So, I hear we only have ten years left to reverse the effects of climate change?? I mean, I read that on Twitter (I swear the sources in this article are much more reliable than social media), but I think it’s time we took this climate change thing seriously. I know you’re probably drowning in assignments right now, and think you don’t have time to implement new habits into your life. But you know what else is drowning? The Maldives. On the topic of water, one of the many ways you can contribute to reducing the effects of climate change is water conservation. When asking a few friends for suggestions on how to conserve water, here are some answers I got:
· Take shorter showers
· If you can’t sacrifice a long shower, shower with friends!
· If it’s yellow, let it mellow… if it’s brown, flush it down
· Drink toilet water (but obviously Brita filter it first)
· Rewear your clothes inside out before doing your laundry (shirts, pants, underwear, socks, etc.) …and front and back if you’re up to the challenge
But what if I told you you could still reduce your water usage and save yourself the embarrassment of someone seeing you naked in the shower by simply opting out of a single meal?
When aiming to minimize our water footprints, our direct water usage is the subject of most of our attention. This includes adopting habits like turning off the tap while brushing your teeth and taking shorter showers. However, our indirect water usage, also known as our ‘invisible’ water usage, is often overlooked (Pettit, 2018). This includes the water required to produce everything we use: from the clothes we wear to the food we eat.
Your diet is one of the largest factors that contributes to your individual water footprint due to the fact that about 86% of all water used in the world is used to grow food (Ercin, Aldaya, and Hoekstra, 2012). Specifically, animal agriculture is incredibly resource-intensive, particularly when it comes to the production of beef. According to the Water Footprint Network, the approximate global average water footprint to produce one pound of beef amounts to approximately 6992 litres of water (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2010). Comparing this to other common proteins, the production of pork requires approximately 2180 litres of water/pound, chicken requires approximately 1962 litres of water/pound (Mekonnen and Hoekstra, 2010) and soy meat requires approximately 474 litres/pound (Ercin et al., 2012)
Now, hear me out. If a typical burger patty requires one-quarter of a pound of beef, the production of one burger patty would require approximately 1748 litres of water. Furthermore, according to Harvard University Sustainability, an average eight-minute shower uses approximately 76 litres of water (2014). This means that the quarter-pounder you drunkenly UberEats to your dorm at 3am after a night at Ale required the same amount of water to produce as about 23 showers. And that’s just the patty!
Choosing less resource-intensive proteins, such as beans, lentils, and even chicken can reduce your water footprint significantly. Reducing your water footprint has many benefits including: decreasing the amount of energy used to process water; minimizing water pollution; and preserving the global freshwater supply, with only 0.007% of the planet’s water accounting for accessible freshwater required to fuel the human population (National Geographic, 2019). So maybe opt for a McChicken next time, or give that Beyond Meat a try, so you can be guilt-free while taking those long, hot showers (but not too long).
Competing for Clean Water Has Led to a Crisis. (2019). National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/freshwater/freshwater-crisis/#close.
Ercin, A. E., Aldaya, M. M., & Hoekstra, A. Y. (2012). The water footprint of soy milk and soy burger and equivalent animal products. Ecological Indicators, 18, 392–402. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2011.12.009
5 Ways to Measure a 5 Minute Shower. (2014). Harvard University Sustainability. https://green.harvard.edu/tools-resources/green-tip/5-ways-measure-5-minute-shower.
Hoekstra, A. (2003). What is a water footprint? Water Footprint Network. https://waterfootprint.org/en/water-footprint/what-is-water-footprint/.
Mekonnen, M. M., & Hoekstra, A. Y. (2012). A Global Assessment of the Water Footprint of Farm Animal Products. Ecosystems, 15(3), 401–415. doi: 10.1007/s10021-011-9517-8
Pettit, M. (2018). Save Water: Reduce Your Water Footprint. Reset. https://en.reset.org/act/save-water-reduce-your-water-footprint.
Have you ever wondered why you look the way you do? This is because your genes are encoded with specific traits and functions! The human genome is the complete set of DNA sequences found in the 23 pairs of chromosomes, which are located in the nucleus of cells and act as the genetic code of an organism. The human nuclear genome is composed of three billion nucleotide base pairs that make up both the non-coding and protein-coding DNA regions, encoding 20 000 to 25 000 genes (Gonzaga-Jauregui et al., 2012). The Human Genome Project (HGP), which commenced in 1990, had three primary purposes: to produce a reference sequence of the entire human genome, map the location of all human genes, and make the data accessible. Prior to the HGP, there was little research completed on the structure of the human genome in its entirety and the genetic variations responsible for human disease (Hood & Rowen, 2013).
The HGP was successful in sequencing 95% of the gene-coding region with 99% accuracy (Little et al., 2003). This accomplishment enables future genetic research to be completed more precisely and quickly due to the freely accessible data. The human genome sequences do not represent any single individual’s genome, but rather act as a basis for comparison as all humans share the same set of genes that regulate their biological functions and developmental process. The sequencing of DNA helps with understanding biochemical defects/disease through applications such as the identification of mutations associated with various types of cancer and the construction of medication targeted to the genetic variations observed (Little et al., 2003).
A genetic disorder refers to a disorder caused by a deviance in the DNA sequence. This can involve a change in one or more genes, damage to the chromosomes themselves, or a mixture of non-genetic (i.e., lifestyle) and genetic factors (Sivam, 2012). Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is characterized by the production of thick, sticky mucus, digestive fluids, and sweat that clog passageways. This condition causes lung infections and pancreatic blockages that hinder the digestion process (Tolstoi & Smith, 1999). Improvements in the treatment of this condition can be attributed to advancements in the HGP.
CF is caused by mutations in the Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Regulator (CFTR) gene, which is the first gene to be studied using the HGP. Initially identified in 1989, the HGP led to the discovery of over 900 mutations in this gene (Tolstoi & Smith, 1999). The most common mutation of the CF gene is the deletion of 3 base-pairs, resulting in the loss of a phenylalanine amino acid. Normally, the CFTR protein functions as an ion channel that is responsible for the release of chloride ions, maintaining salt balance. With CF, chloride ions cannot be pumped out of the cell, causing extremely viscous mucus (Tolstoi & Smith, 1999). Through the HGP, researchers aim to cure CF through correcting the defective gene or resulting protein. Researchers are working towards using the HGP to understand all of the human genome data that has been collected to study how genes contribute to healthy physiology by comparing this data with genetic variations to understand disease biology (Gonzaga-Jauregui et al., 2012). New methods are projected to diagnose and treat diseases through biotechnological applications, such as gene-editing (Little et al., 2003).
Gonzaga-Jauregui, C., Lupski, J. R., & Gibbs, R. A. (2012). Human Genome Sequencing in Health and Disease. Annual Review of Medicine, 63(1), 35–61. doi: 10.1146/annurev-med-051010-162644
Hood, L., & Rowen, L. (2013). The human genome project: big science transforms biology and medicine. Genome Medicine, 5(9), 79. doi: 10.1186/gm483
Little, J., Khoury, M., Bradley, L., Clyne, M., Gwinn, M., Lin, B., & Lindegrin, M. (2003). The Human Genome Project Is Complete. American Journal of Epidemiology, 157(8), 667–673. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwg048
Sivam, V. (2012). Has the Human Genome Project Delivered for Healthcare? Annals of Medicine and Surgery, 1, 19–20. doi: 10.1016/s2049-0801(12)70006-7
Tolstoi, L. G., & Smith, C. L. (1999). Human Genome Project and Cystic Fibrosis—a Symbiotic Relationship. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 99(11), 1421–1427. doi: 10.1016/s0002-8223(99)00343-0
In the past 100 years, the human race has suffered through many different ailments and diseases ranging from smallpox to measles. We have overcome many of these outbreaks with various antibiotics and vaccines in the past, but various infectious diseases have made a large comeback in the past few years, such as including measles, mumps, and cholera. Although the number of cases of measles has been on the decline, this year’s peak amount of cases reached a high of 342. It seems as though the pains of the past are coming back to strike humankind. You may be wondering, ‘If we have defeated these illnesses in the past, why are outbreaks happening now?’ The causes of these epidemics, although unique and complex, can be attributed to a few major concepts.
Drawing attention to ongoing protests regularly broadcasted in the news outbreaks this past year can be attributed to vaccine refusals. Although many people continue to receive vaccines, there is a significant group of individuals that choose to delay or abstain from being vaccinated. This in part explains the development of outbreaks of measles, due to the fact that it is usually one of the first illnesses to affect unvaccinated individuals. Abstaining from vaccination is a factor as to why some of these ailments are on the rise, but it doesn’t account for all of the resurgences. Mumps and pertussis have had increases in cases world-wide, even with many of the victims being at minimum partially vaccinated. This is due to vaccines having declining immunity over their diseases. The antibodies that were created to protect us from these immunities after given vaccines have ‘forgotten’ how to defend the body from that antigen. A prominent example of recent failing immunity was with a rise in vaccine-preventable mumps outbreak in Scotland in 2015. 67% of those who contracted mumps were completely vaccinated and most of these cases occurred in older adolescents and young adults rather than young children, an odd occurrence. Outbreaks like this have led to the rise of booster vaccines, which promote the continuation of the body’s production of antigens for these traditionally easily vaccinated viruses.
Another global phenomenon that has been an active part of 2019 news has been controversies surrounding climate change. The acts to fight against climate change may not just be important for saving the planet, but also for protecting the human race as well. Since the planet is undergoing extreme temperature changes, there is a variety of adverse outcomes including extreme weather conditions and shifts in global interactions. An example of this is through high rain falls. With a large amount of rain, sewer systems can become overworked, causing water contamination and leading to outbreaks of various diseases such as cholera. Increased warmer temperature can also be prime conditions for mosquito populations to grow both in size and creeping up closer to the earth’s poles. This causes diseases such as malaria to spread across populations as they transport through vectors like mosquitoes.
These aspects outline just a few of the factors that have recently contributed to the rise in outbreaks worldwide but there are various other reasons that exist. Science and medicine are continually working to adapt to these changes in our environment. Even though many of these outbreaks and diseases continue to reappear, our success in conquering other diseases is an incredible feat that would be a shame to overlook.
Music education in the public school system currently faces lots of challenges, such as perceived lack of value, insufficient funds, and shortage of qualified music specialists. However, cutting music programs may have troubling consequences. Youth that practise music (instrumental, theoretical, or choral) frequently experience a range of benefits, including an improvement in academic performance and an enhanced ability to build social skills with peers through heightened emotional and verbal intelligence. These skills complement future academic and vocational endeavours, including post-secondary education.
It may be detrimental to reduce the amount of music education taught to students since music education is associated with many positive outcomes, like improved academic performance and interpersonal skills, which are needed in the future workplace. Dr. Sylvain Moreno is a lead scientist at the Rotman Research Institute who studies brain development through musical training. His research has found that music training can help people develop their memory, attention, and verbal skills, which are all related to educational outcomes. Better memory, ability to focus, and reading and comprehension skills can help students in various subjects, and so music seems to be able to holistically help youth excel in academics.
Music programs not only have been found to help academics, but they also seem to instill the social skills that students need from a young age. Notably, children who were involved in regular music-making activities displayed higher emotional intelligence and empathy compared to their non-musical peers. It could be that musical education promotes cooperation within a group, sharing and working towards a common goal, and monitoring self and others’ progress towards the goal. Holochowst et al. (2017) also found that playing music exercises the ability to listen and comprehend the nuances of speech, which can help people interpret underlying emotions and meaning of others’ speech. Empathy and social awareness is extremely important for life at home, school, and work. Therefore, music courses could work harmoniously with other classes as they teach students both new content and soft skills at school.
Contrary to what many believe, music is not irrelevant later on in life even if students don’t pursue it as a career. Music education brings much more value to students than what is commonly believed since it supports students’ academic performance and interpersonal skills. Additionally, strong music programs can inspire and provide a good foundation for students to pursue music education as a career, where they can pass their knowledge on to the new generation of musicians in a continuous cycle.
by Anna Fouks
It is a common misconception that different organ systems function separately from each other with few connections. However, contrary to popular belief, significant relations have been found between systems that seem to control very different aspects of our complex bodies. Among the most surprising is the connection between the brain and the bacteria within the digestive system.
The main system behind this phenomenon is the microbiota-gut-brain (MGB) axis. This is a communication structure that includes the following: the central nervous system (comprised of the brain and spinal cord), autonomic nervous system (responsible for involuntary body functions and maintaining physiological homeostasis), enteric nervous system (part of the autonomic nervous system that governs the gastrointestinal tract), and hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis that is part of the body’s hormonal stress response.
The MGB axis helps activate appropriate responses to external stress. Within the HPA axis, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain and the adrenal glands above the kidneys communicate with each other through hormones, ultimately releasing cortisol, a major stress hormone. Meanwhile, the central nervous system releases signals to the enteric nervous system, muscle cells, and gut mucosa to control the body’s immunity, permeability, and secretion of mucus carried out by the ethereal nervous system, muscle cells, and the gut mucosa. The microbiota (various microorganisms) within the gut also affect gastrointestinal processes by being connected in communications among the brain, gut, and other parts of the intestine.
There are more than 100 trillion bacteria entities in the healthy adult intestine, with approximately 200 strains including more than 100 different bacterial species. More than 90% of the existing human microbiome belongs to the Bacteroidetes and the Fermicutes phyla. Bacteria in the intestine can help perform certain digestive functions that their host cannot do, such as the synthesis of vitamins and the breakdown of carbohydrates for energy sources, while also developing and promoting our immune system. The microbiota profile has shown to have similar distribution and action patterns in the gastrointestinal tract among healthy individuals. Some divergences from these patterns are associated with health issues, such as abnormally high Fermicutes to Bacteroidetes (F/B) ratios have been found to be correlated with adult obesity.
Since the brain and gut microbiota are connected through the MGB axis, researchers are interested in how changes in the bacterial patterns may affect an individual’s psychology. For example, “leaky gut” syndrome (or intestinal permeability) refers to when the typically impermeable wall around the intestines weakens and allows toxins and bacteria in the gut pass into the bloodstream. Leaky gut symptoms have been associated with depression and fatigue. More research is needed to examine this connection. However, it is theorized that leaky gut can cause autoimmune responses like inflammation, which affect various areas of the body including neuronal tissue, and so can induce or exacerbate exacerbate depressive symptoms. One study that analyzed blood samples from depressed individuals even found that 35% of the participants showed signs of intestinal permeability.
Animal research has also found connections between the brain and gut. A study done at McMaster University stressed mice by separating them from their mothers for three hours every day when they were 3 to 21 days old. One group of mice had no microbiota in their gut (called “germ-free” mice) and were kept in sterile conditions, while a second group had gut microbiota and were not raised in a sterile environment. In a follow-up after the maternal separation, researchers conducted a series of behavioural tests to measure the mice’s anxious and depressive symptoms. They found that mice with microbiota had elevated levels of the stress hormone corticosterone and exhibited symptoms of depression and anxiety. The germ-free mice had physiological and HPA axis changes, but did not present the same anxious and depressive symptoms. However, when microbiota was from control mice (with no maternal separation) were transferred into the germ-free mice, they began to show signs of anxiety and depression-like behaviour.
Researchers are continuously trying to learn more about the relationship between the brain and gut, and so much of this link is still a mystery. That being said, these studies are reminders to us that the various parts of our organisms are more connected to each other than we think
by Greg Eriksen
The ability to influence others, whether they are aware of it or not, is an often unnoticed yet very prevalent practice within our society. Whether it is a marketing campaign or a friend proposing an idea, we are frequently convinced to agree with others while believing we are making an autonomous decision. Some of the common techniques to persuade others stem from six principles: reciprocity, scarcity, authority, consistency, liking, and consensus.
Reciprocity involves targeting people’s tendency to feel obliged to treat others similarly to how they are treated. For example, if someone invites you to their birthday party, you may be more likely to invite them to yours. While this phenomenon may seem to boil down to being friendly, it could be used as a way to persuade others. In fact, people’s natural response to reciprocate others’ actions can be used to increase their generosity when tipping restaurant employees. In a previous study, researchers found that servers who leaving candy for their guests alongside the bill received a tip percentage that was 2.7% higher than servers who left no treat .
The second principle, scarcity, is the idea that rarer things hold more value. For example, you’re more likely to decline an invitation to go to the beach in the middle of the summer than on an unusually warm day in spring since the opportunity to go to the beach seems rarer in the second situation. In marketing, scarcity statements like “limited quantity” have been found to be effective in influencing consumers when deciding whether they will purchase a product. Interestingly, in recent years as the term “FOMO” (which stands for “fear of missing out,” specifically defined as individuals’ worry that they are not involved in something that is better or more exciting than what they are currently doing) has been popularized, advertisers have been FOMO-based appeals to consumers.
Authority and consistency are the third and fourth principles of persuasion. Authority is described by the tendency for people tend to listen to others who are deemed credible or knowledgeable. For example, broadcasting experts’ opinions seemed to shift public opinion by as much at 4%. On the other hand, the principle of consistency targets people’s tendency to remain consistent with what they have said or done in the past. In 1998, Gordon Sinclair used this idea of consistency to reduce the number of customers who did not go to their reservations without alerting the restaurant. He instructed receptionist to ask customers “Will you please call if you have a change to your plans?” and wait for an answer rather than simply ending calls with “Please call if you change your plans.”By having customers establish that they will call if they want to cancel their reservation, this change in protocol dropped the number of customers who did not call the restaurant to cancel their reservations from 30% to 10%!
Liking is the fifth principle of persuasion, and perhaps the most common. When another person displays positive traits such as physical attraction and cooperativity, others are influenced to believe what they say. The Liking principle seems to link with the Halo effect; the cognitive bias in which we attribute a person’s entire character on a small amount of perceivable information. Hence, different studies have shown that physically attractive people are also perceived to be intelligent, competent, and likeable. Therefore, if someone tries to persuade you to buy them a drink at a bar, consider the Halo effect and how they may be influencing you!
The last principle of persuasion is consensus. This refers to social validation in which people tend to do what others do. How does this tie into persuasion? Employing the principle of consensus can convince people that the decision they are making is normal and common. For example, certain hotels may leave a note in the restroom that indicate that it would be appreciated if the guests reuse their towels. To increase the effectiveness of this note, researchers added information indicating that 75% of other guest’s reuse towels. By doing so, there was a 26% increase in towel re-usage.
After evaluating all of these principles, it is clear that the power of persuasion is persistently and subconsciously influencing our everyday decisions. From restaurants to retail stores to hotels, persuasive tactics will always attempt to be at the heart of your final decision!
by Samantha Jones
As we enter the last few weeks of November, moustaches are growing thick and recreational cannabis use has been legal in Canada for a little over a month. With the new legalization of marijuana across Canada, the government has been working hard to make sure that citizens know their risks of using cannabis. In Ontario, marijuana is available for purchase online at the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) website. In addition to selling cannabis, the website also provides information about the anatomy of cannabis, how it works, and how to lower one’s risk for health issues associated with cannabis use. Although mental health risks are some of the most widely discussed problems associated with cannabis use, there are also concerns with physical health repercussions, with several studies finding a possible link between cannabis use and different types of cancers. Given that it is Movember (an event that aims to raise awareness to men’s health issues) and cannabis has been recently legalized in Canada, I thought this would be a perfect time to discuss recent research findings of a possible association between cannabis use and testicular cancer.
Testicular cancer occurs when there is abnormal growth of cells in one or both testicles.The most common form of testicular cancer involves a testicular germ cell tumour, which results from abnormal germ cells (in this case, specialized cells that give rise to sperm) in the testicles Certain biological factors such as having an undescended testicle or one that did not descend normally, family history of testicular cancer, and age may influence one’s risk. Testicular cancer is most often diagnosed in young males ages 15-35 years old. Interestingly, in Canada, cannabis use is most common in young males aged 15-24 years old. Thus, it is important to acknowledge and examine whether there is a potential association between cannabis use and testicular cancer.
A meta-analysis looking at previous studies examined cannabis use factors and their possible connections with testicular cancer. Several cannabis use behaviours were found to be correlated with an increased risk for developing testicular cancer involving a germ cell tumour. It was found that current cannabis use, using cannabis at least once a week, and long-term cannabis use (i.e. over 10 years) were related to a higher risk of of developing a testicular germ cell tumor.
More recently, a longitudinal study looked at cannabis use and the incidence of a variety of forms of testicular cancer. Male participants were first recruited and studied in 1970 when they were between the ages of 18-21. Cannabis use was assessed in 1970, then incidence of testicular cancer was measured 42 years later in 2011. Similar to other studies, the results showed that testicular cancer seemed to be most often diagnosed in young men (specifically, ages 25 to 40). Researchers found that “heavy” cannabis use - defined as more than 50 times in a lifetime in 1970 – was significantly related to subsequent testicular cancer diagnosis. In other words, men who displayed “heavy” cannabis use between the ages of 18-21 had a higher risk of having testicular cancer later in life when compared to those with no or little cannabis use.
Research on the association between cannabis use and testicular cancer is limited since it is correlational, and more studies should be done to investigate this potential link. However, it is important to take note that certain factors of cannabis use are significantly related to the development of testicular cancer. In the spirit of Movember, I urge you all to know your risks and for those who may be affected to check your testicles at least once a month. More information on how to properly check yourself is available at the Movember website.
by Jenna Finley
Homecoming has come and gone for another year. An article about drinking alcohol and hangover cures would probably be beneficial to the portion of the university population that may have gone just a little too far this past weekend. However, with the new legislation that recently legalized recreational marijuana use, I thought it would be a good idea to take a more critical look at a new type of hangover that many have heard of and possibly been affected by: the “weed hangover”.
I was introduced to “weed hangovers” while watching a morning show and was immediately intrigued. When looking further into it, I found that multiple websites mentioned similar symptoms that constituted this hangover, including brain fog, dry mouth/dehydration, dry eyes, exhaustion, and dehydration. Plenty of listed possible cures and avoidance strategies included staying hydrated (both while and after smoking), avoiding overly salty foods, exercising the morning after, and sleeping – which, to be fair, all seem like great advice for general day-to-day life.
Most of the science associated with articles on this phenomenon are based on two research papers, which both have some glaring issues with their methodology. The first paper was published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal and reported findings from a study that included 13 males who smoked either active marijuana cigarettes or placebo cigarettes. were given marijuana smokers who used either active or placebo marijuana. Researchers found significant differences between the active and placebo groups in a couple of what the paper calls ‘subjective effects,’ but none of them overlap with the symptoms listed on the previously mentioned websites. Additionally, the study has a very small sample size consisting of only males, took place over a single night, and the researchers themselves acknowledge that their findings are “subtle and of undetermined functional significance”. Therefore, it is overall difficult to draw strong conclusions from the paper or apply them to the concept of a hangover.
Looking now at the second article, published in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, researchers examined 12 men over the course of two weekends after smoking marijuana. Despite being used as support for the existence of a ‘weed hangover’, the paper shows no conclusive proof that such a thing exists. In fact, the article itself says that “marijuana smoking was not [found to be] associated with a ‘hangover’ syndrome similar to those reported after use of alcohol or long-acting sedative-hypnotics.”
Both of these papers also seemed to employ very low doses of THC, and all of the participants were cited as being new to medium users of marijuana, which in turn narrows the applicability of these finding even further.
Other similar studies that investigate residual effects of marijuana use on mood, behaviour, and physiology have found little evidence for ‘marijuana hangovers’. However, it should be noted that the research in this area is sparse.
From the research presented, it seems that people may be applying the term “hangover” incorrectly when talking about marijuana use. That’s not to say that there is no withdrawal conditions associated with marijuana. As with most drugs, when a certain level of regular use and dependency is reached, withdrawal symptoms may appear after prolonged periods of abstaining from the drug. That being said, these withdrawal symptoms do not constitute a hangover.
Feel free to stay hydrated, sleep in, and avoid too much sodium, but that’s mostly just going to help with your general well-being. As of now, there doesn’t seem to be a “weed hangover” that these strategies are supposed to help with in the first place
by Alexandra Brooke
In recent years, GMOs have been a largely controversial topic, with many anti-GMO movements attempting to rid our food of those “pesky” GMOs. The question many are asking is: “What are GMOs?’
First, it’s important to define what we are talking about. GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, which includes genetically modified edible plants. GMO is often used to refer to organisms that have either had parts of their DNA removed or external DNA (often from other organisms) inserted. However, the term genetic modification can include anything from artificial selection (breeding certain plants selectively to produce larger and better tasting crops) to the modification of plant DNA (e.g. marking DNA that code for desired traits combined with selective breeding, removing and inserting certain genes into the DNA of plants). Due to this broad definition, it’s difficult to definitively say whether GMOs are beneficial or detrimental to society, but it is possible to look at the history of GMOs and where this controversy began.
The primitive origin of genetic modification began long before crops even existed – with the dog. In approximately 30,000 BCE, wild wolves were domesticated and bred for docility (and later loyalty), leading to the beginning of artificial selection by humans. Evidence found at archaeological sites show that later, as humans began to settle and plant crops, they artificially selected plants with the most nutritional value.
Although genetic modification has existed for over 32,000 years, it is not artificial selection that has caused controversy with the general public. What is being scrutinized is the direct changing or “editing” of genes in plants. Known as genetic engineering, this technique of gene splicing began in 1973 with the work of Boyer and Cohen in substituting a gene from one organism into another to produce the desired effect (in this case, antibiotic resistance in a protein). This experiment gave way to modern genetic modification of plants and animals, a field that holds a lot of mystery in the general public and many do not support. In 1992, the first modern genetically modified crop to be on the U.S. market, FLAVR SAVR Tomatoes, were introduced. These tomatoes were designed to rot more slowly so they could retain their firmness while shipping, and although the genetic engineering did not lead to the desired effect, FLAVR SAVR Tomatoes paved the way for other genetically engineered foods.
Genetic engineering with plants consists of many complex steps. First, a gene must be isolated, which includes finding the desired gene within one organism’s DNA and the target location of the gene within the DNA of a seed. Second, the DNA of the target seed must be extracted in one of many ways (though this sounds simple, it’s difficult to isolate the DNA of a seed without destroying the seed in the process). Next, the DNA is substituted in one of multiple ways (including CRISPR technology, bacterial modification, and “gene guns”, which literally DNA-coated metal into the seed). Finally, the seeds are planted. Despite the careful planning involved, not all plants will show the desired trait, in which case scientists will troubleshoot and modify the process.
The controversy surrounding genetic engineering seems to have begun in the 2000s, with the launch of the non-GMO project in 2007, which is responsible for things like the non-GMO labels seen in supermarkets. This project aims to promote non-GMO agriculture to support farmers’ authority in deciding what to grow and greater genetic diversity in agriculture, and to provide people a way to choose whether they wanted to consume GMOs.
In addition to the tests done with GMOs before they are approved for consumers, a number of studies examine the environmental and health effects of GMOs. Some of the main environmental concerns include the following: the increased use of herbicides to kill weeds when growing herbicide-resistant plants, the loss of diversity in agriculture, and the development of “superweeds” or “superviruses” in response to genetic engineering. In regards to human health, a 2013 report in Critical Review of Biotechnology reported that no “significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops” were found. However, many scientists maintain that continuous research needs to be done to investigate the long-term effects of GMOs.
In the midst of GMO controversy, it’s important to keep in mind why agricultural plants have been genetically engineered in the first place.The reasons are numerous, such as designing crops that produce their own pesticides, anti-allergen foods (including gluten-free wheat, and pesticide-free corn), and “golden rice” enriched with vitamin-A to address extreme vitamin-A deficiency.
Although it is helpful to know where our food comes from and how it is created, being critical of social media “buzzwords” and learning more about the scientific concepts behind food production can help us to get a better understanding of things like GMOs and reduce the fear of the unknown. In the end, it’s people’s own choices as to what they eat or don’t eat, but it’s important to make sure it’s an informed decision.
by Tania Kazi
You’ve just finished writing your last exam and are downtown enjoying the evening with your friends, but as the night goes on you start to feel tired and sick.
It’s not a fluke! The phenomenon of illnesses popping up right after hectic life events, such as exams and midterms, is often referred to as the “let-down” effect. The let-down effect is a generalization that attributes high levels of stress to the occurrence of unanticipated sicknesses and is commonly exhibited after important events like weddings, competitions, or tests. There has been research findings on various health conditions that support this theory. Using self-report assessments and diary entries of patients who had headaches that were comparable in severity, Lipton et al. (2014) found that a sudden drop in stress levels is related to the onset of a migraine. However, the direct effect of stress on physiology goes hand-in-hand with the numerous psychological and routine variations it produces, thus contributing to post-exam sickness.
For example, it is very common to see people living in the library and drinking tons of coffee in order to stay awake during examination periods. This results in a great deal of sleep deprivation among students and manages to further increase their tension and stress levels as exams approach, giving rise to the let-down effect. Furthermore, sleep deprivation has been long known to lower immunity, and a 2011 study has actually shown that the immune system’s activity levels generally peak during nocturnal sleep, otherwise known as sleep that occurs while it is dark outside. Many other researchers have also revealed that nocturnal sleep helps promote immunological memory, which refers to the immune system’s ability to keep recollections of previous invaders the body has faced in order to make fighting them off easier if they ever reappear in the future. Therefore, a lack of sleep and a disrupted sleep schedule can drastically alter your body’s natural cycle, leaving you more susceptible to viruses and likely to feel down in the dumps at the end of the semester.
Moreover, stress-induced eating habits also tend to flare up during exam season which results in poor nutrition and overeating amongst students. A bad diet is typically linked to many major diseases in North America, and also results in low-energy levels and digestion problems in individuals. Specifically, poor nutrition has been related to the development of negative changes in the human gut’s natural environment; such as decreased biodiversity (types of bacteria) leading to a loss in some gut functions. This lowered biodiversity may, in turn, trigger the gut’s microorganisms to stray from their standard functions, activities, and population numbers in order to adapt to the new living conditions. Unfortunately, the consequences could include nutrient absorption issues in the digestive system and the increase of numerous deficiencies of biological necessities like vitamins and minerals. Additionally, a hormone called Leptin, associated with appetite levels in relation to body fat percentages, is severely decreased with the change in the gut’s bacterial environment. This change can result in a decrease in Leptin’s activation of macrophages in the immune system, which suggests that the system’s ability to destroy invaders maybe heavily impacted and the body becomes even more susceptible to illnesses. Overall, these findings show that bad nutrition can affect the immune system in ways that seem to increase the likelihood of a post-exam sickness materializing out of thin air.
However, there is still hope for this exam season, as you can decrease your chances of getting sick by getting enough sleeping every night, avoiding midnight McDonald’s runs, and minimizing stress levels as we head into exams. Only then will you be able to avoid falling victim to the notorious post-exam bug!
*If you are too overwhelmed by exams and would like to talk to someone or need to see a physician, there are resources on campus that can help.
Queen's Counselling Services
AMS Peer Support Centre
Queen's Health Services