Diabetes is very common; in Ontario, over 800,000 people are living with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, and most people have a friend or family member who is affected. However, there’s a lot about diabetes that most people don’t know. One area of current research is the complex relationship between chronic illnesses such as diabetes and mental health challenges such as depression. About 10% of people living with diabetes have type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease which prevents the body from producing the hormone insulin. Insulin is needed in order for the body to process sugar. Type 1 diabetes is sometimes known as juvenile diabetes, as it tends to develop early in life. People with Type 1 diabetes must inject themselves with insulin and carefully manage their food intake and physical activity to balance their blood sugar levels. The majority of people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes, a condition in which the body does not produce enough insulin, or the body becomes resistant to insulin and cannot use it effectively. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, Type 2 diabetes typically develops in adulthood. While some people with type 2 diabetes take medications or insulin, most manage their diabetes through physical activity and healthy eating. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can have serious complications, including heart disease, stroke, nerve damage including blindness, and circulatory problems which can lead to numbness and even amputation. An additional risk is lowered quality of life. Living with a chronic illness can involve lifestyle changes, stress and anxiety. Research has shown that those living with diabetes are at a higher risk than the general population for developing depression and other mental health issues. Should mental illness be considered another serious complication that can arise from diabetes? This question is especially important, as research has shown that people living with both depression and Type 2 diabetes are at increased risk of developing serious complications. Could we be doing more to screen individuals living with chronic illness for mental health challenges? The connection doesn’t stop there; people living with depression have been shown to be at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the first place. Can we find better ways to support those struggling with depression, and prevent them from developing health complications? To discuss these questions and more, Science North and the Canadian Diabetes Association will be presenting a Science Café on Thursday, November 8th at 7:30pm in the Vale Cavern at Science North. Admission to the event is free and snacks will be provided; a cash bar will be available. Panelists will include Dr. Norbert Schmitz, Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Associate Member in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health at McGill University. Also participating will be Gary Petingola, Diabetes Social Worker at Health Sciences North. For more information, check out sciencenorth.ca/cafe or contact Dana Murchison at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hope to see you there!
Recently, Kellogg’s issued a voluntary recall of some of its Mini-Wheats cereals due to “the possible presence of fragments of flexible metal mesh from a faulty manufacturing part”. Accompanying the news reports about the recall have been video posts of people running magnets through cereals not affected by the recall and extracting metal filings. So, wait -- is there metal in every cereal? Should we be pitching our cornflakes into the trash?The short answer is: yes, there is solid metal added to any iron-enriched cereal, and no, we shouldn’t be worried about eating it.For a start, the iron metal that we typically find in our cereal does not come from a faulty piece of machinery – it’s added in tiny, dust-like filings to supplement our diets. Humans need iron -- hemoglobin in the blood uses iron to transport oxygen around the body -- and we can’t synthesize it ourselves. For this reason, many food manufacturers fortify their products with iron. They use solid metal because other forms may reduce a product’s shelf life, and the particles are small enough that our stomach acid can break them down easily.Want to see this iron for yourself? Here’s an easy experiment to try at home!Note: You can also try this experiment without using water. Try crushing dry cereal and running a strong magnet through the crumbs. Could you extract any iron?For more information about the Kellogg’s recall, visit the USFDA website.
In May and June, studies were published respectively in the U.K. and France that suggest that nearly two thirds of children do not drink enough water to stay properly hydrated throughout the day.Over the summer, visitors to the BodyZone at Science North were invited to share how they remember to stay hydrated. Their responses (some pictured below) ranged from vows to drink more water, tips to remember to drink more water, and other ways to beat the heat. Staying hydrated tends to be more of a priority in summertime, when our bodies might lose water more quickly thanks to heat and to summer activities; however, it is important to drink enough water all year round. After all, our bodies require water to perform a lot of functions properly.The studies recommend that we improve our water intake by drinking water with breakfast, and by drinking small amounts of water regularly throughout the day. It’s also important to remember that not all drinks have the same hydrating power. Some drinks – like coffee and pop – actually have the opposite effect and dehydrate the body, and many juices and sports drinks contain large amounts of sugar.
All humans share the same general anatomy, but everyone’s body is unique, and we each have had unique experiences with our own bodies. Visitors to BODY WORLDS Vital were asked to complete the sentence, “I am working towards…”. The responses reveal some of the inspiring goals visitors have for their bodies: to be faster, stronger, healthier or happier, to sleep more, eat better, or to finally land those tricky back walkovers. Scroll through our gallery, and leave your own reflections in the comments. What are you working towards with your body?This is the third post in a four-part series of visitors’ reflections on their bodies. Check out our first two posts here and here. Only three days remain to see BODY WORLDS Vital at Science North! See sciencenorth.ca/vital for all the details on how to catch the Canadian premiere of this blockbuster exhibition before it’s gone.
All humans share the same general anatomy, but everyone’s body is unique, and we each have had unique experiences with our own bodies. Visitors to BODY WORLDS Vital were asked to complete the sentence, “If I could change one thing about my body...”. The answers were varied, complex, and moving. We’re constantly subjected to images of what a “perfect” body is supposed to look like. Some responses reflected the effect on individual body image of this constant bombardment; visitors expressed wanting to be taller, shorter, thinner, heavier, and many other qualities. The range of responses shows that there is no “perfect” body, but that many of us put pressure on ourselves to look different. Some visitors poignantly highlighted things about their bodies that simply cannot be changed, such as the effects of injuries or illnesses. Some show gratitude to their bodies for all they’ve been through, emphasizing that a perfect body is one that you are happy with.Scroll through our gallery, and leave your own reflections in the comments. If you could change one thing about your body, what would it be?This is the second post in a four-part series of visitors’ reflections on their bodies. Check out our first post here.Less than 20 days remain to see BODY WORLDS Vital at Science North! Visit sciencenorth.ca/vital for all the details on how to catch the Canadian première of this blockbuster exhibition before it’s gone.
All humans share the same general anatomy, but everyone’s body is unique, and we each have had unique experiences with our own bodies. Visitors to BODY WORLDS Vital were asked to complete the sentence, “The most difficult thing my body’s ever done is…” The responses were sometimes profound, sometimes inspiring, sometimes funny, and always very personal. Scroll through our gallery, and leave your own reflections in the comments. What’s the most difficult thing your body has ever done?Less than 30 days remain to see BODY WORLDS Vital at Science North! See sciencenorth.ca/vital for all the details on how to catch the Canadian première of this blockbuster exhibition before it’s gone.
Do we own our bodies, or are we our bodies? Do we have a responsibility to keep our bodies healthy, or to give blood, tissue or organs to help others? What happens when you donate your body to science? And how much control do any of us really have over what happens to our bodies when we die? These questions and many more were discussed on Tuesday, June 12th at a Science Café event titled “Who Owns Your Body?”. If you missed out, you can still catch the discussion by listening to the audio podcast at the link below. Our panelists for the evening were Dr. David A. Maclean, Associate Professor in the Division of Medical Sciences at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, and Dr. Carol Collier, Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sudbury. Trillium Gift of Life Network kindly provided materials to share about the importance of organ donation. To register or check your status in Ontario’s organ donor registry, visit https://beadonor.ca/science-north. It only takes 2 minutes and each organ donor can save the lives of up to 8 people. Want to continue the conversation? Add a comment below or use the hashtag #SNBodyWorlds on Twitter. Click here to listen to the podcast
The BODY WORLDS family of exhibitions exists thanks to individuals who chose to donate their bodies for plastination. Their donation may seem extraordinary, but we all make decisions that require us to weigh the fundamental ownership of our bodies against the good of society. Maybe you currently give blood or are registered as an organ donor. Do you think we should be added to an organ donor registry automatically, with the option to remove ourselves? Would you make your health records available for large-scale research, if it might lead to a medical breakthrough? Where should we set the boundary between individual privacy and autonomy, and the public good? Discuss these questions and more with local experts at a Science Café event on Tuesday, June 12th at 7:30pm in the BODY WORLDS Vital exhibition. Panelists for this event will be Dr. David A. Maclean, Associate Professor in the Division of Medical Sciences at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine; Dr. Carol Collier, Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sudbury; and Pam Andler, Organ and Tissue Donation Coordinator with Trillium Gift of Life Network at Health Sciences North. This Science Café is free with evening admission to BODY WORLDS Vital. The exhibition opens exclusively for Science Café attendees at 6pm, with the Science Café starting at 7:30pm. Light snacks will be provided and a cash bar will be available. For more information, contact Dana Murchison at email@example.com or 705-522-3701 x208. Want to join the conversation on Twitter? Tweet @danamurchison or use the hashtag #SNBodyWorlds.
What if you had a way to learn about your past, while predicting your future? Would you be interested in accessing information that may have clues to explain who you are today? On March 6th, Science North held it’s 9th Science Café downtown at the Laughing Buddha. The topic was genetics, and more specifically how our genetic profile links us to our past, explains our present, and could give us insight to the future.Along with moderator Dana Murchison, panelists included Dr. Amadeo Parissenti, an Affiliate Scientist with the Tumour Biology Research Group at Health Sciences North, Dr. Ryan Parr, the Chief Scientific Officer of Mitomics Inc. and Heather Dorman, a Genetic Counsellor at Health Sciences North. The audience enjoyed mulling over several topics, and there was no shortage of questions. Here’s one for you to think about: would you want to know your entire genetic profile, even if it showed something that would drastically alter your future? To hear discussion on this question and many others, click on the link below for the full audio podcast of the evening. Click here to listen to the podcast >For more information on our Science Cafe series, you can contact Dana Murchison at:(705) 522-3701 ex. 208, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ever walk outside into the bright sunlight and suddenly start sneezing? It might not be an attack of seasonal allergies! About one-third of the world’s population gets sneeze attacks triggered by looking at bright lights. This phenomenon is known as the photic light reflex, or “ACHOO” (Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst) syndrome. Scientists as far back as Aristotle have been trying to explain this reflex, but even today, the science behind these “sun sneezes” is still yet to be fully understood. Sneezes are normally triggered when our noses are irritated in some way, and that irritation is sensed by the trigeminal nerve – a cranial nerve that is responsible for facial sensation and motor control. The trigeminal nerve passes close by the optic nerve (responsible for vision). Some theories believe that the photic light reflex is the result of a “crossed signal” between these two nerves: a flood of bright light triggers the optic nerve to send a signal to the brain, and the trigeminal nerve happens to pick up some of that signal and also forwards it to the brain. The brain then interprets the bright light as a nose irritant, and triggers a sneeze.But could this sort of sneezing ever have been helpful to humans? Some scientists think so. It is believed that this reflex might have evolved way back when humans were largely cave-dwellers. Upon leaving their caves, bright sunlight might have triggered sneezes to clear the nose and throat of cave dust and mustiness.The photic light reflex may not be especially useful today, but at least it is not as strange as some other sneezing reflexes that exist. Some people sneeze in response to periocular injections - just as a needle is being inserted into the eye – which could pose risks with certain eye-related surgeries. Other people might experience something called “snatiation” and get a sneeze attack after eating a large meal. Now that’s something to think about next time you feel a sneeze coming on!
Picture this: you spit in a tube, drop it in the mail, and six to eight weeks later you can scan through your very own genetic information online in the comfort of your home. It might seem like science fiction, but a number of companies are currently offering this service at bargain-basement prices. In the ten years since the Human Genome Project published a complete sequence of the DNA that makes us who we are, the amount of information available about our personal genetics has exploded. So what are we supposed to do with it? Many people turn to genetics to look for answers about the past. Personal ancestry and paternity are fundamentally important to us, and genetics can be applied relatively easily to these questions. We’re also making great advances in personalized medicine; someday in the not-too-distant future, we may be able to run a test to get a whole-genome snapshot of our current state of health. We can already use genetics to analyze different types of cancer to make decisions about how to treat them.But when it comes to predicting the future, the potential of genetic information is still unclear. You may be able to determine what genes you have in your DNA, but obscure interactions between genes and the effects of the environment complicate the picture. Simply possessing one gene associated with multiple sclerosis isn’t very useful for predicting your likelihood of developing the disease. Even if you could know, what would you do with that information? For diseases like MS where there is no prevention and no cure, many people would rather not know how likely they are to be affected. For health problems that can be prevented, would genetic information make us healthier? Would you change your lifestyle choices if you knew that you were at an increased risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes or heart disease? We’ll discuss all these questions and more at a Science Café on Tuesday March 6th 2012 at 7:30pm at the Laughing Buddha Café. Admission and snacks are free. Three panelists will prompt audience discussion in a casual atmosphere. Dr. Amadeo Parissenti is an Affiliate Scientist with the Tumour Biology Research Group at Health Sciences North. Dr. Ryan Parr is the Chief Scientific Officer of Mitomics Inc. and part of a team that used genetics to identify the youngest victim of the Titianic disaster. Heather Dorman is a Genetic Counsellor at Health Sciences North. Join us to explore what genetics can tell us about where we’ve come from, how our bodies function right now, and what the genetic future might hold. For more information, contact Dana Murchison at 705-522-3701 x208 or email@example.com. Want to join the discussion virtually? Tweet your questions @danamurchison.
Although we may long for hot sunny days, sometimes too much heat can cause some potentially serious health issues. We have a few tricks up our blue sleeves to help keep you cool this summer. But first, did you know that your body has its own cooling system?The human body has a vital core temperature of 37 degrees Celsius that is maintained through a process called thermoregulation. The hypothalamus gland found in the brain functions as a thermostat, detecting shifts in core temperature. The hypothalamus activates two key responses in the body to reduce core temperature: First, dermal blood vessels (under the surface of the skin) are signaled to widen (vasodilate), allowing increased flow of blood. This draws the heat away from deeper tissue, and sends it closer to the epidermis (skin) where it will be lost or radiated to the surrounding air. Secondly, apocrine glands are signaled to produce sweat and secrete it through tiny holes or pores on the surface of the skin. Once there, the droplets of sweat evaporate, cooling and drawing heat away from the body. Exposure to too much heat and sun can lead to some serious health issues.Physiological processes that keep us alive and functioning rely on a regulated core temperature. Proteins that drive chemical reactions and processes in the body are heat-sensitive and can lose their complex three-dimensional shape at high core temperatures, as in a high fever. Heat waves can be risky to anyone, but especially for children and older adults, who perspire less. Heat exhaustion leaves you feeling tired, dizzy and nauseated, while heat stroke is much more serious and can sometimes be fatal. Symptoms include red-hot skin, lack of perspiration, fever, confusion, disorientation and loss of consciousness. Emergency medical attention is required if these symptoms are observed. Dehydration can leave you feeling lightheaded, dizzy, fatigued, and can cause headaches, and reduced frequency of urination. It is important to stay hydrated, but also to not over-hydrate as this could dilute the blood and upset the balance of electrolytes (salt Na+, potassium K+, calcium Ca2+, magnesium Mg2+). Sweat is made of water, uric acid, ammonia, sugar and electrolytes so be sure to eat a lot of fruits and veggies to help replenish your body when perspiring heavily in addition to drinking water! Lighten Up!You can also keep cool by staying out of the sun, wearing light clothing, and eating lighter meals. Our bodies produce heat internally by metabolizing foods. Heavy meals require more digestion and metabolism, making your liver and other organs work harder. Muscles, glands and particularly the liver are the most active, producing the most heat of any other tissue in the body. This Cold Summer Avocado Soup recipe requires little energy to make and no cooking! Enjoy the added benefits of this nutritious fruit, chock–full of heart healthy omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, an excellent source of fibre, Vitamins E, K, C, Niacin, Folate, and electrolytes Magnesium and Potassium. View the slideshow below to see what some Science North staff have been doing to stay cool this summer! Perspiration VideoCan you actually see your sweat evaporate? Watch the video below to see a magnified view of the pores on the surface of a human hand. Watch carefully, as the tiny droplets of sweat begin to disappear right before your eyes: they are evaporating or turning into vapour, thus cooling the body! Now, we want to see you sweat! Visit the Fednor Cyber Zone Lab here at Science North to watch your own sweat evaporate!
The list of differences between men and women is a long one. Even though we are part of the same species, long-running jokes have suggested that each gender originated on separate planets. Humor aside, there are distinct biological and social differences between men and women. Have you ever considered just how much these sex and gender differences contribute to our individual health? Health differences may go beyond the physical characteristics of males and females. How each gender perceives health, what we determine as a health risk, and what we do to achieve health benefits can vary dramatically. Although men are generally less likely to go to the doctor in the early stages of a health issue, women are actually less likely to enroll in rehab programs after a heart attack. Gender can also impact how we are treated in the healthcare system. Most public awareness campaigns about the symptoms of a heart attack focus on those experienced by men instead of the weakness, fatigue, and nausea that tend to accompany heart attacks in women. This can mean that men are more likely to quickly identify symptoms of a heart attack and seek aid.There is much more to the story of health when we’re considering gender. To initiate further thinking and discussion, Science North will be hosting a Science Café in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research entitled The Joy of Sexes: Health and Stereotypes. Our panel of experts includes Dr. Stacey Ritz, Associate Professor in the Department of Medical Sciences at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Dr. Gary Kinsman, Professor in the Department of Sociology at Laurentian University, and Dr. Lisa Graves, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Medical Education at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. Please join us at the Laughing Buddha Café on June 21st, 7:30pm. Audience members will enjoy free admission, free refreshments and great discussion led by enthusiastic and knowledgeable researchers. For more info, contact Dana Murchison at 705-522-3701 x208 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Canada is in the grips of election fever, and every vote counts! That’s right, it’s time to choose the Official Microbe of Science North. Watch the Microbe Debate to see the five candidates go flagellum to flagellum on their election platforms. Then cast your ballot below! Polls will remain open until the end of the summer, when our election results will be announced. May the best microbe win!
While trying to decide the age-old dilemma of which end of a chocolate bunny to bite into first, are the words flavonoids, serotonin, and healthy fats hopping about in your mind? One of our many obsessions in the BodyZone is the importance of healthy food. How healthy are those chocolate bunnies, chicks and eggs for you? If you find the right kind of chocolate they might actually be good for you! Before you trade in your fruits and veggies for chocolate, remember that what most of us think of as chocolate bars are actually candy bars – loaded with sugar, excess fats, and added flavours and colours. Unfortunately, many of the holiday novelty chocolates fall into this category. These usually contain very little actual chocolate in them and eating too much can contribute to weight gain, heart disease and high blood sugar.The trick is to make sure the chocolate you are eating is of good quality, with very few extra ingredients, and contains at least 60% cocoa. You also want to make sure you are consuming very small amounts as it still may contain sugar and lots of calories. What exactly is it about chocolate that can make it good for you? The health benefits are all found in the cocoa:Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, a chemical produced in your brain associated with feelings of happiness and relaxation. Flavonoids are a type of antioxidant found in cocoa. They help cells resist and repair damage caused by normal body processes such as breathing, and environmental toxins. (Other foods that contain flavonoids are blueberries, some teas and red wine.) Research shows that flavonoids may also have cardiovascular benefits and can increase blood flow to the heart and brain. Cocoa solids also contain theobromine, a type of stimulant, with similar properties as caffeine.Oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat (Omega-9) is also found in cocoa butter. It is the same type of fat found in olive oil and can help to reduce LDL cholesterol. Real chocolate starts with cocoa beans grown from a plant called Theobroma cacao. Through an extensive process that begins with fermentation, the end results in cocoa solids, cocoa butter and liquor. These are the main ingredients of good chocolate.There are also a few variations of chocolate:Dark chocolate is bitter tasting because it contains more cocoa solids, over 60%, which also makes it the healthiest.Milk chocolate, as its name implies, contains about 35% to no more than 50% cocoa, and is therefore not of any health benefit.White chocolate usually contains very little cocoa if any, and none of the cocoa solids that provide most of the benefits, so it isn't even considered real chocolate.If you want to reap the real benefits of chocolate, try to purchase a high quality bar with little added sugar and extra ingredients, and make sure it contains at least 70% cocoa. The taste may take a little getting used to for some, but you will find that the flavour is so intense you only need a small piece of a bar to satisfy your craving!
Here in the BodyZone at Science North, we love our blog readers dearly -- and nothing says “I care” like a real, dissected heart. Today’s video valentine explores the science of this amazing organ. We’ll also poll some of our fellow bluecoats about heart science and investigate the secret love lives of the BodyZone team. Your heart is an incredible pumping organ that circulates your blood around your body. While it doesn’t actually cause you to fall in love, it’s essential for keeping you alive and allowing your body to respond to your environment. In this video, we’ll learn why your heart is so important, examine the pattern of blood flow through its chambers, and discover what “heart strings” really are. Finally, we’ll figure out why your heart starts to pound when you think about your valentine! Consider it a crash course in “love-ology”.
Mutants: they’re not just in the cartoons. In fact, your DNA contains a large number of unique mutations, and more are being added all the time! In Part 1, “I’m a Mutant, and So Are You”, we learned that changes in your DNA can happen anytime, and they can have serious consequences for your health. Now in Part 2, we’ll find out what causes these changes in your DNA – and whether a mutation in your DNA could actually make you stronger.
Our first Science Café, on the topic of “Are We Our Genes?”, was held for a standing-room-only crowd at the Laughing Buddha Café on Tuesday, November 16th. Three researchers from the Sudbury area joined us over drinks to answer questions about the intersection of genes and environment, share their views on the state of research in Canada, discuss the political implications of gene-environment research – and speculate about the likelihood of us all soon posting our genomes on Facebook! (Spoiler alert: I probably would.) If you couldn’t make it, check out the full audio podcast of the event, and check back for details on our next café. This event was hosted by Science North in partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Have a health research topic you’re itching to discuss in a casual setting? Want to share your thoughts on the ideas explored during this event? Leave a comment to keep the conversation going!
Ever wondered if a mutation in your DNA could give you superpowers? Before you go out and get bitten by that radioactive spider, learn what it really means to be a mutant. Hint: it might not be as rare as it sounds. In this video, we’ll investigate the structure of DNA, explore what it means to be a mutant, and check out the longest DNA strand ever built by a an elite squad of science centre geeks – a 20-metre-long model of the hemoglobin gene. Check back soon for part two, where we’ll find out how mutations get into your DNA – and whether mutations could actually make you stronger, faster, and smarter.
Who are you, really? Is your destiny in your DNA? Most scientists today believe that environmental factors like the food you eat, the air you breathe, and the lifestyle choices you make play a large role in determining your health and appearance. A lot of their research focuses on figuring out how big a role the environment plays in different states of health and disease. While some diseases, like sickle cell anemia or hemophilia, are entirely genetic, many others result from a subtle interplay of genes and environment. Autoimmune diseases like type I diabetes and multiple sclerosis appear to have a genetic component, but must be triggered by often unknown environmental factors. Other diseases, like most cancers, are almost entirely based on environmental factors like toxins or UV light. Researchers are currently trying to tease out the contributions of these two components to a whole range of diseases, so that we can treat them better. Researchers are also interested in how our genes affect our responses to a special kind of environmental factor – medicines. For example, people with red hair seem to have weaker responses to painkillers and anesthetics than others. One study even found that redheads are twice as likely to avoid going to the dentist! This is because the molecule that produces redheads’ unique coloration belongs to a family of proteins in the brain that modulate the body’s response to pain. Understanding how a person’s genes will affect their response to a range of different medications will allow us to figure out which drugs will work the most effectively for each of us, as well as minimizing adverse drug reactions. So which matters more, genes or environment? The answer: it’s complicated. When asked about whether nature or nurture contributes more to a person’s personality, psychologist Donald Hebb once reportedly asked, “Which contributes more to the area of a rectangle, its length or its width?” The same could be said for the contributions of genes and environment to our health and physical characteristics. If you’re interested in exploring these important questions further, join us to swap ideas over drinks and refreshments at Science North’s upcoming Science Café! Science Cafés are events where interested members of the public get to discuss current science issues with researchers in a casual atmosphere. Our upcoming Science Café, on the topic of “Are We Our Genes?”, will be held at the Laughing Buddha on Tuesday, November 16th at 7:30pm. We will be joined by three prominent researchers from our community. Dr. Stacey Ritz is Assistant Professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM). Dr. Amadeo Parissenti is a Professor at Laurentian University and at NOSM, and is also a research investigator with the Regional Cancer Program of the Sudbury Regional Hospital. Dr. Robert Lafrenie is Laboratory Director with the Regional Cancer Program of the Sudbury Regional Hospital and Associate Professor at NOSM. This Science Café, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, will allow interested non-scientists to engage in a discussion with real scientists about the intersection of genes and environment.
The story of the discovery of the structure of DNA is a thrilling one, filled with intrigue, egos, and deception. But the story recently got an additional boost of excitement from the discovery of a stack of letters that give us more insight into the controversial characters who made this breakthrough discovery. In the early 1950s, scientists knew that DNA was the genetic material that links all life on Earth, but no one knew what this important molecule looked like. All this changed when, in 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published a paper in the important journal Nature describing the famous double helix structure of DNA. Watson and Crick were instant scientific celebrities, but very few people knew the story behind the discovery. The real story was one of two rival labs racing to be the first to publish the structure – and occasionally stealing each other’s evidence! The flash of insight that led Watson and Crick to propose the correct structure was based on x-ray diffraction and crystallography data stolen from Rosalind Franklin, a brilliant young scientist working in Maurice Wilkins’ rival lab at the University of London. By the time Watson, Crick and Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962, Franklin had passed away. Since the prize is never awarded posthumously, no one knows if Franklin would have been honoured along with her male colleagues. However, she certainly never received recognition for her work during her lifetime. The new letters provide evidence of the tension within and between the two labs. The letters were believed to have been destroyed by one of Crick’s secretaries, but were recently discovered mixed in with Crick’s office-mate’s papers. Alex Gann and Jan Witkowski, who described the letters in Nature, write that the discovery “gives us a more nuanced sense of the interactions between the principal players in this most famous of scientific stories”. The tension in some of the letters jumps off the page, such as when Maurice Wilkins wrote to Crick, “We are really between forces that may grind us all to pieces”. Once, after a confrontation, Crick wrote to Wilkins, “Cheer up and take it from us that even if we kicked you in the pants in was between friends. We hope our burglary will at least produce a united front in your group!” We now know that the “burglary” of Franklin’s data did nothing to calm the tension within or between the laboratories, but we have new insight into the complex characters involved in the race for the DNA structure. The discovery of the new papers comes just in time for the launch of a new set of genetics exhibits at Science North. Come visit us in the BodyZone to discover the structure of DNA for yourself!
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