Scientific solutions to sin?

Apr 11, 2011 by Suzanne Morrison

(PhysOrg.com) -- Most people are familiar with the seven deadly sins - pride, envy, gluttony, lust, wrath, greed and sloth - but could there be molecular solutions for this daily struggle between good and evil?

That's what first year bachelor of health sciences students in the undergraduate biology course at McMaster University were asked to find out: their assignment required that they explore the molecular underpinnings of human misbehaviour.

What they discovered garnered them a place at the prestigious American Physiological Society's Experimental Biology meeting in Washington, D.C. this weekend (April 9 - 10). There, they will rub shoulders with more than 10,000 society members who include Nobel Prize winners and hundreds of world-renowned scientists. On Sunday, Faysal Naji, Lauren Salci and Graeme Hoit will give a poster presentation of the UNSIN Project: Exploring The of Sins.

For the project, 181 students were divided into 18 groups, randomly allotted to deal with one of the four deadly sins - sloth, gluttony, lust and wrath. They were expected to read sources to devise molecular ways to counter these sins. Group progress was monitored over 12 weeks by P. K. Rangachari, professor (emeritus) medicine in the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and 3M National Teaching Fellow in the BHSc (Hons) program.

Randomly selected students were not only regularly questioned about the work and its progress but defended their group's approaches to the entire class. Molecules explored included the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, as well as testosterone and others. A final report was graded.

"Coming in as first year students we expected to be told what to do and be guided," said Faysal Naji, 19. "But, we were faced with the challenge of taking a sin - something we never formerly related to biology - and we had to find out how that sin was somehow related to the body's physiological function."

By getting students to think outside the box, the aim was to come up with the best molecule and design for a drug, or remedy, that counteracts sin.

Students explored everything from the brain and glands to organs. Bi-weekly progress reports with Rangachari in question-and-answer format and one page progress reports taught students the skill of concisely summarizing information without jeopardizing content. "It was really good at challenging you to think on the spot," said Salci, 19.

Students admit verbal fisticuffs erupted when different groups their chosen molecule.

"Arguments were flying left and right," said Naji. To reduce lust, for example, one group suggested targeting testosterone; others chose prolactin or oxytocin. Another group "invented" a wrath-o-meter that would sense changes in brain transmitters that signaled rage attacks and counter that with an automated nasal spray with an anti- wrath drug.

The chosen interventions had to be defensible on scientific grounds. It was in reality an exercise in rationality, logic, synthesis of information and a willingness to transfer learning to something never seen before.

Imaginative solutions offered by the second batch of students included the use of a spray to dispense a molecule to stimulate people to action and targeting pheromones to counter lust.

"The course was my first opportunity to see what I could do academically," said Hoit. "In high school I was given a test and did well but I never had the chance to go beyond and see how smart I could be. This course challenged me to do that."

At this weekend's meeting, Rangachari has been invited to give the Claude Bernard Distinguished Lecture, named for the 19th century French physiologist who was the first to define homeostasis and one of the first to suggest the use of blind experiments to ensure scientific objectivity.

Explore further: Change 'authoritarian' football culture to produce future stars, says research

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Video skilled the students so far

Mar 28, 2011

Making a video about a scientific experiment rather than writing up a presentation poster leads to better learning and clearer understanding of the concepts underpinning the experiment according to science educators in Australia. ...

Teaching in a disruptive classroom

Jul 21, 2008

Anyone who teaches a large group of students has probably experienced undesirable student behaviors. I taught the introductory college biology course at Syracuse University, and several hundred students attended each lecture.

Robot teaches medical school students

Aug 10, 2006

Wake Forest University School of Medicine students expecting a lecture on the brain and nervous system instead find themselves treating a robotic patient.

Recommended for you

Male-biased tweeting

18 hours ago

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...

Developing nations ride a motorcycle boom

20 hours ago

Asia's rapidly developing economies should prepare for a full-throttle increase in motorcycle numbers as average incomes increase, a new study from The Australian National University has found.

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

kevinrtrs
1 / 5 (3) Apr 11, 2011
Well, what can i say, good luck to them. But on the other hand - it'll fit in perfectly with the evolutionary model:

If you're deemed to be too sinful, you'll have to undergo treatment....forced on you by the scientific establishment.
Like most human solutions to a problem, there'll be unintended side-effects, both biologically as well as socially.

There is only one permanent solution to sin and it's coming, whether one denies it's existence or not.

bloodyanarch
5 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2011
Nice. Deemed by who? would be my first question. I think I might go watch Gattica again just to remeber that while we might think we know what we are doing, mother nature has us beat by a couple 100 million years or so.

Wonder how many people would choose to have an Autistic kid, even if he'd be smarter than Einstien.
JamesThomas
5 / 5 (4) Apr 11, 2011
There is only one permanent solution to sin and it's coming, whether one denies it's existence or not.


What will this "solution to sin" do to stop sin? Murder all the sinners? Or physically and psychologically punish them forever? Seems your "solution" is itself the most sinful of all.
Gpnum
not rated yet Apr 12, 2011
I don't think having science student attempt to imagine scientific solutions to arbitrary moral judgement on human behavior is about "thinking out of the box".

Lust is necessary for reproduction, lust control necessary for social peace, inability to control lust a medical/psychological issue.

Naming lust a 'sin' which needs to be fought is reducing a complex question into a religious viewpoint.
kaasinees
1 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2011
The solution would be teaching meditation in schools so that people can learn to deal with their emotions.
Also some modern form of old Buddhism can teach people to learn themself and their emotions and what todo with them.

More news stories

Male-biased tweeting

Today women take an active part in public life. Without a doubt, they also converse with other women. In fact, they even talk to each other about other things besides men. As banal as it sounds, this is far ...

Not just the poor live hand-to-mouth

When the economy hits the skids, government stimulus checks to the poor sometimes follow. Stimulus programs—such as those in 2001, 2008 and 2009—are designed to boost the economy quickly by getting cash ...

Archaeologists, tribe clash over Native remains

Archaeologists and Native Americans are clashing over Indian remains and artifacts that were excavated during a construction project in the San Francisco Bay Area, but then reburied at an undisclosed location.

When things get glassy, molecules go fractal

Colorful church windows, beads on a necklace and many of our favorite plastics share something in common—they all belong to a state of matter known as glasses. School children learn the difference between ...

SK Hynix posts Q1 surge in net profit

South Korea's SK Hynix Inc said Thursday its first-quarter net profit surged nearly 350 percent from the previous year on a spike in sales of PC memory chips.

FCC to propose pay-for-priority Internet standards

The Federal Communications Commission is set to propose new open Internet rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes.