Medical Biophysics Graduate Student Association


Updates, opinion pieces, and news related to the department

Posts in Blog
MBP Family Feud at Geneva Park!

Hello everyone, We are preparing an exciting new addition to this year's Geneva Park: Family Feud.

For those of you that aren't aware of how Family Feud works, here's a wikipedia link so you can get up to speed.

In order to make this event work, we need YOU to respond to some survey questions. Go ahead and fill this out, and your responses will be tallied for the game.

Thanks for playing!

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BlogFiras Moosvi
You're Cordially Invited to Join the MBP Blog Team

First time visitors, welcome to the MBP Graduate Student Union website! Returning readers, welcome back! This website is created and designed for you by the MBP blog team. We strive to bring you articles and posts covering a diverse range of topics that we hope you'll find thought-provoking, useful, and/or hilarious. Drop us a line on our Contact page and let us know what you think of your website. Better yet, share your thoughts and ideas with the whole department by joining our blog team! We invite MBP students of all years and streams to contribute. You can choose just about any topic that you find interesting, from what's growing in your Petri dish to fashion in the lab, from whom you saw at the film festival to recipes for the student on the go, etc. Joining is easy: just email and we'll help you get started.

Even if you think you won't have time to contribute regularly, we encourage guest postings. For example, send us a short blurb the next time your paper is accepted and we'll feature your publication in our Academic blog.

From all of us on the MBP blog team, we hope that you learn lots, get great results, publish often, and have fun this upcoming year!

Get the latest updates from MBPGSU: RSS: Twitter:!/mbpgsu_uoft Facebook: coming soon... Google Calendar:

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Mercury Rising…

The toxic side-effects of mercury in the environment have been heavily studied for the last couple of decades. The surprising and scary ways that mercury can move through the food supply, and accumulate at the top of the food chain, has led to an international effort to reduce industrial mercury pollution that enters our oceans and terrestrial environments. But is it working? Are we really reducing the mercury load on our environment? I don't know. And actually, that's not what I'm here to talk about. So just get off my back already, would ya?

I've come across some extremely interesting research regarding mercury poisoning that will boggle your mind. In a recent article published in the Proceedings of Biological Sciences (278 (1713): 1851-1857 (2011)), it was reported that the toxicity of mercury (specifically methylmercury) has more far-reaching effects than previously appreciated. What is being affected, you may ask? It appears that even at low levels, mercury toxicity can significantly alter the hormone levels of white ibises (water-wading birds). As a result, males of the species are more likely to mate with other males. That's right - rising levels of mercury lead to rising levels of homosexuality among male waterfowl.

"We knew that mercury can disrupt hormones - what is more disturbing about this study is the low levels of mercury at which we saw effects on hormones and mating behaviour," Peter Frederick, the leader of the study, explained in a news release. However, the authors of the study quickly pointed out that this research does not infer anything about human homosexuality; in fact, they were not attempting to research levels of homosexuality in birds at all. The study was originally set up in an attempt to understand why these coastal birds went through a precipitous drop in birth rates during the early 1990's. When they discovered higher-than-average levels of mercury in the birds' environment (in certain locations), they designed a fairly straight-forward experiment: 160 ibises were separated into 4 groups with equal males and females, and given a diet that contained no mercury, or low, medium, or high levels of mercury ("high" being equivalent to what they had encountered in nature). The authors followed the birds for three mating seasons and noted a direct relationship between male-male pairings in the bird populations and mercury concentrations.

So what does this all mean? Well, it may not "mean" anything. In the Nature news release, several evolutionary ecologists and animal physiologists cautioned that mercury concentrations may not even have the same effects on other bird species. And increasing mercury pollution is certainly not linked to human homosexuality; Frederick pointed to a number of long-term human studies on the effects of mercury poisoning, none of which have identified any changes in sexual behaviour. So maybe this is just a quirky, interesting finding. But one thing is for sure: the levels of toxic mercury being deposited into our oceanic and terrestrial environments are increasing, and more studies on the side-effects of this poison are needed.

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Blog, ScienceGreg