Atrazine: A natural born weapon

Biologist aims to relate and change his surroundings


Tyrone Hayes, a professor at the University of California-Berkley, stopped at UW Parkside on Wednesday, February 13, to give a presentation on the state of frogs for UW-Parkside’s Science Night. Titling his slideshow “A Tale of Two Toads”, Hayes goes in on chemical usage, the biological damage these chemicals do to animals and why this is important for humans to watch out for.

A boy who loved frogs

Hayes aimed to tell a story through his presentation, so he relies on the catchphrase, “as a boy who loved frogs”, to describe his lifelong process and research. Starting his experiments as early as 19, he and his colleagues made a hypothesis: since female and male frogs have different colored skin, does dipping them in testosterone and estrogen chance their color?

After extensive research, Hayes and his collaborators found that this does work for frogs, as Male frogs change skin color when left in estrogen for periods of time. They next tried Atrazine, a chemical used as an herbicide, to see the effects. He found here that this actually makes frogs Hermaphroditic. Furthermore, he tested these hermaphroditic frogs having children with female frogs by putting them in a set box for a set amount of time. Based on his findings, he concluded that frogs exposed to Atrazine don’t have enough testosterone to have a sex drive, or aren’t able to produce sperm.

More effects lurking

These weren’t the only conclusions his research dug up, either. Based on similar testing, he confirmed that the chemical HGC makes Xenopus frogs lay eggs, and that Atrazine makes Aromatase, which transforms testosterone into estrogen.

At this point, Hayes decided to look into other animals, such as fish and rats, for testing on the topic, as some have had similar chemical testing results as humans. From testing Aromatase on rats, Hayes concluded that the chemical can cause breast cancer. He stated this is because Aromatase overproduces estrogen cells, which can turn into tumors. He found that the solution is Letrozole, which cuts down the amount of Atrazine, and thus the amount of Aromatase.

It is during this point in the presentation where Hayes became the most confrontational. He admits to having a forceful and fierce personality when it comes to his field, but backs up his evidence with clear and concise reason. A main example for him is the company Syngenta, and how they have a pipe that pumps 1.2 million pounds of Atrazine into the Gulf of Mexico every year. He believes this is extremely important for people to take note of, as he sees this as raising cancer rates throughout the country.

Large scale ramification

Nearing the end of his lecture, he shows examples of what can happen in real life to babies damaged by Atrazine exposure, and settles back into his loose story line about “a boy who loved frogs”. He’s set to continue traveling to different schools, spreading his message of chemical safety and biological research.

His research isn’t just groundbreaking, but also important to us as since we live next to a large body of water. Pollution striking our water is criminal, and should we have a similar company by us, it could be detrimental to our food and health alike.


The Science of Maple Syrup

“We get a little twitch in our shoulder when March comes around,” professes Dr. David Higgs. It’s maple syrup season! This past year, Biological Sciences Department’s botanists, Dr. David Higgs and Dr. David Rogers along with Vince Shaff and other faculty, staff and students launched a small project to try and harvest sap on Parkside’s campus in order to make maple syrup. On Wednesday, March 11, Higgs and Rogers shared their interesting work during Parkside’s Science Night with the surprising science behind maple syrup. With Rogers specializing in plant and forest ecology and Higgs in plant molecular biology and physiology, it made for a fascinating night.

The sap harvesting season usually starts in March. Higgs and Rogers have already distributed their sap siphons and buckets throughout the Greenquist trees. You may spot a few of their blue buckets hanging on the trees. They use a more traditional way of collecting the sap, using a siphon and hanging a small container on the tree and then transporting it to a cooker to make the syrup. While this traditional way still exists in some places, today it is more common to use piping systems, instead of the buckets, that move the sap by gravity flow or vacuum systems into tanks where reverse osmosis starts the conversion into syrup instead of cooking. To make syrup, you need to remove 98 percent of the water in the sap, whether it be through reverse osmosis or cooking. What is left after that is your syrup. So if 98 percent of the water is removed, then what is syrup really made up of?

Maple syrup is mainly made up of carbohydrates, and the makeup of a majority of those carbohydrates is sucrose. Essentially, sucrose is sugar and is what gives maple syrup that sweet taste that we all crave. Usually the syrup is about 88 to 99 percent sucrose. The concentration all depends on the time of year that it was harvested. In the late season there is less of a concentration of sucrose and more fructose and glucose. Fructose and glucose are also sugars, and actually derive from sucrose. Fructose and glucose are monosaccharides, simple sugars, and are the building blocks of sucrose, a disaccharide. When sucrose breaks down it is broken into those simple sugars. This breaking down process in the sap actually happens when the sap is sitting in the buckets, hanging on the trees. When it’s later in the season the weather becomes warmer and becomes an incubator for yeasts and bacteria in the buckets, the culprit of splitting sucrose into fructose and glucose. This process is called inverting and is fueled by the enzyme invertase. This higher concentration of fructose and glucose still makes perfectly good syrup, just a different appearance and taste. When the sap is cooked down, the fructose and glucose actually caramelize which gives the syrup its darker coloring. This darker syrup is usually referred to as Grade B syrup.

The sweetness comes from the sucrose, but what gives maple syrup that maple flavor? Higgs says that it is not completely understood, but is thought to be a combination of a specific mix of amino acids paired with the presence of the compounds maple furanone, strawberry furanone and maltose.

So we have looked at sap at a chemical level, but what about the physiological side of it? Why are we able to draw out sap from a tree to make syrup? Higgs explains that the harvesting season only provides this small window because it is the time when the tree is transporting the sucrose from the roots to the branches. The syrup is essentially the product of last seasons photosynthesis. In the fall, before the tree looses it’s leaves, the tree transports its energy that it stored from photosynthesis in the leaves down to the roots to store it over winter. This energy reserve in the roots is what the tree uses in the spring to make new leaves. The energy is stored as starch in the roots and leaves, but before being transported to either end of the tree, it is converted into sucrose, the sap we collect.

While almost any maple tree has sucrose in the spring that can be used to make syrup, Dr. David Roger explained how to best identify the sugar maple tree (the best type of tree to tap). The Norway maple is the one maple tree that has a bitter sap that you can’t make syrup from, and unfortunately is most similar looking to the sugar maple. You can tell the difference between these trees by looking at the leaves. The Norway maple has more lobes and long tapered teeth on their leaves while the sugar maple’s leaves are smoother. But at the time of harvesting sap, the trees don’t have any leaves left so the best way to identify the sugar maple is by looking at the buds and the bark of the tree. The sugar maple’s buds are quite distinct. They are long and stiff and are made up of about 11 to 13 scales. They also often have ancillary buds. The bark is another way of identification. The sugar maple’s bark has soft ridges and valleys and is a beautiful, light-grayish color.

Once you have correctly identified the sugar maple trees, harvesting sap and making syrup is a very fun and interesting hobby. But it’s not just a fun hobby. Wisconsin is actually the fourth largest producer of syrup in America, and Vermont makes the most syrup in the U.S. at about 42 percent. But worldwide, Canada is the boss in the maple syrup industry, making 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup.

Though the maple syrup industry booms and it’s tastier than ever, Rogers brings to light studies that show that sugar maple trees are being greatly affected by climate change and global warming. Scientists’ estimates show that the number of sugar maple trees will greatly decrease over the years. Now just imagine how sad your mornings will be with no syrup on your pancakes. It’s time to stop global warming.

Article by Liv Gripko

The Science of Fahrenheit 451

Have you ever memorized an entire book? For Kenosha’s Big Read of “Fahrenheit 451” on Thursday, Oct. 16th, three Parkside professors addressed a few scientific concepts that Ray Bradbury illustrated in the novel Fahrenheit 451,” such as: Is it possible to memorize an entire book?, Is there such a thing as a mechanical hound?, What is the auto ignition temperature of paper? One can’t help but propose these questions because when Bradbury first wrote “Fahrenheit 451” he had predicted a number of scientific and technological concepts that have been developed successfully over the years. So can he be right once again?

Dr. Gary Wood was the first presenter. He earned his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Dr. Wood addressed the question: Does paper really start to burn at 451 degrees Fahrenheit? For those of you who haven’t read “Fahrenheit 451,” it’s a fictitious story about how books are banned from society and burned. The title alludes to the plot of the story and refers to the auto ignition temperature of paper, 451 degrees Fahrenheit. What is auto ignition? The auto ignition temperature is the temperature at which something gets hot enough to ignite by itself without being exposed to a spark or flame. When Bradbury was writing the book, he called the physics and chemistry department at the University of California, Los Angeles, along with the local fire department to determine the auto ignition temperature of paper. But is it really 451 degrees Fahrenheit? Dr. Wood explained that there’s actually a range of auto ignition temperatures of paper that runs from about 424 degrees to 475 degrees. The temperature depends on what type of paper it is, the composition, moisture content, and other variables.

Dr. Lori Allen presented next. Dr. Allen attained her Ph.D. in Chemistry from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. She answered the question: How close are we to making a mechanical hound? In the novel, Bradbury created a robot dog that could smell criminals (those who owned books), and was programmed to track down and kill the guilty with its electronic nose. So how close are we? Well, Allen showed that scientists and engineers have already created several robots and many which are very animal or dog-like, such as the “Cheetah,” “Little Dog” and “RHex.” They are able to move quickly, maneuver well and conquer large physical obstacles. So engineers have successfully developed robot dogs, but what about an electronic nose? Scientists have been already working on it, but have not completely developed it yet. There is one accomplished electrical nose out there that detects prostate cancer by smelling urine. It has a 76 percent accuracy rate, but does have some false positives. Dr. Allen also elaborated that the mechanical hound in the novel would not only have to be able to smell, but be able to differentiate the smell of one person from the next in order to track the correct guilty person. That means it would have to be able to detect a human chemical signature. Such a thing does exist and scientists have been working to uncover them, but currently not much is known about human signature smells.

The last presenter was Psychologist Dr. Ed Bowden who acquired his Ph.D. from the University of Oregon. In “Fahrenheit 451,” in order to preserve the knowledge and information in books, some of the characters claimed that they had memorized entire books. So Bowden answered whether it is possible for a person to memorize an entire book. To answer this, he first addressed what memory is. Memory is the encoding, storage and then retrieval of information. It is stored in the brain and encoded between connections of neurons. Bowden also explained that everything you experience is not created as a permanent memory. We all have a short-term memory and a long-term memory, and information must get through the short-term memory in order to get into long-term to store it. So can you memorize a whole book? Bowden explains that many can easily memorize the gist of a book, but it is possible to memorize the verbatim as well, and there’s real life examples of such feats. In ancient times, the Romans used to memorize epic poems, like Homer’s “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” to recite to audiences. This is possible by working off of repetition, the structure of the story and honing in on cues within the story. Most recently, 2006 Memory champion, Akira Haraguchi, memorized 100,000 digits of Pi. Dr. Bowden explained that Haraguchi did this by converting each digit into its consonants and then into words. He would then make a story out of the the words.​

Article by Liv Gripko