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Posts tagged ‘physiology’

DNA: Don’t Get It Twisted

In the field of medicine, DNA and genetics is a relatively new concept. The first pictures of DNA were taken just over 50 years ago. Now, people use DNA for everything: engineering crops, selective breeding of livestock, solving crimes, medical therapy. But what exactly is DNA? What is it made of? How does it work? What does it look like?

Well Italian scientists have captured the most high-resolution photo of DNA to date, and it looks something like THIS:

A high resolution photo of DNA taken by Italian scientists. It was captured by dehydrating a strand of DNA and using an electron microscope.

It kind of looks like a hairy caterpillar.

Some of you are saying “Didn’t scientists take pictures of DNA in the 50’s?” While we have had images of what DNA may look like, we haven’t really been able to look at DNA directly. Old pictures were taken with X-Ray techniques, which use light to reflect the image of DNA. It’s like trying to determine what a hand looks like by looking at its shadow. Well with the electron microscope, used to take the picture above, scientists can fire electrons at the DNA to determine it’s really shape. We can even see the double helix base pairs! How cool is that?

DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid. It is a double helix structure with four base pairs, adenine, guanine, thynine, and cytosine! The sequence of these base pairs determines how the DNA functions! For example, take the genetic sequence for eye color. A sequence of A-C-T-C-G-A might determine blue eyes while G-C-A-T-A-C might cause green eyes. Of course, that was just a short version. In reality, genetic code contain billions of base pairs and sequences that are responsible for EVERYTHING our body does. Much like a computer is programmed with simple 0110101 codes, our DNA functions the same way. And like a fingerprint, not one person’s genetic sequence is the same. Even identical twins have two different genetic makeups.

DNA resides in each of our cells in a structure called the nucleus. The nucleus is like the brain of the cell, and the cell functions as the DNA tells it to. The cell reads DNA via an intricate process called DNA Transcription and Translation. Sometimes, there is something wrong with the DNA. It may be damaged, incomplete, or unable to be processed. That’s when we have genetic disorders, such as heterochromia or red hair (yes, red hair is a genetic mutation of blonde hair!). When DNA becomes corrupt and damaged, whether it’s through age or an environmental factor or it’s just prone to be that way, that’s when cells become malignant and turn into cancer. From how many strands of hair we have to how tall we are, DNA controls it all.

The thing about DNA is it thrives off of diversity. That’s why inbred people were often kind of messed up. When you combine two very similar genetic sequences, the DNA can get confusing for the cell to process thus leading to a myriad of problems. While it’s legal in 19 states and in the District of Columbia to screw your first cousin (it’s also legal to marry them in 6 of those states), it’s generally not a good idea. Research has shown that offspring between first cousins have a 7 to 8 percent chance of developing a genetic disorder like Tay-Sachs or Cystic Fibrosis. Even though Charles Darwin, a guy who knew a thing or two about genetics, married his first cousin, it’s not recommended if you want a healthy baby.

After all, DNA, in it’s double helix shape, is already twisted enough.


Male vs. Female Psychology (Part 1)

Every heard that saying “boys will be boys”? It’s true. They will be. As maddening as it is for women sometimes, men have a psychology that has been personally built by thousands of years of evolution. As funny as that is, their psychology evolved to cater to the needs of women. Otherwise, humans would have died out millions of years ago.

“God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.”
“Dinosaurs eat man…woman inherits the earth.” -Jurassic Park (1993)

Although men and women are human species, the psychology and function of their brains differ in almost every way.

Women don’t “need” men as much because they are more easily able to communicate better, not only with men but also with other women. Women prefer a “mend and befriend” approach rather to a man’s “fight or flight” response. These responses are rooted in the hormone oxytocin, but estrogen can enhance the effects and cause a more passive response in women. Men would rather be isolated than be surrounded by other men. It also explains why women tend to have more friends than men.

Ever wonder why men can’t seem empathize or show emotion as much as your girlfriends? That’s because men primarily function with their left hemisphere whereas women use both hemispheres. The left hemisphere deals with logic, problem solving, and reason while the right hemisphere contains emotion, feeling, and imagination. This is not to say that men can’t be emotional, they just tend not to be as “out there” with their thoughts as women. Men think more analytically while women think more creatively.

Have you heard that rumor that men have bigger brains than women?

While women’s brains aren’t THAT small compared to a men’s, men do have about 10 – 15% larger brains. However, that had NOTHING to do with intelligence. Men have bigger brains only because they have bigger bodies.

Actually, women have a larger part of their brain than men, and that is the hippocampus. It explains why women have better memories than men when it comes to detail and specifics over events.

Men are also generally better at math than women because their parietal lobes, the lobes that involve problem solving, are larger and more developed than a woman’s. However, women are able to interpret language and communication easier because that part of their brain is more developed compared to men.

The limbic system of the brain is what allows us to feel emotions such as happiness, depression, guilt, embarrassment, and more. Women tend to have a deeper limbic system, meaning they are more in-touch with their feelings and can process their emotions better. However, this can open them up to more severe feelings of depression and anxiety, especially during hormonal changes such as after childbirth or during a menstrual cycle.

When it comes to pain, men and women respond differently too. Women actually require more morphine than men to reach the same level of pain reduction. The area that receives and processes pain is know as the amygdala. In men, the right amgydala is activated and in women, it’s the left.  Women tend to vocalize their pain and are willing to get treatment more than men.

All of these brain tendencies can make men and women susceptible to different mental disorders. Women are more likely to experience depression and anxiety whereas men tend to have dyslexia and other language problems. Men are also more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, autism, and Tourette’s Syndrome, which makes sense considering all of those affect the left brain more than the right.

So what lead to this sexual difference in psychology? It took millions of years but it all leads to one reason: societal pressures. Men think more systematically because if they couldn’t build tools and weapons to gather food and protect their families, they would die. Men also prefer to be more isolated so they could tolerate the loss of other men during battle or for acts of interpersonal violence over, say, another woman. Women came to develop empathetic and mentalistic skills in order to interpret the needs of crying babies, and to make friends easily with the family of the man she married.

Men and women can train their brains to compensate for areas in which they are weaker. Women can strengthen problem solving skills and men can train language skills. But there are differences in psychology that, for the most part, cannot be learned. Men are more logical, rational thinkers where as women are better judges of character and communication. It’s the same reason why men talk to their cars or computers and why women only complain to other women.

But what happens when men develop “extreme male psychology” or women have “extreme female psychology”? That will be explored later this week in Part 2.

Sources: Masters of Healthcare, Psychology Today