BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: biology (Page 1 of 3)

Long Island Sound May Be Getting a Timely Makeover

In its glory days, the Long Island Sound has supported many fisheries for lobsters, oysters, crabs, etc. It still boasts of 170 species of fish and more than 1,200 species of invertebrates. In recent years, however, the Sound has been plagued with excess nitrogen. The build-up causes eutrophication, in which the extra nitrogen feeds seaweed and algae blooms, causing them to use up more oxygen. As a result, the fish don’t have adequate oxygen and perish, and the ecology of the Sound makes it uninhabitable for shellfish.

Where does all of this nitrogen come from? The main sources of nitrogen are septic tanks and sewers, fertilizers from lawns and parks, certain agricultural practices, and atmospheric deposition from dust, rain, and snow. Because the severity of the problem is based largely on human practices, it is much worse in some areas than in others.

Bridgeport  Seaside Park looking over Long Island Sound 2011

View of Long Island Sound from Bridgeport Seaside Park (credit: 826 Paranormal)

Jamie Vaudrey and her team at the University of Connecticut wanted to make this issue a priority for people, so they made a model displaying the level of nitrogen runoff in the Sound. They painstakingly collected data for four years from each of the 116 estuaries, harbors, rivers, and bays of the Sound. This allowed people to see how this problem affected not only the Sound but their local beach or the coast they sail on.

The model is an Excel spreadsheet that can be easily downloaded. In addition, the “scenario” section of the model allows people to alter a communities’ settings (such as lessening fertilizer usage) to see how it can lessen the nitrogen runoff. Another feature of the model shows the places that are impacted the most by the issue.

The model is already in use by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Nature Conservancy. Vaudrey is creating a second model to shed more light on how every bay is affected differently by the introduction of excess nitrogen.

Do you think that this model will prompt local governments to enact legislation to solve this problem? Will this model be extended to other bodies of water suffering from this same fate? Let me know in the comments!

Original Article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170219165109.htm

Metagenomics will stare into your soul… and beyond?

If you ever feel lonely, take solace in the fact that at any given time there are thousands of bacteria cells living in your gut, (inside your skin!).

As it turns out, there’s a whole lot of ‘not you‘, living in you.

Admittedly, they don’t make the best company as they tend to be on the quieter side.

They make up for it by being fantastic listeners.

Improving Human Intestinal Health

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pnnl/8146322408

Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

They also serve as an essential part of our bodily systems, referred to by Valeria D’argenio in her essay The role of the gut microbiome in the healthy adult statusas “our forgotten organ”.

One great measure of how important something is is how wrong things go when the original thing isn’t doing it’s thing properly. Put eloquently by D’argenio “Quantitative and qualitative alterations in the composition of the gut microbiome could lead to pathological dysbiosis, and have been related to an increasing number of intestinal and extra-intestinal diseases”. The Human Gut micro biome is important to maintaining good health. Interestingly though (and somewhat alarmingly), the human gut micro biome has historically been fairly hard to study. as D’argenio puts it “microbial studies were based on the direct cultivation and isolation of microbes” and then later states that “it is estimated that up to 99% of microbes are currently uncultivable”. These facts make it clear that with old methods, the human gut micro biome has been extremely hard to study effectively. Which is crazy because the human gut micro biome is so important. Metagenomics are changing the game.

Recently new strategies  known as Metagenomics have been discovered that avoid the inefficient and ineffective cultivation step. Using the “Shotgun Sequencing” strategy, scientists have become able to sequence the DNA directly and have gained the ability to sequence entire microbial communities. This new method represents a significant step in understanding the human but microbiome but it is not perfect. D’argenio references limitations to current DNA sequence databases and difficulty in deciphering DNA function as obstacles that have yet to be totally overcome.

16s rRNA Sequencing is another form of metagenomics helping to illuminate the mysteries of the human gut micro biome. All bacteria contain the 16s rRNA. The 16s rRNA Sequencing gene takes advantage of this fact by identifying this gene in a large sequence and gaining a clearer view of which bacteria species are present in certain environments. This strategy is cost effective and can be performed rapidly but offers no insight as to bacterial function.

Metatranscriptomics succeeds where 16s rRNA Sequencing fails. In the words of D’argenio “Metatranscriptomics serves to analyze the entire transcriptome of an environmental site to obtain a comprehensive view of gene expression profiles and functional data”. Put simply metatranscriptomics, a form of metagenomics, is able to attain data on gene expression, not just sequencing. This is a major step in the analysis of the human gut microbiome as with this advancement we move closer to finding out exactly which aspects of the micro biome lead to which effects on the human body.

I’m personally excited about advancements in this field, because it seems like the human gut micro biome is important to our health and well being. The more we know about it the more we’ll be able to treat our bodies healthily. Which would be great!

Our Intestines Cure Cancer??

There are over one hundred trillion organisms- most are bacteria- living in our intestine today. These are referred to as the gut microbiota.

While trillions of bacteria sounds scary, they can actually be very helpful. Research has been done worldwide and the discovery has been that gut microbes actually can kill cancer cells all over the body. (Not just in the intestines) But how? Gut microbes and cancer actually cross paths. Gut microbes can manipulate the immune system and can either increase inflammation or lower it as needed. This means the bacteria can actually work with cancer treatments, boost T-cells, and control other factors that help cancer grow such as fungi, or viruses.

However, this is not all. While some cells help against cancer growth, others do the opposite. It varies cancer to cancer, and all have different results. As said by microbiologist and immunologist Patrick Schloss “What we really need is to have a much better understanding of which species, which type of bug, is doing what and try to change the balance.” So more research is still being done to decide how to control the microbiota, but a possible theory is that because it’s in the intestine it is related to our metabolisms and so what we eat controls the bacterium- this can also then effect the colon, thus effecting more cancer: colon cancer.

 

If You Didn’t Already Know, You Shouldn’t Eat Sharks

Can sharks give you Alzheimer’s disease? Do people actually eat sharks?

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-12-47-10-pm

NOAA, national ocean service image gallery flicker.com/photos Licensed for reuse/public domain

The answer to both of these questions is yes. A recent study by the university of Miami found large amounts of toxins that are linked to brain disease. It has been recently found that about 10 types of sharks have high concentrations of these toxins and that the consumption of these sharks can actually lead to the development of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Though it is very uncommon for someone to be found eating a shark in the U.S, shark is widely consumed across Asia so many asians may be at risk of developing brain diseases. The shark population is rapidly decreasing due for the desire to have shark fin soup, a delicacy across Asia, and this new information may be used to help the argument against the killing of sharks. Since sharks are becoming more and more endangered, this discovery could help save the lives of sharks and of people. So people, especially ones that consume shark, must learn that eating shark can have real negative effects on peoples lives and by killing sharks they are helping the endangerment of the species. This killing and consuming of sharks needs to stop to help save sharks and people.

Hammer Head Shark 1893 No Known copyright restrictions flicker.com/photos

Hammer Head Shark
1893
No Known copyright restrictions
flicker.com/photos

A Brand New Dinosaur? Just When You Thought There Were No More Dinosaurs.

 

Yep, you read that correctly, a brand new dinosaur(…’s skull) has been found in the Patagonia region of south America. Its amazing that after millions and millions of years new dinosaur fossils are still being discovered which can lead to the recognition of a whole new species of dinosaur. In this case, the dinosaur was part of the pterosaurs group, which is a extinct group of “flying reptiles”. This brand new type of dinosaur was named Brain Ancient; just kidding, its name translates to “brain ancient” its really called “Allkauren Koî”. But why was the dinosaur named this? These two additional websites may help answer that as well as show what the dinosaur might have possibly looked like. The name was probably given to this extinct animal because all that was found of it was an ancient brain(in reality the skull and part of the backbone and vertebrae was found). This find shows just how interesting the world used to be and it still amazes me that we are able to find remains of the beasts that ruled the world before humans.

 

williston_pteranodon

 

Here is the fossil of a close relative of this newly found dinosaur (this dinosaur is in the same group, pterosaurs). S.W. Williston’s reconstruction of Ornithostoma ingens, a synonym of P. longiceps

 

To clarify, if you would like to see pictures, that can’t be shown on this article due to copyright issues, of what this new dinosaur Allkauren Koî might have looked like, you can use these two links that are shown below.

http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/27867/20160831/fossil-of-new-species-of-flying-dinosaur-found-in-argentina.htm

http://www.sci-news.com/paleontology/allkauren-koi-argentina-04145.html

 

 

 

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/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brand New INSANE Trick To Maintain HUGE TELOMERES!!!

Do YOU want to learn the secret to having BIG, LONG telomeres?

OF COURSE YOU DO!

Do you know what Telomeres are?

Umm….

you might not know what they are, but I’m pretty sure you’re gonna want long ones,

and a few scientists lead by Eli Puterman, an assistant professor of kinesiology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, just made a huge breakthrough regarding telomeres.

let me explain.

New research done on Data collected in University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement study and reported on by TheScientist, has found that A.) accumulation of stressful events over the course of a lifetime are associated strongly with shorter telomeres later in life and B.) stressful experiences during childhood have a far greater effect on the shortening of Telomeres in adults than those that occur later in life.

First of all back up. What are Telomeres? And when it comes to Telomeres, does length really matter?

I’ll tell you.

(spoiler alert: length always matters)

Telomeres are caps that go on the end of our DNA. You can think of them like aglets on the end of shoelaces. Telomeres work to protect DNA from becoming damaged, and with that preventing the functionality of DNA from becoming compromised. They’re exactly like that little plastic bit on your shoelaces prevents your lace from becoming frayed, and ruining your shoelace, and your day, and your life.

10085714333_5d4f4d06b2

(the pinks parts are the telomeres)

And a moment of thanks, to the great man who invented aglets.

Harvey Kennnedy,

Thank you.

Back to your telomeres. As we know cells are constantly copying themselves, creating new cells, and every time this happens the telomeres on the end of our DNA become shorter and shorter, before eventually they fail to adequately protect the DNA, causing our cells to lose functionality, and on a larger scale, causing you to age faster. Essentially throughout our lives our telomeres get shorter and shorter, like a candle thats burning lower and lower, it’s a marker for our aging process. A constant reminder of our mortality as humans. A literal ticking clock. We’re all gonna die. Life is meaningless.

You know what’s not meaningless though… BIOLOGY! So while we can never escape the grim reality that our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye on a fleck of dust that’s drifting through an empty abyss of nothingness, why not try to extend that blink of an eye for as long as we can, so that we can read about research findings in the world of biology! speaking of which…

In the study, a group of 4,598 Americans that had an average age of 69 were asked to identify stressful incidents that occurred in both their youth and later adulthood. They then had their telomere lengths measured from cells from saliva samples. In the study, Part of the study’s findings were that “Each additional adverse event during childhood was associated with an 11 percent-increased odd of shorter telomeres”. These results are staggering to be sure, but are not totally out of the blue. One Judith Carroll who researches the links between behavior and health at UCLA said after the study had been completed “The findings are consistent with other reports suggesting that early life is a particularly vulnerable time when the body is rapidly growing and adapting to its surroundings”.

These results were very strong, however some have taken issue with extrapolating stressful incidents to higher mortality. While it is acknowledged that the shortening of telomeres is associated with aging, some wished the study had gone a step further, and examined whether these shorter telomeres really do result in earlier death. As it is said by Iris Hovatta, a scientist at the University of Helsinki (in Finland)(a country I have never been to, so I can’t confirm whether or not it actually exists)(which is neither here nor there)(whether or not ‘there’ really does exist) “this study did not address the effect of stress on health or lifespan and whether individuals with shorter telomeres have an increased mortality” It’s a fair criticism, but as far as we know now, shortening of telomeres causes aging, and this study puts forth strong evidence of an association between stressful events over the course of a lifetime, especially during youth, and shortening of telomeres.

So what does this mean?

if you don’t want to age, avoid stressful events during your youth.

avoid stuff like forgetting when your blog post was due, then staying up until 3 in the morning to finish it.

Then again biology its pretty much all I have to live for.

give and take I guess, we all have to find a balance that works.

 

CRISPR/Cas9 Provides Promising Treatment for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

There are nine kinds of muscular dystrophy and of these, Duchenne MD is the most common severe form of childhood MD. It affects about 1 in 5000 newborn males, only in very rare cases has it affected females. DMD is a genetic disorder that causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. Patients usually die by age 30 to 40.

DMD is caused by the absence of a protein, dystrophin, that helps keep muscle cells intact. In 1986 it was discovered that there was a gene on the X chromosome that, when mutated, lead to DMD. Later, researchers discovered that the protein associated with this gene was dystrophin. From this information, we can tell that this disorder is sex-linked, which explains why women are mainly carriers.

No one has found an absolute cure for this genetic disorder until now. Even in recent years, people have discovered treatments that will make patients’ lives more bearable, but never reverse the disorder. As a result of these advances, mostly in cardiac and respiratory care, patients are able to live past teen year and as long as in to their fifties, though this is rare. Although there are still drugs being tested like Vamorolone (a “dissociative steroid,” is an anti-inflammatory compound), more treatments on the molecular level are now being considered. However, thanks to recent discoveries and research with the new genetic technology, CRISPR/ Cas9, scientists may have found a treatment for DMD.

This new approach to gene correction by genome editing has shown promise in studies recently. This particular correction can be achieved in a couple ways: one is by skipping exon 51 of the DMD gene using eterplirsen (a morpholino-based oligonucleotide). Studies over four years show prolonged movement abilities, and a change in the rate of decline compared to controls. The newest approach to gene correction using CRISPR/Cas9, which the article I’m writing about focuses on, was performed in this study as next described: the CRISPR/Cas9 system targets the point mutation in exon 23 of the mdx mouse that creates a premature stop codon and serves as a representative model of DMD. Multiple studies in three separate laboratories have provided a path and laid the groundwork for clinical translation addressing many of the critical questions that have been raised regarding this system. The labs also discovered by further demonstrations, that this is a feasible treatment for humans. Functional recovery was demonstrated in the mice, including grip strength, and improved force generation- all of which are very important and hopeful discoveries. It is estimated from these studies that this new method will pass clinical trials and go on to benefit as many as 80% of DMD sufferers. Even greater success rates are expected if this is performed in young and newborn DMD patients.

Biomedical Engineers paving the way for Immunology

For many years Biomedical Engineers have been attempting to find ways to make precise, efficient, and deliberate changes to the genetic material of living cells. Developments in this field can, not only help to eradicate many genetic diseases but it can also ensure what many scientists call “adaptive immunity”. With their newfound CRISPR – Cas9 technology, they may have found a solution to the problem that has been giving them so much grief

hela-cells-544318_960_720

Adaptive Immunity occurs when a foreign body is recognized specifically for what it is and how it can harm the body. The other form of immune response is the innate response, in which there is a foreign body identified and the immune system sends any type of immune-response cell to general area to kill it. However, in adaptive immunity the body can individually recognize the problem and send exactly what needs to be sent, a much more efficient process.

Moreover, scientists hope that a cell’s ability to perform adaptive immunity will help contribute to eliminating harmful genetic mutations. Researchers hypothesize that, with this newfound technology, cells will be able to identify and respond to invading genetic material from a bacteriophage or invader of any sort. (quite possibly eradicating HIV and all other viruses from the Earth).

The science behind this new genetic-police force is as confusing as it is difficult to say… CRISPR…Cas9… what does any of that even mean?

CRISPR stands for Clustered Regulatory Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats

Cas9 comes from the name of the protein-9 nuclease that scientists first found in Strep (Streptococcus Pyogenes) cells back in 2007 which help the bacteria participate in adaptive immunity.

koli-bacteria-123081_960_720

All in all, its some pretty crazy and extremely complex stuff.

If you do so please, I suggest doing some of your own research on this topic if you have any questions. The opportunities afforded by this breakthrough are endless.

ORIGINAL Article: https://www.neb.com/tools-and-resources/feature-articles/crispr-cas9-and-targeted-genome-editing-a-new-era-in-molecular-biology

How to Proofread the Genome

CRISPR-Cas9 is an emerging technology in the field of genetics that has opened an incredible number of  doors and revolutionized the field. It permanently changes the genome of cells while they are alive. CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. This sounds confusing but the actual technology is simple. Feng Zhang uses the analogy of proofreading a book to explain it.Let us say you are proofreading your novel and you find the phrase “twinkle twinkle big star”. Now you want to change it to “twinkle twinkle little star”. In this scenario, the words are base pairs and the change from “little” to “big” is a mutation. You can not just delete “big” or just “add” little you must do both. And that is what CRISPR does. It uses an enzyme to cut the DNA and silences that gene. It also can do the opposite and activate certain genes.

A diagram of how CRISPR works

This precise controls of genes have allow scientists to do research faster and cheaper. Its applications go beyond just research however. This technology can be used to treat certain genetic mutations by correcting the incorrect base pairs accurately.

Link to article:

https://www.broadinstitute.org/what-broad/areas-focus/project-spotlight/questions-and-answers-about-crispr

Other Links:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/12/151210125648.htm

https://www.addgene.org/crispr/guide/

Invaders or Saviors: The Truth Behind “Invasive” Species

Unknownhttps://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pacifastacus_leniusculus_01_by-dpc.jpg

With a name such as “invasive” its hard for an emerging species in a new biome to establish a good reputation.  An “invasive species” can be defined as an organism establishing a presence in a newly introduced area not native to it whether by accidental or intentional means.  For the most part, as stated by the New York Times, it has been the general opinion of conservation organizations to either eradicate or eliminate the invasive species.  However, a large number of scientists including Dov Sax and Ken Thompson, both professors of Ecology at Brown University and the University of Sheffield respectively, are beginning to dispute this idea.  Dr. Thompson claims that species have been moving around for centuries and that humans play a large role in their movement.  In a modern era of globalization, it is getting increasingly harder to stop the spread of “invasive” species and climate change is multiplying the number of species considered “invasive” drastically.  Although Thompson’s theory has a large following, it is not universal.  Some “invasive” species are undeniably harmful such as the fungus that causes chestnut blight which decimated thousands of trees across America in the 1900s or more recently the Zika virus spreading rapidly through mosquitoes drawn north by the warmer climates.  It has been discovered that islands and mountaintops are even more susceptible to these species due to their isolation and indigenous population’s lack of evolutionary defenses.  For example the the accidental transport of the brown tree snake to Guam has nearly eliminated the bird population.  However, this general trend has given many nonnative species a bad representation.  For example, monarch butterflies of California prefer to live in the eucalyptus tree which was brought there 150 years ago.  Or the nonnative crayfish pictured above which feeds the migratory wetland birds of Spain.  In fact the term “invasive species” was coined in Charles Elton’s 1958 book The Ecology of Invasions by Plants and Animals drawing from the heightened tensions caused by World War 2.  This term did not gain its modern weight until the 1990s when the field of Invasive Biology began to grow popular.  Despite findings such as the ones by Thompson and Sax, this is still a much highly debated topic in the field of biology.

original article:http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/01/science/invasive-species.html?action=click&contentCollection=science&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0

 

 

 

A Computer Powered By ATP?

Could supercomputers be powered by ATP the same molecules that power our cells? And could these computers run faster than normal supercomputers? The Dan Nicolau and his son Dan Nicolau Jr. seem to think so. Although this computer is not yet a reality the father and son duo have been working on a model of this bio-supercomputer for seven years. The original drawing looked like “small worms exploring mazes” according to Dan Nicolau. These chips use short strings of proteins instead of electrons and using ATP to power it all.

 

imgres

Molecule of ATP

You may be wondering why this is a big deal. It is because traditional supercomputers spend so much power cooling themselves down they need their own power plant to function. Since ATP is used in biological organisms it does not heat up as much. This could lead to dramatic decreases in the amount of energy a supercomputer uses. The model is promising but the father and son do not have an estimate on when the supercomputer could become a reality. One possibility according to Dan Nicolau is the integration of the bio supercomputer with a traditional supercomputer.

 

Link to Article:

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/02/160226133606.htm

Other Links:

http://sputniknews.com/science/20160228/1035493225/biological-supercomputer-unveiled.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biocomputer

Lead Leads to Neurotoxitity

Have you ever heard of using bottled water to shower? Sounds ridiculous right, but the people of Flint, Michigan need to do this to save their lives. The city of Flint switched their water supply from Lake Huron to the Flint River in April 2014. The river was later discovered to be contaminated. Since the changeover, scientists have linked the high lead levels in children’s blood to the contaminated water. This is a serious problem.

Lead is a highly toxic substance that permanently affects humans’ brains by killing nerve cells. Not only does lead harm kids’ brain processes, it also may cause various future mental diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Schizophrenia. Throughout U.S. history, people have been exposed to lead poisoning through basic everyday mediums, such as paint, water (from lead-contaminated water pipes), and dust. Children who eat paint chips or lick their fingers after coming in contact with products that have a lead component are poisoning themselves. The lead enters into the bloodstream and travels throughout the body, stealthily making itself at home, poisoning the body.

So how does lead poisoning work? Basically, lead disguises itself as zinc. Zinc is needed to anchor proteins that switch genes on and off. When zinc is replaced with lead, the switches cannot function properly, eventually leading to mental diseases.

Lead Poisoning

Scientists have been researching the possibility that lead is transferable in DNA to offspring. This could be devastating to a population of a town like Flint, Michigan, where the mothers who have lead poisoning could pass this on to their babies. The worst part is that there is no cure for lead poisoning.

Because of the devastating effects of lead in bloodstream, governments have debated the topic of legalizing contaminated water as a bioweapon, using lead as the contaminant. Governments in the past have used poisoned water as an assassination method, proving the effectiveness of this strategy.

Preventing lead exposure and poisoning is critical for children’s health and for future generations.

 

Source Article

For more info on the biowarfare, click here.

Sewage Does More than Just Gross You Out… It Carries a Signal For the Microbiomes of Humans

Who knew that sewage would ever be useful. Well, it is a successful way to collect fecal bacteria from people. It can monitor, through gut microbes, the public health of a population without invading people’s privacy. The human gut microbiome consists of huge amounts of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. This gut bacteria has important functions in a healthy human. Recently, there has been much attention to the human microbiome, and more specifically, finding a “healthy microbiome” by identifying which bacterial communities are associated with healthy individuals. What has been hindering this experiment are financial concerns but also privacy concerns in terms of the individuals that can be screened.

Researchers from MBL (Marine Biological Laboratory) and the UWM (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) School of Freshwater Sciences proposed the idea of using sewage as a population that consists of a signal for human microbiomes. The scientists used oligotyping to compare 137 healthy people’s gut bacteria (provided by the Human Microbiome Project) to the bacterial communities of more than 200 sewage samples from 71 different U.S. cities. Researchers realized that geographically distributed populations consists of a similar core set of bacteria and its members symbolize many different communities within U.S. adults. The percent of obese people in a city is used by the study as a measure of a lifestyle difference which indicates that this bacteria community structure is accurate in detecting obesity in a city. Lifestyle differences are important because they can change the human gut microbiome and an indicator of obesity is the microbial community composition. This process of working with microbiomes of individuals is similar to drawing a map of a specific geographical area and fishing out new understandings and patterns. If it weren’t for the sewage, the scientists wouldn’t have been able to differentiate the cities based on their level of obesity. This type of approach can be effective when it comes to answering concerns about public health, without undermining the privacy of individuals.

I found it interesting how this profound yet relatively small experiment is even part of a bigger plan to create better water pollution and public health assessments. Do you think it can lead a better water pollution and efficient public health assessments? Overall, it’s amazing how new technologies can aid in decrypting information from complicated environments. I’m excited to see where this experiment takes us as it leads researchers and scientists in a more knowledgeable outlook on our environment and in public health.

The original article can be found here.

Degenerative Evolution?

Myxozoa are tiny parasites that infect fish stock and other aquatic life. Once thought to be unicellular, these multi-celled organisms have recently been analyzed more closely. Containing more than 1300 different species, these highly unusual microorganisms had their DNA sequenced by researchers at the University of Kansas.

Fdl17-9-grey.jpg

 

Triactinomyxon stage of Myxobolus cerebralis

Myxozoa show many similarities to cnidarians, a phylum that contains jellyfish, corals, and sea anemones. One of the key similarities is the presence of the nematocyst, a weapon or defense mechanism that members of the cnidaria phylum possess. This and other traits were once attributed to convergent evolution. However, this theory was debunked by their gene sequences. On further inspection, these microorganisms are actually tiny jellyfish living on other organisms.

The average cnidarian contains 300 million base pairs. However, Myxozoa have been stripped down to about 20 million base pairs, 15 times less. Despite this reduction in genome size, Myxozoa still contain the genes to express the creation of a nematocyst. These microscopic organisms have one of the smallest animal genomes reported.

The categorization of these organisms is shaking up the foundation of what we can call an “animal.” In the past, animals were classified by whether they had certain genes instrumental in their development such as Hox genes, genes that influence body structure. Myxozoa have no such gene. Since organisms are also classified based on their ancestors, this fumbles the system.

Because of this discovery, scientists are questioning whether this type of backwards evolution from a macro-organism to microorganism is more common than we think. Other microscopic organisms could potentially become “animals” as a result.

This also opens a gate to greater understanding of the organisms in our aquaculture. Many fish are affected by the parasitic nature of Myxozoa.

Next time you eat salmon, notice that you could also unknowingly be eating tiny parasitic jellyfish.

Original Article

Tardigrades and a New Species!

If you’re a biology lover like myself, you probably spend a good chunk of time before you go to bed every night wondering, “When are we going to find a new species of tardigrade?” Well, you’re in luck, because recently a new species of tardigrade, the Echiniscoides wyethi, was discovered. For those of you who don’t know what tardigrades are, they are water-dwelling micro-animals with eight legs.  Tardigrades are incredible creatures because they can survive in some of the most extreme environments, including temperatures ranging just above absolute zero to over 100° Celsius. These tough creatures are often called “water bears”, and many scientists will tell you they look similar to a hippopotamus- although on a much smaller scale. Tardigrades also can survive for over 10 years without food or water. When they go into these long periods of not eating or drinking, called desiccated states, their water contents can drop below 1% of normal. They are able to do this because of their high trehalose levels. Trehalose is a disaccharide sugar, which protects their cell membranes. This state is known as a cryptobiotic state. Tardigrades in this state are known as Tuns. Tuns have been sent to space; the European Space Agency once conducted an experiment in which they sent Tuns to space and exposed them to harsh solar radiation as well as the vacuum of space- two thirds of the tuns survived the conditions. The new species of tardigrade was found near Allen Island in Maine. It is named the Echiniscoides Wyethi, named after the artist Andrew Wyeth and his family, who own the island. The species measures about one-sixteenth of an inch, and has been described as looking like a “gummy bear” under a microscope. Delicious, however, due to its size, it can’t be too filling! Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 9.08.28 PMImage from Wikipedia

 

Additional Articles:

The Tardigrade: Practically invisible, Indestructible ‘Water Bears’

Researches Discover New Tiny Organism, Name it for Wyeths

Global Warming can alter the shape of the planet

Climate change is an element in our world which has been around for many years. It has been believed to cause warmer oceans and erratic weather, but a new study, according to scientists, declares it also has the potential to alter the shape of the planet we live in. Global Warming is a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants. (read more about Global Warming) Michele Koppes,  assistant professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia, conducted a five year study in which she compared glaciers in Patagonia and in the Antarctic Peninsula. Koppes and her team discovered that glaciers in warmer Patagonia moved faster and caused more erosion than those in Antarctica, as warmer temperatures and melting ice helped lubricate the bed of the glaciers.

global warming

 Glaciers erode 100 to 1,000 times faster in Patagonia than they do in Antarctica.   “Antarctica is warming up, and as it moves to temperatures above 0 degrees Celsius, the glaciers are all going to start moving faster,” states Koppes. These ice sheets are apparently beginning  to move faster and should become more erosive. As a result, this will dig deeper valleys and shed more sediment into the oceans. The outcomes of this erosion add to the already complex effects of climate change in the polar regions.  “The polar continental margins in particular are hotspots of biodiversity, If you’re pumping out that much more sediment into the water, you’re changing the aquatic habitat,” Koppes states.  The Canadian Arctic, one of the most rapidly warming regions of the world, will most definitely feel these effects. These glaciers are on the verge of a major shift. The Canadian Arctic is becoming warmer in temperature more than four degrees Celsius spanning over the last 50 years. These glaciers will be flowing up to 100 times faster if the climate continues to shift and shifts above zero degrees Celsius. The findings by Koppes settle a scientific debate about when glaciers have the greatest impact on shaping landscapes and creating relief, suggesting that they do the most erosive work near the end of each cycle of glaciation, rather than at the peak of ice cover. If global warming continues to occur, change in formation of landscape due to higher water levels from melting glaciers is a strong possibility and may already be taking place. This will significantly affect all forms of life on earth.

 

Original Article:  http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151001142222.htm

Citations:

http://www.whoi.edu/main/topic/global-warming

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151001142222.htm

 

New Species Related to Humans Uncovered

On September 10th, 2015, the University of Witwatersrand, the National Geographic Society, the Department of Science and the National Research Foundation of South Africa announced the discovery of a new species of human relative, Homo naledi. With more than 1,500 numbered fossil elements, this discovery is the largest fossil hominin find ever made on the continent of Africa. Not only does this finding shed light on the origins and diversity of our genus, but it appears that this new species intentionally deposited the bodies of its dead in a remote cave, an action previously conceived limited to humans.

Homo_naledi_hand

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

The species was initially discovered in 2013 in a cave known as Rising Star in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, some 50 km northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. The fossils were laid in a chamber about 90 meters from the cave’s entrance, which was accessible only through a narrow chute which required a special team of very skinny individuals to retrieve them. Up and till now the team has recovered parts of at least 15 individuals of the same species. Lee Berger, research professor at Wits University and leader of the expeditions that recovered the fossils said, “With almost every bone in the body represented multiple times, Homo naledi is already practically the best-known fossil member of our lineage.”

Homo naledi has surprisingly human-like features, enough to place it in the genus Homo. It has a tiny brain, about the size of an orange (about 500 cubic centimeters), on top of a very slender body. The research shows that on average H. naledi stood approximately 1.5 meters (about 5 feet) tall and weighed about 45 kilograms (almost 100 pounds). Homo naledi‘s teeth are described as similar to those of the earliest-known members of our genus, such as Homo habilis, as are most features of the skull. The shoulders, however, are more similar to those of apes. The hands also suggest tool-using capabilities. It has extremely curved fingers, more curved than almost any other species of early hominin, which clearly demonstrates possible climbing capabilities.

The most remarkable part of the find is that it has led the researchers to conclude that this primitive-looking hominin may have practiced a form of behavior previously thought to be unique to humanism, intentional body disposal. The space in which the fossils were discovered was so remote that out of more than 1,550 fossil elements recovered, only about a dozen are not hominin, and the few that were not are isolated mouse and bird remains, meaning that the chamber attracted few accidental visitors.

The researchers explored every alternative scenario, including mass death, an unknown carnivore, water transport from another location, or accidental death in a death trap. After examining every other option, they were left to accept intentional body disposal by Homo naledi as the most plausible scenario.

There is still much to be discovered in the Rising Star cave. “This chamber has not given up all of its secrets.” There are potentially hundreds if not thousands of remains of Homo naledi still down there waiting to get uncovered. 

Original Article:  http://www.biologynews.net/archives/2015/09/10/new_species_of_human_relative_discovered_in_sa_cave.html

For more information, check out:  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/09/150910-human-evolution-change/

If There Were a Printer for Organic Molecules

This would be the closest thing we have so far. Over at the University of Illinois, Chemistry professor Martin Burke has created a machine that assembles small organic molecules, group-by-group. This rather straightforward way of synthesizing molecules is likened to building with legos: By assembling simple molecular groups, countless shapes (in this case, molecules) can be made. Going even further than that, Burke has designed the machine in such a way that it can take 3-D models of the molecule to create it, taking both technological and hyperbolic advantage of the “3-D printer craze” that just rolled over.

(The University at which the research took place)

The unprecedented advantage such a device would provide to the fields of science is that it would allow practically any non-specialist with an understanding of chemistry to synthesize molecules. Currently, synthesis of certain molecules is something akin to arcane research: incomprehensible and prolonged. Chemists who specialize in chemical synthesis can spend many years trying to figure out how to produce an organic chemical, especially at the more complex level where the specificity of molecular shape and composition can be baffling to produce. Keep in mind, this is all done by humans on a macroscopic scale, whereas what matters in producing the desired substance lies on the atomic scale. This is why such a device could potentially be such a breakthrough! Not only would synthesizers be able to create molecules on the fly, but even non-specialists could dabble with very good chances of success, opening the field of molecular biology to research at a truly profound level of development.

(Molecules like this could be potentially a lot simpler to synthesize in the future)

I doubt, however, that such a device will live up to its miraculous standards. Often, there are many complications with such things, which can lead it to quickly encounter limitations. It is even admitted that the device can only synthesize relatively small, but still complex, molecules. This device operates on a clever, but still not fundamental, scale. The true breakthrough will be when we can manipulate individual atoms to produce anything that is theoretically possible. Nevertheless, congratulations to Martin Burke and his team for developing such a device, which lies on the path of “work smarter, not harder”.

I’m probably quite cynical about this, so I’d like to ask, what are your thoughts on this development?

 

Source Article:

http://will.illinois.edu/news/story/u-of-i-chemists-machine-simplifies-building-of-molecules

Further Reading:

http://www.macroevolution.net/molecule-making-machine.html#.VhGLRDZdE0Q

http://www.technology.org/2015/03/12/molecule-making-machine-simplifies-complex-chemistry/

 

 

While studying the brain there arises the need to activate or inhibit certain cells. The most common process for doing this in the past was optogenetics. Optogenetics is the use of light to activate or inhibit cells. While optogenetics is very precise, it has some drawbacks and limitations. Light is scattered in the brain and to reach deep in the brain scientists usually insert a fiber optic cable which is highly invasive. This practice is still used today, but there has been a new development: sonogenetics. Researchers at the Salk lab have been working on this new technique. Sonogenetics use sound waves, low-frequency ultrasound waves to be more specific, to activate the neurons. This new method allows scientists to reach neurons deep in the subject’s brain without having to perform a surgery to implement a fiber optic cable. It also has the potential to have no effect on the surrounding neurons. In the Salk laboratory, the scientist used worms to study the use of sonogenetics. Worms would normally be impossible to work with as performing surgery to implement a fiber optic cable is nearly impossible, but with the use of sonogenetics the scientist were able to activate certain neurons. The sound waves were aided by microbubbles outside the worm that oscillated in size in conjunction with the wave. The scientist then discovered TRP-4, an ion channel which can be affected by the sound waves. They found that the sounds waves along with the microbubbles can open these channels and activate the cell. Though this process they activated cells that would normally not have been activated by ultrasound. Although it all sounds very promising, sonogenetics has only been used on Caenorhabditis elegans neurons.

imgres

 

A picture of Caenorhabditis elegans

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caenorhabditis_elegans#/media/File:CelegansGoldsteinLabUNC.jpg

The next step in the research would be to get the sonogenetics to work in a mammal’s brain. This could potentially lead to therapies that are non-invasive for humans. However, how comfortable would you feel with doctors using sound waves to control neurons in your brain? Sonogenetics sounds very promising and contains a lot of upside, however, the research is not far enough along yet to completely tell.

 

Original Article: http://www.salk.edu/news/pressrelease_details.php?press_id=2110

 

For More Information: http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/news/sonogenetics-the-latest-in-mind-control#.VhMJimRViko

 

Page 1 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar