Jeopardy! category: BIOLOGY CLASS (12-02-2014)
$600 clue: It’s the branch of biology that deals with glands such as the pituitary & thyroid
The gist: One of the lesser known of the human body systems, it’s nonetheless responsible for a staggering amount of our bodily function. A small bit of it found near the centre of the brain (the pineal gland) was even called the “seat of the soul” by Descartes. It is the endocrine system, and the study of it is known as endocrinology. Its functionaries are your glands,* and they do their thing by secreting hormones that influence the behaviour of cells, sometimes right beside them, sometimes all over the body. Most hormones are transported around the body via your bloodstream. Glands are found all over your body, in fact, and unlike other systems they have no bits to link them to one another (think of the skeletal or nervous systems) – the bloodstream itself serves that purpose. Whether a hormone has an effect on a given body part is determined by whether or not the part’s cells have the correct receptor embedded in the cell membrane. Hormones have a huge variety of effects on the body, including regulating glucose intake (insulin), stimulating milk production (prolactin), initiating fight-or-flight (adrenaline), beginning production of other hormones (e.g. the Luteinizing hormone, which causes certain cells to produce testosterone), and even stimulating feelings of love and happiness (oxytocin and seratonin).
As for endocrinology itself, it began in its modern form in 1902, when British scientists William Bayliss and Ernest Starling first discovered that the pancreas secretes digestive juices independently of the nervous system. Within a few years, a framework of the hormonal system had been described. In 1920, what is probably the most famous endocrinological discovery in history was made, when Frederick Banting and John James Rickard Macleod co-discovered insulin,for which they won the 1923 Nobel Prize for Medicine – Banting shared his winnings with his colleague Charles Best, who today enjoys a much greater legacy than Macleod, though Best was not a recipient of the Prize.
The clue: Another straightforward clue. Note that it specifies “pituitary and thyroid,” which is necessary because, as discussed, the exocrine system also deals with glands, and so would be an acceptable response if not for the two examples.
In Jeopardy!: “Endocrine,” “endocrinology,” and “endocrinologist” appear a total of 26 times in the J!Archive, more often as part of the clue than as the correct response, though not by a huge ratio. A common response when those are in the clue is “glands,” but it’s not uncommon for the clue to look for a specific gland: the pancreas, thyroid, pituitary, and adrenal glands all show up. So does Deepak Chopra, who was an endocrinologist before going off the deep end.
* Most of them, at least – glands that secrete things onto the outside of your body, like salivary or sweat glands, are part of the exocrine system (‘endo’ meaning ‘inside’ in Greek, and ‘exo’ meaning ‘outside’).