Turkeys are the center of attention at Thanksgiving. But to APS member and Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow Karina Vega, the feathered fowls were the center of a research study that looked at their transition from walking to running. Karina, a biology major at California State University, San Bernardino, studied turkeys while they ran on exercise treadmills in order to study stride frequency and length.
“While running, humans experience an aerial phase, which is when both feet are off the ground at the same time. Turkeys are unique in this aspect in that they instead partake in grounded running, or running without an aerial phase. Turkeys may not seem like the most ideal animal model, but have been proven to be useful for studies that are interested in running mechanics and energetics to define principles that apply to plenty of other animals.” – Karina Vega
As you might imagine, getting a group of turkeys to cooperate is not easy. Read more about Karina’s work, including what she finds most surprising and challenging about the day-to-day life of a scientist, on the APS Undergraduate Researcher blog.
– Erica Roth
The market for electronic cigarettes (e-cigs) and vaping has surged in popularity within the past five years, while traditional cigarette sales have declined. From 2012 to 2013, e-cig sales more than doubled to $1.7 billion. By 2015, sales were estimated at $3.7 billion.
Although manufacturers claim that e-cigs are safer than traditional cigarettes, their use has been associated with clear health risks. E-cigs may seem like they are producing harmless water vapor, but that vapor has been shown to contain a mix of cancer-causing chemicals. Some of the toxin levels are comparable to those in cigarettes.
E-cigs are associated with cellular damage and decreased cough reflex sensitivity after just one use. Cough reflex—triggered by chemical or mechanical irritants—protects the upper respiratory system from infection by getting rid of respiratory secretions (mucus) and foreign material from the lungs. Decreased cough reflex sensitivity may increase the risk of infection because mucus and foreign material aren’t always cleared immediately from the airways. Studies on animals have found that nicotine-containing e-cig fluid may cause changes in the lungs similar to what humans experience with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). COPD is a condition often seen in long-term smokers. These changes include narrowing of the airways, more mucus production and increased inflammation. E-cig vapor has also been linked to substantial DNA damage and increased cancer risk and decreased lung function.
More and more research is providing evidence that e-cigs pose serious health risks. One of the greatest concerns is the potential serious long-term consequences in teenagers. Teens are easy targets for tobacco and e-cig advertisers and may also be easily swayed into becoming lifelong tobacco users. Because of the potential health risks of e-cigs, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends raising the legal purchasing age for both traditional cigarettes and e-cigs from 18 to 21. Marketing strategies of e-cigs try to make e-cigs look socially acceptable to young adults and teens by promoting candy-inspired flavors and vapor tricks on social media. The tendency for the e-cig market to prey on young adult consumers is particularly troubling because the brain is developing critical circuitry that relates to lifelong habits during this time. Users younger than 21 tend to remain nicotine users for life.
The Great American Smokeout sponsored by the American Cancer Society, is November 16. This event is designed to help smokers make a plan to quit, whether it’s traditional tobacco products or e-cigs. Their health depends on it.
Leigh Graziano, MS, is a second-year medical student at the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine. She works with Audrey Vasauskas, PhD, on research on pulmonary arterial hypertension, which is high blood pressure in your lungs. In her free time, Leigh enjoys yoga, mountain biking and fishing.
Pleasant View Elementary (Zionsville, Ind.) students learn about the human body during PhUn Week.
Each week on the I Spy Physiology blog, we present examples of physiology in everyday life. This week, the American Physiological Society (APS) is sponsoring an annual event called Physiology Understanding (PhUn) Week. This is the time when scientists and educators take to the streets to spread the word about physiology. APS members have worked with science teachers across the country to plan activities that help explain what physiology is and how it affects the lives of their students.
APS member Mikaela Drake, an assistant professor of health sciences at Butler University in Indiana, participated in her first PhUn Week as a graduate student. “I quickly found myself naturally falling into the role of an educator that day. It was a new sense of satisfaction I hadn’t experienced before, but I knew I wanted more! Not only did my first PhUn Week experience help to inspire those sixth-grade students, unbeknownst to me, it also inspired my future career track,” she said.
Mikaela discusses the experiments—including working with 3D anatomy puzzles and a red blood cell activity—and individuals who made PhUn Week so exciting for her as a student and now as a faculty member on the PhUn Week blog.
– Erica Roth