To Complete or Not Complete (The Full Course of Antibiotics)

Author: Katie Wozniak

Editors: Tricia Garay, Charles Lu, and Shweta Ramdas

You may recall going to your doctor and being told to “complete the full course” of antibiotics that were prescribed to you. Over the last 70 years antibiotics have been used to treat bacterial infections. The CDC, FDA, and WHO have pointed out that some bacteria could remain in your system if you stop taking the prescribed antibiotics before completing the full course, even if you feel better. This remaining population consists of bacteria that could survive the antibiotics the best; this select group of resistant bacteria is then allowed to grow and re-infect you with a vengeance. However, a recently published article in one of the oldest medical journals questioned these age-old instructions and suggested alternatives. In the era of antibiotic overuse and resistant infections, should we still complete the full course of antibiotics?
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Ciencia y redes sociales: Como el “compartir de más” está ayudando al campo de la genética humana

Versión original en inglés escrita por Christina Vallianatos, traducida al español por Adrian Melo Carrillo y editado por Jean Carlos Rodriguez Diaz.

Vivimos en una época en la cual compartimos de más.  Desde tu mejor amigo compartiendo sus fotos artísticas de comida (#boozybrunch), hasta tu colega tuiteando en tiempo real su experiencia de parto (“¡Cesárea en 20 minutos!”), parece que constantemente nos enteramos de detalles íntimos de todo el mundo.

¿Qué pasaría si alguno de esos momentos en que compartimos demasiada información no fueran necesariamente “demasiada información”? ¿Y si estos momentos estuvieran de hecho ayudando a resolver una de los mayores dilemas en el campo de la genética humana: la identificación de genes causantes de enfermedades?

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Cómo las luciérnagas iluminaron nuestro entendimiento del mundo

Versión original en inglés escrita por Noah Steinfeld, traducida al español por Thibaut R. Pardo-García y editado por Sofía A. López.

A principios de 1950 en la Universidad Johns Hopkins, William E. McElroy, profesor joven, quiso descubrir que hace que las luciérnagas resplandezcan. Él le pagaba veinticinco centavos a niños en el área de Baltimore por cada 100 luciérnagas que le trajeran. McElroy era visto como una curiosidad en la comunidad: el estereotipo de un científico excéntrico. Pero, lo que estas personas no sabían es que, como resultado de su investigación, un día McElroy crearía una herramienta que revolucionaría la forma en que los científicos ejercen las investigaciones biológicas.

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Lo que quiere la nariz: ¿Por qué el olor a gasolina es irresistible para algunos?

For the first post in our Spanish series, The Language Bank* at the University of Michigan translated a post written by Shweta Ramdas: “What the Nose Wants: Why the Scent of Gasoline is Irresistible to Some.”

Por Shweta Ramdas 

Traducido por Joan Liu*

Editado por Yanaira Alonso

Hace acerca de un mes, le comenté a mis compañeros de laboratorio que el olor a la gasolina era un tanto irresistible y que había robado un marcador de pizarra de nuestro laboratorio para olerlo cuando me sentía frustrada con mi investigación. Esto tuvo dos resultados: ahora mis colaboradores de laboratorio se burlan de mí despiadadamente, y me di cuenta de que no todos se sienten atraídos a estos olores tanto como yo.

El último resultado fue una epifanía: pensaba que para todo el mundo el olor a gasolina era agradable. Entonces, ¿Por qué esto no es cierto? Como una genetista, por supuesto mi primer pensamiento fue que los genes deciden la preferencia.

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A mi compañero de laboratorio no le atrae el olor del marcador tanto como a mí.

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Recent Advances in Cervical Cancer Research

Author: Veronica Varela

Editors: Whit Froehlich, John Charpentier, and Scott Barolo

Cervical cancer has been getting much more attention as of late, partly due to the HBO adaptation of Rebecca Skloot’s book The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. As a survivor of the same type of cancer that took Henrietta’s life and led to the development of the HeLa cell line, I found that Skloot’s book resonated deeply with me. My diagnosis compelled me to learn more about cervical cancer, which is one of the most preventable forms of cancer.

What Is Cervical Cancer?

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Figure 1. A diagram showing a stage IV cervical cancer (tumor is in blue)

Cervical cancer is an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of the cells lining the cervix, which acts like the doorway to the uterus. The cervix lining is mostly made up of two different cell types. Lining the outer cervix that faces the vagina are squamous cells, which are flat in shape, while the open passage of the cervix which leads into the uterus is lined by glandular cells, which are blockier in shape and produce mucus. Cancer can arise from either of these cell types; however, squamous cell cancers are the more frequent.

Most cervical cancers are caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is commonly known as the virus that causes genital warts, but what many don’t realize is that there are over a dozen types of sexually transmitted HPVs, and only a few of them result in genital warts. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) highlight that persistent infection with certain HPV strains, especially types 16 and 18, is the major cause of most cervical cancer cases.

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The Humble Phosphate Ion: Making Life “Go”

Author: John Charpentier

Editors; Noah Steinfeld, Tricia Garay, and Scott Barolo

A glance into any organic chemistry or biochemistry textbook reveals a dizzying variety of chemical compounds, reactions and mechanisms. It is not at all obvious why one particular class of reaction, the attachment and detachment of a phosphate group (PO43-) to molecules like nucleotides and proteins, is central to making the chemistry of life “go.”

Proteins: Not Just for Getting Swole, Brah

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Figure 1. A phosphate ion. Note the negative charges.

Proteins are the working-class heroes of the cell: they get things done. A protein’s function is largely determined by its shape, which in turn is dictated by the linear sequence of chemically distinct amino acid subunits it is composed of. The rules of protein folding are astonishingly complex. Generally speaking, the reluctance of hydrophobic (“water-fearing”) amino acids to project outward into the watery cytoplasm is the primary determinant of protein shape, but electrostatic interactions between amino acid residues are also important. Phosphate groups have three negative charges, which means that when they are linked to or removed from a protein by specialized enzymes, they can dramatically modify its shape and stability, and therefore its function. The phosphorylation/dephosphorylation cycle operates like a switch to regulate protein behavior: add a phosphate and you get a violent Mr. Hyde protein; take it off and you get the amiable Dr. Jekyll.

 

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Figure 2. Cellular homunculi don’t exist – decisions are made by integrating signaling inputs from the environment to effect changes in gene expression.

So where do we find phosphorylation in biochemistry? The answer is: pretty much everywhere! I will discuss two key examples. Firstly, phosphorylation is important in “cell signaling,” the sensing of messages from outside a cell and their incorporation into cellular decision-making. It’s worth observing that there isn’t anything we’d recognize as a brain in cells – decision-making is an emergent property of the integration of these signals, not the doing of a microscopic cellular homunculus pulling levers or “thinking.”

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Placebos: Tricking the Brain, Targeting the Body

Author: Shweta Ramdas
Editors: Charles Lu, Whit Froehlich, and Scott Barolo

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Placebo or Nocebo?

Last year, when I pooh-poohed my mother’s alternative medicine regimen, she said, “But these actually work well for me, because I believe in them!” My mother had just outsmarted me with science.

The placebo effect is one of the most remarkable yet least understood phenomena in science. It is a favorable response of our body to a medically neutral treatment (sugar pills, anybody?): in other words, a placebo is a fake treatment that produces a very real response. This is attributed to a physical reaction stemming from a psychological response to the administration of therapy. You could say that a patient sometimes gets better anyway—how many times have we waited out the common cold—and you would be right. This natural return to the baseline which can happen is not considered the placebo effect, which is an improvement in response to a treatment.

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