Category Archives: News

Learning from Drought in California: Past and Present

By Marisa Sanchez, Molecular and Cellular Biology, ’15

The most current drought in California is considered to be one of the worst droughts in the past century, and many wonder if this severity is due to climate change. However, California has had a long history of unpredictable weather fluctuations, and is familiar with severe droughts. Many droughts can have devastating effects, particularly in the agricultural industry and the hydropower industry. Most Californians have also experienced the effects of a drought first-hand, such as having enforced water rationing. Even though, California’s history has shown that most droughts have devastating effects, droughts can also great learning experiences.

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Mapping neurons through online gaming

By: Jenny Cade, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology ‘15

One of the biggest challenges in neuroscience today is mapping the wiring of the nervous system. Looking at the spatial arrangement of neural networks can tell us a lot about how information is relayed, but accurate 3D mapping of neurons is an enormously challenging task, even with the aid of computer analysis. One group of researchers at MIT has harnessed the power of crowdsourcing to tackle this problem.

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Evolution of Tooth Enamel

By Marisa Sanchez, Molecular and Cellular Biology, ‘15

One feature that sets humans apart from other primates is the thickness of tooth enamel. Scientists at Duke University have recently discovered evidence on how evolution has resulted in thickened enamel for human teeth. By comparing the human genome to five other primate species, geneticists and evolutionary anthropologists were able to identify two segments of DNA where natural selection may have played a role in giving rise to thick enamel. Differences in enamel thickness have been linked to the difference in diet among primates. Humans consume foods that are tougher to chew relative to the food eaten by other primates, which is why humans have developed thicker enamel through natural selection. Continue reading Evolution of Tooth Enamel

New Target For Alzheimer’s Treatment

By David Ivanov, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, ’15

A group of researchers studying brain cells have found a new potential target for pharmacological therapies that may help treat Alzheimer’s disease. Beta amyloid plaque, which appears to be a toxic build up of fragments of amyloid precursor protein (APP) in the brain, has long been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and has been one of the major targets for Alzheimer’s treatment. Amyloid precursor protein plays an important role in the brain, and when this protein is broken down in nerve cells the toxic byproduct beta amyloid is formed. Continue reading New Target For Alzheimer’s Treatment

The hunter-gatherer gut microbiome

By: Jenny Cade, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology ‘15

In a paper published in Nature Communications on April 15, researchers profiled the gut microbiota of a group of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania known as the Hadza. They compared the results to those of people living in Italy, and found that the two groups have very different species composition. The Hadza don’t only have different kinds of gut microbes than Westerners, but a more diverse collection of microbes as well. The researchers say that this is most likely due to the dramatic difference between hunter-gatherer and Western diets.

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Origin of the Y Chromosome

By Marisa Sanchez, Molecular and Cellular Biology ‘15

The genomes of male and female mammals differ by one chromosome. The Y chromosome is only present in males, and is responsible for initiating the physiological and morphological differences between the sexes. This has not always been the case though; at one point, the X and Y were identical, and over time the Y chromosome began to differentiate from the X chromosome and shrink in size. The Y chromosome today only has 20 genes, whereas the X chromosome has over 1,000 genes. Continue reading Origin of the Y Chromosome

“No Ecosystem is an Island”

By Daniel Friedman, Genetics ’14

For years, ecologists have modeled the biodiversity of natural forests as if they were oceanic islands, adrift in an unlivable sea of humanity. However, research published in April in Nature by C. Mendenhall et al. suggest that this is not the most accurate or predictive way to think about these pockets of nature. By comparing bat diversity on countrysides and oceanic islands, they find that fragmented land ecosystems behave markedly different than their oceanic counterparts. They find that forest “islands” maintain species at higher overall levels of biodiversity than ocean islands, and also gain/lose species in unique patterns. This has relevance to humanity’s actions to support biodiversity on land, and suggests the need for new models, metrics, and strategies of conservation.


Mendenhall, C., Karp, D., Meyer, C., Hadly, E., Daily, G., “Predicting biodiversity change and averting collapse in agricultural landscapes”, Nature, 2014.

Image from Abu Shawka, 2009. Creative Commons.

Green Tea Can Improve Your Memory

By Marisa Sanchez, Molecular and Cellular Biology ’15

Green tea has been said to have several health benefits including helping prevent certain types of cancer and inflammation. In a new study done by Dr. Beglinger and Dr. Borgwardt at the University of Basel in Switzerland, they have found that green tea extract enhances cognitive functions, particularly the working memory because green tea extract increases the brain’s effective connectivity, the causal influence that one part of the brain exerts on another part. Continue reading Green Tea Can Improve Your Memory

Lab Engineered Cartilage used in Nose Reconstruction

By Ashley Chang, Genetics ’15

Researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland have successfully used lab-engineered cartilage for nose reconstruction. This study was conducted on five patients between ages 76 and 88 who had significant nasal damage after skin cancer surgery. One year after the replacement, all of them note significant improvement in the ability to breathe as well as cosmetic appeal, and no patients had significant side effects. This is a groundbreaking study as it opens of the possibility of engineered cartilage replacement in other areas, such as the knee, and of tissue-engineering as a whole. Continue reading Lab Engineered Cartilage used in Nose Reconstruction

Grass-fed or grain-fed?

By Jenny Cade, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology ’15

Eating grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken is the eco-friendly thing to do–right? Maybe not, according to a recent paper published in the Proceedings in the National Academy of Science. The study proposes that intensifying livestock production by transitioning from pure grazing to mixed systems–where animals are fed high-energy food like grains–could reduce livestock greenhouse gas emissions by 23% by 2030. Currently, livestock account for 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, so such a reduction would be significant.

In contrast, a comment piece that appeared in Nature last month calls for increasing grazing to make livestock systems more sustainable. Of eight strategies that the authors outline to reduce the environmental and economic costs of raising livestock, “Feed animals less human food” is number one.

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