STEM@Home: Stomach Science

Dr. Marie Maynard Daly, a pioneer in digestive and heart chemistry

Picture a chemist working in her lab: white coat, protective goggles, pipette. Rows of neatly labeled glass bottles are perched over a pristine lab bench. So far, so good. Choose a bottle, decant it into a beaker, and she’s on her way, all neat and tidy. But what if our chemist isn’t studying the stuff out there, ready to grab and mix, but the chemicals and enzymes inside our own bodies? Well then, throw neat and tidy out the window! That’s right, we’re talking GUTS, SPIT, and TONGUES! We’re talking…. Stomach Science!

Stomach Science Pioneer: Dr. Marie Maynard Daly

Actually, scientists have been fascinated with the science of the human body for a long time. In fact, a book called “The Microbe Hunters,” about the invention of the first vaccines, inspired a girl named Marie Maynard Daly to study chemistry at Queens College and Columbia University. Marie lived at home during college and took time out of studying to tutor other students, earning money to cover tuition costs.

Dr. Mary Caldwell invited Marie to study the digestive enzyme amylase, as her doctoral work. Amylase is a chemical produced by the body that breaks down starch – one of the most common carbohydrates in food – into simple sugar, making it easier to digest. And yes – it’s found in your spit. Marie earned her PhD in chemistry in 1960, the first Black woman in the U.S. to do so – and she did it in just three years!

Dr. Maynard Daly went on to continue her work in digestive enzymes and also studied hypertension in the heart – learning that high cholesterol levels, high sugar intake, and smoking are linked to the heart disease. She was a professor for many years, training future researchers and doctors, while continuing her research. Click here to learn more about Dr. Daly!

Stick Your Tongue Out

Want to run your own tests on the effect of amylase on starch? It’s easy to do! All you’ll need is a Ritz cracker and small piece of cheese. So, you put the cheese on the cracker and pop it in your mouth and…. wait a second, those aren’t the right instructions! That’s how you make a tasty snack. For instructions, check out this guide from the Curious Crew!

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