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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The Henrietta Lacks Estate vs Thermo Fisher: An update on the conversation surrounding the origin of HeLa cells

Written by: Christina Del Greco

Edited by: Ryan Schildcrout, Henry Ertl, and Madeline Barron 

Illustrated by: Katie Bonefas 

On October 4, 2021, Henrietta Lacks’ estate filed a lawsuit against Thermo Fisher Scientific, accusing them of selling products containing Henrietta Lacks’ cells (HeLa cells) for profit, despite the fact that the cells were taken without her consent. Nor, they say, has Thermo Fisher asked for the family’s consent even after the origin of HeLa cells became controversial. HeLa cells can sell for over $2000/mL, contributing significantly to Thermo Fisher’s annual revenue of over $35 billion per year. This lawsuit represents many of the ethical issues that have repeatedly arisen regarding the origin of HeLa cells. As such, to understand the lawsuit, we have to understand the history and significance of the cells themselves.

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How does light present as color?

Written by: Saaj Chattopadhyay

Edited by: Christina Del Greco, Will Dana, Kane York, and Madeline Barron

Illustrated by: Jacquelyn Roberts

Roses are red, violets are blue

Are they really? We might see different hues! 

Recently, I was careless enough to think I lost my credit card while traveling so I ordered a new one. The customer service representative asked if I wanted an image on the card and pointed me to the large library of options. My eyes skimmed the web page and settled on the image of Claude Monet’s beautiful impressionist painting “The Artist’s Garden at Giverny,” and sure enough, two weeks later, I had a gorgeous new credit card. What caught my eye in the painting was the brilliant use of purple, one of my favorite colors, to depict the irises that covered his garden. His blending of paints ensures that the longer you stare at the painting, the more colors you see. It made me appreciate how our eyes and brain work together to project such a vibrant reality.

“The Artist’s Garden at Giverny” by Claude Monet (Source)

Color is the result of how our brains process light entering our eyes. There are two sides of the story: what type of light is entering our eye, and how our eyes perceive the collected light. Thus, to understand color, we first have to understand light. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“Birdbrain” May Be a Compliment: Complex Vocal Learning in Avian Species

Written by: Bethany Beekly

Editors: Christina Del Greco, William Dean, Olivia Pifer Alge, and Madeline Barron

…Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
            Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

While Poe’s raven is generally understood to be metaphorical, the premise of his famous tale is not outside the realm of possibility. Ravens belong to a family of birds called corvids (Latin Corvidae) which also includes other common urban birds such as crows and magpies. Corvids are among the most intelligent avian species studied to date. They also happen to be among the select families of birds capable of mimicking human speech!

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Demystifying the origins of embryonic stem cells used in scientific research

Written by: Renee Hein

Editors: Liz Tidwell, Ryan Schildcrout, Maddie Barron

Human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) have made quite the name for themselves throughout  history, and they continue to be a buzz-worthy topic in modern society. On the one hand, ESCs serve as valuable tools for scientists studying unique aspects of human development, such as how cells create a functioning organ and why disruptions in this process can cause disease or defects. On the other hand, there are ethical concerns surrounding the use of ESCs in research, which largely center on destroying what some consider to be a potential human life. To form an opinion on the matter, however, it’s first important to understand the facts about where ESCs come from.

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Virus-Like Particle Derived Vaccines: Safe, Dependable, and Still Exciting

Written by: Beth Rousseau

Editors: Madeline Barron, Will Dana, and Austin Shannon

New and flashy vaccines tend to get all the press, whereas less attention is paid to safe, effective, and well-established vaccine technology, such as vaccines derived from virus-like particles (VLPs). VLP-based vaccines have been on the commercial market for years and include those used to prevent diseases like hepatitis B and cervical cancer. The success of these vaccines is rooted in the science underlying their development and activity in the body. With many new VLP vaccines currently in clinical trials around the world, it is evident that, even amidst the wave of new vaccine technologies, VLPs are here to stay.

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Birds of a Feather Magnetize Together: How Birds Use the Earth’s Magnetic Field to Find Their Way Home

Written by: Bethany Beekly

Editors: Christina Del Greco, Henry Ertl, Jennifer Baker, and Madeline Barron

I recently traveled to Seattle for the wedding of a high school friend. As I prepared for my first flight since the pandemic began—dreading the long lines, the awkward shoeless dance through security, and the inevitable 4.5 hour battle with the child kicking me in the back—my thoughts drifted to the remarkable flights made by hundreds of species of migratory birds and the relative ease with which they make them.

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