Biology 103

Kaari Pitts's picture

Intersex—the third sex?

Kaari Pitts

Professor Grobstein


Web Paper #2

Kaari Pitts's picture

Race Wars: The debate on the importance of race as a method of classification

Race Wars: The debate on the importance of race as a method of classification

How do we as humans characterize and categorize ourselves? Do we look at

Cristiane de Oliveira's picture

Unconscious Life: The Occurrence and Complications of Anencephaly


If an organism is able to breathe, circulate blood, and exhibit basic physical functions, we assume it is alive. What if this same organism is without a critical part of its brain, and thusly is deaf, blind, and wholly unconscious– is this organism still alive?  How are we able to define what makes us human, or better yet, what makes us whole? Within an animal or plant life, we might consider these characteristics to be unremarkable, but within a human it is an atrocity. There are babies whose entire conception, gestation, and lives are lived out in a black hole of unconsciousness, brought on by the congenital disorder anencephaly. This disease raises more questions than it does answers; above all, it brings heartbreak to those affected by its occurrence.

Student Contributor to Biology 103's picture

Hey, Pass Me a Light Please

What Causes Smoking Addiction:  Nicotine or Dopamine?

Growing up, I have always been told that smoking is bad.  Smoking is hazardous.  Smoking costs money.  Smoking looks unappealing.  Smoking kills.  Yet, despite all of these warnings and lessons, that surely most people have heard before, millions of people still light up.  Why, why do people continue to participate in an activity that is commonly associated with health risks such as cancer?  The most frequently used answer is an addiction to nicotine.  And this notion that nicotine causes addiction was continuously lectured to me in past mandatory health classes.  Yet, at the same time nicotine was used as an explanation, it was an incomplete reason.  What role does the substance play to result in this need for a cigarette?  Nicotine stimulates dopamine, a chemical in the brain that affects learning, motivation and pleasure [1].  Scientists have further explored the role of dopamine on addiction and are now suggesting theories that dopamine is the cause of addiction.  So, perhaps it is not nicotine that causes the addiction, but the role dopamine plays that causes the need to smoke.

Georgia Lawrence's picture

Making Babies: Why Bigger is Better

When Rose E. Frisch began her research over twenty years ago, there was little interest in the subject of a woman's menstrual cycle and its connection to body fat. In fact, few knew that there was a connection, or cared to explore the idea. However, Frisch, a professor in population sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health, began receiving phone calls in the mid-seventies from women who were having fertility problems. Frisch saw a growing connection among women who were unable to conceive and their extremely slim, lean build (2, p. 14-15). Over the years, an increasing number of studies have examined the relationship between a woman's body fat percentages, its connections to fertility rates, and the effects on the menstrual cycle. Frisch's research, along with that of her colleagues, shows that there is a minimum weight according to one's height that will allow you to maintain a regular period, and therefore have children. While this may seem to be a simple concept, it was one very new to the scientific community thirty years ago, and has effected much of the way the female menstruation cycle is viewed today. More specifically, the focus has been on female athletes and the greater implications of losing one's period, including disordered eating, and loss of bone density. The relationship between body fat and one's ability to produce offspring has become an integral part of the study of women's health.

Simone Biow's picture

Stem Cells Cure Blindness

The Controversy

Earlier this November, scientists from the University College London Institutes of Ophthalmology and Child Health and Moorfields Eye Hospital were able to restore vision to blind lab mice. This scientific breakthrough signifies that millions of people with optical conditions such as macular degeneration (loss of sight experienced by the elderly), diabetic retinopathy, and a variety of other forms of blindness could be able to regain sight through a remarkably simple procedure. However, the fact that the procedure requires stem cells from foetuses—currently viewed as a highly controversial method by many politicians—has prevented this procedure from becoming more publicized in the U.S. (1).

The Breakthrough

kgins's picture

Why do we smile?


Smiles are generally accepted as a universal facial expression of happiness or joy. We get instincts about which smiles are more genuine, are more felt than others, and which are more forced and more politely construed. I wanted to find out whether smiles are a social reaction- something learned amongst society- or whether there’s an actual biological reason why, when we are given a positive stimulus, our cheeks bulge and the corners of our mouths turn upward. I started with the understanding that because it would be difficult or impossible to define happiness on an individual level, which I am taking to be the stimuli of the smiles themselves, the results would have to be more generalized and the findings would probably be somewhat controversial and less conclusive. I proposed that smiling was more directly linked to a physical, neurobiological response than to social interactions, because I assumed that there had to be some reason why even the most creative and brilliant of thinkers followed the rest and smiled to show pleasure.

Cottage Pie's picture

Deep Sea Trawling, Fish Populations, Seamounts, and a Moratorium

The ocean floor of the deep sea has its own mountains, called seamounts, which rise from 500 to 1,000 meters above the surrounding sea floor. (1, 2)  It is not known exactly how many seamounts lie beneath the big blue, but it has been estimated that the Atlantic Ocean possesses 800 or more and that the Pacific has 30,000 plus. On harder portions of the seamounts “ancient forests” made up of “cold water corals, soft seapens, sponges, and seawhips grow.” (1, 2) These organisms house other sea creatures such as crustaceans and sea spiders. On top of that, seamounts also provide protection to small sea fish such as the orange roughy and deepwater oreo who swim close to the seamounts in order to prevent being swept away by the current. On the softer sediment of seamounts grow worms and more slipper lobsters. The seamounts number one threat is bottom trawling.

Mia Prensky's picture

Breaking Ground With the HPV Vaccine

I was very excited in August when I scheduled my appointment to receive the recently arrived, newly approved HPV vaccine, Gardasil. I knew that I was going to be one of the first women to ever be vaccinated against four types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which I later discovered is the cause 70% of cervical cancer cases and 90% of all genital warts cases (1). While I was thrilled to take part in a new era of women’s health care, one which ushered in previously unattainable levels of protection against the virus for women, I did not truly understand or appreciate the value of this new vaccine at the time of receiving it—I was enticed by the novelty and hype of the product, not necessarily enamored by its benefits or even aware of them as I should have been. I did not know how lucky I was to be getting this vaccine nor was I conscious of how important it is for all women and girls to do what they can to protect themselves and their sexual partners for life against contracting the HPV virus, which contains over 100 different strains, more than 30 of which are sexually transmitted (7). In my quest to better comprehend the medical advances that are affecting my body, our bodies, and our society, I learned much about HPV and the glory of Gardasil, and how fortunate we are to have this new vaccine.

Human papillomavirus is an all too common sexually transmitted virus, responsible for more than 3,700 deaths within the United States every year. About half of all sexually active men and women (6.2 million in the US alone) become infected with HPV at least once in their life time, with the consequences ranging from insignificant to life threatening in the form of cervical cancer (4). Carriers can transmit the virus without every being aware that they are infected, and anyone who has ever experiences sexual activity involving genital contact is potentially exposed to the more than 40 types of HPV that can infect the genital areas of both men and women (3). HPV poses a large threat to women as it is one of the main causes of cervical cancer, the second most common cancer in women provoking more than 233,000 annual deaths worldwide. On June 8, 2006, the United States Food & Drug Administration approved Gardasil, the first ever vaccine developed to immunize women against four of the most threatening types the virus that cause cervical cancer and genital warts (4).

While the HPV virus goes away on its own in most people who become infected, the virus can linger in the body, developing into cervical cancer, precancerous lesions, or genital warts. HPV can infect a woman’s cervix, the lower part of her womb, and then cause cells to change and grow abnormally. These changes in the cells, known as “precancers,” can develop into cervical cancer if not treated (3). Unfortunately, there is no cure for HPV, and often times treatment possibilities only exist for the health problems caused by HPV, such as genital warts, cervical cancer, or even cancer of the vulva, vagina and anus. HPV types 16 and 18 cause 70% of all cases of cervical cancer, while HPV types 6 and 11 cause 90% of genital warts cases—it is these four strains of the human papillomavirus that are contained in the vaccine Gardasil (1). Immunization against these four types of HPV effectively protects women against these strains who have not already been infected with HPV at the time of receiving the vaccine, and since we know that there is no cure for HPV, it is essential to get the vaccine before one ever becomes exposed to the virus, which generally means before one engages in sexual activity (3).

Gardasil is administered as a series of three injections given over a period of six months. I received my first vaccination in August, less than two months after it had been approved by the FDA; my second dose was given to me in October, two months after the date of the first injection, and I will receive my third and final injection in February of 2007, approximately six months after having received the first dose. For women who have not already been infected by one of the four strains of HPV contained in the vaccine, Gardasil is nearly 100% effective in preventing precancerous lesions of the cervix, vagina, vulva, as well as preventing genital warts (4). However, the vaccine does not protect women against less common types of HPV that can still harm the body, so in no way should women stop receiving their annual Pap test from their doctor. Regular Pap testing can detect cancerous and pre-cancerous cells of the cervix and thus is an essential weapon in the detection and treatment of cervical cancer (3).

There is a controversy surrounding Gardasil and the HPV vaccine; ideally, the vaccine should be administered in women before they ever have contracted any HPV. If a woman has contracted any of the four types of HPV in the vaccine, she will only be protected from those strains that she does not already have (1). Thus, the controversy: women and girls should get the vaccine before contracting HPV, and therefore, before they are likely to engage in sexual contact. Gardasil is approved for use in girls and women ages 9 to 26, with the hopes that the younger the patient is, the less likely she is to already be infected. This has many parents in an uproar: many say that immunizing their 9 or 11 year-old daughter against a sexually transmitted infection is jumping the gun and plunging young girls into the world of safe sex way before they should even be thinking about sex. Some say simply that that young are just too young to be concerned with sexual health and activity, and as one doctor stated, "It's almost an assault on their innocence to be talking about those things when they do not even know what I'm talking about" (5). Some also believe that vaccinating young girls will encourage sexual promiscuity, with the point that if girls know that they are safe from contracting a sexually transmitted infection they will start having sex earlier. I personally think that this is a totally bogus argument—no parent can ever protect their child from sexual assault even if she is not sexually active, thus I believe it is better to protect all women against the virus while they still have the chance, even if this morally compromises their innocence. What is innocence anyway and who decides whether or not innocence should interfere with health care and innovative, preventative medical technology?

While there is currently not a vaccine available for men and boys against HPV, studies are being done to see whether or not such a vaccine for males would be effective. If so, the vaccine could prevent men from contracting genital warts and rare cancers, such as penile and anal cancers. Vaccinating men may also protect women from then contracting HPV from their male sexual partners (3). Gardasil is here and Gardasil can change our lives, and as the spokesman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said in relation to cervical cancer, “this is now a vaccine- preventable problem, we have a huge opportunity to make a significant improvement in the health care of women” (5). With knowledge available both about HPV and its new vaccine Gardasil, we can all protect ourselves before becoming victims of a virus that can ultimately take our life—this breakthrough in women’s healthcare is great progress to the overall attainment of good health and safe sex. I once again express my gratitude to the developers of Gardasil for their commitment to preserving women’s health, and as a newly informed member of society, I encourage everyone, especially al women, to see whether the vaccine is right for you, and if it is, good luck and congratulations for embracing Gardasil and kicking HPV to the curb.

Arielle Schecter's picture

Dissection and Vivisection: Animals as Classroom Tools

Each year, American students are responsible for the deaths of millions of animals in the interests of science education. Frogs, fetal pigs, cats, and cows’ eyeballs bear the brunt of the education industry’s demand for vivisection education, which may be defined as the act of dissecting or injuring animals for purposes of scientific investigation or experimentation. [1] While alternatives to classroom dissection do exist in the form of instructional videotapes and other “hands-off” materials, cutting up a dead animal remains a rite of passage for students around the nation.

An estimated six million animals are killed for classroom dissection each year; these animals are often collected from the wild, contributing to anthropogenic ecological consequences not easily visible from the microscope of a seventh grader. [2] Another method of obtaining animals for dissection is through special breeding facilities that also cater to the pharmaceutical, cosmetology, and even automobile industries. A quick Google search for biological supply companies yields lists of available “organisms” for sale, both “preserved” and “live.” An individual can set up an account with, for one, the Carolina Biological Supply Company - which touts itself as “world-class support for science & math [instruction]” - and become eligible for a 25% discount off her first order of trademarked “Carolina’s Perfect Solution Rats” or “Carolina’s Perfect Solution Pigs.” [3]

On its website, Carolina cites the National Science Education Standards, a set of education benchmarks copyrighted by the National Academy of Sciences, claiming that its equipment - animals - directly aids a child’s exploration and knowledge of the natural sciences by allowing the child to determine how life systems work and by providing information about an “organism’s characteristics.” [4] The company’s unabashed presentation of formaldehyde-stuffed frogs as valid consumer and educational products is not unique. Many such companies exist to fill the demands of schools across the nation.

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