Biology 103

Cayla McNally's picture

Book Commentary: Our Class and Biology: an Exploration of Life


It is difficult to compare the part of the textbook that I have read, which deals with evolution in relation to adaptation, with specific concepts that were discussed in class, due to the different styles of teaching that the book and the class utilize. The class discussions were normally overview of the subjects, because there was not enough time to delve into the nuances of each discussion topic; conversely, the book has the liberty to take more time to explain difficult concepts somewhat more in depth, which is not possible in class. The scope of the book helped explain the topics that were minimally discussed in class; however, the book failed to portray science as it was discussed in class, as a means of discovery instead of a definite body of facts and laws.

Student Contributor to Biology 103's picture

The Sound of Music: Infrasound and Humans

Have you ever watched that scene from [insert movie or discovery channel] where a bunch of elephants are standing together, going about their normal elephant activities, and then suddenly, they stop and run away together?  When I first saw this scene, I was puzzled as to why this happened.  It was quite strange to see these large but peaceful animals just instantaneously disperse for no good reason.  In actuality, however, the elephants did have a reason for running off.  They responded to a message sent to them by another elephant through infrasound. [1] Elephants are able to detect and send infrasound.  Humans, on the other hand, cannot pick up or produce infrasound the same way elephants can.  For any noise that is between the ranges of 20 to 20,000 Hz, we have no problem audibly hearing these sounds.  Anything that is higher or lower than that range will not be heard by humans.  Infrasound has a frequency that is below 20 Hz and usually, humans cannot detect audible infrasound. [2] However, although we cannot audibly hear infrasound, we are still able to feel the effects of this low frequency.  What are the impacts of infrasound on humans?  And how it is that if we are unable to hear it, it still has an impact on us?
Infrasound is found in two forms, it can be ‘man-made’ or created by ‘nature’.  Extreme examples human productions of infrasound include aircraft and fireworks.  The noise from factories and engines also attribute to making these low frequencies. [3] Natural productions of infrasound basically occur all the time.  Weather disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions emit infrasound.  Phenomena like meteor impacts and aurora also create this low frequency.  On a less extreme and more relatable scale, anyone who has ever been in a thunderstorm or very strong winds is likely to have experienced infrasound. [3] Instruments can also create these low frequencies.  Organs pipes and bass instruments can produce infrasound as well. [4] As mentioned before, elephants are able to create and detect infrasound.  They are the not the only species who have this trait.  Pigeons, squid and rhinos are just a few among the many other animals who can participate in infrasonic communications. [3] And although many animals can use infrasound to speak, humans still cannot communicate through these low vibrations.

Arielle Schecter's picture


Sea-Monkeys can be viewed as a vast commercial expression of eugenics. Their production company’s founder, Harold von Braunhut, was alleged to be a financier of white supremacist groups and himself never denied such claims.[1] The concept of genetic enhancement is one of great scientific interest. From Gregor Mendel to Josef Mengele, humans have been fascinated in their attempts to explore genomic “dominance” and use their subject species to experiment with the creation of a perceived dominant specimen. Sea-Monkeys are clear - well, pinkish and fairly opaque - examples of manipulated genetic artifact, though more in terms of life cycle interruption rather than genetic interference. True, Sea-Monkeys are a special type of sea animal rarely seen in nature. However, the examination of this “live” animal in the context of academic coursework about the study of life is where the true interest of this paper lies.
When Sea-Monkeys were first marketed to the public in 1956, consumers were told to be unafraid if the product were to enter the sewage system (read: flushed down the toilet while still alive) because Sea-Monkeys would not survive outside of their very specific, chemically enhanced environment-in-a-box. While the science behind Sea-Monkey technology largely has been kept a mystery to the public, the idea of suspending in time a creature’s lifespan begs inquiry about the specific natue and definition of life that allows these animals to “come alive” when placed in salted tap water. The official Sea-Monkey website makes some excited claims about this idea:

Sea-Monkeys® are a true miracle of nature. They exist in suspended animation inside their tiny eggs for many years. The instant-life crystals, in which the eggs are enclosed, preserve their viability and help to extend still further their un-hatched life span! Sea-Monkeys are real Time-Travelers asleep in biological time capsules for their strange journey into the future! [2]

One semi-obvious secret should be revealed in the interests of this inquiry: These “instant-life crystals” are actually eggs of the sometimes-asexually reproducing hybrid brine shrimp, or Artemia salina. The U.S. patent for Sea-Monkeys describes the process as “hatching brine shrimp or similar crustaceans in tap water to give the appearance of instantaneous hatching.” [3] This is achieved by placing Sea-Monkey eggs in specific environments that allow the unhatched shrimp to enter cryptobiosis, a reversible state of suspended metabolism in a living form. [4, 5]
Owners of Sea-Monkeys are instructed to release over the course of two days the contents of the Sea-Monkey packaging into a tank of tap water. Day One’s share of the contents, known as the “water purifier” package contains Sea-Monkey eggs in a salty powder. Day Two’s additions, known as the “instant live eggs” package, includes more eggs, epson salts, borax, soda, yeast, and blue dye used to visually enhance the eggs’ hatching. The Sea-Monkeys are fed a powdered mixture of yeast and Spirulina,. The “boost” packages included in Sea-Monkey kits contain a sort of aphrodisiac salt for the purpose of promoting reproduction among the shrimp, which, once hatched, have a “lifespan” of one year. [6]
The idea that shrimp can be scientifically interrupted in their life cycles with the aid of just salt and yeast holds some very interesting promise for a similar idea as manifested in mammals, specifically humans. A famous example in the field of cyryptogenics is Walt Disney, who purportedly had himself frozen before he died so he could one day “come back to life,” presumably when the technology allowed. In a true science fiction future, if scientists were to apply Sea-Monkey science to human eggs, the social problem of unwanted pregnancy could be avoided, as the female would have to wait to inject her eggs with salt before anything alive could come out of them - though as a relevant side note, sperm contain salts. Perhaps we are already living in that science-fiction-or-fact world, and there’s clearly lots of room for monkeying around in it.

Student Contributor to Biology 103's picture

Where Do You Go After Death?

In the beginning of the semester, we tackled the debate of what it means to be ‘alive.’  Mary Roach’s book “Spook” takes a spin on this ‘alive’ and examines whether or not there is an afterlife.  Rather than choosing a textbook, I picked this book in the hopes that it would answer this question that is not usually covered in biology textbooks.  Roach narrates her research in the antithesis of a textbook fashion.  Instead, she tells a story about science, much like in a way similar to Biology 103: Basic Concepts.

From the very start of her narrative, Roach states that she is looking for proof, for some form of evidence that a soul exists after a person’s body dies and stops functioning.  However, she acknowledges that scientific answers are not absolute and these answers are changeable when more data is presented.  Roach sees the science that Professor Paul Grobstein introduced to us, the ‘seriously loopy science.’  Scientific truth, as learned in class, is only as truthful as it can be for the men and women who choose to believe in it.  There will always be a different perspective to answer the questions of ‘life’ and those answers are truth for those people who select it.  For Mary Roach, she accepts that not everything taught by science is true but science is the closest thing she can find to help her answer her question.  She writes this book for the people who want to believe in an afterlife but need more than just faith.  Her approach to answering her question then, was to research the already conducted scientific studies done on afterlife ‘experiences’.

Sarah Mellors's picture

Science: Dogma or Dynamism?

As a supplement to this biology course, I also read a biology textbook, Biology: Discovering Life, by Joseph Levine and Kenneth Miller.  This is an older book I found in the science library, published about 15 years ago.  At first glance, I found the detailed charts and figures and complex terminology to be intimidating and deterring.  I assumed it was just another traditional science textbook where everything is delineated for the reader to memorize with no room for questioning and no pressure to think “outside the box”.  While the majority of the book is conventional, upon closer examination, one important point the book espouses really resonated with the foundations of this class.  Reading this book exposed me to a much different style of teaching.  In my critique of the book, I will focus on a subject I found very enlightening – a fundamental part of this unique science course – our understanding of biology as a dynamic process.

Sarah Mellors's picture

Little Tweak = Big Sweet

The recent dieting craze – particularly the carb-cutting trend - has created a huge increase in the demand for artificial sweeteners.  According to a 2004 study “as many as 180 million Americans routinely eat and drink sugar-free products such as desserts and artificially sweetened sodas” (1).  As one of countless subscribers to the carb-cutting, low-calorie philosophy, I decided to explore exactly what constitutes artificial sweeteners.  In my explorations, I came across some surprising findings about the chemical composition of various artificial sweeteners and how the body processes them. I focused my research on three sweeteners in particular: Sucralose, which is in the most popular artificial sweetener, Aspartame, which is in the artificial sweeteners, Sweet ‘N Low and Equal, and a new incredibly sweet sweetener called Neotame.  Initially, I expected all these different artificial sweeteners to be chemically dissimilar from less sweet substances; however, further research proved otherwise.

Simone Biow's picture

The Cholesterol Conundrum

It’s no secret: I’ve got high cholesterol. Well, actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. The truth is that for an 18-year-old, my LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol level is astronomical and my HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol level is pitiful. According to the American Heart Association, a desirable level of LDL cholesterol—the “bad” kind that can forms clots in your arteries and causes heart attacks or strokes—is below 200 milligrams per decilitre of blood (mg/dL). Between 200 and 239 mg/dL is considered “borderline high risk,” and anything above that is “high risk” (1). Well, my latest LDL count was 240 mg/dL. On the other hand, my HDL cholesterol count is 17 mg/dL, when a desirable level is above 40 mg/dL. To clarify, HDL cholesterol is considered to be “good” cholesterol, though no doctor could really tell me why. Experts have suggested that HDL cholesterol may carry LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, where it is passed through the digestive system and excreted. Other doctors believe that HDL cholesterol “removes excess cholesterol from plaque in the arteries, thus slowing build-up” (2). But ultimately, no one really knows.
Sarah Gale's picture

The Usefulness of Biology, Seventh Edition

   Reading textbooks, especially science textbooks that weigh more than a small child, can be quite tedious. My roommate’s biology book is no exception. While it works as a fine paperweight and mini-table, it also hosts a multitude of information, with such relevant topics as observation, diversity, scale, molecules, cells, the human body, genetics, ecology, evolution, matter and energy. Accompanying the text is a supplemental CD, called “The Student Media for Biology”, with chapter outlines, mini-activities, videos, games, quizzes, flash cards, and more condensed information at which you could shake a stick. Despite the width and breadth of the epic book, I found Biology to be a great resource for biology students (as well it should be, considering it’s hefty price and the measures my roommate took to avoid it). I was particularly impressed with the comprehensive layout and structure of the text.
Sarah Gale's picture

Bad Bad Plastics

   Last year on Earth Day, I attended a lecture entitled, “The Truth about Plastics” at my high school. We watched a short documentary about a scientist and his studies of the effects of plastic pollution in marine ecosystems (turtles dying from eating plastic bags, plankton eating plastic and fish eating that plankton and other fish and birds and humans eating that fish). Afterwards, the speaker talked to us about alternatives to plastic and things we as students could do to get involved in the cause. I stopped buying bottled water ad purchased a tin bottle, convinced my mother to buy milk in cartons, and asked for paper shopping bags. Yet plastic is everywhere, and it can’t be denied that some products bring good. Despite plastic’s positive properties and obvious benefits, plastics are harmful to the environment, and their consumption should be reduced.
Kelsey McMillen's picture

Dissociated Controversy

Dissociative Identity Disorder, or more commonly known as Multiple Personality Disorder, is a mental dysfunction where the brain breaks down the person's personality into several different ones. Dissociation, part of the disorder, is part of the brain's natural defense against unpleasantness and one of Freud's five defense mechanisms (3). The person has learned to connect unrelated things in order to cope with their emotional pain. Not curable with drugs or without therapy, this mental disorder has been highly publicized and has a controversy over whether or not it truly exists.

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