Elemental damage: When oxygen makes you short of breath

Written by: Jennifer Baker

Edited by: Christina Del Greco, Jessica Li, and Andrew Alvarez

Illustrated by: Katie Bonefas

Take a deep breath in … (it’s okay, I’ll wait) … aaaannnnndddd release. Feel better? While breathing deeply is relaxing and has psychological benefits, it also has a fundamental physiological function.

Unless you are reading this atop Mount Everest where gas concentrations deviate from those at sea level (congrats on your successful ascent!), about 21% of the air you just inhaled is oxygen, a vital resource your cells need to survive. This oxygen is used by cells all over your body for chemical processes such as generating energy for cellular functions like building proteins, fixing cell membranes, and repairing DNA.

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Cholesterol: A Rude Intrusion in Your Immune System’s Conversation With Cancer

Author: Amér Ghali

Editors: Jennifer Baker, Andrés Rivera Ruiz, and Madeline Barron

There is much to appreciate about the way our bodies keep themselves healthy through the array of different immune cell types and their related, yet distinct, methods of protecting us from sickness. From T cells conducting orchestrated attacks on foreign pathogens to B cells producing antibodies which stave off severe illness at the outset of an infection, these cells and their diverse functions resemble a set of chess pieces in the way that they each perform unique tasks in consort with one another to achieve a common objective. However, their goal is not necessarily victory over any one opponent, but rather against all challenges to the immune system, whether external viruses such as COVID-19, or from within, as is the case with cancer.

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Biomanufactura: una conexión inesperada entre una estrella del fútbol y las vacunas contra el COVID-19

Escrito en inglés y traducido al español por: Franco Tavella

Editado en inglés por: Jennifer Baker, Kristen Loesel, Christian Greenhill y Madeline Barron

Editado en español por: Andrés Rivera Ruiz

Ilustrado por: Katie Bonefas

Leer en inglés aquí

Debido a que soy argentino, comparto un sueño con mi país desde hace 16 años: que la selección nacional gane un campeonato de fútbol con Lionel Messi como capitán del equipo. La mayoría de los argentinos, incluso aquellos que no siguen el fútbol atentamente, han compartido la frustración de nunca haber ganado un torneo, pese a tener uno de los mejores jugadores del mundo en nuestra selección. Finalmente, en el verano de 2021, logramos festejar cuando la selección nacional ganó la Copa América tras derrotar a nuestro mayor rival en el fútbol, Brasil, en la final. Una multitud celebró en el icónico Obelisco que demarca el centro de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires y, a pesar de encontrarme en Estados Unidos, me sentí cerca de casa. Sin embargo, este momento de celebración y orgullo nacional quizás nunca hubiese ocurrido si no fuese gracias a la biomanufactura.

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Can plants learn? A surprising academic debate

Author: Kate Giffin

Editors: Henry Ertl, Sarah Bassiouni, Sophie Hill and Jennifer Baker

The year was 1633, and Galileo Galilei was being placed under house arrest for a heretical idea: that the Earth revolves around the sun. While he is now considered one of the fathers of modern science, at the time the Roman Inquisition of the Catholic Church declared him “vehemently suspect of heresy.”

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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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