BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: phospholipidbellayer

The Dangers of De-Extinction

uploaded by: FunkMonk
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Woolly_mammoth.jpg

Our once ludicrous dream of resurrecting our dead animal friends, like the wooly mammoth, is transforming into a real possibility! According to David Schultz’s article on Sciencemag.org, due to human advancements made in the study of genetic engineering, scientists at Harvard University were able to reach new heights in the efforts to tackle de-extinction. However, now that it is almost within man’s capability to actually bring back extinct animals, there is a spark of skepticism sweeping the scientific world. “The conversation thus far has been focused on whether or not we can do this. Now, we are progressing toward the: ‘Holy crap, we can—so should we?’ phase,” states ecologist Douglas McCauley. McCauley shines light on the sudden realization of how resurrection may be exciting, yet also very demanding and potentially harmful. Due to tight funds, it is believed that resurrection of one extinct animal can harm the life that is already struggling to be sustained on earth.

In order to reach this financial conclusion, researchers sought out databases in New Zealand, Australia, and New South Wales that are responsible for tracking the cost of conserving endangered animals. With this information from the databases, the researcher team believed that it would cost just as much, if not more, to maintain a resurrected species as it would an endangered species. What this means is, that the already tight funds that conservationists have to support endangered animals would be stretched immensely in order to fund the conservation of a newly resurrected wooly mammoth species, for example. Schultz writes, “The result, the team calculates, would be an overall loss of biodiversity—roughly two species would go extinct for every one that could be revived.” Because of the world’s budget for species preservation, and as author and biologist Joseph Bennet says, “It’s better to spend the money on the living than the dead.”

With that being said, it appears that our excitement around bringing the dead back to life has been faded by the the reality of our world’s finances. Though the study of extinction is still vast, perplexing, and amazing, the application of our resurrecting abilities may not happen anytime soon. Would you like to someday walk on the earth with our old prehistoric animal friends or would you rather save the world’s endangered species first?

https://phys.org/news/2017-02-resurrecting-extinct-species-terrible.html

 

Could A Computer Detect Your Sick Gut?

Photo by Nicola Fawcett (photo source)

 

The human gut microbiome is a system specially revolved around the genetic makeup of an individual person. These gut biomes are the subject of many studies by scientists who are interested in the small world of bacteria living inside of our stomachs and its relation to our health or illness. Many humans have the ability to recognize a healthy or unhealthy human gut microbiome, however, is it possible for a computer to have this same ability? According to the impressive research results developed by a group of scientists at the University of California San Diego, it is possible for a computer to be trained to differentiate a sick gut microbiome compared to an unhealthy one.

In order to reach this innovative conclusion, these scientists utilized metagenomics, a gene sequencing technique, to break up the DNA of hundreds of microbes residing in the human gut. The scientists took gut bacterial samples from the stool samples of thirty “healthy” and thirty “unhealthy” people. The unhealthy people whom had samples taken from them were either diagnosed with autoimmune Inflammatory Bowel Disease. With these 60 samples total, the scientists were able to sequence 600 billion DNA bases and put the information into a computer. After that, the scientists underwent a complex process of translating reconstructed DNA of the hundreds of microbes into thousands of proteins, which were then categorized into thousands of protein families. The tedious differentiation and categorization of certain proteins allows the scientists to see the activity of the bacteria and then program it into the computer so it, too, would be able to recognize these proteins and bacteria. Bryn C. Taylor, One of the scientists involved in this research says that, “You can try to categorize healthy and sick people by looking at their intestinal bacterial composition…but the differences are not always clear. Instead, when we categorize by the bacterial protein family levels, we see a distinct difference between healthy and sick people.” Incorporating this method of distinction with the storage of healthy and unhealthy patient data into computers is an effective way of “training” a computer how to detect a sick or healthy human gut due to a distinguishable difference in bacterial activity, protein presence, etc..

Overall, it seems that these scientists at the University of California San Diego have made groundbreaking progress in the future usage of computers in the detection of an unhealthy or sick human gut microbiome. Do you think the development of a computer’s ability to detect a sick gut will be ultimately more beneficial to the world of health and science, or will it just be an unnecessary new trick that computers can learn? The next time you feel like you’ve got a stomach bug, you just might be scheduling an appointment with a computer instead of your doctor.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wild_garden_of_the_gut_bacteria_3.jpg

 

“What Does Light Taste Like?” I Don’t Know, Ask A Nematode.

csiro_scienceimage_2818_group_of_nematodes

by Entomology on scienceimage.csiro.au

The vision of light is a beautiful blessing brought to us by our sight receptor cells. Since the sight of light is so great, the taste of it must be even better. Though we don’t know the taste of light, there may be a very tiny someone who does, the nematode. In the article Tasting Light: New type of photoreceptor is 50 times more efficient than the human eye, published on sciencedaily.com, it states that, at the University of Michigan, researchers have discovered a new photoreceptor amidst a bunch of taste receptor cells in nematodes and other invertebrates. This new receptor is called, LITE-1. Because of the receptor’s unusual location, it is believed that these animals have an ability to taste light. New studies have also shown that LITE-1 is no average photoreceptor.

LITR-1 was discovered in nematodes, which are eyeless roundworms only measuring about a millimeter in length. You might be thinking, “Nematodes don’t have eyes. So why would they need photoreceptors?” Shawn Xu, a senior study author who has a lab at University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute, where he is also a faculty member, demonstrated in his lab that even though nematodes are  eyeless, they still move away from flashes of light. The purpose of photoreceptors is to transform light into a signal that is usable for the body. This fact leads scientists to believe that it’s possible for that the roundworm uses this photoreceptor, located among its taste receptors, so that it can convert light into something that the worm can taste in order to perceive it. Xu also says that “LITE-1 actually comes from a family of taste receptor proteins first discovered in insects.”

Though these nematodes are extremely tiny, their peculiar LITE-1 photoreceptors are nothing to be looked over. Something that makes LITE-1 strange is that it has the astounding ability to absorb UVA and UVB light. Another unusual trait of LITE-1 is that it is unlike other photoreceptor proteins. Photoreceptors consist of two parts: a base protein and a chromophore. Breaking these two sections apart does not destroy all of their ability to function. However, LITE-1, when broken apart loses its ability to absorb light entirely.

LITE-1 also has a range possible future uses, such as being applied as a sunscreen that can absorb harmful rays or being used to promote the development light sensitivity in new types of cells. The future of LITE-1 shows great promise  and could open doors for the potential of other animals, besides invertebrates, to have a new and possibly delicious way of sensing light.

 

http://www.cell.com/cell/abstract/S0092-8674(16)31518-5

http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/32317/20161119/animals-taste-light-new-type-photoreceptor-found-invertebrates.htm

 

 

What’s Causing Your Migraine? The Answer May Be Inside Your Mouth.

photo by user "taennit" on on deviantart.com

photo by user taennit on on deviantart.com

Have you ever been going about your day and suddenly you’re hit with the feeling of needles ricocheting against the walls of your skull? Frustration grows inside you as you ponder what could’ve possibly triggered your migraine this time. Millions of Americans are struck with similar pain and turmoil every day, which makes the cause of migraines an in-depth and on-going research topic. Though the cause of migraines remains a bit blurry, it is believed that neurotransmitters, like serotonin, are involved in the development of a migraine. Known triggers of this hindering head pain are hormonal changes, stress, and our diets. Author Tim Newman’s article Could Migraines Be Caused by the Bacteria in Our Mouths?, published on MedicalNewsToday.com, suggests that migraines can be caused by the nitrate-filled foods millions of people consume on a daily basis.

Though you may resort to a glass of wine or piece of chocolate for relaxation after a hectic day, these two things can ultimately make your day into an all but relaxing evening. Both chocolate and wine possess high nitrate levels, as do processed meats and leafy, green vegetables. When nitrate is consumed through food, bacteria in the mouth converts nitrate into nitrite. Nitrites then enter the body and can be formed into nitric oxide which is helpful in reducing blood pressure and boosting cardiovascular health as a whole. Because of the benefits these forms of nitrate can have on the body, many people are given drugs containing nitrate in order to help with their health problems. Author Antonio Gonzales and programmer analyst Rob Knight found that four in five of the people that take these drugs also experience extreme headaches or migraines as a side effect. With this information, both Gonzales and Knight used information collected by the American Gut Project to further inspect the links between oral bacteria, diets, and migraines.

When someone takes drugs filled with nitrate or eat nitrate-sufficient food, their body must produce the necessary amount of bacteria or enzymes to break up the nitrate and turn it into nitrite or nitric oxide. Both Gonzales and Knight noted that people with migraines tend to have a significantly higher amount of nitrate-related bacteria located in the mouth, thus increasing the chance that the amount of nitrate-related bacteria in the mouth may correlate with the increased occurrence of intense headaches and/or migraines.

That all being said, the world of migraines is still a bit fuzzy to all of us and all we can do is continue to research the mysteries of this painful phenomenon. I won’t say that the results of these studies should be totally cast aside, but what I will say is that until nitrate-filled food and the presence of oral bacteria are a blatant cause of migraines, you shouldn’t flush those leafy, green vegetables, throw away the chocolate, or pour all the wine down the drain just quite yet.

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/10/20/migraines-bacteria-mouth_n_12573852.html

http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/healthy-living/wellbeing/news/a27149/bacteria-in-mouth-cause-of-migraine-study/

 

 

 

 

 

 

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