BunsenBwog: While You Were Breaking
Written by Bwog Staff
This week, our Erlenmeyer Expert, Zach Kagan gives Bwog the scoop on water flotation to staph infections and most importantly why it’s really geting so hot in here.
While you were sleeping all day last week, Columbia scientists were taking measurements—big measurements. Researchers at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory assisted in NASA’s Operation Icebridge Arctic (a project to record changes in polar ice) by measuring water depth under floating ice using gravimeters. And if all that ice melts? Well, Columbia climate scientist Maureen Raymo has you covered. She’s the lead author of a new paper that says that during Earth’s past extremely warm period, 400,000 years ago, water levels only rose 20 to 43 feet higher than they are today. That’s up to a third less than what has been previously predicted using older models. And, it’s encouraging news—as long as you aren’t one of the 17 million who live in low lying Bangladesh, an area that would be flooded by an ocean leave rise of just 5 feet.
A potential breakthrough in Type 1 diabetes research: Dr. Chutima Talchai and Dr. Domenico Accili from the Columbia Medical Center have discovered that gut cells can be “coaxed” into producing insulin. Working with diabetic mice, the team inhibited the Foxo1 gene, a gene that determines the future role of progenitor cells. In the gastrointestinal tract these cells can develop to produce a wide range of important hormones, but with the Foxo1 gene switched off insulin was also produced. Not only that, these cells have glucose recepters that signal the cell to produce insulin when needed. The location in the gut is promising too since the diabetes may not be able to destroy insulin producing cells outside of the pancreas. If the process is repeatable in humans and demonstrably safe, it may save diabetics the pain of self-injecting insulin.
A new study collaborating with Columbia University Medical Center has discovered a new strain of staph (the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria) that transmits much more easily between humans. Normally, staph infections occur when people interact with swine but human to human infections are very rare. This new strain has adapted to thrive in humans, developing ways to adhere to human skin and it’s own set of “human specific immune invasion genes.” But where did they discover this new strain? Why, upper Manhattan of course! Wash your hands regularly, Columbians.
Maybe you’ve noticed how it sometimes seems to be warmer at night than it was during the day. According to Columbia researcher Stuart Gaffin, this is a side effect of a phenomenon we’ve all experienced: the urban heat island. Due to the high heat capacities of much of the urban landscape, lots of heat gets stored inside city surfaces from sunlight. When night falls the warm air gets trapped near the ground and the surfaces—concrete, buildings, aphalt—start emitting all the heat they stored up during the day. While it is more prominent at night, the urban heat island phenomenon costs New York tons of money in electricity. That’s why Mayor Bloomberg and scientists like Stuart Gaffin are pushing to install bright, reflective rooftops and city surfaces. The difference is tangible: dark rooftops can climb as high as 170 degrees Fahrenheit, but brighter roofs could be up to 42 degrees cooler.
Ever since the dawn of time, parents have been trying to trick kids into eating vegetables. But is “hiding the vegetables” really an effective strategy to get kids to eat their 5-a-day? To find out, Columbia researchers gave 68 kids an assortment of treats, some labeled with vegetable ingredients and some not (e.g. gingerbread spice cake vs broccoli-gingerbread spice cake). The kids were asked which one they liked between the two, but there was a twist: both snacks contained the concealed veggie! It turns out that when kids are familiar with the added vegetable they unexpectedly rate both the label and unlabeled dessert as equally tasty (kids disliked snacks with veggies they haven’t tried before, like chick-pea chocolate-chip cookies). Conclusion: as long as they’ve seen it before and it looks like it’s sweet, kids will eat it.