Author: jessimatts

Accipitridae family section complete: Mississippi Kite & Sharp-shinned Hawk pages are live

So currently the last two Accipitridae family pages have been uploaded today.

Mississippi Kites sitting atop some cedar trees at Boomer Lake

Both of the birds are seasonal visitors to Stillwater. The Mississippi kites are here from late spring through early/mid autumn. At least one pair nests around Boomer Lake, I’m sure that there are other pairs also at the lake, but possibly back in the wooded areas or closer to the golf course.

They easy to spot during the summer time, especially in the mornings, sometimes in the afternoon, and then again in the evenings.

Possible young female sharp-shinned hawk

The sharp-shinned hawks are our winter guests, staying from probably late fall/early winter until mid-spring, when they probably start migrating back up north to their breeding territories.

I will admit that there are times when I almost trip over the bird before I see it–and that was how this one was–which is why only one out of the four pictures turned out decently. I’m thinking that when I do manage to start walking at Boomer Lake in the mornings, I’m going to try to keep my eye out for the hawks–especially the ones that sit still in the trees waiting for a meal to either dart out across the field or fly past.

So, these two pages currently round out the members of the Accipitridae family that I’ve seen in the wild.

There are twenty-two species that can be seen within the US, Canada, and Mexico–and currently I have pictures of five of them (or 22%). I have seen a couple of the other hawks–I just don’t have pictures of them. When I do manage to get pictures of them, they will be added to the Accipitridae section.

Therefore to finish off the Accipitriformes order, I will be adding in the family and species pages for the osprey next. Then it will be order and family pages for the ruby-throated hummingbird. After those four pages, I will start working down a long list of birds that I’ve managed to get pictures of over the years.

No Comments bird watchingnaturePhotographyScienceUpdates

Thoughts after completing first round of Muscle Burns Fat

So last week marked the end of my first round of Muscle Burns Fat.

This was a three-week program that Beachbody released last year–I started it right after I finished my first round of 10 Rounds, and am currently going through the follow-up program Muscle Burns Fat Advance (review coming early Feb).

So, as I mentioned on the page for Muscle Burns Fat that I posted under the fitness tab–I came to enjoy the program towards the end.

I’ve realized that I really do enjoy lifting weights and strength training–though some exercises (such as triceps pushups or dips)–are no-go’s due to my arm bone structure (I have slightly curved arms).

I’m still working on trying to do a ‘normal’ lunge without weights–I have no idea when I will be able to hold weights and do a lunge–but it is something I’m working on.

The main downsides that I felt with the program were the BOD ropes–I hate them (even with going into the next program), it just doesn’t feel like I’m getting my heart rate up with them, and also I get tired of occasionally hitting myself in the leg or arm with them.

Also I didn’t like how ‘static lunges’ were called ‘split-squats’. A lunge is a lunge; if you split a squat in half–you’re doing a damn lunge.

I did get use to the format of the program–it was filmed during the pandemic, so all the cast were working out via Zoom, so it was getting little peaks into people’s lives and homes. I just found it strange and a little distracting at first when a second screen would pop-up at the top of the video.

While it has been awhile since I’ve done 21-Day Fix (and I’m actually going to be doing the live version come March–after I finish both MBFA and then Barre Blend), the formats of the two programs were different.

21-Day Fix has two days of active recovery–Pilates and yoga (days 4 and 7, if I’m remembering correctly), Muscle Burns Fat only has one day of active recovery and that is day 7 (Sunday).

Another difference is that while both have modifiers, 21-Day Fix also had someone working out with the resistant band on a few of the days–muscle burns fat was straight dumbbells.

I did start to enjoy the program towards the end–though I will probably always detest the EMOM (every minute on the minute) workouts, hopefully when I do a second round of the program, I’m either lifting heavier or able to do all the push-ups.

No Comments 101 GoalsfitnessFitness ChallengesHealthReflectionsUpdates

The ‘microscopic’ edition: recapping Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News

So I mentioned earlier that a good portion of January became hectic, to the point that I didn’t get quite as much finished as originally planned.

This meant I was behind on my science news round-ups. I’m hoping that my schedule is back on track, and that it will become a weekly post (but definitely a biweekly post) starting again this week.

Since I missed a week, this week’s post is a combination of recaps of articles I’ve read over the past two weeks (I decided I would only recap 3 articles this week).

Currently I’ve just been reading and sharing articles from Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News, though I may start at least reading news from other sites to share here as well. As I mentioned in my first post, their site is updated Monday-Friday with new articles, and if you subscribe to their site you can get their daily newsletter (which is what I do).

So again–this is going to be a fairly long post, probably somewhere between a ten and fifteen minute read.

The first article I want to recap is “Tomoplasma gondii linked to brain tumor”.

The protozoan, Toxoplasma gondii, is one of the world’s most common parasites and is the causative agent of Toxoplasmosis. It has been estimated that approximately 11% of the US population over the age of six has been infected at one point with Toxoplasma gondii.

Colored image of the Toxoplasma gondii protozoan (c)istockphotos credit: Dr_Microbe

We come into contact with Toxoplasma gondii, through either under cooked infected meats, infected cat feces (as cats are a host for the protozoan), or it is passed from mother to child during pregnancy.

After entering the human body, the protozoan forms cysts within various tissues including the skeletal tissue, the heart, brain, and eyes. Depending on how old a person is when they come into contact with Toxoplasma and the strength of their immune system, the cysts may remain throughout the individual’s lifetime.

Toxoplasma now been linked with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, epilepsy, and various cancers. One group of researchers decided to look to see if there could be a linnk between parasite infection/cyst formation and the possible risk of developing glioma brain tumors.

The researchers published their paper “Toxoplasma gondii infection and the risk of adult glioma in two prospective studies” in the International Journal of Cancer. I have not read teh paper–because it is behind a pay wall (hopefully it will be freely available at some point over the next year).

Their reasoning to look at brain cancer, is that the brain tissue is one of the tissues that hte parasite tends to favor in terms of cyst formation. Glioma, is a rare (but fatal) neurological cancer. It is the most common primary brain tumor, though it can occur at any age and part of the central nervous system where the glial cells are found.

Approximately 80% of malignant brain tumors are gliomas, with a very low five-year survival rate of only five percent.

The scientists were wanting to see if there was any correlation between having been exposed to the Toxoplasma parasite at some point in life and development of glioma tumors later in life.

The two groups that they looked at showed that there could be a possible correlation between infection with the parasite and development of glioma tumors. They stated though that a larger and more diverse number of cases were needed to to see if the findings (presence of antibodies against the surface antigens of the parasite) are reproducible.

If the findings are reproducible looking at larger and more diverse groups, then reducing exposure to the parasite could be an easy way to help prevent the development of these highly aggressive and lethal brain tumors. Though it does need to be stressed that exposure to Toxoplasma gondii isn’t the only possible cause for the development of the tumors.

The second article I read was “Dengue virus blocking antibody indentified”

Dengue fever is caused by a flavivirus, carried by mosquitoes, and infects somewhere between 50 and 100 million people per year. Therefore finding a treatment(s) or a vaccine is needed, and is something that scientists have been working on for some time.

3-D image of Dengue Virus. (c) Image created by Kateryna Kon

One of the major problems is that there are four different strains of the virus, and being infected with one strain (and building an immunity to it) doesn’t mean you’re protected from the other strains. In fact, it is just the opposite–building the immunity against one, actually makes you more vulnerable to infection from one of the other three strains.

The research group published their paper “Structural basis for antibody inhibition of flavivirus NS1-triggered endothelial dysfunction” in Science. Since I don’t remember if I have a password for the journal or not, I haven’t read the paper yet (it isn’t behind a pay wall per say, but you do need an account with the journal to read it).

It has been shown that the dengue virus has a specific protein (NS1 or non-structural protein 1) that it uses to attach to endothelial cells around organs. This protein helps weaken cellular membranes and allows the virus to enter the cells. The weakening of cellular membranes and movement of the virus may also lead to the rupture of blood vessels.

The research group found that an antibody that would physically block NS1 from being able to attach to other cells. Therefore helping to slow the spread of the virus. This is an important discovery, due to the fact the antibody is against the protein and not the coding sequence. This means that it should be effective against all four strains of the dengue virus (the physical structure of the NS1 protein should be similar enough for the antibody to recognize it).

If shown to be effective against all four strains of the dengue virus, and if it gets into (and through) clinical trials, it would mean that there is at least one possible treatment for dengue fever. It would also open the door to looking at other flavivirus diseases (such as Zika or West Niles) to see if an antibody against their surface binding proteins would also be effective or not.

The final article I want to recap is “Taurine enhances the microbiome’s resistance to future pathogens”

There has been a wealth of research done over the years that show our microbiome in our gut plays a role in just about every part of our day-to-day lives, and can be connected to numerous different diseases and conditions (though more research still needs to be done to show that the microbiome is playing a significant role whatever the disease or condition is).

So one of the problems when we develop a bacterial infection, is that the antibiotic treatment doesn’t just get rid of the bad bacteria, it also gets rid of some of the good bacteria in our gut. This is one reason, why now doctors suggest that you eat yogurt that is fortified with the ‘good’ bacteria to help recolonize your gut as you’re taking your antibiotics.

Therefore, a key area of research now in infectious disease is to find alternatives to antibiotics for treating bacterial infections–but hopefully not harm our native gut microbiome.

It has recently been shown that taurine (an amino sulfonic acid, it is derived from cysteine), which is found in foods such as meats, fish, and eggs could help enhance the protection of the gut by the native microbiome.

Taurine biosynthesis. Image (c)

Taurine is also a molecule that we can make ourselves from the amino acid cysteine (see above image). Taurine can be found in the brain, retina, muscle tissues, and in bile acids. The presence of taurine in the bile acids helps up digest fats and oils in our gut.

The group published their paper “Infection trains the host for microbiota-enhanced resistance to pathogens” in the journal Cell. Hopefully it will be freely available to read within a year.

When present in high enough concentration in the gut, it helps the microbes produce excess amounts of sulfides to prevent any cellular respiration from occurring in the gut. By helping to prevent cellular respiration, it helps to then prevent the colonization of invasive bacterial pathogens that rely on cellular respiration to replicate and invade neighboring cells/tissues.

Their research showed that even an small initial infection can be enough to induce taurine production (bile acids), which then led to the increase in population of certain bacterial species in the gut. If a second infection (same or similar bacteria) occurred, the microbiome was quicker to react. But treating the animal with an over the counter medication (one to say soothe an upset stomach, deal with diarrhea or even indigestion), was enough to actually allow the pathogenic bacteria to colonize the gut by removing sulfide producing bacteria in the gut.

This also shows that we should take into consideration our own microflora when taking over the counter medications–because you never know when you could possibly come down with food poisoning or some other bacterial infection.

So that wraps up this week’s Science News Round-Up. I could have covered quite a few more articles, but decided that three to four articles is a good number, especially if I can get a good variety in the articles. I think that going from protozoan parasites, to viruses, to bacteria was a good choice this week–it kept everything at the microscopic level (more or less).

Again, let me know what you think of the post–too much scientific jargon still? Is there something that you would like me to cover in more detail? Do you have a specific site you go to read science news on?

Image References:

Image of Toxoplasma gondii again is from; image credit: Dr_microbe

Image of Dengue virus again is from; image credit: Kateryna Kon

Image of taurine biosynthesis is from the following site:

No Comments Personal Developmentprofessional developmentScience

Two of the hawk pages are now live: Cooper’s Hawk & Red-shouldered Hawk

So I’m slowly getting back on track in terms of getting more bird pages posted under the main bird tab. As I had stated previously, the next group that I was going to be getting organized was the raptors.

Cooper’s Hawk thinking of taking off from the wood pile

This is a very large group (as mentioned on the page for their order–Accipitriformes; and one of the family pages–Accipitridae). These two pages were published earlier this week–I’m only now announcing them, because I’ve added a few more family members to the list.

I had published the page for the bald eagle back in October, and then decided that I was going to organize the pages, and it took awhile to get to the order and family for the bald eagle.

Two of the last four pages were added over the past few days. Those pages are for the Cooper’s Hawk and the Red-shouldered Hawk.

Red-shouldered hawk sitting in the elm tree in the backyard

The Cooper’s hawk has mainly been a visitor in the backyard (either ours or our neighbors), while the red-shouldered hawk I’ve spotted in our backyard, and on several walks at Boomer Lake.

A photography goal is going to be trying to get a picture of the Cooper’s hawk at Boomer Lake, and possibly closer one of the Cooper’s hawk when it’s sitting on the fence from the back (I’d like to really be able to see the gray-blue better).

The next page or two will be over the Mississippi Kite and the sharp-shinned hawk, before going on to the osprey family (which will round out the current diurnal raptors that I have pictures of).

No Comments bird watchingnaturePhotography

Stepping back from being an Beachbody independent coach/consultant

So I had mentioned previously that I had decided back in December that I had stepped back from being an independent fitness coach/consultant for Beachbody.

The reasons for this decision are both simple but complex.

Though before getting into my reasons: I should also mention that Beachbody doesn’t guarantee that coaches will automatically earn money–you have to put the time and effort into the process.

So the first reason is that I’m not the biggest sharer of personal things on social media (though I had shared some of my progress pictures in the past)–therefore I wasn’t doing one of the main caveats of coaching–sharing my story.

This is because in part over the past couple of years, my weight has swayed back up and I have regained the weight I had lost prior to becoming a coach/consultant.

The weight gain was in part due to me dealing with a moderate level of depression the past few years (2018 was the capstone year for depression), and pretty much went into survival mode. One mistake I had made was not reaching out for help from other coaches that I knew. I didn’t want to share my issues, I didn’t want to burden others–I’ve learned over the past year or so–there is no shame is asking someone if they can listen, or if they can give you some advice on something.

That is one key take away I’m trying to take forward with me–that it is okay to ask for help when you need it, and it isn’t a sign of weakness asking for help–but a sign of strength.

But, since I wasn’t sharing my story, I wasn’t gaining customers–and without customers purchasing Beachbody products and improving their lives through my pages–I wasn’t earning any money. I was actually losing a little money monthly.

The second reason–is that I’m trying not mend my relationship with food. While proper nutrition is important for weight loss/management–neither of their nutrition programs seem to to be the right fit for me. I’m tired of trying to always count my calories/macros/colored containers, and while I’m trying to drink more water throughout the day–I don’t like being told when I should be drinking water and that half my plate is suppose to be veggies.

The third reason–is that I have never bought into the whole organic, non-GMO, gluten-free diet/nutrition mindset. True, I have bought (and do still occasionally buy) items that are labeld non-GMO or organic, but I usually just shake my head at the marketing strategy.

The list of GMO plants (as of 2019) include:

Maize (corn)–15 varieties

Soybean–8 varieties

Cotton–10 varieties

Canola–3 varieties

Cowpea–1 variety

Arctic Fuji Apples–1 variety

Sugarcane–2 varieties

The time and effort that go into producing GMO plants is extremely long–we’re talking at a minimum of 2 to 4 years, but usually much longer (depending on the flowering/germination rate of the plant).

Therefore, scientists put a lot of time and effort into generating a crop that has a single change in a gene that will extend it’s life, improve the crop, or help to start reducing the amount of water needed for it.

So truthfully–labeling items ‘non-GMO’ is a marketing scheme. Companies realize that we’re willing to part with more money for ‘organic’ or ‘non-modified’ items. Hate to break to everyone–humans have been ‘modifying’ plants and animals since we started doing agriculture (that is the very basis of getting better crops and animals). ‘Organic’ food is actually worse for the environment than GMO plants because it takes more land to grow the same amount of food.

So while I don’t buy into the reasons for ‘non-GMO’/’organic’ labeling and pushes, I will probably still end up purchasing products labeled that way because there may not be any other options on the market.

So to sum up my leaving independent coaching/consulting–while I share on social media I don’t share much, and therefore it isn’t easy to build a large fitness following. I was tired of losing the little money monthly (and currently need that money elsewhere). I’m mending my relationship with food, and I don’t want to be measuring, counting, or weighting anything (and that includes myself). Finally–I just got tired of seeing so much ‘non-GMO’/’organic’/’all-natural’/lets cut calories/need to do this to burn that off crap throughout my various social media channels.

I’m still a Beachbody customer–I’m keeping my on-demand subscription to have access to all the workouts. I’ve actually been a Beachbody customer for decades, and have nothing bad to say about them–these were my reasons/decisions for stepping away from the coaching side of their company.

Everyone’s fitness and nutrition journey is different–some don’t mind sharing their ups and downs with the world. I’m a little more private, which at times makes it a little harder to build up a consistent following.

While I will probably still be sharing my fitness/nutrition journey, it may just be a little more sporadic with very few pictures or measurements or things like that.

Reference for list of GMO plants:—34089.htm

No Comments financesfitnessHealthPersonal Developmentprofessional developmentReflections

Disruptions this week lead to way-laid plans.

So things have been slightly crazy the past week or so, and such I’m behind on my writing/editing/imaging/posting schedule.

I’ve realized a couple of things this week–while I don’t have a normal 9-5 job, what routine I have, I don’t like disturbed. There were several disruptions over the past two weeks (and they’re not finished for a few days), to the point that the only thing I managed to really accomplish on those days were my workouts.

While I knew that I could get a few things done while waiting for my brother to show up–I didn’t because a) I wasn’t sure how long the tasks would last (reading/taking notes/posting articles to twitter and LinkedIn); and b) we weren’t entirely sure of his arrival time.

I also know that in theory I can get things done in the evenings (and for the most part I do)–but I can get more done if I also make use of some of the time before dinner (instead of reading or doing a color-by-number picture).

I also need to dedicate just a little bit of time daily on the task of organizing files on my computer–I spent an entire morning this week after my workout trying to clear out files and I only made a very small dent. While it was a small accomplishment, I felt afterwards like I could have used some of the time for another small project (such as reading articles and sharing them).


It is looking like the science recap could be a biweekly occurrence (at least for January).

In addition, I’m hoping for a Wednesday (probably biweekly) post over a research paper, and this may start next Wednesday (January 27th).

I’m hoping to start adding more to the hawk/eagles/kites group under the birding section over the next week as well.

So I know that there is a problem–the solutions?

Waking up early (at least twice a week)–this will be possibly the most difficult solution to try, mainly because the pup is still getting me up once a night (usually somewhere between 11 and 3), and it takes me awhile to fall back to sleep. But a goal will be to see if I can get up before seven without an alarm this week.

Use time-management apps to block access to different sites, so I don’t spend a good chunk of my day aimlessly scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. While I should probably add LinkedIn to the list–I do need to try to be more active on it (but in all honesty–I should be saying that for the other sites as well).

Limit the amount of time I’m spending on the color-by-number picture app on my kindle. I know that I manage to color at least three to five pictures a day–and if you account for the time per picture–it’s probably 3-4 hours total throughout the day (an hour is fine–but how far in excess I am–I need to change that).

Have a very short and specific to-do (or to-be-accomplished) list for the day and a slightly longer one for the week.

Also be semi-specific in terms of what I’m going to do when I take my mini-breaks (instead of wandering, grabbing some chocolate, and heading back to the computer).

So to sum up–I don’t like having my routine (such as it is) disrupted continuously. Also I know that having unstructured time is important in the day (we really shouldn’t be trying to be busy all day)–having too much is just as bad as trying to accomplish too much in the day. I seem to be going back and forth between the extremes. Hopefully over the next few weeks I can find a good balance between the two. Also I think that the ‘first’ day of 2021 is probably going to be the 21st of the month.

No Comments ReflectionsUpdates

Capricorn New Moon: self-development, self-compassion, & defining my purpose/vision

So the moon will be entering the Capricorn constellation today, and it is also the first new moon transition of 2021. I’m hopeful that things are going to slowly start mellowing out over the next few weeks/months. Joe Biden & Kamala Harris will be getting sworn in as the new president & vice-president of the United States in a week. Hopefully all the knuckle-draggers and ass-hats will just slide back under their rocks for another couple of years. Though, white supremacy is an issue that we have to address as a country, specifically heterosexual male white supremacy (not to say that Caucasian women aren’t part of the problem–but the boy’s club is a bigger piece of the pie).

So one of the long-term goals I have is to try to consistently set and post goals for each new/full moon every month. I know that I missed several throughout 2020, so I’m hoping to be more consistent this year in setting, posting, and actually working towards the goals.

So, back to the first full moon of the year, which is happening tonight (or possibly last night depending on where you are in the world). The moon is moving through the Capricorn constellation, and according to “Moonology: Working with the magic of lunar cycles” by Yasmin Boland, there are several things that one can do during this time:

Plan for next year

Be ambitious with your plans for the next year (or few years)

Be kind (to both yourself and others)

Cede control (don’t micromanage or manipulate others)

Establish traditions (also working on your reputation–both personal and professional)

Then one should also look to see what zone/house the constellation is traveling through. You can base it off of your star/sun, rising, or moon sign. I usually do all of mine using my rising sign: Scorpio, though I could do it with my star/sun sign (Virgo), or even my moon sign (Pisces).

So the new moon in Capricorn is entering my third house, or my communication zone. This is a time to concentrate on communication, and spending time with siblings and friends. So there are several things that one can do during this time (again, taken from “Moonology”):

Take a public speaking course

Read the books you’ve got stacked up

Take a short trip

Hang out with your siblings

Study a foreign language

Really listen to others

Write those letters you’ve been putting off

So looking at the above lists there are few things that I can cross off, since we’re still in the middle of a pandemic (and it’s difficult to be around anyone who isn’t living in your house). Therefore, I probably won’t be spending too much time with my siblings (namely my older brother who is out in California)–though I am helping the younger one move back to town. Traveling is still out of the question (even a short trip), and any courses need to be virtual and already purchased (I’m trying to do a limited spending year).

So if I were to take ideas from the two lists and compile a short goal list for the Capricorn new moon they would include:

Work on developing my vision of where I would like to be in 3-5 years and what I wouldlike to be doing. In the same note, write out very specific goals/milestones that will help me achieve said vision.

Read (or finish) at least two non-fiction books that I have on my curated 2021 to-read list; and read at least three fiction books.

Finish at least one e-course from my curated 2021 to-be-completed e-course list

Work on getting better at self-compassion.

The vision will probably be the hardest goal to be working on–and one reason (at least for me), is that I enjoy learning and jumping from topic to topic. So while people might think that scientific writing is the best (and it is one of the careers I’m looking into)–I want to possibly do something that allows me to bridge STEM with the more interdisciplinary fields (such as humanities and social sciences), plus figuring out how to give back in a way that helps to improve the educational system of the United States.

So I will be using the words I chose for 2021 as guidance: growth, creativity, curiosity, happiness, and prosperity.

In addition, this month has already shown that I need to focus on ‘progress, not perfection’ and to quit reading the last chapter of my life and start writing the next one.

No Comments AstrologyBookscareerNew Moon GoalsPersonal Developmentprofessional developmentReflections

Reflecting on December’s Sagittarius New Moon Goals

So the moon will be entering the Capricorn constellation tomorrow, marking the first new moon of 2021. We’re entering week two of 2021–though it still feels like 2020 (mainly due to the fiasco last week of the attempted coup by right-wing nut-bags (all of whom I hope are arrested, found guilty of treason, and spend the rest of their miserable lives in prison)). So before I can look ahead to the Capricorn new moon, I need to look back at the goals that I set for the Sagittarius new moon, and see how I did with each of them.

The goals for the Sagittarius new moon included:

Developing a ‘fluid’ daily/weekly schedule to for getting things done.

Setting up a goal list for 2021 (working via the larger 150+goals in 2002 days post)

Starting to work through different e-courses (and taking notes for future blog posts)

Finally, setting up a dedicated work station, and a semi-dedicated meditation area in the bedroom.

So how did I do with each of them?

In terms of developing a ‘fluid’ daily/weekly schedule–I’m getting better at it. Basically, I’m trying to do things in a 90-minute chunk with a 20-minute break between the ‘work chunks’. Currently I’m finding I do better in the morning than the afternoon. While I’m fine with this (everyone has a time of day that they work the best during), I may actually try to possibly get some more creative work done, or possibly work through an e-course (but not have a timer set for 90 minutes like I do in the morning) in the afternoon. This may also be the time when I could probably get some uninterrupted meditation time in.

Setting up a goal list for 2021–I managed this one. I decided that this year I would try it in the form of a bingo card. In addition to the bingo card, I also have a curated list of non-fiction books I would like to read this year (from my extremely larger list I started a couple of years ago), and a curated list of e-courses I would also like to work through (again curated from the huge list I’ve accumulated over the past few years).

2021 Bingo Goal Card

Plus I decided that I would also do a workout bingo card, but stretch the time frame to be from 2021 through 2023.

2021 to 2023 Beachbody fitness program bingo card

I worked through the ‘e-course’ Listen to Your Body Method. Though this was more of a weekly coaching/personal development program where there was a group zoom meeting once a week for about 10 weeks. This course opened my eyes to several different things that I’m going to try to start practicing (channel switching, incorporating ‘right’ brain activities into my day, having ‘conversations’ with my inner critic, acknowledging my inner critic, and slowly stepping into my power). Again, as I mentioned above with the goals–I have a curated list of courses I would like to finish during 2021.

In terms of setting up a dedicated work station and semi-dedicated meditation area–well, I almost have the desk cleared off and I’m thinking of turning the other desk/table into where I do my oracle/tarot card readings at night. I’ve realized that I’m still allowing a few things to keep me from totally moving forward in setting up these areas: 1) I use the desk chair as a nightstand (for my glasses, kindle, and journal)–I can easily still use it for that, as I wear my glasses during the day and would just have to find a different spot to lay the kindle and journal during the day; 2) things are still under the desk, but since I don’t really like sitting forward (unless there is room to stretch out my legs), I need to figure out what to use as a possible foot stool, and 3) I need to have a discussion with both my inner critic and anxiety about whatever other issues that are holding me back that I may not recognize day-to-day.

Currently my workstation is bouncing between the table at the window and my bed (and yes, I know that I shouldn’t be working on the bed as I may have a hard time falling asleep at night), and the meditation/oracle card reading is being done on the floor where I currently have my meditation mat.

I’m heading into 2021 knowing that I’m slowly getting better at time and project management (though I would rank both as can-get-better-at). I’m slowly figuring things out, and realizing that the path I carve for myself moving forward doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s path. I know that focusing on time and project management will be key for moving forward both personally and professionally in 2021 and beyond.

Also, taking the time to sit and reflect/question when I realize I’m hitting a roadblock in either area. One of the key things I realized last year–I’ve spent way too much time over the years being a ‘people pleaser’/team player in my career. That isn’t to say that being a team player is bad–it isn’t, but I also need to stand up for myself and my career and learn to start saying no to things that don’t align or wouldn’t help me move my career forward.

I have decided that the following phrases are going to be stay with me in 2021: “Progress over Perfection”, “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one”, and “Not caring what other people think is the best choice you will ever make”..

In addition the words I’ve chosen for 2021 are: growth, creativity, curiosity, happiness, and prosperity

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Recapping Genetic Engineering & Biotech News: First Weekly Round-up

So I mentioned earlier this month that one of the ideas that had been floating around in my head last year was doing a weekly post summarizing all the science news I had read that week (and probably shared via Twitter or LinkedIn).

This will be the first in hopefully weekly (or possibly bi-weekly) installments of my Science News Round-Up. The topics are going to be bouncing around from cancer treatments to neurological disorder treatments, to DNA, RNA, protein, and probably everything in between.

As mentioned before–my top strength is learner, which means I love reading on different topics (and within science I hop between just about everything). Also these posts may lead to other spin-off posts as I will possibly be looking into various topics more deeply.

Also if I am able to download the paper that is mentioned in the article–they will automatically become a separate post and will show up at a later date (after I have time to read the paper and take notes). So, with that said basically all of the news round-ups will be over the news brief, background, but not the actual article.

Also–FYI this first one, is going to be a very long post (possibly a fifteen to twenty minute read).

The articles this week are all showcased on Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News website. Their site is usually updated Monday thru Friday with new stories, and you can also subscribe to their newsletter and get their daily briefings.

One article this week was entitled “Strategy to boost CAR-T cell efficacy against solid tumors demonstrated in mice”.

A little background is probably needed:

CAR-T cells are white blood cells that have been genetically engineered to recognize and attack cancer cells that are expressing certain proteins on their surface.

The proteins on the surface of the cancer cells are the ‘antigens’ that the CAR-T cells recognize. This allows for the CAR-T cells to be ‘customized’ for different cancer types, and can be considered almost a ‘personalized’ treatment plan for cancer patients.

Generation of CAR-T cells. Cartoon (c) Dana-Faber Cancer blog

This treatment method has been successful for B-cell lymphoma and is in clinical trials for other blood cancers.

There are two problems with using this treatment for other types of cancers (outside of lymphomas) are 1) CAR-T cells have to get to the tumor site, and then 2) enter the tumor and be able to survive and replicate to kill off the cancer cells.

A group of scientists at the University of North Carolina may have found a way to increase the success rate of CAR-T cells when combined with other immuno-therapies.

They published their work “STING agonist promotes CAR-T cell trafficking and persistence in breast cancer” in the journal of Experimental Medicine. Again disclosure–I haven’t read the article, because it is behind a pay wall (where you have to pay to have access to the article). I’m hoping it will become freely accessible within the next six to eight months.

The key take away points from the news article were that by activating the STING pathway (which is an pathway that induces inflammation in response to a viral or bacterial infection), the CAR-T cells ability to destroy cancer cells in mice increased. In addition if the ‘checkpoint’ of turning off the CAR-T cells was inhibited, their ability to ‘stay on’ increased as well.

They then came up with a triple combination: CAR-T cells derived from either Th17 or Tc17 cells (T-cells that had longer persistence in the tumor micro-environment), use of therapeutic antibodies to deplete various immuno-suppressive cells from the micro-environment, and turning off the CAR-T ‘check-point’ allowed for these CAR-T cells to destroy breast cancer cells in mice.

To be able to translate these results to human trials, a different agonist for the STING pathway would be needed (as the one used in mice doesn’t activate the pathway in humans). Plus, one would need to see which cancer could be treated with activating the STING pathway. The group stated that they would initially focus on improving treatments for head and neck cancers first, and if the combination is beneficial, move on to other cancers.

CAR-T image came from:

The second article I read was titled “RNA-DNA World Circumvents RNA World Sticking Point”.

This article covered the sticky question–which was first DNA or RNA?

Scientists at the Scripps Research Institute published their paper “Prebiotic Phosphorylation and Concomitant Oligomerization of Deoxynucleosides to form DNA” in the journal Angewandte Chemie. Again–I haven’t read the paper, because it is behind a pay wall.

What the group found though is that through the combination of two chemicals (diamidophosphate and 2-aminoimidazole) that were probably also present in the ozone of Earth’s early atmosphere, along with various nucleotides, you can end up with a RNA-DNA chimera.

This chimera then allowed each ‘strand’ to somewhat easily disassociate from the other to replicate, but at the same time forming a chimera from time to time for stability.

The RNA-DNA World Hypothesis. (c)

The RNA-world hypothesis is based on the idea that RNA was the original self-replicating molecule. The only ‘sticky’ problem with this hypothesis is that when RNA binds to itself (forming a double-stranded molecule), it is very difficult to pull them apart without the help of enzymes (which wouldn’t have been present at early in Earth’s formation).

The chimera RNA-DNA gives support to the hypothesis that maybe DNA and RNA co-emerged at roughly the same time.

This discovery (that the interaction of these two chemicals and various nucleotides can lead to synthesis of DNA) leads to another question–could there now be a broader impact on science? Could the use of these two chemicals possibly make various things easier and cheaper? Such as developing an enzyme-free method of making DNA & RNA, which could then lead to revamping how we do PCR reactions or even synthesize various oligo nucleotides for research.

Image of the RNA-DNA world hypothesis from:

The third article that I read this past week was “Single-cell transcriptome profiling of gastric tumors reveals prognostic gene signatures”.

One major problem with all forms of cancers is the heterogeneity of the tumors. While people can have the ‘same type’ of cancer–for example, breast cancer–each cancer is actually slightly different due to the individual mutations of each patient.

This is why developing cancer treatments are so difficult–they may not (and often do not) work for every patient with that particular cancer. This is one reason why there has been such a push for individualized cancer treatment plans.

So a group of scientists at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, were able to use single-cell sequencing to look at the individual transcriptome of cancer cells from 20 patients who had/have advanced gastric cancer.

Schematic for single cell sequencing from basically any biological starting material

Their article “Single-cell dissection of intratumoral heterogeneity and lineage diversity in metastatic gastric adenocarcinoma” was published recently in Nature Medicine. Again, I have not read the article because it is behind a pay wall (hopefully will be available freely in about six to twelve months).

They collected ascites fluid (which is the fluid that accumulates in the abdominal cavity due to liver disease, cancer, and/or heart failure), from these patients and then isolated a specific cancer cell: peritoneal carcinomatosis cells. These are a specific cancer cell that invades the abdominal cavity, adhering to the stomach and other organs.

They isolated, profiled, and sequenced 45,048 peritoneal carcinomatosis (PC) cells. They learned that the cells seemed to have one of two lineage origins: gastric (stomach) and were considered the most aggressive PC cells resulting in a shorter survival prognosis, or intestinal-like, which were less aggressive, allowing patients to have a longer survival rate.

Through the profiling of the 45,048 cells, they were able to isolate a signature pattern of 12 genes that could be correlated to patient survival, which they tested against even more data from more patients who have PC.

They are hoping that the profiles of the PC cells may also give rise to potential targets for treatment, as there is currently no effective treatment for patients who have peritoneal carcinomatosis.

Cartoon on single-cell sequence came from:

The next article was one I found really interesting: “MicroRNAs modulating diurnal rhythms in cells identified in genome-wide study”.

I found this article fascinating in part to the fact that microRNAs were the topic of my dissertation thesis (though I worked with plants and not animals), and the fact that the other portion (diurnal or circadian rhythm) was the recipient of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (and had been awarded to a trio of scientists–Dr. Jeffrey C. Hall, Dr. Michael Rosbash, and Dr. Michael W. Young).

The paper “A genome-wide microRNA screen identifies the microRNA-183/96/182 cluster as a modulator of circadian rhythms” and was published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. While I haven’t read the paper, I am going to figure out a way to access it (without hopefully having to pay for it), or maybe wait for to to be freely accessible.

So, basically every living thing has a circadian clock (the internal 24-hour clock that is basically running on auto-pilot in the background carrying out the day-to-day essential functions of living).

Most research has been focused on the protein-protein interactions and various pathways and feedback loops. This group changed their focus and looked at a specific class of non-coding RNAs (miRNAs) that regulate genes, but at the transcriptional level.

They screened almost a thousand microRNAs in a luciferase reporter system that was engineered to glow on and off based on the cell’s specific 24-hr circadian clock.

To their surprise, they found 120 microRNAs that affected the bacteria’s circadian clock. Looking at the microRNAs, they decided to go with the cluster miR183/96/182, as mi96 showed to regulate PER2 (which is a core circadian clock gene).

They then went on to knocking out the cluster in the bacteria, and found that depending on how they knocked out the cluster (leaving one miRNA present), they either shortened the circadian period or increased the amplitude of the period.

Wanting to see how the cluster affected the circadian clock in mammals, they knocked the cluster out in mice and found that the mice lacking the cluster had a more difficult time trying to run on a wheel in the dark.

It will be interesting to see how miRNAs, the circadian clock, and disease all tie together.

The final article that I read this week was “Marine natural products identified with potential to treat lethal RNA viruses”.

The title of the actual research paper is “Natural products with the potential to treat RNA virus pathogens including SARS-CoV2” and was published in the Journal of Natural Products. This is a journal that if I renew my membership in the American Chemical Society I should be able to gain access to at some point this year.

So there is a big push in science to find natural products that can serve as antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, antiparastic, and anticarcinogenic treatments. This is due in part to various things (such as bacteria and cancer cells) finding ways to get around current treatments.

There is already quite a bit of research going in this area in terms of looking at plants and soil bacteria (plus other soil organisms), for natural products. Recently there has been a push to look at the oceans for other potential natural products that could be beneficial to human health.

Currently there are ~21 pharmaceuticals that can trace their discovery to a marine natural product. For example, Marizomib (an potential proteasome inhibitor) is in clinical trials for be used as a potential treatment for different brain cancers.

It can trace its discovery to a genus of marine bacteria that was collected from seafloor sediments in 1990 by scientists at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

The scientists are looking to develop a library of compounds with medicinal potential from natural products found in the marine environment (so metabolites from various organisms).

The one thing that I found interesting was that I didn’t realize that members of only 3 RNA virus families have caused all the viral epidemics and pandemics throughout human history (or at least since we’ve started recording it). These 3 virus families (Coronaviridae, Flaviviridae, & Filoviridae) are responsible for the following viruses: SARS-CoV2 (COVID19), dengue fever, West Niles encephalitis, Zika, Ebola, and Marburg disease.

The thought that a treatment is just floating under the waves for any of these viral diseases is quite fascinating–as we are still learning what is actually living under the waves. But it also serves as a reminder that we need to continue (and improve) the protections we have in place for the oceans. These waters cover almost 70% of the planet, so it really shouldn’t be a surprise that the cure/remedy/treatment for numerous diseases caused by viruses could be under the waves.

So this wraps up my first science news round up. I realize that it is an extremely long post, and I may try to do it in two parts moving forward or just limit the number of articles I recap (here I did five articles).

I hope that this has been beneficial to you, and let me know if it still seems to have too much scientific jargon, which topic you found interesting, and also possibly what topic(s) you would like me to dive deeper into with either a series of blog posts or pages under the ‘all things science’ category.

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The last trio of woodpecker pages are now live

So the last three woodpecker pages are now up and live under the woodpecker family page (Picidae). The last three pages added were for the Northern Flicker, the red-headed woodpecker, and the pileated woodpecker.

Pileated woodpecker in the woods at Boomer Lake

So there are twenty-two woodpecker species that can be spotted in North America (Canada, US, Mexico) and to date I’ve spotted five of them, or not quite a quarter of them (twenty-two percent).

These birds can be spotted within forests, at the edge of forests, in city parks, in cacti, and at your backyard suet feeder (depending on the species).

Northern Flicker on the ground at Boomer Lake

I’ve realized that all five that I’ve spotted have either been around the wooded areas of city parks or at the backyard suet feeder.

A goal for 2021 is to see if I can spot a different species of woodpecker (possibly teh yellow-bellied sapsucker), or get better at distinguishing between the downy and hairy woodpeckers, or perhaps getting a better photograph of the red-headed woodpecker.

Red-headed woodpecker at the top of a dead tree

Getting a picture of the yellow-bellied sapsucker and the hairy woodpeckers would round out the woodpeckers that are common around Oklahoma. Getting a picture of any of the other woodpeckers common to North America will require at least one trip somewhere that has the type of forests (or cacti) that the woodpeckers prefer.

So the next set of bird pages to be publish on the blog will revolve around the hawks, eagles, kites, and osprey.

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