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What if?

If I was the head of a funding agency, I would be particularly interested in hearing about research efforts directed at investigating microbial influences on human neuroendocrinology. This is because this topic is intersectional with many different medical fields, such as mental health, cancer, IBS, CNS disorders, and more. If funding agencies paid more attention to these kinds of research efforts, I think that we could have a lot more answers to the mental health crisis in America right now. From gun control to death penalty, mental health and neurological illness are at the front of most national debates. The more angles that we can attack this problem from, the more clarity I think we can receive.

I would also be interested to see research projects about reproductive health and cancers. As I had mentioned previously, reproductive cancers have some of the highest fatality rates. Again, this is another monster that we need to think outside the box for. I think that microbial populations and sample of reproductive cultures could provide valuable insight for researchers to explore other options in treating these diseases.

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Reflection

Part 1: Set a timer for 3 minutes, and make a list of as many human non-infectious diseases that you can think of that are influenced by microorganisms.

Cancer, Diabetes, Arthritis, MS, ALS, IBS, Neurodegenerative diseases in general, septic shock, any mental disorder, Huntington’s, Cerebral Palsy

 

Part 2: Refer back to your Writing Exercise #1 that you completed the first week of class. Reflect and discuss how your responses have changed from week 1 to week 10, and what the most important topics you will take away with you once you have completed the course.

I think that throughout the course, I was able to critically think about the topics presented to us and make deeper connections with the material. I like to take the information from class and relate it to either another class that I am taking or a hobby of mine. This was exampled in a lot of my discussion posts, blog posts, and my final essay. I am really interested in neurobiology and psychiatry, so this was reflected in a lot of my understanding and communication with classmates. I drew a lot of great insight from this class, including the fine line between what is healthier short-term vs long-term. The trajectory of both microbial healthcare and general healthcare seems to be directed an individualized care. From a microbiology perspective, this could mean a variety of things. Whether that is gut population cultures, reproductive cultures, or even cultures of your home environment to detect susceptibility or etiology of an acquired autoimmune disorder, the possibilities are endless for individualized healthcare. I think that I reflected this in my last discussion post as well.

 

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A Healthy Dose of Skepticism

 

In Hanage’s article, he warns against the tumultuous spiral that becomes of “hype” scientific research fields. While microbial influence and treatment of human health disorders is fascinating, he claims that the field and it’s supporters should not be getting ahead of themselves.

The first question, “Can experiments detect differences that matter?” is an incredibly subjective question. He defines something that “matters” as something that can be changed, and therefore will have a different affect. While this is true, understanding something is a relief all on its own. Those who suffer from disorders that could be explained in a certain way would often rather know something about their condition than be left in the dark. Does this “matter” in scientific research? According to Hanage, no. However according to the general population? I suppose it just depends.

The second question, “Does the study show causation or correlation?” seems contradictory. We all know that correlation does not imply causation. Hanage argues however, that we can assume that correlation implies some causal relationship. It is the strength of the causal relationship that cannot be quantified based on the correlation from a single experiment. I agree with this to an extent- it will depend heavily on how many factors are influencing the topic at hand.

This is also related to the fifth question, “Could anything else explain the results?”. I think that it is smart to have these lumped together as essential for all scientists to consider. It’s almost a paradoxical question for researchers though- if we knew what else could explain, then why would we be spending so much time on the alternative? I believe that it is meant to be more theoretical than anything else.

The third question, “What is the mechanism?” is the most practical question thus far. This is why I think that it would be the most useful when studying a controversial topic. If a researcher can isolate a mechanism, their work and a causal relationship can be more practically defined rather than built on inference alone.

My favorite question is the fourth question, which is “How much does the experiment reflect reality?”. This could be interpreted as both theoretical and practical. On one hand, you can provide data to correlate the experiment to real-life data collections. On the other hand, reality is a subjective term that is “different” for every individual. It’s a very philosophical idea, while posing fascinating questions for the purpose and direction of the research.

 

All in all, I think that Hanage’s questions were really interesting, but are not as linear as he is trying to convince his readers that they are.

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Nervous? It could be your microbes!

As we have been discussing, microbes have an unprecedented effect on our overall health and immunity. This is not limited to our GI system but translates across many other systems in our body as well such as the nervous system. Our neuroendocrine system has long been thought to be altered by the foods that we eat. However, it was thought that the simple carbohydrates and sugars are what slowed our mental agility and mood fluctuations.

New research has shown that having a diverse amount of microflora can help prevent both CNS disorders and mental health disorders. For example, the gut microflora population of individuals with genetic CNS disorders such as Autism or Parkinsons have displayed a consistent, different population than those who lack the disorder, otherwise called “neurotypical” individuals.

Furthermore, individuals with mental health disorders display abnormal cognitive activity. Whether this is depleted serotonin with depression or increased dopamine with schizoaffective disorders, these neurotransmitters can be affected the density of certain microbes in your gut. Research has shown that a certain microbe is good at facilitating the production of serotonin. If this microbe could be harnessed and given to those who suffer from depressive disorders, it could help alleviate their symptoms.

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“Peer Review” Review from the Reviewee

Reflect on the peer-review process with you as the reviewer. How did it feel to read and critique someone else’s writing? What did you learn that you can apply to your own writing as you revise your final essay?

 

I do a lot of peer reviews for my job at the OSU writing center. Often times I do not have my own copy of the paper that I have written myself. This time was different so it was interesting to evaluate the paper both from a critical perspective and a reflective perspective. There were word choices, elements of organization, and interesting points of view that I had failed to consider in my paper. There were also things that I felt I had not done very well on in which I was reassured that I did alright. I think that I can be more critical of my own transitions and overall organization of the paper. I think that I frequently become carried away in the individual ideas, and fail to recognize the overall scheme of the paper. I also thought that I needed more sources, but looking at other peoples papers, I think that I’m okay with my sources since all of mine are pretty relevant to the purpose of my paper. I saw a lot of sources that were kind of off topic from their thesis. This is a common problem that I see at my job as well.

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Peer Review Process

Describe the process of peer review to someone who does not frequently read scientific articles. In your response, consider the pros and cons of peer review and how that might impact the credibility of the results that come from that scientific article:

The primary benefit of the peer review process is to introduce an unbiased perspective to the paper to make sure that there are no anomalies in the paper. It is easy to skim over your own work, but other people will be more critical and open-minded when looking at another person’s paper. When reading a paper that you have not written, you will notice things that the writer is not often apt to pick out. After all, they wrote it and assumingly read it over before submitting it for review. Furthermore, in scientific fields, often time research studies suffer from unethical practices or motivation. This could be in the form of financial, religious, or other various aspects of personal interest. By randomizing the peer review process, the scientific community can do their part in eliminating these practices and restoring credibility to the scientific community.

A few cons of the peer review process is that it is not always as thorough as it could be. Sometimes peers do not care enough about the topic or could disagree with the topic. In this case, their own emotional investment can hinder their review critiques and comments.

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How do our behaviors affect our microbial populations?

The way we are born: In research that we have read in class, it describes the perceived correlation between the way which an individual is born and their microbial diversity throughout development. This makes sense since the baby is exposed to a lot more microbes if it is birthed naturally in comparison to if it is born through c-section.

The food that we eat: The more types of food we eat, the more diverse our microbial population will be. This is because a more diverse exposure background means a more diverse and capable microbial immune system.

Our vaccines: this one is questionable especially since I have not researched it all that thoroughly in regards to microbial diversity. However I do know that with vaccinations, you are supplied with the proper strain of bacterium or antibodies that could possibly cause/prevent a (usually fatal) disease.  It would make sense that vaccinations could also diversify microbiota because it is exposing our immune system and gut to a wider range of bacterium/microbes.

Hygiene/Cleanliness: There is a balance between what germs can be good for us and how many germs is too many. Obviously, if you have an autoimmune disease, you should stay away from germs as much as possible. However if you are never exposed to any kind of germs or bacterium, as soon as you are, you will be highly susceptible to infection and risk becoming ill as a result of your contact.

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Free Write for Final Essay

First Free Write:

From this term I really enjoyed learning about how microbes can influence cancer research and how microbial density and location can lead to our ability to understand why certain diseases can develop more frequently in some than in others. I was also interested in learning about the mother’s womb and how what the mother intakes will ultimately affect how the fetus develops. I am greatly looking forward to being a mother one day, and hopefully, if I can carry my own child, I will be well informed on what to do throughout the pregnancy. Another thing that I found cool was looking at how microbes play a role in allergies as well as probiotics and antibiotics. Pro/Antibiotics play such a strong prevalent role in our society that it’s cool to look at how it really does affect us and investigate the pros and cons.

 

Second Free Write:

I think it could be cool to look at how probiotics and antibiotics can affect the fetal development inside of a mother. I know that we already kind of talked about it this week, but I think that it would be really interesting to investigate, especially common pro/antibiotics that are perhaps lesser known to be beneficial or harmful. I have a strong background in neurology, so maybe we can look at how microbes play a role in the nervous system? I think I would have to do more research on that, but that would definitely be super cool. Additionally, we could look at how probiotics and antibiotics that the mother takes could lead to a susceptibility of obesity for the baby later on in life.

 

Ok upon further research, it’s actually a popular research idea right now that our microbial activity and populations in our gut can affect our hormone release and how we can regulate our neuroendocrine system. This affects not only our gut but also energy regulation, reproduction, sex drive, and pretty much all the classic stuff that is disrupted by neurological conditions or mental health disorders.

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A Mother’s Microbes

Throughout a baby’s development inside of the mother’s womb, it goes through many stages thanks to the nutrients provided by the mother’s digestive system. One of the most crucial aspects to the baby’s development and eventual self-sufficiency is its immune system. Microbes play a large role in digestion, but they also place a large role in immunity defense against pathogens, especially within a defenseless baby.

Studies have demonstrated that both probiotics and antibiotics consumed by the mother can affect the microbial population of her growing fetus. Colonization patterns of microbes in fetuses have critical impacts on the physical development and likelihood to contract an illness once birthed. Moreover, antibiotics that the mother consumes while pregnant can also affect allergies or enzymatic density in various biochemical processes in the fetus. If the mother eats unhealthfully, it can also affect the diversity of microbiota inside of their baby. Babies whose mothers consumed a limited array of foods displayed both a less diverse gut microbiome and decreased tolerance to disease and a weakened immune system.

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My thoughts on small things that inhibit bacterial growth

My parents were against the constant use of antibiotics, whereas I had a lot of friends growing up who believed that modern medicine should be taken advantage of. Their philosophy was: “if it’s medicine and it will make me feel better, why should I not take it”? When I was younger, I resented that my parents wouldn’t let me take medication to feel better. Now, I realize that they were right all along, a realization I’m starting to have more frequently now in college.

I cannot remember a time when I needed to take antibiotics in a severe medical situation. The worst medical emergency I ever had was a concussion. However, I remember once when I was in elementary school, my friend was allergic to peanuts and she accidentally ate an ice cream sundae that had nuts inside the ice cream. She started crying and everyone freaked out- who knows what would have happened if she didn’t have her epi-pen?

There are definitely a lot of pros and cons to the use of antibiotics. It heavily weighs on the situation and circumstances that will swing the favor to either side. On one hand, if someone has a small infection in their throat that has no other side effects other than an itchy throat and small fever, it would probably be best to not inhibit microflora growth in order to make them feel better. On the other hand, if my friend did not have her epi-pen, she could have passed away from her throat closing in reaction to the peanuts.

It’s a difficult debate in modern medicine- of course, one of many.

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