Next in the SWAC Science Communication Series: Inspiring Storytelling

Robin Smith, Science Writer, Duke University

Robin Smith, Science Writer, Duke University

We are thrilled to welcome Robin Smith as our speaker for the Writing Workshop: Inspiring Storytelling as part of the SWAC Science Communication Certificate Series for 2018. Robin will speak on April 17th from 2:00 to 3:30 pm at Marsico Hall 2004.

*Light refreshments will be served!

Registration Link: http://tinyurl.com/ybn2npap

As a reminder, you must attend 4/6 events to earn the certificate.

This year, we are putting a spin on our traditional blog writing workshop with a theme on
storytelling. Why is storytelling important in science communication? How does one tell a good story? How can we use our own stories and experiences to communicate science beyond traditional reporting? During this interactive workshop, participants will not only go over best writing practices, but learn how stories can play a big role in their own work, produce a story-based blog post, and have the option to publish on SWAC’s blog The Pipettepen!

Robin Smith was a researcher and writing teacher for more than ten years before joining the news office at Duke University. She has also written for the Raleigh News and Observer, the Charlotte Observer, and the blog column of Scientific American. Robin earned a PhD in biology in 2005. For more, visit robinannsmith.com.

Our Expert Reviewers:

Alyssa LaFaro, Communications Specialist, UNC Research // Editor, Endeavors magazine

Alyssa LaFaro, Communications Specialist, UNC Research // Editor, Endeavors magazine

Alyssa LaFaro: On any given day, Alyssa LaFaro can be found photographing the effects of climate change, digging up long-lost information in the University Archives, or writing furiously in her Bynum Hall office. As the editor of Endeavors, UNC’s digital research magazine, she’s produced upwards of 50 multimedia stories on anything and everything including genetics, art history, nuclear physics, psychology, business, and health humanities, just to name a few. When she’s not behind a camera or a computer, she’s meeting regularly with communicators, students, and faculty from across campus to learn about the latest research projects and unlock new opportunities for collaboration.

Postdoctoral Research at NC State University College of Vetrinary Medicine in the Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences and Founder of Verve magazine

Greer Arthur, Postdoctoral Research at NC State University College of Vetrinary Medicine in the Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences and Founder of Verve magazine

 

Greer Arthur is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Molecular Biomedical Sciences at NC State University. Outside the lab, she devotes her time to science communication. She has produced a magazine, Verve, for NC State graduate students and postdocs, a newsletter for the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at NC State, and has recently taken over communications for the Comparative Medicine Institute at NC State. In addition, she has written for NC State and Duke University’s research blogs, and has also published freelance pieces in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine and The Lancet Neurology. During her PhD at the University of Leicester, UK, she acted as Publications Officer for the British Association of Lung Researchers and worked as an editorial intern for The Lancet in London.

 

Marla Broadfoot, Science Writer and Editor

Marla Broadfoot, Science Writer and Editor

Marla Broadfoot is a freelance science writer with a PhD in genetics and molecular biology. She currently serves as an adjunct faculty member at UNC, a contributing editor at American Scientist, and president of the Science Communicators of North Carolina. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Scientific American, Science, STAT News, Nature News, and Discover. She lives in Wendell, NC.

 

 

Special Summer Event! SWAC will host 1 event in the summer months that will count towards the required attendance. More details to come. If you are only one event short of earning the certificate, keep this in mind!

 


This workshop is sponsored by UNC Training Initiatives of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (TIBBS) and the Graduate and Professional Student Federation (GPSF).

Graduate and Professional Student Federation

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Next in the SWAC Science Communication Series: Worlds Collide with Science and Art with Amanda Graham

Amanda Graham, Associate Director of Engagement, Carolina Performing Arts

Amanda Graham, Associate Director of Engagement at Carolina Performing Arts

We are thrilled to welcome Amanda Graham as our speaker for the Worlds Collide with Science and Art Seminar as part of the SWAC Science Communication Certificate Series for 2018. Amanda will speak on April 11th from 2:00 to 3:30 pm at Bondurant 2030.

Registeration: http://tinyurl.com/ycudf9dr

*Light refreshments will be served!

As a reminder, you must attend 4/6 events to earn the certificate.

Some science stories are better told using art. Join us for a workshop showcasing the use of different types of art media to convey science to broad audiences.

Amanda Graham is the Associate Director of Engagement at Carolina Performing Arts. Previously, Amanda was a Visiting Assistant Professor in Media and Society at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and the Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Dance Studies at Northwestern University. In 2014, Amanda graduated from the University of Rochester with her Ph.D. in Visual and Cultural Studies. Her graduate research focused on the relationship between site-specific postmodern dance, urban planning, and architecture in 1970s New York City. Amanda has also worked as a public school art teacher, dramaturg, community organizer, and university gallery director. Her writing on performance has been featured in Art Journal, Dance ChronicleASAP/J, and in a number of curatorial catalogues.

This workshop is sponsored by UNC Training Initiatives of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (TIBBS) and the Graduate and Professional Student Federation (GPSF).

Graduate and Professional Student Federation


WE HOPE TO SEE YOU AT OUR OTHER SWAC SCIENCE COMMUNICATION CERTIFICATE SERIES EVENTS!

Writing Workshop: Inspiring Storytelling
Date: April 17th from 2-3:30 pm
Location: Marsico Hall 2004
Registration Link: http://tinyurl.com/ybn2npap
This year, we are putting a spin on our traditional blog writing workshop with a theme on
storytelling. Why is storytelling important in science communication? How does one tell a good story? How can we use our own stories and experiences to communicate science beyond traditional reporting? During this interactive workshop, participants will not only go over best writing practices, but learn how stories can play a big role in their own work, produce a story-based blog post, and have the option to publish on SWAC’s blog The Pipettepen!

New: Special Summer Event! SWAC will host 1 event in the summer months that will count towards the required attendance. More details to come. If you are only one event short of earning the certificate, keep this in mind!

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One Cancer Drug to Rule Them All?

As early as 1999, a scientific study in Denmark found that patients with Huntington’s disease (HD) are less likely to develop cancer when compared to their healthy relatives and the overall population. A decade later, another independent study looked into forty years of patients’ information from the Swedish Cancer Registry and identified a similarly low risk of cancer in patients with HD and related neurodegenerative diseases. Strikingly, this association was not limited to one specific type of cancer but applied to many different tumor types.

What is the connection between cancer and these neurodegenerative diseases, which cause a progressive loss in the structure of the nerve cells? Researchers at Northwestern University think the answer to this puzzle lies in HD-associated ribonucleic acids (RNA), molecules responsible for important biological functions like expression and regulation of genes.

An overabundance of repeated RNA sequences in HD can suppress genes crucial for the survival of nerve cells. A team of scientists led by senior author Dr. Marcus E. Peter at Northwestern recently discovered that these RNA sequences are also highly toxic to a broad variety of cancer cells, and thus have the potential to be a uniquely lethal weapon in the fight against cancer.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mujitra/2559447601/in/photostream/

Triplet CAG repeats in Huntington’s Disease can be highly toxic to cancer

All major forms of life on the earth use the nucleic acids like DNA and RNA to perform critical biological functions. The nucleic acids are sequences of five basic building blocks called nucleobases, which are commonly represented by the Roman characters A, G, C, T, and U.  Sequences in nucleic acids can encode information and direct functions in a living system. In HD, a defective genetic alteration causes a “stutter” in a gene called huntingtin, resulting in a prolonged stretch of triplet repeats of C-A-G.

In the earlier phases of their study, Dr. Peter and his team tested a family of RNAs containing these CAG repeats in multiple human and mouse cancer cells. Within hours of treating the cells with the RNAs, the cancer cells stopped growing and eventually most of the cells died. Encouraged by these results, the researchers moved on to test the RNAs in a preclinical mouse model of ovarian cancer. They used small particles, known as nanoparticles, to enable better delivery of the RNAs to the tumor. The treatments were able to reduce the growth of the tumor and did not cause any prominent toxicity to the mouse.  Further, the cancer cells were not observed to be resistant to the therapy even after multiple treatments.

These “suicide” RNA molecules can be a breakthrough in cancer therapy. However, there’s a long journey ahead. The effect of the RNAs on normal cells is not quite clear yet. While a short-term therapy of a few weeks will probably not result in the neurological toxic effects of the repeated tri-unit RNAs, a transient therapy may not be adequate for long-term cancer remission. In fact, mice were observed to have a persistent tumor progression once the therapy was discontinued. Further, to achieve a robust tumor control, the mice had to be daily dosed with the RNAs for two to three weeks. The dosing can be a further delivery challenge in hard to penetrate solid tumors. Nevertheless, these issues can be addressed by rigorous optimization of the RNA formulations and using approaches like gene therapy to ensure long-term availability of the toxic RNAs in the tumor. Finally, it is rare to see a drug so effectively target so many different types of cancers, across species. Whether this is a “moonshot” against cancer, time will tell.

Peer edited by Paige Bommarito and Laetitia Meyrueix.

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Next in the SWAC Science Communication Series: Science and Editing with Dr. Lakshmi Goyal

Image courtesy of Dr. Lakshmi Goyal

Dr. Lakshmi Goyal, Editor of Cell Host & Microbe, Publishing Director at Cell Press

We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Lakshmi Goyal as our speaker for the Careers in Science Editing Seminar as part of the SWAC Science Communication Certificate Series for 2018. Lakshmi will speak on March 20th from 3:00 to 4:30 pm at MacNider Hall Room 21.

Registeration: http://tinyurl.com/yaf94pm2

*Light refreshments will be served!

As a reminder, you must attend 4/6 events to earn the certificate.

Editing plays an important role in shaping how we as scientists communicate our stories.  If you have ever wondered how to be a more effective editor, or how you would even become an editor, you will want to join us as we hear from Lakshmi Goyal, Editor of Cell Host and Microbe.  Lakshmi has been an editor with Cell Press since 2001 and has many insights to share!  Come hear her interactive seminar on how she got her start in editing, what a typical day as an editor looks like, and also important lessons she has learned throughout her successful career.

Dr. Lakshmi Goyal is the Editor of Cell Host & Microbe and Publishing Director at Cell Press.  She joined Cell Press in February 2001 as a Senior Editor on Cell.  In 2006 she was appointed the launch Editor of Cell Host & Microbe, a new primary research journal focused on host-microbe interactions.  In 2007, she became the Executive Editor of the Microbiology portfolio with strategic responsibility for Trends in Microbiology, Trends in Parasitology and Trends in Molecular Medicine.  In this role, Lakshmi also provided strategic and managerial direction for the launch of the journal EBioMidicine.  In August 2017, Lakshmi became a Publishing Director with responsibility for several journals at Cell Press.  Before joining Cell Press, Dr. Goyal was a postdoctoral fellow at the Biology department at MIT.  She obtained her Ph.D. from Rutgers University, New Jersey USA.   Dr. Goyal holds a masters and bachelor’s degree from institutions in India.


This workshop is sponsored by UNC Training Initiatives of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (TIBBS) and the Graduate and Professional Student Federation (GPSF).

Graduate and Professional Student Federation

 

We hope to see you at our other SWAC Science Communication Certificate Series events!

 

Worlds Collide with Science and Art

Date: Wednesday, April 11th from 2-3:30 pm

Location: Bondurant Hall, Room 2030

Registration Link: http://tinyurl.com/ycudf9dr

Some science stories are better told using art. Join us for a workshop showcasing the use of different types of art media to convey science to broad audiences. More details to come.

Writing Workshop: Inspiring Storytelling  

Date: April 17th from 2-3:30 pm

Location: TBA

Registration Link: http://tinyurl.com/yaf94pm2

This year, we are putting a spin on our traditional blog writing workshop with a theme on storytelling. Why is storytelling important in science communication? How does one tell a good story? How can we use our own stories and experiences to communicate science beyond traditional reporting? During this interactive workshop, participants will not only go over best writing practices, but learn how stories can play a big role in their own work, produce a story-based blog post, and have the option to publish on SWAC’s blog The Pipettepen!

 

New: Special Summer Event! SWAC will host 1 event in the summer months that will count towards the required attendance. More details to come. If you are only one event short of earning the certificate, keep this in mind!

SWAC Science Communication Certificate Series: Keynote with Dr. Mónica Feliu-Mojer

 

Image courtsey of Dr. Mónica Feliu-Mojer

Dr. Mónica Feliu-Mojer
Vice-Director, Ciencia Puerto Rico,
Program Manager, iBiology

We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Mónica Feliu-Mojer as our SWAC Science Communication Certificate Series Keynote Speaker for 2018. Mónica will speak at the Diversity in STEM Conference on March 23rd from 11:00 to 11:50 am at the Sonja Haynes Stone Center.

The conference runs from 9 am to 2 pm. We highly encourage you to stick around and enjoy some of the other events, but Mónica’s keynote address is the only requirement for the Certificate Series.

Please note: You should register to attend the conference here, even if you are only attending the keynote. SWAC will have a separate sign in during the event, so please don’t forget to sign in to receive credit towards the SWAC Science Communication Certificate. As a reminder, you must attend 4/6 events to earn the certificate.

Diversity in STEM ConferenceMónica grew up in rural Puerto Rico, catching lizards and with a cow in her backyard, which sparked her interest in all things biology. A PhD scientist-turned-communicator, she uses online technologies, storytelling, community-building, and cultural relevance to make science more accessible and inclusive. Her work focuses on empowering individuals, both scientists and non-experts, through bilingual science outreach, communication, education, and mentoring. Mónicais the Director of Communications & Science Outreach for Ciencia Puerto Rico, a non-profit organization democratizing science, supporting the career development of young scientists, and transforming science education and training in Puerto Rico. She is also Associate Director of Diversity & Communication Training for iBiology, a non-profit organization that produces and distributes free online videos about research, the process of science, and professional development featuring the world’s leading biologists. Mónica earned her B.S. in Human Biology at the University of Puerto Rico in Bayamón, and her Ph.D. in Neurobiology at Harvard University. You can find her on Twitter: @moefeliu.

 


We hope to see you at our other SWAC Science Communication Certificate Series events!

Careers in Science Editing

Date: Tuesday, March 20th from 3-4:30 pm

Location: MacNider Hall 21

Registration Link: http://tinyurl.com/yaf94pm2

Editing plays an important role in shaping how we as scientists communicate our stories.  If you have ever wondered how to be a more effective editor, or how you would even become an editor, you will want to join us as we hear from Lakshmi Goyal, Editor of Cell Host and Microbe.  Lakshmi has been an editor with Cell Press since 2001 and has many insights to share!  Come hear her interactive seminar on how she got her start in editing, what a typical day as an editor looks like, and important lessons she has learned throughout her successful career.

 

Worlds Collide with Science and Art

Date: Wednesday, April 11th from 2-3:30 pm

Location: Bondurant Hall, Room 2030

Registration Link: http://tinyurl.com/ycudf9dr

Some science stories are better told using art. Join us for a workshop showcasing the use of different types of art media to convey science to broad audiences. More details to come.

 

Writing Workshop: Inspiring Storytelling  

Date: April 17th from 2-3:30 pm

Location: TBA

Registration Link: http://tinyurl.com/yaf94pm2

This year, we are putting a spin on our traditional blog writing workshop with a theme on storytelling. Why is storytelling important in science communication? How does one tell a good story? How can we use our own stories and experiences to communicate science beyond traditional reporting? During this interactive workshop, participants will not only go over best writing practices, but learn how stories can play a big role in their own work, produce a story-based blog post, and have the option to publish on SWAC’s blog The Pipettepen!

 

New: Special Summer Event! SWAC will host 1 event in the summer months that will count towards the required attendance. More details to come. If you are only one event short of earning the certificate, keep this in mind!

 

3D Printing: A Technology Revolution and it’s at UNC

In almost any field, particularly those in science and engineering, you encounter revolutionary technologies that promise faster, cheaper, and easier processes. Some of these advances, such as computers, social media, and smart technology, have changed the way an entire generation thinks and interacts with the world. What will be the next great breakthrough to transform the next generation? Many people believe it will be 3D printing.  Continue reading

Should Coconut Oil be in Your Pantry?

https://www.flickr.com/photos/chiotsrun/5438923520

Coconut oil is actually not a healthy alternative to butter in cooking. Feel free to use it as a moisturizer though!

Maybe it reminds us of a warm beach vacation. Or sipping a pina colada. But whatever the reason, many Americans are making coconut oil a part of their diet.

But be warned– coconut oil is extremely high in saturated fat. In fact, 92% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated. To put this in context, the fat content of butter is 63% saturated fat.

As a nutrition researcher, I’ve spoken with many Americans about their diets, and lots of people are excited about coconut oil. I’ve heard every claim– it promotes brain health, it helps you lose weight…I could go on. The truth is, the evidence isn’t strong for any of these claims.

It’s time to set the facts straight. Let’s discuss two common “myths” around coconut oil.

Myth 1: Saturated fats from plants are less harmful than animal saturated fats. Many foods contain saturated fat, such as steak, butter, and–you guessed it–coconut oil. Some people claim that plant-based saturated fats are less harmful than saturated fats from animal sources. While differences do exist between plant-based and animal saturated fats, this claim is false. Saturated fats from red meat, butter, and coconut oil all contain carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms, but they contain different numbers of each of these atoms, which makes them chemically different. But that’s where the differences end.

Let’s compare butter with coconut oil. The saturated fat in coconut oil is comprised mainly of a saturated fatty acid called lauric acid (which has 12 carbon atoms, 24 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms). Butter consists mostly of a saturated fatty acid called palmitic acid (which contains 16 carbon atoms, 32 hydrogen atoms, and 2 oxygen atoms). So yes–the saturated fats in coconut oil and butter are different, but they actually have very similar effects on our bodies. Feeding studies show that both lauric and palmitic saturated fatty acids raise our body’s cholesterol levels, which can lead to all kinds of health conditions, including heart attacks and strokes. Additionally, scientists recently combined data from 21 studies on coconut oil and found no evidence that coconut oil should be viewed differently from other sources of saturated fat. Thus, despite the chemical differences, saturated fats have similar effects on our health.

Myth 2: Coconut oil helps you lose weight. The myth that coconut oil helps people lose weight probably comes from a study in 2008 on how the human body processes different types of stored fat. All living things store fat in two types of molecules known as triglycerides: medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). When a human, animal, or plant needs energy, these fats are broken down. The 2008 study by Dr. Marie-Pierre St.-Onge showed that eating oil rich in MCTs can increase a person’s ability to break down fat more than oils rich in LCTs, leading to faster weight loss. Coconut oil contains MCTs, so this is seemingly great news for coconut oil supporters. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find out that the science is much more complicated.

First off, St-Onge’s study used an oil that contained 100% MCTs. But coconut oil contains only 4% MCTs. Therefore, St.-Onge’s study cannot be generalized to coconut oil. And what’s more– St.-Onge published another study in 2017 that showed that small doses of MCTs do not help with weight loss in overweight adolescents.

Additionally, MCTs containing lauric acid (remember, this is the main fatty acid in coconut oil) are heavier than other MCTs. To give you some numbers, the average weight of a triglyceride in coconut oil is 638 grams per mole (g/mol), versus 512 g/mol in other medium-chain triglyceride oils. The heavier weight of the triglycerides in coconut oil means they are broken down by the body differently than other MCTs. (If you’d like a more detailed explanation of this process, click here.) This is another reason as to why many studies on MCTs, such as the 2008 St.-Onge study, cannot be generalized to coconut oil.

Unless you’re using coconut oil to moisturize your skin, it should not be in your pantry. The science shows that unsaturated fats—like olive oil and avocados— remain the healthiest types of fat. So you can indulge in that pina colada periodically, but my everyday advice– let’s ease up on the coconuts!

Peer Edited by JoEllen McBride

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Science and Ethics

So let’s say, hypothetically, that your lab receives blood samples from a group of individuals to study genetic links with diabetes.  However, these samples would also provide important insights into other diseases.  But the researchers did not get consent from the blood samples donors for the extra research.  For researchers at Arizona State University (ASU) and the University of Arizona (U of A), this was not a hypothetical situation.  

https://www.flickr.com/photos/neeta_lind/3572379084

DNA from blood samples provide the information needed to potentially cure many diseases that plague us today.  But if the proper procedure is not followed, these scientific breakthroughs may never leave the courtroom.

They collected 400 blood samples from the Havasupai Tribe around 1990 to understand if there was any connection between genes and diabetes, at the tribe’s request. This particular tribe is from an isolated area of the Grand Canyon, with a restricted gene pool contributing to genetic diseases.  This Native American tribe has a high-incidence with diabetes.  The researchers did investigate this problem with diabetes, but they also wrote a grant proposal for researching schizophrenia in the Havasupai Tribe, which the tribe was not aware of nor gave consent for.

The main issues raised in this case are:

  • What is informed consent?  In this case, the consent form stated that the samples were to be used for studies on behavioral and medical diseases. But, meetings between the researchers and tribe members indicated that only diabetes was to be studied.  Using broad or vague language in consent forms can lead to miscommunication between scientists and subjects.
  • What information in the medical records can be accessed and by who?  Some researchers gained access to medical records without permission. Files should be kept in a secured place where only the authorized users have access.
  • Who has control of the samples?  This is a question that needs to be discussed with the subjects before samples are collected.  Researchers might want to contact their university’s research center for more information on sample ownership.

 

As scientists, we have a set of standards, or ethics, that help members coordinate their actions and establish trust with the public. Below are four ethical norms (or goals) that affect graduate students:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d9/March_for_Science%2C_PDX%2C_2017_-_29.jpg

Scientists build and maintain credibility with the public by conducting research responsibly and with integrity.

  1. Promote the goals of scientific discovery, such as furthering knowledge and truth.
  2. Advocate collaboration between scientists; diversity and collaboration create new and novel discoveries that we can all benefit from.
  3. Promote accountability to the Public; it’s essential that the Public can trust the scientists to do their best work and avoid misconduct, conflicts of interest, and ensure that human/animal subjects are properly handled.
  4. Build Public support, without federal funding many of us graduate students would not be able to do our research.

For the misuse of their DNA samples, the  Havasupai Tribe filed a lawsuit against Arizona Board of Regents and ASU researchers in 2004, which eventually led to a settlement in 2010.  The tribe received $700,000 and their blood samples were returned.  The situation with ASU and U of A researchers has left an air of mistrust in Native American communities.  As scientists, it’s our responsibility to build trust with the public and maintain open and honest communication.  

 

Peer Edited by Bailey DeBarmore

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Physical Activity: A Simple Approach to a Large Problem

https://www.google.com/search?q=physical+activity&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjxzqzF_-3UAhWL4IMKHcWyAvIQ_AUIBigB&biw=1120&bih=621#q=yard+work&tbs=sur:fc&tbm=isch&imgrc=SNDvUlWFYsuRzM:

Our great-grandparents didn’t need to exercise in order to be healthy. Many of them had jobs that involved hard physical labor.

It seems the longer the obesity epidemic plagues the United States, the more complicated solutions to this problem become.  Exercise programs become more intricate, diet plans become more extreme and hype could not be louder.  However, using an old and simplistic mindset when approaching this problem can be more effective than “the latest breakthrough in fat loss!”.  Try to recall memories of your great-grandparents.  Were your great-grandparents obese or relatively fit?  What were their daily physical activity levels?  Did they work on a farm or in a manufacturing job? If they did, their physical activity levels were probably high. But what about their exercise levels; did they even exercise at all?  I ask this because there is a difference between working on a farm all day and exercising.  Working in a farm or factory is characterized as physical activity but does not count as exercise.  Exercise is the deliberate intention of getting physical activity.  

This distinction between laboring work and sedentary work started the field of exercise physiology.  In 1952 Jerry Morris, an epidemiologist from Scotland, published a study on the differences in incidence of heart disease between sedentary bus drivers and active conductors in the London transport system.  Morris found that  both the transport conductors and drivers came from similar socio-economic status but the conductors had lower rates of heart disease.  This difference was attributed to the walking and stair climbing demanded of conductors.  Subsequent studies, co-authored by Morris, showed that not only were conductors less likely to experience heart disease, but those working jobs requiring more movement were protected from heart disease compared to their sedentary counterparts.  Although Morris recently died at the age of 99, he continues to have a positive influence on the field of exercise and epidemiology, having contributed to a study finding that meeting the minimum requirements (150 minutes/week) of exercise per week (American College of Sports Medicine and The English Department of Health) resulted in a 25% lower mortality rate compared to sedentary populations.  This means that getting just a little physical activity or exercise everyday can increase your life expectancy and quality of life.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/usask/5263272283/

Today, physical activity means going to a gym and running on a treadmill or elliptical.

Exercise is characterized as deliberately moving one’s body in a physically active manner with the intention of improving health and/or fitness.  I bring this up because you do not have to exercise in order to remain healthy; however, your physical activity levels need to be high.  Beyond working in a farm or factory there are other forms of applicable physical activity.  In fact, physical activity does not only have to be work, it can also be functional and fun!  Historically, physical activity is the most straightforward and most successful solution to the United States obesity epidemic.  Physical activity includes: active commuting, yard work, taking the stairs, recreational sports, dance classes and from a nomadic perspective hunting and gathering.  Active commuting involves walking or biking to work and can help solve both environmental and health problems the United States currently faces.  Active commuting has been shown to decrease chances of cardiovascular disease by 11% while also decreasing risk for cancer.

Finding a combination of functional and fun physical activity will require creativity, flexibility, and tweaking your current lifestyle but is worth it in the end.  Create a set of guidelines that will direct you towards a more physically active lifestyle.  

These guidelines should look like:

  1. Make physical activity a priority – Above anything else increasing your physical activity will require you to make mental adjustments.  Accept the fact that there may be a few inconveniences added to your life, but they are worth it.
  2. Make it simple – Stay at your kids soccer practice and walk during their practice time.  Take the stairs at work and walk to your lunch destination.  
  3. Create a social environment – Engage a friend or coworker to join you on lunch time workouts or attend evening yoga classes.  Develop friendships and camaraderie at an exercise group you join.  A study performed at Santa Clara University found that people in social exercise programs were 19% more likely to complete a weight loss exercise program and 42% more likely to maintain their weight loss.  
  4. Include a variety of activities – If you like the outdoors, find trails or paths weaving in the woods to hike or bike.  If you want to stay inside find indoor sports, dancing clubs or indoor pools.  A study at the University of Florida found that participants using an exercise plan with variety enjoyed exercise 20% more than individuals using the same plan everyday.  
  5. Stick with it – Find safe, low-cost activities and activities that can fit into your daily schedule.  Find an activity that makes you feel accomplished afterwards.

It takes leading by example and communication for ideas like this to spread, but think of the impact physical activity had on early Americans and the impact it can still have!  Challenge yourself and challenge others to jump aboard this simple solution to one of America’s largest problems.

 

Peer edited by Amala John.

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Frog Slime: The Secret to Kicking that Awful Flu

 

https://pixabay.com/p-324553/?no_redirect

Frog slime, although gross, might help combat some strains of the influenza virus.

Got the flu? Time to start looking for your frog prince.

Researchers at Emory University have identified a substance that kills influenza, the virus that causes seasonal flu. The influenza-killing substance, called urumin, is produced on the skin of the South Indian frog and stops influenza virus growth by causing the virus to burst open-think of smashing an egg with a hammer!

Researchers think urumin disrupts a structure on the outside of the virus. Influenza, like an egg, has an outer shell that protects the contents of the virus- the “yolk”- which the virus uses to grow and replicate. Unlike an egg, the outer shell of influenza is not smooth. Instead, it contains small spikes. Urumin sticks to these influenza spikes, interfering with their function and causing the virus to burst open.

The influenza virus uses the spikes to stick to human cells and cause infection. Two types of spikes are found on each influenza virus, H and N. There are multiple types of H’s and N’s, and each virus picks one H and one N to “wear” on its outer shell, similar to the way we choose a pair of pants and shirt to wear every day.

https://pixnio.com/science/microscopy-images/influenza/3d-graphical-representation-of-flu-virus

Cartoon of Influenza. The outside is covered in spikes, H in light blue and N in dark blue.  The coils in the center contain the genetic information or “yolk” that causes the virus to replicate.  From: Doug Jordan.

 

Surprisingly, urumin is only effective against viruses containing the H spike type, H1. This is because urumin can only stick to H1 spikes, not to N spikes or to other types of H spikes. H1 is one of only 3 types of H spikes known to infect humans. Shockingly, H1 viruses are responsible for some of the worst flu outbreaks in history such as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic that caused 50 million deaths and, more recently, the swine flu pandemic of 2009.

Destroying influenza in a lab environment is great, but what about in a living animal? In the same study, urumin treatment resulted in a 250% increase in mouse survival after influenza infection. Urumin treatment also decreased disease severity by lessening weight loss and decreasing the amount of virus in the lungs.

Although these mouse experiments are promising, it is important to point out that the mice were given urumin 5 minutes before they were infected with influenza and also received urumin everyday for the rest of the infection.  Because most of us do not know the exact moment we are exposed to influenza virus – the grocery store? the breakroom? the gym? – it is difficult to treat someone at the moment they are infected with influenza. Thus, more research is needed to look at the effectiveness of urumin when it is given days after infection, which is the typical time that an infected person might visit their doctor.  

With more research, urumin could be the promising new influenza drug researchers have been looking for, to potentially reduce influenza-associated deaths and complications.

Peer edited by Kaylee Helfrich

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