Monday, March 26, 2012
If I mention the names of a few soap operas- "Desperate Housewives", "Grey's Anatomy" or our very own Indian melodramas by Ekta Kapoor, what is the common link among all three? Infidelity, and scandals.The premise of the serial might be different in each, but human traits are personified in all of them. And being on the look out for a new mate, is definitely one of the traits on display. There are multiple theories developed by behavior analysts and scientists world over, trying to understand the impetus for this urge. What interests me more than the analyses is the fact that this trend is seen even outside of the human species. And that very much, might hold the clue to science of infidelity.
So much has been spoken about the Darwinian theories of natural selection, that it is no longer just a theory, it has become the key to much of human behavior. Recent genetic studies on birds have proven that it is very common for birds to nest with different mates over different breeding seasons. Earlier, it was thought that birds would generally mate for life and breed with the same partner over a lifetime, but more precise DNA patterns of off-springs has led researchers to conclude that each group of off-springs have some foreign DNA within them, which points to polygamous behavior of the first generation.
Further delving into the topic has brought to the forefront, the reasons that instigate birds to "cheat" on their partners. Although, birds are known to win their mate's heart by colorful display of their plumage or mellifluous voices, these aspects seem to take a back-seat, when it comes to dealing with environmental stress. Not unlike humans, only love does not help survive the race; the pressing issues of food, shelter and security direct their mating behavior. Once a bird has nested with one partner, won over by the colorful spectrum, it does not last very long if the male bird is unable to bring home food and itself starts looking scrawny. The mother bird needs to be assured that her progeny would be safe. It is this feeling that prompts the female bird to find a different mate for the next breeding season. It is very much like in the human parallel, women look for men with stable jobs and secure careers as a life partner.
The logical reasoning behind this effort to find different and better mates is, that at least one off-spring will have the strong genetic capability to cope up with extremes. It is with respect to this explanation, that infidelity among birds has risen over the last few years, when climate change has been so drastic. According to a study carried out by Carlos Botero of Columbia University, eggs laid by female birds, in areas that have sudden climatic changes, lacked the DNA of the spouse. Under this same study, the temperature variations and precipitation rates were plotted against the mating habits of birds, which led to the conclusion that erratic climate fluctuations push birds towards apparent promiscuity. Swapping mates is the attempt by female birds to pass on strong genes to the filial generation in hopes that when the climate gets worse, their chicks might survive. Look at it in terms of how a protective mother would want to ensure the child's best interest. I wonder if these are the same thoughts that push even humans to supposedly find a better partner!
Although infidelity seems like an unacceptable thing in the human race, for birds like geese, bluebirds, falcons, and sparrows, this is their way of making sure their species survives. Now who would have thought, that the actions of one species would affect the mating behavior of another species! This is just an indicator of how man's actions have been and continue disturbing the ecological equilibrium. Maybe next time, we invent a new CFC, we will remember that somewhere a poor bird was cheated on and left stranded because of our greed for comfort!
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Now since, it came to our notice that the newer generations were becoming obese and unhealthy, we tried to propagate the importance of exercise. But, our busy schedules didn't stop following us. So what did we do? We came up with the brilliant ideas of power workouts. Spend 30 mins. in the gym and burn the calories. And the rest of the day, go back to being sedentary with your work. What we don't realize is that a gym workout is just that, it works up our body, in a way, that the calories are burnt. But, the other benefits derived from exercise are never attained.
A recent study boosts the same belief, by linking prolonged sitting with a higher risk of breast and colon cancer. According to Christina Friedenrich, an epidemiologist at Alberta Health Services Cancer Care in Canada, physical inactivity is linked to as many as 49,000 cases of breast cancer and 43,000 cases of colon cancer a year in the United States (Source: Scientific American). It is also established that not just these two types of cancer, but prostate, lung, endometrial and ovarian cancers could also be prevented by exercise.
|Cancer cell under electron microscope|
Especially, for endometrial cancer, it was noted that the level of C reactive protein (CRP) was found to be very low in women in the habit of exercising more and just being more active. This protein is a component of the acute phase immune response. The CRP levels are said to increase 50,000-fold during an inflammatory response, a type of body's defense mechanism against infection. Since chronic inflammation damages the body's own cells, it makes those cells more prone to convert into cancerous cells. Thus, the fact that CRP levels are lower when women exercise, leads us to believe that the chance of inflammation and, in turn, malignant growths are fewer.
It is not just the dreaded cancer, but a lot of other disorders that are linked to lack of exercise. The most major among them being, Type 2 Diabetes. What is generally conceived as exercise is just a short-term solution to burning calories, but what is important is to make the muscles active. This requires muscles to be in the habit of movement and exercise. When the muscles don't get the necessary activity, they do not take up the sugar from your blood after meals. Over time, this tends to put your body at a risk of having higher blood glucose levels, which is a precursor of Type 2 Diabetes.
This just means that if we really want to be healthy in its true sense and keep as far away from diseases as possible, we should have an active life! 30 mins. of gym time or jogging does help us a little with our calories issues, but what is really needed is the exercise at frequent intervals during the day. And of course, exercise during work does not mean, we start running around in sneakers. It is just implies that we get away from our desks for a little while, take a walk or just get up and do some work that can be done standing. Maybe walk up to a colleague's desk and talk about something, for which you would regularly have sent an email.
It is just the break in the long hours of sedentary routine that goes a long way. The uninterrupted sitting is the true culprit. Just by tweaking the work schedule, so that every few hours we train our muscles to be active, we could be trading in for a longer and healthier life. It is high time that the myth of health conscious people hitting the gym should be erased.
We need to realize that the only thing that needs to be fast-track is our steps and nothing else. Express lanes to minimize the waiting time might actually minimize the time we spend leading a healthy life! Think about it!!! Would you want to hurry to get somewhere quickly or prefer standing and let your body take care of itself? People wanting to be healthy should do it the old-school way and ditch the luxuries to actually exert some energy and lead a happier, healthier and fulfilling life.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
But, what made these mammoths so different from elephants (which are successors of the mammoth) or even humans? After all, all living forms were derived from one common ancestor, but later diversified on the path of evolution. So, would humans have anything in common with the mammoths? Could we try to establish a relationship between the physiology of humans and mammoths? Now, physically, it is quite evident, that Homo sapiens are not at all similar to Mammuthus primigenius. But, there are many similarities in the cellular components of both. All living forms belonging to a common Kingdom share certain common characteristics, be it the presence of blood in all of them or the way the proteins in their bodies react to temperature extremes. Then what is it that determines which species survives better and wins the struggle for existence? It is the genetic components which vary and keep changing in response to changing environments, to produce metabolic products which render the particular organism capable of surviving a particularly odd condition.
When the Ice Age came to an end and it became difficult for life forms to deal with rising temperatures, it is not surprising that the Mammoths were the first to disappear. Their biochemical make-up was designed to counteract the cold temperatures and the perils that came with it. The greatest and most dangerous peril is the disability to breathe, caused due to the lack of oxygen reaching out to all organs of the body. This is because the protein haemoglobin, that carries oxygen and transports it throughout the body by circulation, freezes at low temperatures and loses it's ability to circulate. The Mammoths were hale and hearty in the Plesitocene Ice Age, which means their haemoglobin was different from ours.
According to a study published in the journal Biochemistry by Yue Yuan et al., the haemoglobin of Mammoths had a higher affinity for oxygen, while having less temperature sensitivity. More simplistically, it just means that the mammoth blood was better equipped to handle wider temperature changes. Added to this study, when the nucleic acids of some mammoth specimens were studied by researchers in North America, Australia and the U.K, they were able to isolate the genetic sequences responsible for producing the haemoglobin molecule. These sequences were used to recreate the mammoth haemoglobin and when compared with human haemoglobin, it was shown to be a much more effective oxygen carrier.
Imagine what this study could mean for people living in extreme climates and facing the ill-effects of hypothermia! If the research on haemoglobin molecules translates into the engineering of blood products and its large scale production, it could act as the wonder molecule for Alpine mountaineers. The biggest advantage would be its use in medical treatments where induced hypothermia is used as a form of treatment, specifically in cases of spinal cord injury or stroke. When hypothermia is used to prevent tissue damage, blood products with increased ability to deliver oxygen at freezing temperatures would keep the patient's body oxygenated. We still cannot foresee what other greater applications this research might find for itself, but studies like these prove that it is only the tip of the iceberg that is visible to us, and what goes on beyond that, is left to be challenged by researchers and scientists.