Of Grandfathers, Fathers, and Children: The Coming-of-Age of Autism

Genetics, although ostensibly complicated, is all around us. In our immediate social circle, we often come across genetics at display. Some examples are obvious: The kids wear glasses because both parents wear them. But others are not as straightforward: How is the daughter so tall when both parents are short? These inexplicable traits are often the result of de novo mutations, which are mutations that occur in a child whose parents do not possess that trait.Continue reading

Brain Changes for Sculpted, Efficient Memory

While I was growing up, I remember my parents and teachers saying, “Your brain is like a sponge.” Of course, I didn’t understand what they meant, but as cliché as this statement is, it actually reveals a lot about children’s amazing abilities to absorb and remember impressive amounts of information. From new words and concepts, to detailed locations and even foul phrases, I learned to communicate using the complex rules of two languages during my childhood. I looked at the world with wonder, while adapting and making sense of it by remembering its complexities. But as I got older, I grew out of this ultra-powerful learning and memory, as most children do. What changes in our brains as we get older, and how do those changes affect our ability to learn?Continue reading

Mitochondria: More Than Just a Powerhouse

Mitochondria are frequently implicated in several human disease states. From neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease and Autism Spectrum Disorder, to metabolic conditions like diabetes and obesity, energy abnormalities are seen in diverse illnesses. In fact, mitochondrial dysfunctions have also been shown to be involved in Parkinson’s disease, Down syndrome, heart failure, and even cancer. What is the relevance of these tiny powerhouses in such diverse, seemingly unrelated conditions?Continue reading

What Songbirds Tell Us About Human Nature

Every once in a while, we hear of amazing scientific feats about how some new drug successfully reduces weight without dieting or exercise in monkeys, or how scientists slowed aging in worms and doubled their lifespans. These studies are often a cause for ridicule in the media, which reduces their significance and validity by implying that mice, flies, birds—any animal really—is not a true representation of the human condition.Continue reading

The Brain: A Social Construction Site

Have you ever wondered how the social experiences you had early in life affected the way your brain developed?  How was your cerebral architecture influenced by the games of ‘peek-a-boo’ your parents played with you as a toddler or the exciting games of hide-and-seek you played with the neighborhood kids?  How would we be different if we were deprived of these experiences due to parental neglect or social isolation?  Is it possible that early life experiences shaped the way we perceive the world in adulthood, as well as determined our capacity to learn and remember?  And if so, what are the physical substrates for these processes?Continue reading