Have you ever seen a gecko or lizard on a vertical 90 degree surface, and wondered how they are able to stick to the wall? In fact, it is not because of any type of gluey substance or sticky secretions. According to a recent article, biologists have been able to figure out exactly how a gecko can stay on a wall without slipping. Scientists have even been able to utilize this discovery and have invented “Geckskin”, a flash card sized pad that can hold up to 700 pounds on a vertical surface.
Doctoral Alfred Crosby at UMass Amherst commented that a gecko’s feet can attach and detach from a surface with ease without any residual sticky material being left over. Properties such as high capacity, reversibility, and dry adhesion that geckos use to adhere to surfaces, allow for a wider range of ideas for synthetic materials with similar traits of gecko feet. Moreover, Crosby says that Geckskin uses many of these properties to achieve a drastic result; Geckskin can hold up to 700 pounds while only being the size of an index card. This is amazing considering the fact that this small piece of synthetic material can hold up to the equivalent of seventeen 42 inch flat screen TVs on a flat vertical surface. Although having impressive adhesive ability, Geckskin can also be used a series of times without losing its overall effectiveness and stickiness.
Geckos were once thought to get their amazing adhesive properties only from microscopic hairs only their feet called setae. However, much of the gecko’s “stickiness” comes from other complexities on the foot such as specialized bones, tendons, and skin that work along with setae in order to produce those viscous properties. Geckskin combines all of these complexities to form a synthetic tendon made out of stiff fabric and a special weave in order to maximize surface area and contact. Generally, Geckskin be made relatively cheaply and can have many different uses in the home or in the work place. What uses for Geckskin can you think of?
Haven’t been in the sun too much this winter season and feeling depressed? Well, it may be due to the fact that low levels of vitamin D are now linked to depression. According to a recent article, low vitamin D levels are already linked to cardiovascular diseases and various neurological problems. However, a new study links the connection between low vitamin D levels and depression. At the UT Southwestern Medical Center, researchers examined 12,600 subjects from 2006 to 2012. Results showed that subjects with higher vitamin D levels, who had a previous history of depression, had a larger decreased risk of depression at the time. Participants with low levels of vitamin D were shown to have signs of depression. Although the study the relationship of vitamin D and depression, the study did not show if increasing vitamin D in your diet actually reduced those depressive-like symptoms. Also, scientists have not confirmed whether or not low vitamin D causes depression like symptoms or if depression is causing low vitamin D levels. One could say low vitamin D levels are linked to depression however, adding vitamin D to your diet would not necessarily cure depression-like symptoms.
Many concepts around the idea of vitamin D being linked to depression are still unknown, but I think it is still a very important topic to discuss and important further research the subject. The psychiatrists the UT Southwestern Medical Center have reported that major depressive disorder affects one in ten adults in the United States. One-tenth of our adult population has depression. When you put it into perspective, that is one person in a room of ten people. If that is the case, then for me this is a field where the link between vitamin D and depression needs to be further researched. For now, it won’t hurt some sunshine to get your daily dosage of vitamin D.
Who is solving some of biology’s most difficult puzzles and riddles? Obviously scientists, right? Think again. It’s the gamers.
An article recently reported that a revolutionary online game called Foldit, allows anyone, from gamers to students, to help predict the foldings and structures of various proteins by playing competitively online. Protein folding is one of biology’s most difficult and costly problems, and is even a troublesome task for the most capable computers. A game such as Foldit requires much insight and an intuitive understanding to fold the proteins, allowing human intuition to triumph over a computer’s calculations. As we have learned in class, proteins are very prevalent in the human body. Hormones, enzymes, and antibodies are all examples of proteins, but many proteins are also associated with strands of viruses and diseases.
This is where you, as the gamers, come into the picture.
Since proteins play a large role in the functions of viruses and diseases, gamers playing Foldit can help design new proteins to help treat or provide a cure for the condition. The article reported that gamers have most recently solved the structure of an enzyme crucial for the reproduction of the AIDS virus. Knowing the structure, scientists are now able to find certain drugs to neutralize the enzyme and stop the reproduction of AIDS virus.
In class, we have learned that there is basically an infinite amount of combinations of proteins; there are 20 amino acids and can be combined to form chains of various lengths. We have also learned that the structure of a protein is also correlated with its function. The bonds present in the primary, secondary, tertiary, and quaternary structures of proteins are an important part to the shape and folds of a protein, giving the protein certain properties due to its shape. All of the information we have learned about proteins in our AP Biology class, can be seen and easily applied to the game, Foldit.
Now since we know the vital importance of proteins, do you want contribute to the next cure for a virus or disease? Get your game on and try Foldit out and see what you can do to solve some of biology’s most difficult riddles!