DMT: Nature’s Trippiest Molecule

N,N dimethyltryptamine, more commonly abbreviated as DMT, is a powerful endogenous hallucinogen that occurs in plants and animals, including humans. Though its biological purpose is an ongoing subject of scientific contention, it has been empirically suggested that the human body produces DMT during birth, death, instances of extreme pain, and in states of deep meditation. There are multitudes of myths and speculations about the origins and functions of DMT, from deeming it a biological coincidence to declaring it a chemical vessel of supernatural communication with spirits and extraterrestrials. The mystery of DMT’s presence in all living creatures, along with its psychedelic properties, have fascinated scientists, mystics, and thrill-seekers for decades.


Glia: The Unsung Heroes of the Brain

Did you know that neurons aren’t the only kind of brain cell? In fact, these celebrated biological information processors only comprise 10% of the cell population of the brain. The other 90% of brain cells, called glial cells or glia, don’t have as many “intelligent” characteristics as their complex neuronal cousins, but the nervous system wouldn’t be able to function without them. Up until recently, glia, whose name derives from the Greek word for glue, were written off by the scientific community as a simple, gelatinous substance whose sole purpose was to act as packing peanuts to cushion our precious neurons. With more advanced modern research methods, however, we are starting to recognize the subtle yet essential contributions that glia make to our cerebral performance.


DRACO: The Mean, Unseen, Virus-killing Machine

Every year, millions of people around the world die from diseases caused by viruses. Many of you may be wondering why so many people die of infectious diseases when modern medicine has developed so many vaccines: vaccines can only treat certain strains of viruses, and need to be constantly updated in order to keep up with the rapid evolution of viruses. Then you may ask, “but what about antibiotics? They can indiscriminately treat all kinds of bacterial diseases.” It’s important to clarify that antibiotics–such as penicillin–only solve half of the problem of widespread infectious diseases: they can only eradicate bacterial infections. Viruses have a different biological makeup than bacteria, as well as different cell-infecting mechanisms, and therefore require a different kind of agent to destroy them. Up until recently, there wasn’t an antiviral equivalent to the first highly effective antibiotic, penicillin. Now, the medical world is finding hope in DRACO, “a superprotein that may eradicate viral diseases” [1]. Unlike vaccines and antiviral therapy, the other two “weapons” against viruses, DRACO is active against virtually all kinds of viruses. It is for this reason that DRACO is being compared to the virus-combatting version of penicillin, and its implementation may very well bring about an immunological revolution in the treatment of patients with viral diseases.


Under the Microscope: Oxytocin

Dubbed the “cuddle chemical” by neuroscientists, oxytocin is a central molecule in the complex body systems of all mammals, from mice to humans. This nine-amino-acid peptide is responsible for empathy, all types of bonding, stress relief, social cognition, and even morality. Oxytocin is the cornerstone of human connection, and without it, the word “love” likely wouldn’t be in our vocabulary.


Just So You “Neuro”…

What if the key to enhanced mental functioning could be stored in your refrigerator? Neuro, a progressive company taking a new spin at the energy drink, is striving to make such a phenomenon a reality. Neuro has transcended the traditional energy drink and specialized it: Whatever your energizing needs may be—from academically productive energy to sexual energy, athletic energy to inducing a soporific lack of energy—Neuro probably has a drink for you. By harnessing the powers of neurochemistry, these futuristic beverages have the potential to get your brain and body to do what you want them to do—no prescription needed.


Gender Equality in the Media: The New Social Movement

“The media is the message and the messenger, and increasingly a powerful one,” says Patricia Mitchell, the former president and CEO of PBS. By the age of 10, a young girl will watch an average of 31 hours of television a week and join other women around the country in comprising 52% of the movie-going population. Unfortunately, the media’s influence on young women has yielded many negative consequences. The media has been associated with causing young girls to have poor body images, exposing them to limited career options, and accepting inferior status to men. Organizations such as The Geena Davis Institute of Gender in Media seek to terminate these negative consequences of the media’s influence on young women through public education.


EyeWire: Play a Video Game, Advance Neuroscience

Sebastian Seung, a professor of computational neuroscience at MIT, developed EyeWire: an addicting computer game with an ambitious scientific agenda. The objective of EyeWire is to build a “connectome”—a generalized visual map of connections between neurons that govern vision, memory, and disease in the brain. The completion of such a connectome will establish a normative model of these connections. From this normative model, theoretically a neuroscientist will be able to compare a connectome of a normally functioning individual and an individual with a mental disorder, such as Alzheimer’s disease, thus offering insight into the role neural structure plays in mental abnormalities.


The Brain’s Artistry: A Conversation with Neuroscientist and Artist Greg Dunn

Everyone knows that nature is beautiful. So much of nature’s beauty, however, is too small to see without a microscope. Greg Dunn, an artist with a neuroscience doctorate from University of Pennsylvania, has managed to make the microscopic splendor of the brain accessible to anyone, not just scientists, through his paintings. His vivid, organic brushstrokes capture both the essences of neural structures and the interests of scientists, artists, and pedestrians alike. Have you noticed the fundamental similarities between neurons, trees, veins, and even lightning? Have you found yourself wondering why these similarities exist? Dr. Dunn just might have an answer for you, and artistic evidence to boot.

Though art and neuroscience may initially seem like severely different disciplines, artists and neuroscientists have more in common than one might think. For example, as Dunn himself proclaimed, “Part of being an artist or a scientist is living your life with the intent to solve a problem: wanting to know more about something that you’re interested in, and allowing yourself to become utterly obsessed and consumed by the problem.” It appears that Dunn has done exactly that, and in the process has produced some captivating pieces of art and compelling scientific theories. We had a fascinating opportunity to have a conversation with Dr. Dunn about the science behind his art, and the art behind his science.


Pardon My French!

Is there a person in your life who is simply no longer fazed by the insipid American insults you regularly throw at him? Fear not; you can still get the offended reaction out of him that you’re looking for if you globalize your prospective insults…particularly those of the French flavor. In order to help you berate and offend (or at least confuse the point of offense) your person of choice, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite French insults.


The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Amygdala

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found a way to recreate the memory-eradicating science behind “The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” by manipulating protein synthesis in the amygdala, the part of the brain that associates emotions with past experiences.

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Commentary Ticker

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