Tag Archives: environment

Easter Island Mystery Revisited

Easter-Island--898The story of Easter Island and the native Rapa Nui is a cautionary one: man’s expansion and abuse of the environment ultimately results in the collapse of civilization. Long taught in Environmental Science courses as the case study in how not to live symbiotically with your surroundings, recent studies have begun to suggest an alternate hypothesis as to why this civilization disappeared. Continue reading “Easter Island Mystery Revisited” »

“STOP, DON’T EAT THAT DIRT!” – How the Environment Affects Your Immunity

kid-eating-dirtHow many times have you heard that growing up?

Humans are born with an immune system that protects our bodies from bacteria, viruses and other environmental factors. But not everyone’s immune system is the same, even in identical twins. Why does one twin get sick from the flu and the other does not?
DOING A DOUBLE TAKE
To understand the environmental and genetic influences that shape our immune system, scientists turned to the ever-reliable twin study. They recruited 210 identical and fraternal twins between eight and 82 years old and studied how they responded to pathogens. Identical twins possess almost exactly the same DNA and, therefore, should possess identical innate immune systems. So, scientists looked at 95 immune cells and 51 kinds of proteins and found enough variation to rule out genetics as the cause. Furthermore, scientist studied the twins’ individual responses to identical pathogens, in this case: influenza. With identical genetic immune systems, their response should be…identical. It was not.

 
NATURE VERSUS NURTURE
As it turns out, your environment and previous exposure to pathogens play a major role in the development of your immune system. As your body is exposed to antigens from those pathogens, it produces target-specific antibodies to destroy them. Once exposed, your body remembers the specific pathogen and what antibodies it needs to destroy it. Vaccines work by exposing your body to an attenuated virus, producing antibodies and activating your immune system’s ‘memory.’ The next time you are exposed to the pathogen…you won’t get sick!
The immune system is complex and involves many different factors. Genetics and the environment determine our resistance to pathogens. It seems that scientists have found strong evidence that environment and exposure have the greatest impact on when and why you get sick.

In the future, we should probably tell our kids: “Stop. Don’t. Eat that dirt!”

 
VOCABULARY
• Adaptive immunity
• Antigen
• Antibody
• Attenuated virus
• Innate immunity

 
EXTENSION QUESTIONS
• Why do we give vaccines? Why was this year’s influenza vaccine ineffective in some cases (est. 60 percent)?
• What can you do to strengthen your body’s immune system?

 

By Joe Spivak

 

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Are Bioluminescent Trees Possible?

We’ve all enjoyed evening strolls in the park with paths lit by street lights. Can you imagine a street or path illuminated not by street lights but by trees? This far-fetched fantasy may someday become a reality with genetically modified bioluminescent plants.

shutterstock_118053559

 

Continue reading “Are Bioluminescent Trees Possible?” »

New books may solve the world water crisis!

Solving the World’s Water Crisis, One Page at a Time

By Colleen Salvatore

WaterOn a hot summer day, nothing quenches your thirst more than a tall glass of ice cold water. We take for granted how clean drinking water is readily available with a turn of a spigot. Almost one billion people worldwide, however, lack access to clean drinking water. In fact, 3.4 million people die each year from water-related diseases, and 20 percent of children under the age of five in rural developing countries die from waterborne diseases.

A Real Page Turner
WATERisLIFE, a non-profit organization, DDB New York, an advertising agency, and Dr. Theresa Dankovich, a chemist with the University of Virginia and Carnegie Mellon University, partnered to find a cost-effective, simple method to provide clean drinking water for people in developing counties. The collaborative result is The Drinkable Book, a manual that teaches safe water habits and actually produces potable water.

Continue reading “New books may solve the world water crisis!” »