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.

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

PIBS GRE Town Hall Meeting Recap

From the MiSciWriters Editorial Board

What qualifications does one need to demonstrate in order to get into a PhD program?  

In the United States, there are a few requirements that most PhD programs use to select their students: statement of purpose, recommendation letters, Grade Point Average (GPA), and results from a standardized test. One widely used standardized test is the general Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which is divided into three sections: verbal, quantitative, and writing. The test compares your performance to other test-takers, showing your performance for each section by percentile rank.

Although GREs are required by many PhD programs across the nation, some PhD programs, like the one at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, do not require the GRE (although sending your GRE score is highly recommended).

Since this spring, the community at the Program in Biomedical Sciences (PIBS) at the University of Michigan brought up the possibility of making the general GRE optional. PIBS director Dr. Scott Barolo initiated the idea of having a public discourse about whether to drop the GRE in the list of requirements for PhD admissions. Several PIBS faculty and staff contributed to a white paper presenting their arguments for either keeping or removing the requirement to submit the GRE. On August 3rd, PIBS hosted a town hall meeting to discuss both sides of the argument and get input from other members of the community.

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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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Conversations about Science Writing: Nick Wigginton

MiSciWriters member Kristina Lenn chatted with Nick Wigginton, the assistant vice president of research at the University of Michigan, about the importance of communication among researchers and the big responsibility science writers carry in the current political climate.

 

 Anyone who has ever done collaborative research can list the benefits of being able to work with another group and learn about the cultural differences between researchers. Dr. Nick Wigginton knows better than anyone else how important communication is to successful collaborations.

Prior to his tenure at Michigan, Dr. Wigginton received his doctorate in Earth Science, and his dissertation was a collaborative effort by his department, physics, chemistry, and biology. This interdisciplinary gauntlet gave him the tools he needed to succeed as an editor for Science magazine where he needed to address the research and cultures of multiple departments.

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Setting the Tone: How Physics Can Help Us Understand Musical Harmony (Part 2)

Author: Joseph Iafrate

Editors: Christina Vallianatos, Scott Barolo, and Bryan Moyers

*Editor’s Note: This post has several sound files to help readers understand the author’s message better. These sound files can be accessed via bolded links.

Part one of this post explained how physics gave us a new language for talking about musical notes. In part two, we look at combinations of notes. Will two notes sound pleasant together, or will they clash? We can apply what we’ve learned about frequencies to get an answer.

The Harmony of Ratios

If you’ve ever used the Pythagorean theorem, you are well-acquainted with one of Pythagoras’ contributions to society. Pythagoras was an ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician dedicated to discovering mathematical principles in the world around him. During his time, the Greeks already had an idea of which notes sounded good together, a pleasant combination of two or more notes that we call a harmony. Pythagoras and his followers could identify harmony by ear, but they wanted to see if the math that permeated the rest of their worldview had anything to say about this phenomenon.

According to legend, they took two taut strings of different lengths and plucked them at the same time. The sounds seemed to clash with one another. So the Pythagoreans increased the length of one of the strings and tried again. It was a bit better, but the notes still seemed to clash in their ears. So they increased the length again. This kept going until the sounds complemented one another. Eventually they got it just right, and the two notes were in harmony.

Continue reading “Setting the Tone: How Physics Can Help Us Understand Musical Harmony (Part 2)”