of progress that the medical field is experiencing, partly because the specific causes are not well understood.

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From the Lab to your Medicine Cabinet: A Timeline of Drug Development

Author: Jessica McAnulty

Edited by: Alison Ludzki, Lihan Xie, and Sarah Kearns

Take a look inside your medicine cabinet. Advil, Benadryl, Sudafed – ready at the snap of a finger if you fall ill. Developing that medicine, however, probably takes much longer than one would expect. On average, getting a potential drug candidate from the laboratory to the pharmacy takes about 14 years, costs more than one billion dollars, and has a low success rate. A successful drug will pass through all five stages: drug discovery, pre-clinical research, clinical trials, FDA approval, and post-market monitoring. Success statistics are gathered several stages into drug development; a new report states 13.8% of drug candidates that enter Phase I of clinical trials, the first test in humans, will earn FDA approval. Upon approval, companies have an exclusivity period ranging from 6 months to 7 years  to earn back the large expense of drug development before generic medicines are released by competitors. For this reason, there is a necessary economic drive associated with pharmaceutical companies so that they can continue production of life-saving medication. Continue reading “From the Lab to your Medicine Cabinet: A Timeline of Drug Development”

The American Climate

Author: Kristina Lenn
Editor: Sarah Kearns

The end of September played host to many action items for climate change, not the least of which was the third Global Climate Strike on Friday, September 20. These international strikes are a result of activist Greta Thunberg’s ongoing travail to not only enlighten governments and their citizens of the impending dangers of climate change but also admonish the world’s leaders for turning a blind eye to it. Additionally, on September 23, the United Nations convened for the Climate Action Summit, a forum for world leaders to discuss how together they can take steps to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and curb Earth’s rising temperature. Continue reading “The American Climate”