Eavesdropping on Brain Cells: A History of the Patch-Clamp Technique

Author: Ellen KW Brennan

Editors: Emily Glass, Sophie Hill, and Lisa Pinatti

Illustrator: Katherine Bonefas

Neurons are the main communicators of the brain. Using electrical signals to ‘talk,’ their conversations with each other underlie every behavior, thought, and feeling we have. To produce these larger functions, neurons need to work together in networks. For example, there is a specialized network of neurons whose only job is to keep you oriented in your surroundings. Two of the main types of neurons in this network are ‘place cells,’ which tell your brain where your body is in space, and ‘head direction cells,’ which tell your brain which way your head is facing. Together (and with the help of many other cells), they act as your body’s GPS system. While knowing where you are is important, you also need to know the details of the world around you. Other specialized cells, like sensory neurons called ‘blobs,’ help you detect color, while neurons in your nose called ‘olfactory sensory neurons’ catch chemicals as you breathe to detect smells. Together, these and many other different neural networks give us a sensory representation of our surroundings.

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Happy 5th Birthday, MiSciWriters!

From the MiSciWriters Editorial Board

“MiSciWriters is a student organization dedicated to training in science writing, with the ultimate goal of improving public understanding of science. We believe that communicating science effectively to lay audiences is an essential and much-neglected component of scientific training.” Over the past five years, our mission statement and overall goals haven’t changed much, but our organization has grown significantly and has become an important foundation for so many during their graduate and postdoctoral experience at University of Michigan. 

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Neutrófilo: un villano emergente en COVID-19

Autora: Shuvasree SenGupta

Editores: Lisa Pinatti, Lihan Xie, y Whit Froehlich

Traducción: Paloma Contreras, editado por: Irene Vargas-Salazar


Mantener nuestro sistema inmune funcionando de manera apropiada es importante para estar saludable en los tiempos de la pandemia de COVID-19 (enfermedad del coronavirus 2019). Sin embargo, este mismo sistema inmune se encuentra detrás de algunos de los peores síntomas del COVID-19, lo cual puede parecer paradójico. Cuando algunos componentes del sistema inmune no son regulados de forma apropiada, pueden ser contraproducentes y dañar nuestras propias células. Debido a esto, científicos/as especulan que algunas de las complicaciones fatales vistas en COVID-19 ocurren como resultado de la activación anómala de un miembro específico de la población de células inmunes innatas, conocidos como neutrófilos.

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The Evolution of Sperm Morphology, Part 1: Sperm Competition

Author: Molly A. Hirst

Edited by: Patricia Garay, Emily Glass, and Alyse Krausz


Most of us have a general understanding of what human sperm cells look like: a ball with a middle piece and a squiggly tail, right? But what about sperm from animals such as frogs, spiders, and mice? The short answer, as shown in Figure 1, is that they look totally different! In fact, sperm are actually the most morphologically diverse animal cell type known (seriously, check out Figure 1) (Lüpold & Pitnick 2018). This morphological diversity may seem counterintuitive at first; sperm have a singular function in fertilization and reproduction, so a mutation that alters the shape of sperm could potentially render them useless. This certainly can be the case, yet changes in sperm morphology between species, or even populations of the same species, are common.

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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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