Palm Oil: The Culprit in Disguise

Nutella, Oreos, peanut butter…what do all of these things have in common? Yes they are tasty, but they contain an ingredient that is leading to the destruction of forests and, in effect, harming many animals (including the orangutan population) that inhabit these forests. The culprit is palm oil. I first learned about palm oil in 6th grade when my friend’s mother, who is currently a professor of geography and IMG_1109environment. I remember staring at her in disbelief as she told me that my favorite cookies, Oreos, contributes to the destruction of forestry. Now of course my 6th grade self didn’t quite comprehend the fact that animals lived in these forest and to be honest I loved Oreos so I tried to push the thought in the back of my mind. Fast forward and now I am in college. I became plagued with the inability to  eat healthy in a stressful environment this past year. So I generally would reach for Oreos, Nutella, peanut butter, instant noodles, and ice cream in order to quickly satisfy myself. However, as I munched on my Oreos while attempting to finish my Organic Chemistry homework, I was still haunted by the repercussions of my snacking habits. With summer vacation in full swing I became more conscious of my eating habits and, out of curiosity, I decided to do some research on palm oil.

Malaysia and Indonesia, home to numerous species of plants and animals, are the leading producers of palm oil. “The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization suggests that during the period 1990–2005, 55%–59% of oil palm expansion in Malaysia, and at least 56% of that in Indonesia occurred at the expense of forests” (Koh and Wilcove). Palm oil is the most popular vegetable oil used in products such as foods and cosmetics; approximately 50% of everyday products contain palm oil (“Palm Oil”). Some everyday products that you probably have somewhere in your household that may contain palm oil are shampoo, soap, makeup, cookies, and chocolate. The main issues with palm oil is that its production results in the emission of excessive amounts of carbon dioxide, a facilitator in climate change (yes it is a real thing), and the destruction of forestry that leads to the loss of habitats for many animals (“Palm Oil”). The loss of biodiversity and climate change are hard to reverse and ultimately will effect posterity unless change is enforced. Another element of palm oil production and distribution that completely baffled me is that manufacturers typically hide their use of palm oil by listing the oil under a different name on their products. Some names include cetyl ricinoleate and sodium laureth sulfate (your shampoo probably contains this). For the full list of alternate names for palm oil click here.

While this blog post is only a brief discussion of the damaging effects of palm oil (there are many articles and websites that go into great depth), it is intended to quickly point out that the issue is real and encourage the boycott of products containing palm oil.


“Alternative Names for Palm Oil.” Palm Oil Invesitgations. Palm Oil Invesitgations, n.d. Web. 30 July 2015. <;.
Koh, L. P. and Wilcove, D. S. (2008), Is oil palm agriculture really destroying tropical biodiversity?. Conservation Letters, 1: 60–64. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-263X.2008.00011.x
Orangutan Asks Girl for Help in Sign YouTube, 19 Oct. 2013. Web. 29 July 2015. <;.
“Palm Oil.” Rainforest Rescue. Rainforest Rescue, n.d. Web. 29 July 2015. <;.

Fighting Spots: The Protection Offered as a Result of Mass Vaccination Against Measles

The following essay is one I wrote for my IB 35AC class last semester that I am really proud of.

 Measles is a highly contagious, airborne disease that has plagued history for many centuries. Before measles vaccinations were widely used, “measles caused an average of 100 deaths per year” in the United Kingdom (Jansen et al., 2003). In early 2014, two UC Berkeley students with measles exposed individuals living in the Bay Area to the disease and drew attention to the question: should everyone be vaccinated against measles? The effectiveness of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR) in providing immunity to measles and how vaccinating the majority of the population can reduce the number of cases of measles suggests that the affirmative viewpoint is the most logical. Those who oppose this viewpoint do so mainly on the grounds that some studies have been published that report a correlation between the MMR vaccine and the development of autism.

Measles is caused by a virus and is very contagious because of its ability to be transmitted through the air. Symptoms of measles include fever, cough, rash, and Koplik’s spots, which are white spots that “appear on the buccal mucosa… and occasionally on the soft palate, conjunctiva, and vaginal mucosa” (Perry et al., 2004). However, it is the complications that arise from measles that typically lead to hospitalization and death. Some complications include otitis media, which is characterized by the inflammation of the Eustachian tube in the ear, croup, pneumonia, encephalitis, which is characterized by the inflammation of the brain, diarrhea, pink eye, and keratitis, which is characterized by the inflammation of the cornea (Perry et al., 2004). Typically, individuals less than five years of age, older than 20 years of age, and immunosuppressed individuals will more likely experience complications as a result of measles (Perry et al., 2004). The complications are defense mechanisms that the human body uses to signify that something is wrong and that the body is trying to defend itself against either a pathogen or injury (Schmitt, 2014). Vaccination is important in minimizing the spread of the disease to those who are most vulnerable.

When the MMR vaccine was made available in the United Kingdom in 1988, its effectiveness against measles was seen in the form of the decrease in the number of cases of measles reported relative to the increase in vaccine uptake (Jansen et al., 2003). After 1998, research into the side effects of the MMR vaccine resulted in a decrease in vaccine uptake in the United Kingdom (Jansen et al., 2003). As a result the reproductive number (R), or the average number of individuals an infected individual infects, “for the years 1995-1998 and 1999-2000 were R=0.47 and R=0.82, respectively” (Jansen et al., 2003). The smaller the difference between one and the reproductive number, the more likely large outbreaks of the disease will occur; once the reproductive number is greater than one, the disease can be classified as an endemic (Jansen et al., 2003). This data correlates to the finding that “vaccination protects >90% of recipients against disease” (Perry et al., 2004). The MMR vaccine is a biological and technological advancement that has been proved to increase the fitness of the members of society.

The benefit of increased vaccine uptake can be affiliated with the concept of herd immunity. This idea entails that if a large number of people are immunized against a particular disease, a large outbreak is less likely to ensue. The mechanism behind this idea is that if the majority of individuals in a population are immune to a certain disease, the less likely it will be that the individual will contract the disease and pass it on to another. The herd immunity threshold (%), or “the minimum proportion to be immunized in a population for elimination of infection,” is a quantitative way to measure this concept (Fine, 1993). Under ideal conditions, the herd immunity threshold for measles should range from 83-94% (Fine, 1993). It is important to recognize that the herd immunity threshold varies from community to community because individuals only interact with other individuals in their individual community, but at some point the number of individuals vaccinated in a community will significantly reduce or eliminate the presence of the disease. Generally, if the majority of members of a community are vaccinated for measles, the less likely measles will become an endemic.

There are some parents that refuse to vaccinate their children based on a series of studies that were published that established a connection between the development of autism and the MMR vaccine. Anti-vaccine activists such as actress Jenny McCarthy encourage the allegation that the MMR vaccine causes autism. On April 1, 2009, the New York Times published McCarthy’s statement, “If you ask a parent of an autistic child if they want the measles or the autism, we will stand in line for the f*cking measles” (Kluger, 2009). This only made parents panic and put off the vaccination of their children against measles, mumps, and rubella, which can lead to harmful effects in infants. One such publication released in 1998 by The Lancet, a medical journal, reported that there is a connection between the development of autism and the MMR vaccine. It stated that autistic behavior was apparent anywhere from hours to months after the MMR vaccine was given to 12 children (Wakefield et al., 1998).

Most of the publications connecting the development of autism and the MMR vaccine have since been retracted on the basis of incorrect assessments. The main point of confusion for most of these studies was that children often start to display the behavioral symptoms of autism around the same age they are eligible to receive the MMR vaccine. Since the retraction of these publications, new studies have since been conducted to further disprove the connection between the development of autism and the MMR vaccine. One publication of these studies reports that in the “five cohort studies involving 1,256,407 children” the odds ratio for autism and MMR was 0.84 (Taylor et al., 2014). Odds ratio (OR) is a quantitative “measure of association between an exposure and an outcome” (Szumilas, 2010). If the OR is less than 1 then there is little to no association between the exposure and outcome (Szumilas, 2010). Thus, these studies further disprove the claim that there is a relationship between the development of autism and the MMR vaccine. It is also important to consider the effect of delaying vaccination in young children. Not only is the child susceptible to the disease after maternal antibodies that provide natural immunity to certain disease no longer protect the child, “herd immunity effect [is] greatest when vaccination occurs at earliest possible age” (Fine, 1993). In order to ensure that herd immunity works in favor of decreasing the spread of disease, children must be vaccinated as soon as maternal immunity diminishes.

There is no evidence that suggests that the development of autism and the MMR vaccine are interrelated. The unwillingness of parents to vaccinate their children is in effect not allowing herd immunity to take place in order to keep that majority of society from contracting measles. The effectiveness of the MMR vaccine has been repeatedly tested and confirmed, so the indisposition to utilize the technology available to parents to keep their children and society healthy is really just a matter of misinformation. The vaccine is effective in preventing the majority of measles cases and spurs the development of herd immunity; thus it should be utilized.

References Cited:

Fine PEM. 1993. Herd immunity: History, theory, practice. Epidemiol Rev 15(2):265-­302.

Jansen VAA, et al. 2003. Measles outbreaks in a population with declining vaccine uptake. Science 301:804.

Kluger J. 2009 Apr 01. Jenny McCarthy on Autism and Vaccines [Internet]. Time Inc.; [cited 2014 Oct 25]. Available from:,8599,1888718,00.html

Perry RT, and Halsey NH. 2004. The clinical significance of measles. J Infec Dis 189(Supp1):S4-­S16.

Schmitt CA. 2014. Class #17: Evolutionary Medicine. IB35AC: Human Biological Variation. October 23.

Szumilas M. 2010. Explaining Odds ratio. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 19, 227–229

Taylor LE, Swerfdeger A, and Eslick GE. 2014. Vaccines are not associated with autism: an evidence-­based meta-analysis of case-­control and cohort studies. Vaccine 32:3623-­3629.

Wakefield AJ, et al. 1998. Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-­specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. Lancet 351:637-­641. RETRACTED.



Website Reflection

Well…it has been quite an interesting ride trying to learn how to manage my own website. I have a newfound respect Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 5.02.46 PMfor people who post everyday. When I write a post I go back at least three times to fix errors or add more things. Sometimes a picture will be in the wrong place or my YouTube video is not embedded. Despite the difficulties, I had a great time writing blog posts this year. I especially enjoyed that this blog was my own personal journal that included my opinions and others could read. This website was a way to let my voice be heard. My favorite blog post is my post titled “Tryptophan, Turkey, and Thanksgiving! Oh my!.” I thought the title was very clever and I really enjoyed researching the topic. Also I posted this post around Thanksgiving so I enjoyed sharing my knowledge with my family members as well (they accept that I am a science geek). I also really liked my more recent blog post titled “One Step Closer to Creating Organs” because I want to go into the medical field when I am older and this scientific advancement pertains to my field of interest.

One Step Closer to Creating Organs
One Step Closer to Creating Organs

I also really enjoyed seeing how many people viewed my blog post on a particular day, where in the world the people that viewed my blog are, and the comments they made. This website also opened my eyes to the world that is insistent on giving credit to where credit is due. I had to make sure the pictures I used were labeled for reuse and that I cited them. I never really thought that citing sources was important before I created this website, but having created this website, I would want others to cite my site as a source. I will continue to post on this site when I go off to college because I really enjoy doing it and it gives me a sense of accomplishment.

AP Bio Reflection

***WARNING: I included a fetal pig dissection picture.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 4.17.37 PM
Praying Mantis—Save the Bay Field Trip
Salamander Population Study
Salamander Population Study

The school year is coming to a close and sadly so is my AP Biology class. I had so much fun learning about biology this year. The class was really small so we all became very close. I talked to people who I never would have talked to if it were not for this class. Looking back on all of the activities we did this year I am amazed that we managed to do all of them. We went on the Save the Bay field trip, where I learned that the mustard plant is an invasive species along the San Francisco coast; we learned about the importance of water to society by watching the movie “FLOW;” we visited Fitzgerald Marine Reserve and saw some amazing organisms, such as sea stars and limpets, that live on the coast; and we dissected a fetal pig. We also studied topics such as botany, cell structure, chordates, cellular respiration, evolution, and genetics. If I had to list everything we did this year, this post would be miles long. I know this class was meant to prepare us for the AP test, but it did so much more than that for me. It assured me that I want to major in Biology in college and made my senior year of high school memorable. I also developed new technology skills. I created my own website, which you are reading, and I learned how to use tools such as PowToon, Twitter, Prezi, and Popplet for educational purposes; I plan on using these tools in college (hopefully, I can remember all of my passwords). I will miss being in this class and Mrs. Girard. I am thankful for this experience and would give anything to experience it again.

Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened. –Dr. Seuss


The Secret To Long Life

As I was browsing the web this past week, I came across this article about a woman named Hendrikje van Andel-Van_andel_113_large
Schipper who lived to be 115 years old and was the oldest woman alive before her death in 2005. In the article, two points are brought up regarding how van Andel-Schipper may have died and why she may have lived for so long. When van Andel-Schipper died (her brain was in great condition), she had two remaining stem cells. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have the potential to become specialized cells, such as heart cells or blood cells. The article states, “humans are typically born with around 20,000 of these cells, and on average about 1,000 work to keep your bloodstream pumping.” The depleted quantity of stem cells may have been the cause of van Andel-Schipper’s death. However, her cause of death is still unknown. I thought it was interesting that a person’s quantity of stem cells might determine that person’s lifespan. If this is true, this just highlights the fact that stem cells are important to human livelihood. I had never thought that running out of stem cells may cause death, or that humans even ran out of stem cells. Another point the article bought up was that van Andel-Schipper’s white blood cells were mutated, which might have the key to her long life. This reaffirms that some genetic mutations may be beneficial.

I really enjoyed thinking about the points the article bought up. If stem cells are the key to long life, then stem cell research may become even more popular than it is now. Also if van Andel-Schipper’s mutated blood cells were the key to her long life, is it possible that the mutated gene could be isolated and inserted into another being through gene therapy? If such technology should arise that humans could extend their lifespan, should humans take advantage of it? van Andel-Schipper may have given us clues to the secret of long life. I am excited to see what new discoveries arise in the next decade.

Click here to read the article: Blood from world’s oldest woman suggests life limit


“Blood from World’s Oldest Woman Suggests Life Limit.” AOL. AOL Inc., 24 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014. <;.

Nederlands: Van Andel-Schipper’s 113de verjaardag foto van Gebruiker:Houghi, ter beschikking gesteld onder GNU/FDL. Digital image. Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia Commons, 24 Mar. 2004. Web. 19 May 2014. <;.

One Step Closer to Creating Organs


Click here to watch the broadcast: ENGINEERS USE 3D PRINTERS TO MAKE NEW ORGANS, JOINTS

Last week as I was getting ready for school, I turned on the TV to channel 7 in order to drown out the sound of the construction going on outside my house. ABC 7 News was broadcasting a segment about a conference that was held at Berkeley. A group of engineers printed, using a 3D printer, implants that can be inserted into someone and the body will basically regenerate that particular part of the body. The implant is made of light and flexible mesh, and is designed specifically for the patient. Bone can grow into the mesh and, over time, the implant is now not just an implant, but a piece of the body. The implants have been used to successfully provide a total knee replacement for a cat. A dog’s artificial limb has been successfully connected to the dog’s bone, providing the dog with more control and support. These engineers are one step closer to regenerating soft tissue and thus making organs from scratch. It will not be long before no one will have to bear the pain of not receiving a heart or kidney from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS). anatomy-254120_640

This is truly amazing to me. Humans are finally coming up with the technology necessary to increase the quality of life of those who suffer from any form of limb loss or dysfunction. Soon humans will be able to print transplant patients organs. If this is not amazing, then I do not know what is. Medicine is advancing at such a rapid pace that I would not be surprised if I woke up tomorrow and someone found a way to cure ALS or cancer and the cure is now available worldwide. With these advances in medicine, a series of bioethical questions also arise. Are humans playing God when they produce organs? Should humans be allowed to change the fate of someone’s life? What will stop humans from producing a “Frankenstein?” I personally believe that it would be irresponsible of humans to try to create a human being from scratch, but I do not have any problem with providing organs to transplant patients who are running out of time. The difference between these two courses of action is one directly defiles the natural process of creating human life, while the other simply prolongs human life and improves the quality of life for the patient. However, there is a limit to how many times human life should be prolonged. I am technically contradicting myself mainly because I am torn. What do you think?



“Engineers Show off 3D-printed Organs, Joints at Conference in Berkeley.” ABC 7 News. ABC Inc., 5 May 2014. Web. 10 May 2014. <;.

Geralt. Anatomy Woman Man Face Body Lips Mouth Skin. Digital image. Pixabay. Pixabay, 29 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 May 2014. <;.

Nemo. Rib Cage Ribs Bones Human Anatomy. Digital image. Pixabay. Pixabay, 11 Apr. 2014. Web. 13 May 2014. <;.

Fetal Pig Dissection

**WARNING: The images in this blog post may be unpleasant to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

Recently, in my AP Biology class, I had the opportunity to dissect a fetal pig. While I am comfortable with dissecting organisms, dissecting an organism that was premature was a little difficult for me. However, the fact that the organism was sacrificed for science gave me the courage to preform the dissection.


photo 3
Small hole posterior to the umbilical cord

Through this experience, I became more familiar with the anatomy of the fetal pig, which is similar to the anatomy of humans. Before the dissecting began, my group members and I identified the gender of the pig. Male fetal pigs have a small hole posterior to the umbilical cord. Female fetal pigs have a small hole ventral to the anus. My group and I determined that our pig was a male. When we identified the gender of our pig, I wondered where the penis of the male pig was because the penis was not externally visible. After some research, I found out that the penis of male fetal pigs is located inside the pig, near the bladder.


Next came the fun part: dissecting. Once the pig was dissected, my group and I observed

Fetal Pig (blood drained)
Fetal Pig (blood drained)

the organs of the lower body, such as the liver, pancreas, large intestine, and small intestine. I was very interested to discover that the liver of a pig has five lobes. This discovery made me ask: how many lobes does a human liver have? After some research, I discovered that the human liver has four lobes. Once I discovered this difference between the anatomies of pigs and humans, I made sure that I kept my eye out for other differences. Once we removed the digestive organs, I was able to see just how long the small intestine was. I estimated the small intestine to be about 15 feet. Beneath the digestive organs were the kidneys, which were surprisingly large for a fetal pig.

photo 2Then, my group and I observed the respiratory system and heart. The lungs and heart were, again, much larger than I thought the organs would be. This pig was filled with surprises. Also, the pericardium, the sac that makes sure that the heart stays in the chest cavity, was clearly visible. I had never seen the pericardium so visible before in any of my other dissections. Next, my group and I shifted our attention to the trachea. The trachea had a series of visible rings, which I later found out were rings of cartilage that prevent the trachea from collapsing when no air is present in the structure. These rings of cartilage are also present in the human trachea.

Even though I was skeptical about this experience at first, I am glad that I carried through. This experience has allowed me to better understand the anatomy of the pig (and humans) by providing a visual aid of where certain organs and structures are located. I enjoyed this experience and I really think that dissection is an experience everyone should be allowed to have at least once in his/her lifetime.

Click here to experience virtual dissection: Virtual Dissection

View the video to experience the anatomy of a fetal pig


Fetal Pig Dissection. Prod. Zerobio. YouTube. YouTube, 28 Aug. 2008. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. <;.

“Fetal Pig – Urogenital.” N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. <;.

“Liver.” InnerBody. HOWTOMEDIA, INC, 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2014. <;.

“Virtual Fetal Pig Dissection.” Whitman College. Whitman College, n.d. Web. 14 Apr. 2014. <;.

Nature, Nurture, or Both?

Chan Meme

We have all heard of the ongoing debate of nature v. nurture. While I hate to be the one who takes the easy way out, I believe that both factors have an impact on one’s behavior. Let’s look at the nurture side of the debate. I have watched my fair share of criminal justice television shows (Criminal Minds tops the list) and it has been constantly repeated that children who are bought up in abusive environments are more likely to become killers as adults. Even though these television shows are works of fiction, the facts they present are nevertheless true. 40% of children who have been abused are arrested for violent crimes in adulthood (Nurturing A Serial Killer). It is important to notice that not all people who grow up in an abusive environment become criminals. However, this does not mean that this piece of evidence should be deemed faulty. There is a connection between behavior and nurture that cannot be ignored.  Then, there is the nature side of the debate, which includes the discussion of genes. There is a gene called MAOA (‘warrior gene’), whose less active version has been proven to cause aggression in mice by scientists at the University of Southern California (Criminal Minds: Born or Made?). However, not all people who have this form of the gene are aggressive. So if not all people who grow up in an abusive environment become serial killers and not all people who have the less active form of the gene MAOA are aggressive, then what influences behavior: nature or nurture? It is unproven which one is the leading factor in behavior. However, new information is revealing that both play an important role.

Success Kid BioAn article in the Wall Street Journal states that there are two types of people: orchids and dandelions (California Academy of Sciences). Orchids are more affected by their environment than dandelions. The classification of people into these two categories is dependent upon the genes that regulate dopamine (neurotransmitter that helps control the pleasure centers of the brain) production. Orchids produce less dopamine than dandelions. Thus orchids benefit from positive environmental conditions and are hurt by negative environmental conditions. In this case, nature and nurture are both factors in an individual’s behavior. So are all orchids who experienced negative conditions during childhood serial killers? Maybe.


California Academy of Sciences. “How Much Is Behavior Based on Nature Versus Nurture?” KQED Education. KQED Inc., 5 Mar. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. <;.

Criminal Minds: Born or Made? Dir. NOVA. PBS. PBS, 17 Oct. 2012. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. <;.

JDMcerealguytuner. Jackie Chan Jiong Face. Digital image. DeviantART. DeviantART, 2014. Web. 19 Mar. 2014. <;. ***changes were made N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2014. <;.

“Nurturing A Serial Killer.” Arizona State University, n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. <;.

エルエルLL. Success Kid / I Hate Sandcastles Memetoaudio. Digital image. Flickr. Flickr, 13 Nov. 2013. Web. 19 Mar. 2014. <;. ***changes were made