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Blog one

  1. 1. Biotechnology and Art Blogs Alexandra Pourzia Neuroscience Major 6/6/2012 Honors 177 Professor Vesna
  2. 2. Blog One: From One Culture Two AnotherMy name is Alexandra Pourzia, and I am a fourth year neuroscience student. Although I spend nearly allmy time in south campus currently, my first experience of UCLA was on the north side at YRL. Although Iwas ignorant of the divide between north and south (and the ‘two cultures) at the time, I felt very much athome there. Now, I could not feel more different. As long as I can remember, I’ve had a passion for history. Some kids my age enjoyed watching TV or playing outside: my sister and I recreated a medieval fiefdom out of Playmobil people on our living room floor. When historically accurate siege equipment or raiment were missing, we made them ourselves out of clay or bits of fabric. I joined a local Shakespeare festival, sewed my own period costumes, and eagerly collected books on all my favorite historical personages. In tenth grade I had the chance to take a course on Europeanhistory, which was also the first advanced placement course I ever took. Despite the challenge, I havenever since then taken a course that was so enjoyable to study for. I went out of my way to do extrareading, simply because I was interested in the material. That was the reason I came to UCLA for the firsttime – to look for primary sources as part of an assignment.In the years that followed, a change took placeinside of me. As college applications drew nearer, Isimply knew that I was not going to be studyinghumanities. Nobody ever told me that I must gointo science, or forced me to choose neuroscienceas my major. But there was a great unspokenpressure. I cannot recall a single conversationdirectly on the subject, but everyone at my highschool knew: you did not major in the humanities.You had to go into science, because doctors makemoney. If you pursued research, you had to get anMD/PhD because the MD meant more money.Ironically, ever since my sister and I excelled onstandardized testing on literature and history inelementary school, we were pushed into accelerated science in middle and high school. Without anyoneoutright telling me about it, I was molded into a scientist. And that is what makes me the most uneasy,looking back: I was so happy the way I was. I adored learning about history; I adored studying literatureand theater. Today, I still feel the same bubble of excitement when I come across a book on 1789, orwhen I hear my north campus friends discussing ancient Greece. But it’s subdued. The old passion isgone. I know less about those topics now than I did when I was 15. And even more frightening is the factthat I feel like I am unqualified to form new opinions on them: that’s for the north campus majors. For thewriters. Me, I’m just a scientist now.Images:1.
  3. 3. Blog Two: All Natural ≠ Organic When I am in Westwood, I make an effort to buy most of my food from Trader Joe’s, since they offer many healthy and organic food options. Although not everything they sell is organic, they maintain that everything with their own label on it is ‘sourced from non-genetically modified ingredients’, which I thought meant 1 GMO-free. This wording is very specific: apparently it is required, because contaminants could be present. ‘Organic’ food has to be 100% free of GMOs, while food that is grown without GMOs but not verified GMO-free could be 2 contaminated with GMOs. Since Trader Joe’s brand labeled food is not certified organic, they have to be careful how they label it.One problem I encounter at Trader Joe’s and elsewhere is the high price oforganic food. While I think most people recognize the benefits of organic fruits 3and vegetables (pesticides are linked to Parkinson’s disease ), they areridiculously expensive compared to the cheaper non-organic alternatives –organic foods range from 10-40% more expensive than regular food 4products. However, a promising trend of increasing organic food productionhas been underway in the United States and Europe. Organic food sales in 5the United States increased by 17% in 2003 alone , and hopefully as theybecome more popular prices will eventually decrease. Another issue I encounter at Trader Joe’s is the misleading ‘natural’ label. This is not confined to one grocery chain: most other grocery stores carry ‘natural’ products as well. The ‘natural’ label is the equivalent of ‘non- GMO produce’ – meaning contaminant GMOs could still be present in the food. Pesticides are also allowed to have been used on ‘natural’ 6 foods. If a food is ‘natural’, it could still have been treated with 6 pesticides. The label is nowhere near as comprehensive as ‘organic’, yet somehow its presence lulls us into a sense of safety. I felt compelled to purchase these foods in the past, because the label makes them seem healthier. Now I realize it is mostly meaningless.Works Cited: 1. “Trader Joe’s Customer Updates.”Trader Joe’s. Trader Joe’s, 2012. 15 April 2012. <> 2. “Trader Joe’s and US Supermarkets Claim Impossibility of Going GE-FREE.” Organic Consumers Association. Fairchild Publications, Inc, n.d. 15 April 2012. <> 3. Wang, A, et al. “Parkinson’s disease risk from abient exposure to pesticides.” Eur J Epidemiol, July 2011.
  4. 4. 4. Winter, Carl K, Davis, Sarah F. “Organic Foods.” Journal of Food Science, November 2006. 5. Hansen, Nanette. “Organic food sales see healthy growth.” CNBC Inc, 2012. 15 April 2012. <> 6. Benson, Jonathan. “Know the difference: ‘Natural’ foods are not organic, often contain GMOs and other toxins.” Natural Natural News Network, 2012. 15 April 2012. <>Images: 1. 2. USDA_organic_seal.svg.png 3.  
  5. 5. Blog Three: UnCultured? How Weve Changed I have always been a lover of animals. However, the animals may not have felt the same way about me: I used to catch lizards quite often as a kid, and they probably did not appreciate me grabbing them and turning them upside down to see if they had blue bellies. I also used to chase after butterflies and other insects, and I kept them in special cages. Although I did my best to research exactly what food they ate, I would always be devastated when inevitable a few of my captives would die. Eventually I realized that with my limited resources, I could not provide for them the way they needed, and I stopped trying to capture bugs and critters for my own enjoyment. I’m happy enough now just to observe them whenever I’m outside.Strange Culture was a rather frightening film. My instinctivereaction to hearing about everything that happened to Mr.Kurtz was just “how could this happen?”. Under that kind ofscrutiny and condemnation, I don’t know how I could haveheld up. I think it would have driven me crazy. Although Icould understand if an EMT felt uncomfortable seeingbacterial cultures lying around a house (I would havewondered if there was any danger, not on a bioterror level,but simply because if the plates were not handled correctlyother fungus and bacteria that were harmful could have grown 1on them ), I think that this definitely speaks to the dividebetween art and science, and even the divide betweenscience and personal life. During the Enlightenment, philosophical thinkers were expected to be well- rounded, and people who were not what we would term specialists in science undertook their own experiments. For example, the famous author Johann 2 Wolfgang von Goethe also studied optics . In the present day, we only trust scientists to conduct science in the ‘right way’, and we would never expect anyone to do science in their home (for example, as a hobby or for pleasure), especially if they were not a scientist by trade.A portrait of Goethe, who was more proud of his scientific works than his writingWorks  Cited:  1.  “Risks  of  Growing  Bacteria.”  Newton.  Argonne  National  Laboratory,  2012.  22  April  2012.  <>  2.  “Johann  Wolfgang  von  Goethe.”  Wikipedia.  Wikimedia  Foundation,  n.d.  22  April  2012.  <>  Images:  1.  2.  px-­‐Goethe_%28Stieler_1828%29.jpg    
  6. 6. Blog four: Self, Meet Body I was fascinated by Noa’s exhibition. I think she achieved her goal of making us more aware of the everyday things we take for granted. The oversized coffee, pollen, and sugar reminded me of the beauty inherent in the things we consume every day, and of the beauty of the natural world that we remove them from. I feel compelled to live a less wasteful life after seeing her work, especially the pollen grain. The honey was transformed into something otherworldly and beautiful as it interacted with the pollen – I think it speaks volumes about how interconnected everything in the natural world is, and how much we ought to work to preserve thatbalance, even at the expense of what is convenient for us as humans. Also, the dust bunny project wasextremely fun to be able to touch and walk around in. It definitely brought back memories of mychildhood, when everything seemed so vast and there was so much to explore.In researching a connection between medicine and art, I was able to find an exhibit that evokes a similarsense of awareness of something we all take for granted at one time or another: the human body. The‘Body Worlds’ project (1), which has traveled worldwide, is an exhibit of over 200 human bodies and bodyparts. Utilizing a process called ‘Plastination’(2), the Body Worlds team is able to perfectly preserve eitherwhole bodies, individual organs, or individual organsystems such as the entire lymphatic circulation in a clearmaterial that leaves them totally visible. The result isintended to be educational – to make us both appreciateour bodies and understand how they are put together.Medical terminology is used throughout, and detail is ofparamount importance (3).I was lucky enough to see this exhibit when it was ondisplay at the California Science Center, and it definitely isan achievement of both science and art. The bodies are notjust displayed in rows: they are deliberately posed andgrouped together. I remember a group of three bodies: aman, woman, and child, with only their blood vesselssuspended in plastic. They were positioned in a familyscene, with the man carrying the child on his shoulders andthe woman holding his hand.It was eery how alien the blood vessels seemed as part of a scene from everyday life: one which theyprobably enacted numerous times as a part of the human bodies they used to inhabit. I left the showfeeling both a sense of awe and gratitude for my own body and for the gift of life that allowed me toinhabit it, but also with a lingering sense of my own mortality. I highly recommend this show to everyonein our class. It is an unforgettable experience, and I think it is a great example of how science can workwith art to create a lasting impact in our lives.Works  Cited:  1.  “Questions  and  Answers.”  Body  n.d.  28  April    2012.  <>  2.  “Plastination.”  Wikipedia.  Wikimedia  Foundation,  n.d.  28  April  2012.  <>  3.  Williams,  Kevin.  “The  science  exhibit  ‘Body  Worlds’  has  generated  controversy  every  stop  of  its  tour  for  being  too  realistic,  even  gross.  But  we’ve  seen  it,  and  we  think  it’s  amazing.  So  have  no  fear.”  
  7. 7. Chicago  Tribune.  Chicago  Tribune,  2012.  29  April  2012.<,0,6732236.story>Images:1.
  8. 8. Blog Five: Why the War Against Gray? When I first saw the picture of Kathy Brew’s “in-between” hair as I walked into the exhibition room, I did not know what I was looking at. It seemed eerily beautiful: a mix of white and copper, with the contrast making the copper seem like fire. When I realized it was hair, I thought it must have been made that way on purpose. Little did I know that it was the evidence of a struggle the artist had been dealing with since her early twenties.Although she mentioned dealing with stigmaagainst her age, and I have heard enoughstories about how difficult it can be to be treated“normally” if one looks above a certain age tobelieve it, I feel like my generation is lessconscious of age than most. We are used topeople retiring later: our parents, the babyboomers, are still working. Activists groups havebeen formed to promote the shedding of thestigma against the aged. However, ageism remains a serious issue for many older people, to such an extent that geropsychologists have begun speaking out in order to help their patients, whose mental health 1 can be badly affected by ageist treatment. In response to ageism, several anti-ageism movements and groups have been founded - one of the most well-known of these is the Gray Panthers, which was founded in 1970 by Maggie Kuhn after she 2 was forced to retire at the age of 65. This group and others like it view age as a natural occurance that should be embraced rather than stigmatized – which seems obvious to me, but apparently this is not the case for many. Such beliefs have also inspired some unique lines of products such as Boom! for women, which are meant to bring out the natural age and beauty of the user, rather than attempt to "hide" or prevent the 3 signs of aging. Personally I think it is ridiculous to be prejudicedagainst the aged, because it implies a disgust for one’s own future and therefore oneself. It seemsridiculous: nobody can escape ageing; where does an ageist individual think him or herself will be in thirtyor fifty years? I am glad that a movement towards embracing and accepting age exists.Works  Cited:   1. “Gray  Panthers.”  Wikipedia.  Wikimedia  Foundation,  n.d.  13  May  2012.   <>   2. Dittmann, Melissa. “Fighting ageism.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, 2012. 13 May 2012. <>
  9. 9. 3. “Boom! By Cindy Joseph.” Boom! By Cindy Joseph, 2012. 13 May 2012. <>Images:  1.    2.­‐Boom-­‐231x300.jpg  
  10. 10. Blog Six: Alan Turing and Morphogenesis Alan Turing proposed, based purely on logical reasoning, that pattern formation in nature involved an ‘activating’ substance and an ‘inhibiting’ substance. The repetition of activator and inhibitor could create 1 patterns such as stripes. Previously, developmental biologists were puzzled by pattern formation because they could not explain it using the linear models that were the extent of their knowledge at the time. Turing proposed a nonlinear model by introducing diffusion as the generator of instability in the 2 model, instead of being a byproduct of the model. The implications of Turing’s mechanism were astounding: he predicted the mode of action of the Hox genes in Drosophila, which result in the patterning 3 of the embryo’s body segments. The Hox genes induce patterning by activatingSegmentation in Drosophila: body plan organized by genes transcription of their unique set of genes while repressing others not related to their segment. They in turn are regulated by patterning genes (gap, pair-rule, or segment polarity genes), which follow Turing’s proposed model very closely. These patterning genes are induced by high or low concentrations of maternal proteins in the embryo, which was formed from the maternal egg and paternal sperm. For example, high concentrations of maternal protein induce the expression of Bicoid and Hunchback, while inhibiting Giant and Kruppel. The concentration of these “morphogens”, as Turing first called them, lead to the formation of a pattern – segment two of the fly 3 embryo. Pair rule genes in Drosophila: alternating segments Works  Cited:   1. Hughes,  Virginia.  “Alan  Turing’s  60-­‐Year-­‐Old  Prediction  About  Patterns  in  Nature  Proved  True.“  The  Smithsonian  Institution,  21  Feb  2012.  Web.  20  May  2012.   <­‐turing-­‐predicted-­‐natures-­‐stripes-­‐and-­‐ patterns/>   2. Reinitz, John. “Pattern formation.” Nature. Feb 2012. 3. “Hox gene.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, n.d. 20 May 2012. <> Images:
  11. 11. 1. Hoxgenesoffruitfly.svg.png2. skipped_fushi_tarazu.svg/203px-Even-skipped_fushi_tarazu.svg.png