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#anatomylessonsbyWendy: Eyeballs and light in 15 seconds

14 Oct

#anatomylessonsbywendy

via @wendyomgzlol

Wendy Corrales joins us this week to explain how eyeballs respond to light!

Corrales uses Instagram to both teach and learn about scientific concepts related to the body. Check out her introduction here.

My name is Wendy Corrales and I'm a 28-year old science aficionado. I studied environmental science at Florida International University and am currently studying nursing at CQ University in Australia. I love the idea of getting people interested in science by explaining it in a fun way, and that is how my anatomy "lesson" videos were born. I truly believe that if people realised how some of the body's inner processes work, or how intricate, complex and mysterious the brain is, or the way that viruses wage war in the body, they would become fascinated as well. It's all about creating interest, which is what these videos are about. I hope you enjoy them.

My name is Wendy Corrales and I’m a 28-year old science aficionado. I studied environmental science at Florida International University and am currently studying nursing at CQ University in Australia. I love the idea of getting people interested in science by explaining it in a fun way, and that is how my anatomy “lesson” videos were born. I truly believe that if people realised how some of the body’s inner processes work, or how intricate, complex and mysterious the brain is, or the way that viruses wage war in the body, they would become fascinated as well. It’s all about creating interest, which is what these videos are about. I hope you enjoy them.

Magnesium just as important as calcium for a child’s bone health

7 Oct

Editor’s note: This podcast and story originally ran on UF’s Health in a Heartbeat. Click to hear the podcast.

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By: Rebecca Burton

We’ve all heard that milk does the body good, especially for growing children who need the calcium to build strong bones. But a new study shows that Popeye may have had the right idea with his spinach habit.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston found that foods high in magnesium, such as spinach, may be just as important for bone density in children as calcium. Previously, magnesium was found to be a key nutrient for adult bone health, but the results from this study showed that magnesium is just as important as calcium in a child’s diet as well.

So what should parents be sure to pack in their child’s lunchbox to make sure they are getting enough magnesium? In general, the National Institutes of Health says that green vegetables are a good source. The center of the chlorophyll molecule, which gives veggies their green color, contains magnesium. Nuts, seeds and whole grains are also a good idea. However, processed or refined white grains are low in magnesium, so be sure to distinguish between the two when trying to pick out trail mix or granola bars. Kid-friendly foods that contain magnesium also include peanut butter, chocolate pudding, chocolate milk and yogurt.

But, greater bone density is not the only benefit of this nutrient. Magnesium also helps maintain normal nerve and muscle functions and keeps the immune system healthy. A magnesium deficiency could cause fatigue and weakness. Researchers say it’s important to make sure your children are getting all of their required nutrients by keeping meals balanced. For example, try substituting their sugar-packed cereals with whole grain varieties. That is just one of the many ways to make sure they’re getting both calcium and magnesium.

 

Science in the city

2 Oct

As many of you may know, this summer I interned at the University of Florida’s Health Science Center communications office. While most of the work there was for PR purposes, I was still able to cover some of the great research going on at UF. Below is a cover story I wrote for The Post about research going on at the UF’s Jacksonville campus. Pretty cool stuff. Enjoy!

Editor’s note: This story was originally posted in University of Florida’s Health Science Center magazine, The Post.

Researchers Fabiana Rollini and Dr. Jung Rae Cho work with Dr. Dominick Angiolillo on cardiovascular studies in Jacksonville. -Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Researchers Fabiana Rollini and Dr. Jung Rae Cho work with Dr. Dominick Angiolillo on cardiovascular studies
in Jacksonville.
-Photo by Maria Belen Farias

Amid the hustle and bustle of Jacksonville, University of Florida Health scientists are finding ways to solve some of our most challenging medical problems.

In the basement of the emergency medicine corridor of UF Health Jacksonville, Robert Wears, M.D., a professor in the department of emergency medicine, scans engineering books and medical journals, taking notes on his cluttered desk. He is carefully piecing together the historical puzzle of hospital safety.

Bridging the fields of engineering, psychology, medicine and sociology, Wears is designing an approach to eliminate hospital accidents, mistreatment and misdiagnosis.

“The way that nature has divided up her problems is not the same way the university has divided up its subjects,” Wears says. “You need a really interdisciplinary group.”

By studying hospital safety from a historical perspective, Wears hopes to devise an interdisciplinary plan to minimize harm in health facilities.

Wears is just one of the many world-renowned UF researchers who reside and study in the heart of Jacksonville. Located less than two hours from the main campus in Gainesville, UF Health Jacksonville typically has been known more for the clinical care it provides patients. But the research occurring at the UF College of Medicine- Jacksonville — basic, translational and clinical — is internationally recognized. M.D.s and Ph.D.s from around the globe collaborate to pump out groundbreaking research to improve public health and medicine. In fact, during the past five years, federal funding for research on the Jacksonville campus has grown 110 percent. Continue reading

Be swamp-conscious: Pet owners should be aware of deadly pathogen in Gainesville

30 Sep

Research corner

Research Corner is a platform for scientists to share their research and its significance through blogging. Scientists who wish to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media can simply send blog pitches to rburt004@fiu.edu.  Scientists will have an opportunity to collaborate with an editor to make sure their work is concise and understandable. Any research is welcome! 

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My name is Jackson Presser and I am a master's student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment  pursuing a degree in Interdisciplinary Ecology.  I have worked in a lab for almost 3 years doing field and laboratory research on the emerging pathogen Pythium insidiosum(PI).  I think I have truly found my calling in research science.  I have never in my life been so exited/motivated to learn and expand my knowledge base.

My name is Jackson Presser and I am a master’s student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment pursuing a degree in Interdisciplinary Ecology. I have worked in a lab for almost 3 years doing field and laboratory research on the emerging pathogen Pythium insidiosum(PI). I think I have truly found my calling in research science. I have never in my life been so exited/motivated to learn and expand my knowledge base.

A researcher at the University of Florida has been conducting research on a fungal-like organism called Pythium insidiosum. Below, Jackson Presser, a graduate student at the University of Florida’s School of Natural Resources and Environment shares his discoveries about the deadly, disease-causing oomycete that can infect both plants and animals. Horse, dog and cattle owners in north central Florida should be aware of the symptoms and preventative measures they can take to keep their pets and livestock safe from a disease known as Pythiosis. 

By: Jackson Presser

Pythiosis is a deadly disease of horses, dogs, cattle and other warm-blooded animals in tropical and subtropical regions, including Florida and the southeast United States (Mendoza, 2009). The disease also infects humans in Southeast Asia and is considered a potential emerging pathogen in the United States due to its expanding geographic and the number and variety of available hosts. The organism responsible for pythiosis is Pythium insidiosum, a fungal-like organism (oomycete) that is the only mammalian pathogen in a genus of plant pathogens (de Cock et al., 1987).  Not much is known about the life cycle of Pythium other than how it reproduces in the lab.  It is theorized that Pythium uses a plant host to sustain itself and reproduce in the environment, making the pathogen “trans-kingdom,”or able to infect both plants and animals.

Pythium insidiosum is common in stagnant, swampy water (lakes/ponds with water temperatures ranging from 68F-95F) worldwide, and the very type of water that is a staple of Gainesville and surrounding areas.  Pythiosis affects its host depending on how it is introduced. Dogs, horses, cattle and other mammals can be infected simply by wading or drinking water that has been tainted with the infection.  Since Pythium cannot penetrate healthy tissue the exposed area must already have an area of broken skin.  Once infected, death will result if left untreated.

Pythium insidiosum’s ideal living conditions:

Here is the map of the lakes sampled The colors just represent the different genetic clusters. Red is cluster 1, Green is cluster 3, Blue is cluster 4.

Here is the map of the lakes sampled
The colors just represent the different genetic clusters. Red is cluster 1, Green is cluster 3, Blue is cluster 4.

  • The organism favors water temperatures of 75 degrees Fahrenheit or more. They can be found at lower temperatures, but detection rate declines significantly with temperature below 75 degrees Celsius.
  • Water can be murky or clear.
  • Warmer water and more available sunlight favor the reproduction of the organism.
  • Reeds, lilies and grasses are preferable.
  • Dark, thick, muddy soil is best
  • Agricultural runoff seems to help with population density.  For example,  the more remote the body of water the less chance of finding the organism.

 Symptoms:

Symptoms can vary depending on where the animal is infected. Some of the most common symptoms include skin lesions that do not heal, or gastrointestinal problems such as loose stools, vomiting or loss of appetite.

Treatment:

Currently there are several forms of treatment available, all of which have varying degrees of success.  There is no guarantee that treatment will be successful, even in humans.  Currently the best form of treatment is prevention. Researchers advise pet owners to keep animals out of the water during the warm spring and summer months.  If exposure does occur, wash the infected area thoroughly with bleach spray, and plenty of soap and water.  If symptoms progress, owners should seek veterinary care right away.

Acknowledgements:

  • We thank Dr. Barbara Sheppard in the College of Veterinary Medicine for clinical isolates.
  • This research is funded by the Emerging Pathogens Institute and UF Office of Research.

References:

  • De Cock, A. W. A. M., et al. Pythium insidiosum sp. nov., the etiologic agent of pythiosis. J. Clin. Microbiol. 25 (1987).
  • Mendoza, L. in Oomycete Genetics and Genomics: Diversity, Interactions, and Research Tools (eds K. Lamour & S. Kamoun) (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2009).
  • Mendoza, L., Hernandez, F. & Ajello, L. Life cycle of the human and animal Oomycete pathogen Pythium insidiosum. J. Clin. Microbiol. 31, 2967-2973 (1993).
  • Schurko, A. M. et al. A molecular phylogeny of Pythium insidiosum. Mycol. Res. 107, 537-544 (2003).

 

Contact information:

Jackson Presser

Jwp1985@epi.ufl.edu

850-628-4581

What exactly is pus? Find out in 15 seconds.

4 Sep

#anatomylessonsbywendy

via @wendyomgzlol

Wendy Corrales joins us this week to explain the gross, gooey liquid that plagues teenagers–pus!

Corrales uses Instagram to both teach and learn about scientific concepts related to the body. Check out her introduction from last week.

My name is Wendy Corrales and I'm a 28-year old science aficionado. I studied environmental science at Florida International University and am currently studying nursing at CQ University in Australia. I love the idea of getting people interested in science by explaining it in a fun way, and that is how my anatomy "lesson" videos were born. I truly believe that if people realised how some of the body's inner processes work, or how intricate, complex and mysterious the brain is, or the way that viruses wage war in the body, they would become fascinated as well. It's all about creating interest, which is what these videos are about. I hope you enjoy them.

My name is Wendy Corrales and I’m a 28-year old science aficionado. I studied environmental science at Florida International University and am currently studying nursing at CQ University in Australia. I love the idea of getting people interested in science by explaining it in a fun way, and that is how my anatomy “lesson” videos were born. I truly believe that if people realised how some of the body’s inner processes work, or how intricate, complex and mysterious the brain is, or the way that viruses wage war in the body, they would become fascinated as well. It’s all about creating interest, which is what these videos are about. I hope you enjoy them.

What’s the deal with Dengue Fever? If you live in Florida, don’t ignore.

27 Aug

Summer Science explained:

Summer Science explained is a new blog series on Layman’s Terms Media. Each week, phenomena that are unique to summer time will be broken down and explained. I am currently taking suggestions for topics, so if there is something you’ve always wondered about feel free to contact me and pitch an idea!

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dengue-mosquito1

Mosquito-borne disease advisory

As a Floridian I have somewhat become immune to the feel of a mosquito bite.

The annoying quick itch sensation is quickly thwarted by the thoughtless reflex of my hand slapping the affected area and then quickly scratching up and down for a few seconds. After that, I pretty much forget about the bite.

When going on my evening runs, I usually plan to wear bug spray and then realize I have none. I really haven’t ever bought any. As far as I can remember, I only wear it if someone who has it offers it to me. This person is usually not from Florida and probably read/heard about our horrible mosquito problem prior to residing.

But, after scanning the news headlines the last few days and seeing the words “Dengue fever” populating the “most read” sections, I may have to make a run to the store and buy a bottle of repellent.

Turns out, areas populated by these pesky insects have more to worry about than bug bites and West Nile virus. Just last week there were seven cases of dengue fever outbreak in Martin and St. Lucie counties and one in Miami-Dade County.

In the 1930s dengue loved to lurk around and infect people in the Sunshine State, but because of high-tech inventions such as AC and window screens the problem was somewhat eradicated.

But, in 2009 the virus decided it wanted to go on vacation again, and chose  at least 28 people in Key West to be its rgracious “hosts.”  In 2010, it made it’s way from various mosquitoes to about 66 more people on the small island. The virus took a brief vacation, but has decided once again to wreak havoc, this time in Central Florida with the latest outbreak mentioned above.

Although dengue can potentially be fatal, most people experience flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, eye pain, pain of the muscles and joints (which is why it has the nickname breakbone fever) and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.

Ok so we know what dengue causes. . . but what is it? 

Dengue is an infectious disease typically transported by mosquitoes, specifically the Aedes aegypti  and Aedes albopictus species which are both common in Florida. 

Dengue fever virus is a single-stranded RNA virus that belongs to the family Flaviviridae, and is kin to other well-known viruses such as Yellow Fever and West Nile Virus.  All of the viruses in the flaviviridae use arthropods such as ticks and mosquitoes as their main vector, or form of transportation.

The virus has four known strains or serotypes (DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3 and DENV-4). A person who contracts one strain, and then later a different strain has a higher potential for the disease to be fatal.

It only takes one bite–by a female mosquito– to get infected, so if you’re like me and barely pay attention to bites, you may want to pay a little more attention in case you become ill.  It takes anywhere from 3 to 14 days after the bite for symptoms to show.

Once the infected mosquito bites its prey, the virus and saliva from the bite partner up to enter into the host’s white blood cells, multiplying while it moves through the body. The white blood cells then panic and produce signaling proteins to warn the body. Unfortunately these signaling proteins are responsible for most of the symptoms.

picture from Wikipedia Commons

picture from Wikipedia Commons

But, about 80 percent of those who unwittingly are chosen to be hosts for the virus are either asymptomatic or express only a mild fever.  For this reason, dengue can easily be mistaken for the flu, but a blood test can easily confirm whether you have the virus.

Currently, there is no licensed vaccine or treatment for dengue except for staying well-rested and drinking tons of fluids to stay hydrated to ease the symptoms.

What’s the scope of the problem?

If you’re reading this and think. . . 9 people out of the millions of people in the state? I get you, but a paper that appeared in Nature  in April suggests that scientists are underestimating the scope of the problem worldwide. The study says that there could be about 400 million cases annually around the globe (four times the estimate by the World Health Organization), which would make it even more prevalent than malaria.

The authors of the study suggest that even though the disease has often been referred to as a tropical disease, it has been spreading to places outside the tropics such as Portugal and Russia. One of the theories related to the unlikely spread of this disease to cooler places is climate change. Scientists say that global warming can potentially increase the spread of many infectious diseases, most of which thrive in warmer temperatures.

But, the authors also say that many of the infections go unreported, especially in overpopulated developing countries which can be prime breeding spots for mosquitoes and the virus. These countries are also more at risk because since the disease is highly infectious, it could possibly overwhelm already-strained healthcare systems.

But…don’t freak out. There are plenty of things you can do to prevent an immune system intruder.  Check out these tips from the Department of Health.  You can also check the real-time status of a disease outbreak in Florida here. 

Also, since scientists are equally intrigued with this problem, there are tons of initiatives underway around the world to once again eradicate the unwelcome disease, see below!

In Heart Of Amazon, A Natural Lab To Study Diseases

Can Genetically Modified Bugs Reduce Dengue Threat?

A Scientist’s 20-Year Quest To Defeat Dengue Fever

Dengue Re-emerges in U.S., Spurring Race for Vaccine

Scientist uses Instagram videos to explain anatomy concepts in 15 seconds

22 Aug

#anatomylessonsbywendy

via @wendyomgzlol

My name is Wendy Corrales and I'm a 28-year old science aficionado. I studied environmental science at Florida International University and am currently studying nursing at CQ University in Australia. I love the idea of getting people interested in science by explaining it in a fun way, and that is how my anatomy "lesson" videos were born. I truly believe that if people realised how some of the body's inner processes work, or how intricate, complex and mysterious the brain is, or the way that viruses wage war in the body, they would become fascinated as well. It's all about creating interest, which is what these videos are about. I hope you enjoy them.

My name is Wendy Corrales and I’m a 28-year old science aficionado. I studied environmental science at Florida International University and am currently studying nursing at CQ University in Australia. I love the idea of getting people interested in science by explaining it in a fun way, and that is how my anatomy “lesson” videos were born. I truly believe that if people realized how some of the body’s inner processes work, or how intricate, complex and mysterious the brain is, or the way that viruses wage war in the body, they would become fascinated as well. It’s all about creating interest, which is what these videos are about. I hope you enjoy them.

 I am always looking for people who share a passion for science and genuinely want to get others excited about it too, which is one of the main reasons I’m studying science communication. While I was in D.C. for the Science Online Climate Conference, I stayed with my friend Steph who introduced me to Wendy Corrales via Facebook. She showed me her videos and I was cracking up.

These would be perfect for my blog!

After messaging her and chatting about ways to make science fun she agreed to let me post her Instagram science lessons on this blog (which I posted on YouTube for embedding purposes).

In the science world or the “nerd loop” (a term I learned while at the conference) many of us do use and are proficient at using social media, but are we really being effective communicators to those outside our circle?

Although Wendy was afraid that other scientists would accuse her of oversimplifying complex processes, maybe her 15 second videos are a clue into how to engage today’s ADD social media user. Of course, these videos are meant to spark interest and create a laugh, not to take the place of a college lecture, which is why she also provided more links for those who are inspired to learn more about her first lesson: RABIES!

Continue reading

UF researcher says T cells the answer to cancer vaccines

8 Aug

Editorial note: This is reprint of a press release I wrote for UF Health News and Communications, and it was my first whack at a press release. But I can tell you this guy is pretty interesting if you decide to write about him!

T-cellsJohn “Bobby” Goulding, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine at the University of Florida, is in a scramble to help create safe and effective vaccines to prevent and fight human respiratory viruses.

While past vaccines focused solely on triggering antibody responses to fight the viruses, Goulding and his colleagues are shifting the emphasis to T cells, otherwise known as white blood cells, because of their ability to target specific pieces of a virus.

Figuring out how to create an army of these virus-fighters will aid in the creation of a new generation of vaccines that are safe and long-lived and that target viruses we don’t have existing vaccines against. He recently received the prestigious Thomas H. Maren Junior Investigators Postdoctoral Award to fund his research. The $50,000 award was founded by UF’s first chairman of pharmacology, Thomas H. Maren, M.D., to help postdoctoral students in the UF College of Medicine further their scientific goals.

Rapidly mutating viruses in the human respiratory tract account for millions of deaths worldwide each year. Because invasive attackers such as avian flu and others mutate so quickly, the antibody response prompted by current vaccines is often not strong enough, which is why the flu shot is seasonal and not a one-time-fix-all.

Goulding explains that while antibody vaccines have been very successful in eradicating certain viruses, most notably the virus that causes smallpox, they have not been as effective in rapidly mutating viruses or retroviruses, such as HIV, which can integrate into someone’s DNA.

“Antibodies by definition can really only bind and protect against viruses that are outside the cell and prevent them from getting inside,” Goulding said. “But if the viruses change so that your antibodies can no longer recognize them and gain entry to your body, an antibody response is unlikely to be able to protect you from being infected.”

T cells, which are a type of white blood cell, work a bit differently, he said. They can kill a virus that has already infected a cell, whereas antibodies cannot do this.

“T cells are cells of the immune system that have evolved to be really picky at attacking a very specific part of viruses, bacteria or cancers,” Goulding said. “These cells recognize something that is foreign to the body and only react against a real specific protein or peptide of the virus, and that’s kind of their job or duty.”

Goulding studies a subset of T cells, called CD8+ T cells. Once the pieces of a virus are mopped up, digested and presented on the surface of certain cells in the body, the CD8+ T cells recognize the chopped up virus bits and begin cloning themselves so they can rapidly and effectively kill cells that become infected with the virus.

“Your body has essentially generated an army that’s really great at recognizing a really specific type of virus and killing infected cells,” Goulding said.

He explains that this army would then be waiting to attack if a human actually came in contact with the virus later. Goulding wants to figure out how to generate large numbers of these virus-specific T cells while preventing the vaccine from causing unwanted side effects. T cells need to be presented with digested virus in an inflammatory environment before they can begin cloning themselves.  However, this inflammatory environment can cause side effects in people injected with the vaccine.

Goulding wants to trick T cells into thinking they are in an inflammatory environment without disrupting the body and risking unwanted side effects. By thinking something is wrong, the cells will form the army and wait patiently until the foreign host attacks. He is currently looking at a group of receptors, called TNF receptors, which are part of the main decision-making team telling the T cells whether to multiply and wait ready to ambush an invading target virus.

“So the premise is that if we understand those signals from the receptors, we can utilize that as a system in which you can control the number of T cells — like in a vaccine,” Goulding said. “We could then induce a positive signal and boost the T cell response. We could, in theory, interfere with that interaction and produce lots of CD8+ T cells against any type of virus we want.”

Due to aging populations, increasing antibiotic resistance and public skepticism about vaccines, Goulding says the public health impact of respiratory viruses and other infectious diseases are increasing.

“The ultimate goal of all of this research is really to develop a robust understanding of how vaccines can be utilized to generate really good T cell responses that are required to protect against certain types of infections or cancers,” Goulding said. “The hope is to understand the activating and inhibitory signals that the TNF receptors give to the T cells. Scientists can use that to their advantage and design the next generation of safe vaccines.”

Media Contact: April Frawley Birdwell

Great whites use stored liver oil to power through ocean “road trips”

18 Jul
This is a juvenile great white shark at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. (Credit: Randy Wilder)

This is a juvenile great white shark at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. (Credit: Randy Wilder)

Bears, sea lions and whales rely on their external blubber to power through hibernations and migrations.

For them, a little extra flab is crucial to their survival.

Would a Great white shark be so intimidating if it was a little overweight? Probably not. It may instead get the stigma of a cop eating a doughnut with his mouth open.

But, like other large megafauna, Great whites migrate thousands of miles across the Pacific ocean  without eating much, and their lean physiques have puzzled scientists.

Where is the fat to fuel the trip stored?

A new study by scientists at Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium found that instead of storing fat externally, Great white’s instead store the fat in their liver, discounting the previous notion that the sharks would periodically dine throughout the voyage.

“We have a glimpse now of how white sharks come in from nutrient-poor areas offshore, feed where elephant seal populations are expanding – much like going to an Outback Steakhouse – and store the energy in their livers so they can move offshore again,” researcher Barbara Block, a professor of marine sciences and a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, said. “It helps us understand how important their near-shore habitats are as fueling stations for their entire life history.”

Continue reading

AAV: from ‘Almost A Virus’ to ‘An Awesome Virus’

28 Jun
AAV (photo credit: depts.washington.edu)

AAV (photo credit: depts.washington.edu)

In 1965, adeno-associated virus (AAV) was discovered while hitching a ride into the cell with adenovirus, which is a virus that causes the fretted pink eye, cold sores and sore throats.

AAV was best described back then as the quiet kid in the back of the classroom. He would simply enter a cell, and basically be invisible in the hustle and bustle of the cytoplasm. He wouldn’t bother anyone; he wasn’t there to cause any symptoms or diseases. He didn’t want to start any trouble.

In fact, he will only replicate if another virus, such as adenovirus,  causes cell damage. Otherwise, he just sits and minds his own business. So why does this virus exist?

While interviewing for another unrelated story for one of my jobs, I had the pleasure of meeting Arun Srivastava, Ph.D., and chair of the division of cellular and molecular therapy at the University of Florida. What I thought was going to be a brief interview to get one or two quotes for another story, actually turned out to be a history lesson about a virus that was ignored for a long time, but has now proved to have life-saving capabilities. Continue reading