Monthly Archives: May 2018

By Nandita HariGuest Contributor Humans have always been fascinated with the vastness of the universe and its hidden truths. For ages we have tried to explore and study the sky. The earliest study of the sky involved using the positions of stars to navigate the seas. Slowly, solar and lunar cycles were observed, planets and galaxies were discovered, and telescope designs were refined. Even after so many advancements, outer space is still just as exciting for us as it ever was. For decades, the scientific community has been searching for possibility of life beyond Earth. Recently, quite a few exo-planetary systems like our own solar system have been discovered orbiting different stars. In our own Milky Way galaxy, M-dwarf stars, which are relatively smaller and cooler stars compared to our sun, still seem to have a number of planets orbiting them. Scientists today are very keen on observing them for…

Read more

by Robert EmbersonGuest Contributor Imagine wandering through a vast desert, empty for thousands of miles in every direction. Think about the relief and joy you’d feel to encounter an oasis full of life. Swimming through the open ocean, bumping into a coral reef must offer the same burst of biodiversity. Yet, these unique ecosystems are very sensitive to environmental changes. Coral and the species that depend on it all struggle to survive when temperatures are higher than optimal. Increased temperatures don’t immediately kill coral. As temperatures rise, they initially undergo a process called bleaching, whereby they expel symbiotic algae that help provide them with energy and nutrients. Like fabric doused in bleach, this leads to the coral losing its color, but unlike fabric, it isn’t necessarily permanent. However, it does weaken the coral, and although they can recover from bleaching, further exposure to high temperatures will eventually kill them. These…

Read more

by Sumeet KulkarniGuest Contributor, BMSIS Young Scientist Program What was the weather like in New York last week? You can look it up on weather.com. What was it like on March 7, 1953, in the pre-internet era? You might be able to find it at the library, in the New York Times edition of that day. In fact, with weather data, you can go back pretty far. People began recording daily temperatures in the 1850s. Why does this matter? Data about weather conditions taken over a period of time determines the climate of a region. Recorded data helps us understand how global temperatures changed in our recent past. It tells us more about changes in biodiversity and geological conditions over this period. Similarly, having climate data from ancient times can help scientists understand what the environmental conditions were when mere molecules became life. But without any records, how can we estimate…

Read more

In the United States, young men who have sex with men (MSM) are at higher risk for being infected with HIV, and are experiencing problems at various stages of HIV care, including getting on medication, staying on medication, and treating their HIV effectively. There is a large need for interventions tailored specifically to young MSM to help them get and stay on treatment. Recently, interventions that use technology (like mobile apps) for people living with HIV have been shown to be successful, so this type of intervention can help young HIV positive MSM to connect with other people going through the same struggles. Researchers at many universities and organizations, including the University of North Carolina, Ayogo, Duke University, University of Illinois, and Stroger Hospital, decided to make a mobile application called AllyQuest, that would help young MSM engage in HIV care, stay on their medications, and receive social support. Interventions…

Read more

Modern bears, while typically thought of as carnivores, actually have a wide variety of dietary preferences. Some eat only meat while others are omnivores, meaning that they eat both meat and vegetation. Cave bears (Ursus spelaeus), an extinct bear species from Europe, are thought to be omnivorous. However, scientists assumed this based on the diets of currently living brown and black bears. A recent study found that cave bears may have been almost purely herbivorous, meaning they do not eat meat, when compared to other animal diets from that same time period (~24,000 years ago). The method used in the paper measured the amount and spread of nitrogen-15 and carbon-13 isotopes found in 323 cave bear fossils to those of other European mammals from the same timespan. Food and water contains different levels of nitrogen-15 and carbon-13 and, when consumed, these isotopes are stored in bodily tissues such as bone…

Read more

The story is all too familiar: promising effects are shown in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease – providing hope for patients, physicians, and researchers alike – only to move on to clinical trials and fail to show any beneficial effects in humans. The drugs intepirdine and solanezumab are recent examples of the limitations of animals as models for human disease. There is a need to study Alzheimer’s disease in more relevant human model systems such as human brain cell cultures. Until somewhat recently, this wasn’t possible. After all, how could researchers safely obtain living human neurons from Alzheimer’s disease patients? Yet in 2006, this was accomplished thanks to a stunning breakthrough made by researchers at Kyoto University in Japan Shinya Yamanaka and his colleagues demonstrated that it is possible to turn skin cells back into stem cells, which they called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs). Yamanaka would later win the…

Read more

There’s no shelf too high or a bottle too tight that can kill a child’s curiosity. For all the cushioned furniture corners and safety gates that parents install to child-proof their homes, the safe storage of medicines out of a child’s sight and reach is grossly neglected. According to a recent report by Safe Kids Worldwide, every 12 days, a child under age six in the United States dies from an accidental medicine-related poisoning. Every hour, a child is hospitalized for that same reason, and every nine minutes, a child goes to the emergency room. This, despite the increasing use of child-resistant packaging by manufacturers of pill bottles. Emil Jovanov and his team have designed a “safe pill bottle” equipped with sensors that can identify when a child is trying to open the bottle. With further design, it would even be able to flash warnings to deter them from doing…

Read more

We’ve all heard that rising global temperatures are bad for the environment. Typically, this is framed in terms of rising sea levels and melting Arctic and Antarctic ice and a host of other ecosystem level changes. Sometimes though, the ways these changes affect organisms are more difficult to understand. For years, coral reefs have been dying in a process called bleaching which has been linked to rising sea temperatures and lowered pH. However, exactly how that happens wasn’t so clear and a research study led by David Baker sought to answer exactly that. Symbiodinium. Image source: Allisonmlewis [CC BY-SA 4.0, from Wikimedia Commons Like most living things, corals provide a home to microbes of all kinds, one of them being a tiny single-celled organism called a symbiodinium. In return for corals housing these microbes, they provide the host with nutrients from their photosynthetic activities in a symbiotic system. The result…

Read more

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are important in our lives as we use them frequently in our smartphones, laptops, tablets, power tools, and electric vehicles. They are even used to help power the Mars Curiosity rover! Typically, graphite, the form of carbon found in pencils, is commonly used as an active anode material in lithium-ion batteries. In a battery, electrons flow from the anode (the negatively charged component) to the cathode (the positively charged part). Natural graphite can be mined, which is expensive and environmentally destructive, or artificial graphite can be produced, which is time-consuming and expensive. As lithium ion batteries are in high demand from consumers around the world, the demand of graphite continues to rise. In this study, researchers realized that soot expelled from diesel engines on merchant ships is an abundant source of carbon that could be recycled for use in lithium-ion batteries. While it is forbidden by MARPOL…

Read more

9/9