Friday, March 30, 2012

Would You Like that on a Sugar or Wafer Cone?

The first thing that is necessary for an ice cream business is cones; besides ice cream that is. At the shop I work at, we make our own waffle cones. Some get dipped in chocolate. As I was doing all of these ice cream business things, I couldn’t help but realize just how much I dislike chocolate. This is when all the women reading this gasp! But that’s the truth, I don’t really like chocolate. And as I was dipping more and more cones, I made the connection to this class and the “bitter-taste receptor.” For those who don’t know, the “bitter-taste receptor” is a SNP (Single Nucleotide Polymorphism) in the human genome that allows for us to taste a particular chemical called propylthiouracil (PROP) in foods. The PROP chemical is what gives the bitter taste to things like Brussels sprouts, and broccoli. There is also a similar chemical in cabbage, tonic water, coffee, and dark beers. 

Since, according to 23andme, my genotype is GG meaning that I can taste bitter flavors. I was genuinely curious to if that was why I am not a big fan of chocolate. So I started doing some searching. What I found was an article on the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry’s website. What I discovered is that there is a similar receptor to the “bitter-taste receptor” but this one allowed for you to taste sweet things. From what I understand, the scientists measured the levels of cAMP after exposing thaumatin and lysozyme (both natural sweeteners sometimes found in some chocolate) to human-like cells. 

My theory is that both genes could work similarly. Even though most people would choose something sweet over something bitter, maybe chocolate is too sweet causing the body to think it could be harmful. I’m not entirely sure to be honest. Just a thought.

I’d rather have Cookie Dough anyway.

PS: Click here! for the article I read.

Identity Crisis?

I know I'm going a little blog-crazy, but I keep reading (unintentionally) really interesting things that are related to our class and I want to share with everyone!
I'm currently taking SPA 471, a topics spanish class, and this semester it is about "la imagen del negro en la literatura americana" (basically, how black people are portrayed in Spanish-American literature). My professor handed out an article (in English, so everyone can read it if they want) about a boy who is black, born into a White family.

In the article, a white mother has an affair with a former co-worker, who is black, and is impregnated with his child. The son is born in 1959, black, into an entirely white family. However, the mother tells him (as well as everyone else, to hide her affair) that he has a skin disease called melanin, and that he was fortunate that his entire body was affected (instead of being blotchy). Everyone accepted this story, perhaps out of ignoring the obvious, because "it was better to be a white boy with a skin disease than a black kid".

With the lie told, her son, David Meyers, grows up in a white, middle-class neighborhood believing he is white. He even states "I thought like a white kid. There was a feeling in me that I didn't want to be associated with blacks."

As David reached adolescence, he became defiant and treated differently. His mother was very angry towards him, attributing this anger to her son's behavior, not his skin color. Eventually, her mother stated she had been raped by a black man when she became impregnated with David. David tracked down his birth-father, who stated that there was no rape, they had only gone out a couple times and had consensual sex.

After learning that he was, in fact, black, David experienced an identity crisis, not knowing whether he was black or white. He had spent his entire life growing up and "acting white", only to learn that he was in fact black.

It brings up a couple really significant points: First, how does our skin color, or "race", affect our identity and perceptions towards others? (I'm aware that is a very vague question, but I mean more in the context of this article) ; Second, what are the repercussions of discovering a false ancestry? (This ties in nicely with 23andme, as well, in case someone learns their dad isn't really their dad).

The article is from the Providence Journal, September 27,2005 (if anyone is interested in looking it up) and is called "Mother reveals white lie and changes a family's history"

Monday, March 26, 2012

DNA and Drugs

Hi all,

Today I read an interesting article that reminded me of something our awesome professor said in 201 last week (wrong class, I know. Not the point). We were learning about malaria, and how drugs taken to treat malaria or prevent malaria have some pretty "psychedelic" side effects...hallucinations, etc. [who needs acid when we can just take this instead?! (but not really)]

Well, on there is an article about a US troop in Afghanistan who killed 17 civilians. The author of the article ascertains that it is possibly because of a side-effect from taking an anti-malaria drug, Mefloquine, AKA Lariam, that the troop committed such an atrocious crime. Side effects include: depression, psychosis, and suicidal thoughts. According to the article, there is sometimes also an urge to hurt someone or yourself. The urge comes on fairly quickly, and "it just seems like the right thing to do".

Although use of this drug was dropped almost entirely in 2009, it is still used in certain circumstances (like in Afghanistan), although those who have suffered traumatic brain injury should not be given the drug. The soldier involved in the article did, in fact, previously suffer a traumatic brain injury. As already noted, the effects were fairly disastrous. This is not the first time something like this has happened, either.

(Here is the link to the article:

Although it has not been confirmed whether or not the soldier took this drug, it is interesting to note the potential side effects. says that our DNA results will inform us about how we will react to certain drugs, and it is a comforting thought to know that one day things like this can, hopefully, screened for in advance.

I, personally, am happy to hear about this development. I was diagnosed with depression in my early teenage years, and had to deal with medications that did not work too well. I was too young to understand how drugs worked, and took them because I was supposed to. However, instead of alleviating any thoughts they had adverse effects and my depression increased. I eventually switched to another medication, which still didn't work any better. During my first year of college, I realized that I felt worse after taking the medication, and stopped taking them. Ironically, many of the symptoms of depression I felt went away after I stopped taking any medication. If my DNA had been analyzed before, then I could have enjoyed all the time that was otherwise wasted. (I'm happy to say I haven't taken any medication since I quit taking them, and don't regret it at all).

Although this might seem like too personal a post, I think my own example, as well as that of the soldier in Afghanistan, show the potential missteps that can occur as a result of taking medication, and how can resolve problems such as this, and ameliorate our future.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Variation, also a linguistic phenomenon.

Hi friends,

Throughout this wonderful class, we have, obviously, learned about and observed variation, notably at a biological level. However, as a student whose studies focus mainly on foreign language and literature, I can't help but draw parallels to linguistic variation as another source of human variation. Although this is not emphasized in our course, I think it deserves recognition as an important source of variation which greatly contributes to our identities.

I don't want to go into the linguistic terminology, but it has been noted that a culture's identity is connected to its lexicon, or vocabulary, demonstrating the importance of certain ideas, objects, or phenomenons.

In addition,regional dialects provide a huge source of linguistic variation. For example, in Spain there is castellano, or "Castillian Spanish", which entails the proper "Spain Spanish". However, there are also: galician, catalan, and basque, regional languages that are officially recognized by the country, not including the other unrecognized linguistic variations.

Further, although countries are often identified by speaking a certain language, there is a lot of evidence of multiple languages co-existing: Switzerland has four official languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansch. The country is also, coincidentally (but not actually coincidentally at all) bordered by German, French, and Italian speaking countries. Romansch is a regional dialect, which shares a lot of its linguistic properties with the Romance languages (Italian and French, for example). This shows how a language doesn't just stop existing because the country changes, but that there is continuity of that language throughout a region, although there is a difference between High German and Swiss German, and Parisian French and Swiss French. Kind of like biological variation, right? Weird.

Even more indicative of our linguistic variation, and demonstrating how one language is related to another, is the proto-indo-european language tree (below).

I guess in my own mind, the way I think of our human variation, at least in terms of ethnicity or physical variation, is by comparing it to this tree. Everything is related, and as a result of environmental factors language has evolved in a way not that differently from our biological entities.
At any rate, sorry for my linguistic rant and trying to parallel outside topics to our class subjects. But I think it's important to note a different (or maybe not so different) source of human variation. There are also biological relationships to linguistic development, but that's for another post. Until then, here's a pretty tree to look at that illustrates my rambling: Kthanksbye

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Note directly related to the course, but interesting anthro news.

A group of archaeologists in Ecuador believe they may have found the burial ground of Inca's last emperor, Atahualpa. Pending further excavations and tests.

Atahualpa was captured by the Spanish Conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, in 1532. The Conquistadors stormed into Cusco, the capital of the Incan empire, along the trend of European empirialism.

The Incan empire fell apart after Atahualpa's capture and eventual death (murder?) The Spaniards tried installing a number of puppet rulers, all worse than the last.

This is exciting, because his body, or at least the last known place the Conquistadors took Atahualpa has been a mystery for centuries. It also may change, "perceptions about the region of Incan influence as the lowland area is well outside their best-known area of habitat, the Andean highlands."