Guess Whose Back!

Miscellaneous

Hello!

Long time no see! I cannot believe it has been as long as it has but I thought I would let you all know that A) I’m alive and B) Where I’ve Been!

So hey, I am very much alive and well and I am back to blogging! So where have I been well, at the end of April I got rather burnt out. I have a condition (a very unscientific condition mind) that I like to call the “Too Much Gene”. I love loading up my plate with lots of things to do however I occasionally let one of my spinning plates fall and then.. well they all tend to. This pretty much happened at the end of April so I took it back to almost the basics. Focusing on the process of buying a house (!!! Yup been doing that while I’ve been away), work (because if you don’t know I work at a rather well known scientific publishing house), home and my family and friends.

However! Now things are calming down a little bit, the house is almost bought, my work/life balance is far better than it used to be and well quite frankly I miss writing here! I have carried on writing for the Woodland trust while I’ve been away and you can find these here: https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/authors/laura-cottam/

The other major things in my life that have happened is well firstly I graduated from my masters degree finally! Although I finished my course almost a year a go, I finally got to where the cap and gown and walk across the stage. Secondly I got a promotion! I had a wonderful time celebrating my being a girl boss with my family and had a rather swanky trip up the Shard for afternoon tea!

graduate

So whats next…

Well to try and stave off my too much gene, I’m going to start back up with one post here every sunday and hopefully at some point I’ll build back up to two posts. I have lots of leftover posts from BEDA that I simply never posted so those will be the next one’s coming along. I also want to change up my style a little bit and let this be more chatty! I used to spend so much time in getting the correct referencing right (a hangover from uni days I believe) and not enough time in making my posts creative and fun. I’m hoping with this new style I’ll be able to write more on my commute so I have something to do while I’m sat on trains for far too many hours of my week! So hopefully you can expect more random side notes from myself and more eclectic stories but still a whole host of Biology! I hope you are just as excited for ThatBiologist 2.0 as I am!

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Pancreas – 6 in 60

6in60, BEDA 2018

Hello and welcome to the last of four 6 in 60s for BEDA! Last week I talked all about the kidneys and for this last organ we’re moving not too far away to the pancreas.

  1. The pancreas is a gland organ located in your abdomen and is around 6 to 8 inches long.
  2. It is part of the digestive system and produces insulin and other important enzymes and hormones that help break down foods.
  3. A healthy pancreas makes about 2.2 pints (1 liter) of enzymes every day.
  4. Enzymes, or digestive juices, are secreted by the pancreas into the small intestine. There, it continues breaking down food that has left the stomach.
  5. The pancreas also produces the hormone insulin from the endocrine portion of the pancreas and secretes it into the bloodstream, where it regulates the body’s glucose or sugar level.
  6. The islets of Langerhans (located within the pancreas) are responsible for regulating blood glucose. Too little insulin production will increase the risk of diabetes, and blood glucose levels will rise.
pancreas diagram anatomy

image via achingao.net

That’s it for this blog, see you all tomorrow!

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The Kidneys – 6 in 60

6in60, BEDA 2018

Hello and welcome to the third of four 6 in 60s for BEDA! We started with the skin, then last week we looked at the pineal gland. This week we’re looking at the kidneys!

  1. The function of the kidney is to filter extra water and toxins from the blood. The kidneys produce urine to flush out this extra water and any toxins. They are along with your liver the bodies own way of doing a “juice cleanse” all the time!
  2. Kidneys were one of the first organs to be donated. Because humans can live with one kidney many kidneys are given by live donors.
  3. Kidneys are built up from nephrons. The nephrons work like tiny filters that remove waste materials from our blood. Each kidney can have up to 2 million nephrons.
  4. To look after your kidneys and prevent kidney damage is to make sure you stay well  hydrated and give your kidneys lots of water!
  5. The kidneys also make hormones. These hormones help regulate blood pressure, make red blood cells and promote bone health.
  6. The waste products in the blood can occasionally form crystals that collect inside the kidneys. Over time, the crystals may build up to form a hard stone-like lump. These are whats known as kidney stones. Some small ones pass through the system painlessly where as larger ones may need surgery to remove.
Image result for kidneys diagram

Image Credit – DigiKalla

See you all tomorrow!

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Humains étranges – Syndrome d’accent étranger

BEDA 2018

For those who aren’t familiar with some very very poor french the title reads Weird Humans – Foreign Accent Syndrome.

See what I did there!

Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is a weird and rare medical condition where patients develop speech patterns associated with foreign accents. It was first described in 1907 by neurologist Pierre Marie and it is such a strange condition that the accent can be from somewhere that the patient has never even visited! This rare disorder typically comes about as a side effect following stroke or other brain injury. The person with the condition not only changes the tone of voice, but will also change tongue placement during speech.

FAS has been documented in cases around the world, including accent changes from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American-English to British English, and Spanish to Hungarian.

Some common speech changes associated with FAS include:

  • Fairly predictable errors
  • Unusual prosody, including equal and excess stress (especially in multi-syllabic words)
  • Consonant substitution, deletion, or distortion
  • Voicing errors (i.e. bike for pike)
  • Trouble with consonant clusters
  • Vowel distortions, prolongations, substitutions (i.e. “yeah” pronounced as “yah”)
  • “uh” inserted into words

Treatments generally include extensive speech therapy to try and correct FAS.

Here is a rather strange case study reported by the BBC:

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The Weekly Scientist – The other other Jenner

BEDA 2018, The Monthly Scientist

Hello and welcome to the second of four weekly scientists. Last week I spoke about the wonders of vaccination and Louis Pasteur’s discoveries. I thought for this week I would go along the same theme and introduce you to the father of immunology!

Edward Jenner

edward-jenner

Born: May 17, 1749

Died: Jan 26, 1823 (at age 73) in Berkeley, Gloucestershire

Noted for: The creation of vaccination and being the father of immunology and the creation of the smallpox vaccine.

Why scientist of the week?

As I said last week vaccinations have saved countless lives and are an essential part of modern day medicine. Edward Jenner worked in small rural community where most patients were farmers who owned cattle. During this time, smallpox was a common illness and among the major causes of death. In 1788, a smallpox epidemic hit Gloucestershire. During the outbreak, Edward Jenner observed that some patients who were working with the cattle and had also had contacted cowpox never got affected by the smallpox virus. In May of 1796, Jenner was  given an opportunity when one young milkmaid came to see with some blister-like sores on both hands. Jenner was able to identify that the young lady had caught cowpox due to the fact that she handled cows every day. He extracted some liquid from sores of the patient with cowpox. He later used this liquid on a young healthy man. To Jenner’s relief, the young man never caught smallpox, unlike other people. This then led to the smallpox vaccine.  In 1798, after several other successful tests, Jenner finally published his findings in a publication called An Inquiry into Causes plus the Effects of Variolae Vaccine. He called his idea “vaccination,” from vaccinia, which is a Latin word for cowpox. After so much ridicule, other doctors finally found out that the vaccination really worked and by 1800, a large number of them were using it.

So all in all thanks to Jenner’s discoveries and the immunology work done today many diseases are being wiped out around the world.

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Disease Profile – HIV/AIDS

BEDA 2018

Hello and welcome to the second of four disease profiles. I’ll be giving you the top information on each disease. Today we’re looking at a disease that in the vast history of medicine has become a recent issue. It was once referred to as GRID and the 4H disease. It wasn’t until 1982 it was officially termed HIV/AIDS. It’s a disease with quite a complex history and effects many on a daily basis.

Name: HIV/AIDS; Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome

Type: HIV is a viral infection and AIDs is the set of symptoms/syndrome caused by HIV. AIDS is the last stage of HIV, when the infection is very advanced, and if left untreated will lead to death.

Symptoms:

HIV symptoms include:

A diagram of a human torso labelled with the most common symptoms of an acute HIV infection

AIDS symptoms include:

A diagram of a human torso labelled with the most common symptoms of AIDS

Transmission: HIV is transmitted by three main routes: sexual contact, significant exposure to infected body fluids or tissues, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding (known as vertical transmission). There is no risk of acquiring HIV if exposed to feces, nasal secretions, saliva, sputum, sweat, tears, urine, or vomit unless these are contaminated with blood.

Treatments: Currently there is no cure for HIV however with the right treatment and support, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives. Currently highly active antiretroviral therapy is a key treatment for those living with HIV which slows progression of the disease.

History: Both HIV-1 and HIV-2 are believed to have originated in non-human primates in West-central Africa and were transferred to humans in the early 20th century. The earliest well-documented case of HIV in a human dates back to 1959 in the Congo. The earliest retrospectively described case of AIDS is believed to have been in Norway beginning in 1966. However AIDS was first clinically observed in 1981 in the United States. There were a handful of cases with the main link being that they were gay men who were injecting drug users. The disease then became strongly linked with gay men, hense the name GRID ( gay-related immune deficiency) however once AIDS was discovered not to be simply linked with gay men the name was changed.

Deaths Caused: Thanks to treatment plans and better prevention methods (e.g. freely available condoms and better education/advertising) HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence as it used to be. However HIV/AIDS are worldwide and in poorer areas that don’t have access or can’t afford treatment plans millions die each year. With further work to create a vaccine, better treatment plans and better prevention methods it is hoped that this number will decrease.

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The Pineal Gland – 6 in 60

6in60, BEDA 2018

Hello and welcome to the second of four 6 in 60s for BEDA! Last week I talked all about the largest organ of the human body, the skin. This week we are talking about the smallest, the pineal gland.

  1. The pineal gland is located near the centre of the brain.
  2. The gland produce melatonin. This is an essential hormone that helps regulate our body clock and gets us off to sleep
  3. The pineal gland was given it’s name due to it’s shape. It looks like a pine cone!
  4. Tumors on the gland are called pinealomas but fortunately there are very rare.
  5. Cells known as pinealocytes are responsible for the creation and secretion of the melatonin.
  6. Absence of light is one of the key triggers for the gland to start producing melatonin which in turn makes us feel sleepy. That’s why humans tend to sleep best in the dark.
Image result for pineal gland diagram

Image credit – PsyPost

That’s it for this blog, see you all tomorrow!

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In The Blood

BEDA 2018, Miscellaneous

Day 8 of BEDA!

We’re already one week down, I hope you’re enjoying the blogs so far. Today I’m going to give you the quick and dirty facts on blood. Why we need it and what do different blood types actually mean! Either way here are 6 common questions about blood answered!

What is blood?

The dictionary defines blood as:

the fluid that circulates in the principal vascular system ofhuman beings and other vertebrates, in humansconsisting of plasma in which the red blood cells, whiteblood cells, and platelets are suspended

What are the main functions of blood?

Blood is like the transport system of your body that is pushed round by the heart. It distributes nutrients, oxygen, hormones, antibodies and cells specialized in defense to tissues and collects waste such as nitrogenous wastes and carbon dioxide from them.

What is blood made from?

Blood is made of a liquid and a cellular portion. The fluid part is called plasma and contains several substances, including proteins, lipids, carbohydrates and mineral salts. The cellular components of blood are also known as blood corpuscles and they include erythrocytes (red blood cells), leukocytes and platelets.

What are the different blood types?

There are four main blood groups, A, B, O and AB.

  • blood group A – has A antigens on the red blood cells with anti-B antibodies in the plasma
  • blood group B  – has B antigens with anti-A antibodies in the plasma
  • blood group O  – has no antigens, but both anti-A and anti-B antibodies in the plasma
  • blood group AB  – has both A and B antigens, but no antibodies

Red blood cells sometimes have another antigen, a protein known as the RhD antigen. If this is present, your blood group is RhD positive. If it’s absent, your blood group is RhD negative.

Therefore you can be one of eight blood groups, A+, A-, B+, B-, O+ (like me!), O-, AB+ and AB-. Some blood groups are rarer than others (see below photo) and some blood groups are more prevalent in different races.

Photo credit: Quora

Why is it important that blood types match when giving blood transfusions?

Because of the different antigen present on different blood types it’s important that the donor blood has the same antigens as the recipient. If a donor has red blood cells with antigens not present in the red blood cells of the recipient (a lack of transfusion compatibility), the immune system of the recipient recognizes these molecules as actual antigens (or rather, foreign substances) and triggers a defense response, producing specific antibodies against those antigens. The transfused red blood cells are then destroyed by these antibodies and the recipient may even die.

Image result for blood types

Photo credit: NaijCast.com

Are there blood diseases?

Unfortunately yes, there are many different kinds of blood diseases. Some blood diseases include Leukemia and lymphoma which are blood cancers.

(Science Photo Library) (Credit: Science Photo Library)

Photos of blood types – Photo credit: Zimmer

On a side note most people can go and give blood! I do as often as I can. In the U.K. you can give a blood donation (that doesn’t really hurt at all apart from a couple of sharp scratches) and get many free snacks (biscuits and juice galore!), they will then tell you where your blood has been used. 1 blood donation can save up to three lives! It’s an amazing thing to be able to help total strangers. If you are interested you can sign up here – https://www.blood.co.uk/ 

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If you like this you might like these blogs too!

  1. 6 in 60 – The Blood
  2. 7 Weird Things That Can Kill You
  3. 6 in 60: Number 26 – Heart

The Weekly Scientist – Pasteur and the Germ Theory

BEDA 2018, The Monthly Scientist

Hello and welcome to the first of four weekly scientists. We wouldn’t understand how the human body works without these scientists and many of their discoveries have enabled us to live for longer!

Louis Pasteur

Louis_Pasteur

Born: Dec 27, 1822 at Dole, Jura, Franche-Comté, France

Died: Sep 28, 1895 (at age 72) at Marnes-la-Coquette, Hauts-de-Seine, France

Noted for: helped resolve the mysteries of several deadly diseases like chicken cholera, anthrax, rabies and silkworm diseases. He also contributed to the development of the very first vaccines.

Why scientist of the week?

Vaccinations have saved thousands upon thousands of lives. Pasteur created vaccinations for some of the most horrendous diseases.

Pasteur’s first vaccine discovery was in 1879 with a contagious disease called chicken-cholera. After unexpectedly exposing chickens to the weakened form of a disease, he proved that they became immune to the actual virus. Pasteur continued to extend his “germ theory” to formulate vaccinations for various diseases including anthrax, smallpox and cholera.

In 1882, Pasteur made a decision to emphasize his efforts and research on the subject of rabies disease which was proven to attack the central nervous system. In 1885, he vaccinated Joseph Meister, a nine-year-old boy who had previously been bitten 14 times by a rabid dog. The effective results of Pasteur’s vaccine for rabies brought him instant fame. This set off a worldwide fundraising campaign to construct the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, which was inaugurated on November 14, 1888.

Cheers Louis for saving me from the horrors of cholera, smallpox and anthrax!

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Why are my eyes brown?

BEDA 2018

Hello and welcome to day 6 of BEDA. So far so good right?

On Fridays I’m going to be talking about genetics, it’s a massive field in the world of biology. Therefore, I’m going to try and break it down and keep things light and simple! My apologies to any geneticists out there!

So I’ll start with a simple question, why are my eyes brown, or hazel or blue?

Well eye colour is an inherited gene.

The leading question to that is whats a gene? and what does inherited mean?

A gene is a chunk of DNA, that DNA works as an instruction manual for the body to make you you! So each gene codes for a different thing and there is a gene specifically for your eye colour. Genes are broken into dominant and recessive genes. The dominant ones are more likely to occur and the recessive ones are less likely to occur.

Inherited means that it comes from your parents.  The sperm and the egg both carry half the amount of genetic material needed to make a human, when they meet the genetic material combines. This means that your genes are inherited from your parents.

So whats the gene for eye colour?

On your 15th chromosome you have two genes located very close together: OCA2 and HERC2. These genes can create the proteins required to make up the eye. 

What makes my eye the colour that it is then?

A person’s eye color results from pigmentation of a structure called the iris, which surrounds the small black hole in the center of the eye (the pupil) and helps control how much light can enter the eye. The color of the iris ranges on a continuum from very light blue to dark brown. The protein produced from the OCA2 gene, known as the P protein, is involved in the maturation of melanosomes, which are cellular structures that produce and store melanin. The P protein therefore plays a crucial role in the amount and quality of melanin that is present in the iris. Several common variations (polymorphisms) in the OCA2 gene reduce the amount of functional P protein that is produced. Less P protein means that less melanin is present in the iris, leading to blue eyes instead of brown in people with a polymorphism in this gene.

What does that have to do with my mother and father?

Each of these two genes comes in two different versions (the dominant and recessive versions we spoke about earlier). The genes come in a brown (dark) and a blue (light) version. Dependent on which your parents have determine which genes are expressed in your eyes. Where brown or dark versions of the gene are more dominant.

Sounds simple!

It is but these two genes have to work together to produce the darker colour, if any of the 2 genes are in the “off position” which is the blue colour then you can end up with lighter eyes. Shown below:

So can you predict a babys eye colour?

Yes you can but there is always an element of chance:

Image result for likelihood of eye color chart

I hope this didn’t get too confusing! Let me know if you have any questions in the comments!

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