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Do sick people trigger immune responses in people that are not sick? May 2, 2010

Posted by Jill in Behavior, Biology, Health, Neuroscience.
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Chicken pox

The answer to this question is apparently, yes. A new study suggests that when people see someone that is blowing their nose, coughing, sneezing, or generally looking under the weather, could potentially trigger an immune response. In the study, participants were shown images of people with cold-like symptoms or other infectious diseases, such as pox or skin lesions, while another group of participants were not shown images of people feeling or looking sick. Among the two groups, blood samples were taken from all of the individuals to determine the extent of an immune response. Researchers found that the participants that were shown the images of the sick people mounted a stronger immune response against bacteria that had been added to each blood sample.

Similar photo to what study participants viewed that triggered an immune response

According to Lindsay Lyon, a reporter for U.S. News, reported seven ways to prevent from getting a cold. One of these ways was actually broadening one’s social network—those with larger and more diverse social networks tend to have less colds or are able to fight off colds better than those with smaller social circles. Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, backs this theory with a line of evidence saying that people who are socially connected tend to live much longer than those with weak or a small number of relationships. Most experts would argue that the quality of a relationship beats the quantity of relationships, but Cohen argues that his data indicates the two factors are relatively similar, but either one has a positive impact on longevity.

The full study can be found in the Journal of Psychological Science.


Oil in the Water: the spill in the Gulf and the potential future impact May 2, 2010

Posted by Colleen in Ecology, Environment/Conservation.

Trying to loop off the oil spill from the Lousiana rig explosion

Most of us have heard about the massive oil spill that occurred on April 20th in the Gulf of Mexico when an oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers. It is estimated that at least 1.6 million gallons have leaked into the waters of the gulf. The oil has now officially claimed its first victim, according to an LA News Monitor online story, a Northern Gannet seabird. This death means that the oil has officially started to impact the surrounding environment.

Waterfowl covered with oil during the Exxon-Valdez oil spill

Unfortunately, down the road this could mean bad things for the organisms of the Gulf of Mexico. According to a Science Daily article, the oil from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill is still affecting the wildlife of Alaska even after over 20 years has passed. This disaster spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil over 1300 square miles. After all of this time some of the organisms, especially the near-shore ones, continue to ingest the residual oil. A group of scientists testing the continued impact of the oil looked at the harlequin duck as an example of a near-shore species. They used biomarker CYP1A, which is induced upon exposure to crude oil, to measure the continued impact. This biomarker was in higher abundance in the harlequin ducks,  strongly suggesting that the oil continues to have an effect on the area where the disaster happened over 20 years ago.

This could mean that many years down the road, the Gulf of Mexico could still be seeing the effects of this oil disaster. The hope for me, I suppose, is that technology has improved enough over the past 20 years to have clean-up equipment that works more efficiently and effectively than it has in the past.

Click on first search result here for pdf of the Harlequin duck CYP1A paper.

current size and spread of spill

satellite image of spill...it's huge!

Bees could be in trouble May 2, 2010

Posted by Kyle in Biology, Environment/Conservation, Policy.
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honey bee pollination

To many people bees of the family Apidae (including honey bees, Apis mellifera and bumblebees, genus Bombus) may seem like an annoying insect, but to flowers and other plants they are vital. Bees pollinate many crops that we rely on as a food source.  For this reason, bees are essential. Bees are obviously important in the wild, but they are also used commercially in greenhouses.  Scientists have noticed, however, that these important creatures have been on the decline. This could potentially be devastating to the crops that rely on bees for pollination as well as populations that rely on those crops for food.

Researchers Michael Otterstatter and James Thomson of the University of Toronto believe that the decline in bee populations could be a result of a pathogen spreading from commercial populations to wild ones. Commercial bees are often infected with the pathogen Crithidia bombi. To test this hypothesis, researchers tested populations near greenhouses as well as populations not near greenhouses to determine the percentage of infected individuals. As was expected, wild populations of bees closer to greenhouses had higher infection rates than those that were not near greenhouses. This points to commercial populations of bees as the source of the infection. As the commercial bees escape and mingle with wild bees, they are spreading the pathogen that is causing declining bee numbers.

While this problem may not be so bad now, over time there could be serious consequences. The declining bee numbers could have a negative impact on crops, potentially leading to a shortage in the food supply. As researchers in Europe have discovered, a decline in bee diversity is also making it harder for wild bee populations to survive. As a result, bees have not only started to disappear, but plants have as well. A study found that in 80 percent of bee populations biodiversity had declined.  As biodiversity declines, so do the chances that populations would survive widespread infection. At least in this study, it is unclear what is causing the declines in both bees and plants, or if they are related. These two studies highlight the importance of regulating commercial operations where biodiversity can be influenced. By better managing the diseases found in commercial bees as well as species overlap with wild populations, the issue could be curtailed.

A few examples of the pros and cons of exercise May 2, 2010

Posted by Kyle in Uncategorized.

If finals have you stressed out and feeling down, maybe you should try a little “green exercise.” According to Jules Pretty and Jo Barton, green exercise is any physical activity done in nature. In their study, the results show that just a small amount of time outdoors is a plus for mental health and sense of well being. Something as simple as taking a walk in the Eco Lab could boost your confidence after a few long hours of studying.  The best part is the evidence shows that optimum benefits are achieved after just five minutes of activity. So whether you like to run, walk, or ride, you don’t have to spend much time doing it to feel better. This is great news for people who don’t really have a lot of spare time, like a student studying for finals. The study included over 1,200 individuals, and the activities they participated in included walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming.  So for those who don’t like to do much physical activity, you can just sit on a boat all day fishing and feel a whole lot better about yourself after.

Most people who exercise regularly already know that there are not only physical benefits but mental benefits as well.  There have been multiple studies that have shown regular exercise can help individuals with arthritis, diabetes, and even cancer.  Another recent study has shown that regular exercise can help relieve anxiety.  So if you are feeling anxious or depressed, a quick jog could help make you feel better. Most participants in the study felt less symptoms such as worry, apprehension, and nervousness.  Exercising for more than thirty minutes was best at reducing anxiety.  While exercise seems to be great for your body and mind, over exercising can also be a bad thing.

For the same reasons that exercise can help make you feel better, it can also become addicting.  Researchers believe that because exercise induces the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins, it can become an addiction.  Excessive exercising can lead to unhealthy weight loss along with other issues.  In one study, researchers used two groups of rats, one active and one inactive group, to test their hypothesis.  After several weeks the rats were given naloxone, a medication for heroin overdose that causes immediate withdrawal symptoms. They found that the rats that ran the most had the worst reactions to the drug, while the inactive rats had very little response.  This study shows that while exercise is important to a healthy lifestyle, overdoing it can have potentially dangerous consequences.