Toucan Play That Game

A blog about life...literally

Stem in Regenerative Medicine

Stem cell differentiation
Photo of stem cell differentiation from Wikimedia Commons

Every biology student at some point has heard of the term “cell differentiation.” At the most basic level, cell differentiation is how cells become specialized in organisms to perform unique functions. This differentiation or specialization is directed by genetic expression and activation as well as cell needs (as we specifically learned about a few chapters back). Differentiation can drastically alter a cell’s structure, function, and resources needed for survival. Also, specialized cells can be redirected or transformed into a pluripotent cell after specialization if directed by its surroundings and gene expression. And speaking of pluripotency, modern technology has allowed us to artificially create cells that can differentiate called stem cells.

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Written by Phillip Z.| Tagged | Leave a Comment

Mammal Monday – Bye-Bye Woolly Mammoths

It is difficult to come across someone who has not heard of the Ice Age, both the period of time on Earth millions of years ago, as well as the block-buster film that follows a woolly mammoth and his animal companions on their journey to escape the upcoming freeze. While the film resulted in a happy ending, the truth of what happened to Earth’s woolly mammoths is less light-hearted. Centuries ago, the woolly mammoth species faced its extinction, eventually, scientists developed the theory that the cause of this extinction was due to unfavorable extremities in climate and weather that caused the isolation and eventual decease of the woolly mammoths. Though this theory is not incorrect, it should be noted that another crucial reason for the wipeout of these animals was due to a plague of harmful genetic mutations.

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The Link Between Our Senses

Out of all the five human senses, vision and hearing are the most important, as they are crucial to daily life. An impairment of either of these two senses would be blatantly obvious to a person. But what about our sense of touch? It may seem as though it is somewhat insignificant, but there is evidence to suggest that touch, vision, and hearing are all connected by one vital protein: usherin.

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Unusual Uvulas: Useless or Underrated?

Have you ever wondered what that dangling thing is at the back of your throat? Does it have a purpose, or was it something our ancestors used long ago that serves no purpose to the modern Homo sapiens?

The human uvula is a small tear-drop-shaped piece of tissue located at the end of the soft palate near the pharynx. The palatine uvula had been an evolutionary mystery for decades, eventually leading to its classification as a vestigial structure alongside the appendix, tailbone, and other vestigial structures in the human body. Vestigial structures are tissues, cells, or organs that no longer serve a function in the present day but may have served a purpose to previous generations. However, contrary to our colloquial understanding of the uvula, it has a clear function in the human body and has important evolutionary origins that create a clear distinction between humans and other mammals.

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Written by Anakha K.| Tagged | Leave a Comment

Humans Had a Third Eyelid. Yes, That’s Right.

Evolution is a controversial topic in this day in age, due to different beliefs about how us humans have evolved. One example of evolution scientists study are vestigial structures, which are organs, muscles, and cells that serve almost little to no purpose in the body of species. They are caused due to a change in environment and natural selection of a species in the past. Vestigial structures include wisdom teeth, the appendix, and the attainment of goosebumps. The ideology of possessing vestigial structures showcase the belief that the process of evolution is not a chain, but a tree; and that all species that share DNA all share the exact same ancestor. An easy depiction of similar ancestors between species would be a human and a chimpanzee. But what if it was revealed that humans and fish could be related? What about humans and reptiles? Possibly dinosaurs? Let me explain.

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Negative Neurological Impact of Adderall in Children

In the four years between 2007-08 and 2011-12, there was a 56% increase in the diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder among preschoolers. Even more concerning, the National Survey of Children’s Health found that this diagnosis doubled among children 2-5 years old. With Adderall being the leading medication to treat this disorder for people of all ages, the side effects and neurological impact on children are often ignored.

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Written by Sahar B.| Tagged | Leave a Comment

Human vs. Mouse: Not So Different?

The world is full of diversity. Organisms may be different colors, have different shapes, or have different behaviors, so how could they be considered similar? The answer lies in their core, where they are all constructed of DNA. DNA, also known as deoxyribonucleic acid, is the molecule that codes for the genetic material of organisms, controlling how they function and develop. It is a double helix structure made of nucleotides, consisting of a phosphate group, a sugar group, and a nitrogen base.

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Written by Ella N.| Tagged | Leave a Comment

Is Biotechnology the Answer to Food Allergies?

Eggs, milk, peanuts, wheat, tree nuts, fish, crustacean shellfish, and soy are the eight foods that make up the “big eight” list of food allergens as released by the United States Department of Agriculture. Together these eight foods cause 90% of food allergies in people today. Wheat and peanuts, specifically, have been a target of the agricultural society in terms of creating a less allergenic form of these two foods. They want to be able to create more options for those who are allergic to wheat and peanuts because these two foods are used so widely across the world. Sachin Rustgi, a researcher in the Crop Science Society of America, decided to explore what possibilities are available to create less allergenic forms of wheat and peanuts. Rustgi, along with his colleagues, decided to turn to genetic engineering as a possible solution to this problem.

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Planet of the Brains

The difference between humans and other animals is often thought to be our complex thinking skills, introspection, and other advanced thinking processes. The advanced development of the human brain is our biggest asset and what we can thank for the success of our species. Our brain development is one of the things that separates us from other animals like apes. But why are humans so lucky to have this biological advantage? One of the things we can thank are neural progenitors, a special type of stem cell used in the early stages of brain development. Although neural progenitors are found in other animals like apes, the rate at which these neural progenitors multiply is different. This is essential because this rate can determine brain development. These cells start off in a cylindrical shape which allows for easy division into identical daughter cells but as the cells age they stretch to a longer shape. This process of multiplication and elongation is different in every animal; for example in chimpanzees this takes five days but in humans this takes about seven days. Since this process takes longer in humans more neural progenitors multiply by splitting into daughter cells, so more neurons are created later. Scientists compared the genes of gorillas and humans by turning genes off and on in a simulator and discovered a gene responsible for this process. The gene ZEB2 is responsible for the difference in multiplication and elongation of the neural progenitors. Scientists began to run more experiments and found that turning off the ZEB2 gene sooner in a human model caused the brain to develop more similarly to an ape. While if turned on earlier in the ape model the brain develops more similarly to a human. Although they become more similar to each other opposite there are many other factors that contribute to the differences in brains.

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How Can We See Things?

Vision is a sense that a majority of animals have and seems almost essential in life. We almost take this crucial ability for granted. to How did the ability to see things arise, and what makes this possible?

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Written by Chinmay K.| Tagged | Leave a Comment