BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Mutation in the Nation

We constantly think of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as a single virus, one enemy that we all need to work together to fight against. However, the reality of the situation is the SARS-CoV-2, like many other viruses, is constantly mutating. Throughout the last year, over 100,000 SARS-CoV-2 genomes have been studied by scientists around the globe. And while when we hear the word mutation, we imagine a major change to how an organism functions, a mutation is just a change in the genome. The changes normally change little to nothing about how the actual virus functions. While the changes are happening all the time since the virus is always replicating, two viruses from anywhere in the world normally only differ by 10 letters in the genome. This means that the virus we called SARS-CoV-2 is not actually one species, but is a quasi-species of several different genetic variants of the original Wuhan-1 genome.

The most notable mutation that has occurred in SARS-CoV-2 swapped a single amino acid in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. This caused SARS-CoV-2 to become significantly more infective, but not more severe. It has caused the R0 of the virus, the number of people an infected person will spread to, to go up. This value is a key number in determining how many people will be infected during an outbreak, and what measures must be taken to mitigate the spread. This mutation is now found in 80% of SARS-CoV-2 genomes, making it the most common mutation in every infection.

Glycoproteins are proteins that have an oligosaccharide chain connect to them. They serve a number of purposes in a wide variety of organisms, one of the main ones being the ability to identify cells of the same organism.  The spike protein is a glycoprotein that is found on the phospholipid bilayer of SARS-CoV-2 and it is the main tool utilized in infecting the body. The spike protein is used to bind to host cells, so the bilayers of the virus fuse with the cell, injecting the virus’s genetic material into the cell. This is why a mutation that makes the spike protein more efficient in binding to host cells can be so detrimental to stopping the virus.

In my opinion, I find mutations to be fascinating and terrifying. The idea that the change of one letter in the sequence of 30,000 letters in the SARS-CoV-2 genome can have a drastic effect on how the virus works is awfully daunting. However, SARS-CoV-2 is mutating fairly slowly in comparison to other viruses, and with vaccines rolling out, these mutations start to seem much less scary by the day.

 

Antibody Concoctions: Possible COVID-19 Prevention and Treatment?

We all have heard the exciting news about Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine: a possible savior and source of hope for years to come. According to a LiveScience article by Nicoletta Lanese, “an antibody cocktail designed to prevent and treat COVID-19” entered late-stage trials over the summer. Scientists have been working to find an effective treatment that doesn’t have as many limitations as current findings. A treatment known as convalescent plasma therapy has been circulating clinical trials. It is not FDA-approved and therefore not available to the public. Antibodies are extracted from recovered COVID-19 patients and injected into sick patients in order to boost their immune systems. This method is too unreliable and unpredictable.  The plasma donors all have a variety of antibodies. Some have proven to be effective against the virus by not letting it enter cells in the first place. On the other hand, nothing is guaranteed and a patient could be injected with antibodies that have no effect against the virus. To reduce this risk, drug developers have noted the effective antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 and mass produced them in a lab.

This is a representation of what a spike protein would be under a microscope. The clinical trials are testing to see which antibodies can bind to the spike proteins and prevent them from entering/infecting healthy cells.

Another possible therapy called REGN-COV2 has also entered a late phase in its clinical trial. It supposedly has two antibodies that can prevent the virus from infecting healthy cells by binding to the spike protein. Hopefully the FDA approves the drug at the end of its current phase (phase 3), so short and long-term effects can be monitored. The Co-Founder, President, and Chief Scientific Officer of Regeneron, Dr. George Yancopoulos, released this statement: “We are running simultaneous adaptive trials in order to move as quickly as possible to provide a potential solution to prevent and treat COVID-19 infections, even in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic.” Many other pharmaceutical companies continue with their trials to search for antibody treatments against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The universal goal is to find a longer-term solution and stop the rising mortality count.

I originally chose the topic of prevention, because I thought it was only going to include mask-wearing and social distancing. It’s incredibly interesting that this article is another scientific take on preventative measures. The article shows how hard scientists and companies are working on developing a treatment. My main intention for this topic was to show how important it is for everyone to partake in the effort to stunt the spread of the pandemic. With recommended safety procedures as well as current trials, I’m optimistic that there will be great progress in our near future. I was able to link this to our AP Biology class, because we recently covered the immune system! The article refers to antibodies, and I know that they are the humoral defenses that go for pathogens. These antibodies are originally secreted from B-Plasma cells in order to bind to and neutralize the pathogens. By using plasma from recovered patients, I assume they are relying on the B-Memory cells to prevent infection/re-infection in other patients.

Please let me know what your thoughts are in the comments! How much longer do you think we’ll have to wait? Do these new updates give you hope about returning to a state of normalcy? I’d love to know.

UPDATE

Since the summer of 2020 (when this article was released), a lot has changed. Regeneron’s antibody cocktail was granted an Emergency Use Authorization in November. While this seemed to be heading the trials towards an optimistic future, that was not the case. Presently, only the Moderna and Pfizer mRNA vaccines are FDA-approved for public use. What happened to REGN-COV2? According to this Washington Post article, 80% of the allocated dosage supply is remaining unused in overcrowded hospitals. There is a common sentiment that resources should not be going towards an “unproven treatment”. The only FDA-approved antibody in the Regeneron cocktail is bamlanivimab. Although we are all eager to return to normalcy, we must be conscious of what is the best for our health.

Comparing Saliva Tests to Nasopharyngeal Swabs

Although many college campuses have closed within the past couple of weeks, for the few months they were in session, the general public was introduced to a new procedure for COVID-19 testing: Saliva tests. There are multiple reasons why a saliva test would be more ideal for campuses to use, and it’s not just because the nasopharyngeal swab testing is extremely uncomfortable.

A nasopharyngeal swab is basically a biological term for the COVID-19 test that goes all the way up your nose. News-Medical actually came out with an article going through the testing procedure, and how the SARS-CoV-2 is detected. The purpose of the swab test is to reach the nasopharynx, which is where nonpathogenic and pathogenic bacteria and viruses lie. It’s also used to test the flu and pneumonia. In fact, UC Davis published that they have just come up with a rapid test that could detect both the flu and COVID-19 in one nasopharyngeal test. This makes it the most convenient method, but it’s more expensive; making this harder to upscale for mass testing). It also requires more supplies, and puts health care workers in close contact with infected individuals. Saliva tests would be a lower cost, but there was uncertainty in its accuracy. The Scientist highlights three main experiments that help better our understanding of saliva testing.

The first experiment was led by Yale epidemiologist, Anne Wylie. Wylie and her colleagues tested the accuracy of swab testing using 70 suspected COVID-19 patients admitted to the Yale-New Haven Hospital. They found that saliva samples contained more copies of the SARS-CoV-2 than swabs. The group concluded by saying that they see potential in the saliva swab; however, this was only tested in one controlled area, and the patients at this point were showing symptoms.

The second experiment, led by Mathieu Natcher, took place throughout the French Guiana. There were 776 participants ranging from (wealthier) villages, forests, and more poor neighborhoods. Natcher discovered that the SARS-CoV-2 virus was still present within saliva for a long period of time, despite climbing temperatures, which makes this idea for situations where testing needs to happen in areas where temperature can’t be regulated. The one downside noticed during this experiment was that saliva testing was less sensitive than nasopharyngeal swabs, which means that it can be harder to pick up the bacteria, if there is less in their system. Therefore, saliva testing may not always be as efficient for asymptomatic carriers or people who just became infected.

Pharmacologist at the University of South Carolina helped develop the school’s saliva test, and reported her findings after school came back in session. She noticed that although saliva may be less sensitive, the repetition of testing these students makes it more possible to catch the infection shortly after it comes. She also ran an experiment on two students living together: one of which had a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, and the other was at risk. Both students got tested daily using the nasopharyngeal and saliva swabs for the two weeks. She found that the amount of the virus detected in both tests for the positive patient were the same, leading her to conclude that saliva and nasopharyngeal tests both have the same sensitivity. Banister also explained that not the lower sensitivity coming from the saliva test in comparison to the nasopharyngeal test could be due to the fact that saliva turns over quickly in the mouth, while the nasal cavity and lungs hold the virus for longer. Banister also said because of this saliva tests might be a more accurate depiction of who is actually infectious, because the virus stays in the lungs even after the patient is no longer infectious.

We have come a long way since this article was initially posted, and saliva tests have been released to more of the public for a longer period of time. It is interesting to see how these preliminary tests played a role in whether or not to further release saliva tests.

CRAZY NEW COVID-19 Mutation Makes Virus Weaker Against Antibodies

As revealed in a fascinating article that details a study conducted by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a mutated form of the virus has been discovered to be much more susceptible to antibodies produced by antibody drugs. This means that it is more easily disabled by antibodies produced by drugs such as the new vaccine. However, this may not all be good news as this new strain, called D614G, is also much more transmissible. D614G originated in Europe and has quickly become the most prevalent form of the virus. According to professor of epidemiology at UNC Ralph Baric, “The virus outcompetes and outgrows the ancestral strain by about 10-fold and replicates extremely efficiently in primary nasal epithelial cells, which are a potentially important site for person-to-person transmission.” These nasal epithelial cells act as a physical barrier against any pathogens attempting to enter the body and play a significant part in the control of the innate and acquired immune response. As we learned in biology, one method of innate immune response that our bodies have is mucous that traps pathogens. The nasal epithelial cells contain cilia that act to push the mucous and the pathogen contained inside out of the body. This means that if this new virus reproduces exceptionally well within the nasal epithelial cells, then it is extremely transmissible through any expulsion of mucous by either sneezing or coughing. It is also far more capable of bypassing the barrier of the mucous and entering the body. These epithelial cells also help the innate immune system by producing various cytokines. If a virus manages to make it past the barrier defenses, the epithelial cells will secrete cytokines. These cytokines will attract a type of cell called a neutrophil that digests pathogens. This means that these nasal epithelial cells are vital to the innate immune response and having a virus strain reproduce so effectively inside of them is extremely worrying.

The researchers believe that D614G is so effective at reproducing because it increases the virus’ ability to enter cells. The D614G mutation opens a flap on the tip of one of the spikes on the side of the virus which allows it to infect cells more effectively. However, this mutation also creates a weakness in the virus. When the flap is open, it becomes much easier for antibodies to bind to the spike proteins, preventing the virus from attacking additional cells.

Two researchers from the University of Wisconsin contributed to this study by experimenting with hamsters. To test the airborne aspect of this mutation, the hamsters were placed into different cages and groups so they could not touch and inoculated with either the original strain or D614G. By day two, in the group exposed to the mutation, six out of the eight hamsters were infected with D614G. In the group of hamsters exposed to the original virus, no additional hamsters were infected by day 2. This shows that this D614G is extremely effective at being transmitted airborne. However, the mutation had the same symptoms and effects as the original virus meaning it is not more severe. The researchers have also noted that these results may not be the same in human studies. I think that this study is equal parts of good and bad news. I am glad that the most prevalent form of the virus is much easier to deal with, but it is quite terrifying that it could mutate to be so much more contagious. How do you feel about this new development? Let me know in the comments. 

How Is Covid- 19 Really Spread?

Background- It is clear that Covid- 19 has been a fatal and vicious virus causing a pandemic, but how is it actually spread? The answer to that question can be found in the World Health Organization’s article titled “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): How is it transmitted?”.  The article discusses how the SARS-CoV-2 virus, commonly known as the Coronavirus, is spread between people. First, lets quickly zoom into the biological elements of transmission. On a cellular level, the outside of a coronavirus molecule is a spike protein which latches on to specific receptors that fuse it into human cells. The proteins “trick” the human cells into letting them enter and infect them. Once in the healthy cell, the virus spreads its genetic material and spreads throughout your body.

When/Where can the virus spread more easily?- The risk of transmission is highest when people are in close proximity to others for a long period of time. The World Health Organization, or WHO, describes that the more people in a group, the more likely the virus will spread. Any crowded spaces, close contact, or confined spaces with a lack of ventilation. Additionally, it has been found that people are most contagious early on in their illness, although this can range person- to- person.

Transmission of virus via liquid particles – The WHO claims that one way in which a person can transmit the virus is through small liquid particles spread by coughing, sneezing, speaking, or even just breathing. The liquid particles, most commonly respiratory droplets, vary in size, and transmit the virus from person to person. When in close contact with someone with the virus– less than six feet– you can catch the virus through your mouth, nose, or eyes.

Aerosol transmission- Aerosol transmission is when the virus travels through particles in the air to infect people. This transmission is most likely to occur indoors, and particularly in crowded spaces with a lack of ventilation.

What is really important that we understand about transmission is how this virus transmits, meaning how does this virus move from one individual to another?- Dr Maria Van Kerkhove

My Opinion- I think it is super important to educate yourself on how the virus spreads from person- to- person in order to avoid the situations in which transmission is most likely. Further, it is rather interesting to learn about how the virus enters your cells, and biologically infects your body.

I would love to hear your reactions or thoughts in the comments!

A New and Horrifying Effect of COVID-19

The COVID-19 virus has been terrorizing innocent people from all corners of the world. The symptoms and effects of the virus have proven to be devastating especially for young children and the elderly. If that wasn’t bad enough, scientists have recently discovered that COVID-19 is linked to erectile dysfunction.

Read More

Testing!

When you hear the word “COVID -19 testing” what comes to mind? I have this vivid image of a cotton swab being pushed up my nose. But what exactly is testing? Why is it so important? And what are the types of testing available for our use?

We’ve all heard that testing is important but why? To summarize a supplementary article, COVID testing “leads to quick identification of cases, quick treatment for those people and immediate isolation to prevent spread” (Dr. Eduardo Sanchez). When discovered at an early stage, COVID will be less a threat to a person because doctors can plan accordingly while COVID is still less severe. Even when a person discovers they have COVID not as early as hoped, testing helps to identify anyone who came into contact with infected people so they too can be quickly treated. Contact tracing would not be possible without testing because a person would never know if they are spreading the virus. The only way to be better safe than sorry is to get tested. Someone may show symptoms that are COVID-like but there is still a chance that it could be a common cold, or allergies. It is important to confirm COVID suspicion.

Now that we know why testing is important, what kind of testing is out there? What I found in this FDA article is what I like to call a family of tests; there are numerous different tests to take.

To start things off, let’s talk about Diagnostic testing. Diagnostic testing shows if you have an active coronavirus infection. As of right now, there are two types of diagnostic tests: molecular and antigen tests. Molecular tests detect the virus’ genetic material in a sample from the patient’s nose or throat. This is where test results will take longer because they are sent to labs. From there, the lab essentially converts the virus’s RNA into DNA, and then make millions of copies of the DNA to be processed in a machine. The test is “positive” for infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Examples of molecular diagnostic tests include nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), RT-PCR test, and the LAMP test. Next, there is Antigen diagnostic testing. Antigen tests provide results from an active coronavirus infection faster than molecular tests. The downside to these tests are that they have a higher chance of missing an active infection. Sometimes an antigen test may come back negative, but a doctor might still order a molecular test to confirm.

Different from Diagnostic Tests, there are Antibody (different from Antigen) tests. These tests looks for antibodies that are made by your immune system in response to a threat, such as a specific virus. As we learned in biology class, antibodies can help fight infections. These tests are taken by finger stick or blood draw, and the results are quick. The antibody test only shows if you’ve been infected by coronavirus in the past. But do antibodies help diagnose COVID-19? As we learned in class about the Immune System, our body can fight pathogens, bacteria, and viruses that we have been previously exposed to. While this was a popular belief earlier on in the year, sadly, researchers do not know if the presence of antibodies means that you are immune to COVID-19 in the future. It is possible to contract COVID-19 for a second time, therefore adaptive immunity does not apply.

The most common testing that I knew of before researching was rapid testing. Rapid testing can be both a molecular or antigen diagnostic; a doctor uses a mucus sample from the nose or throat. The test can also be taken at home only by prescription of a doctor. The results are available in minutes. There is also saliva testing where a person can spit into a tube; this also keeps the doctor or worker safer from the potentially infected person.

Testing is the best way to keep yourself and those around you safe. While testing is still not 100% accurate, there is currently no better way to confirm if someone has COVID-19 unless he/she get tested. With this pandemic, we can never be too safe!

 

 

 

 

 

Protection by Different Face Masks

During the time of the Covid-19 pandemic we know that it is important to wear masks, but which ones? Different masks hold uniqueness, but ultimately are all used to protect you from airborne pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, that your immune system would need help fighting. 

Although, the best way to prevent contracting Covid-19 is to isolation and social distancing, when in public settings it is important to have a face covering. One of the most common face covers that you will see are surgical masks. Surgical masks  are disposable, loose-fitting face covering that provide a separation between the nose and mouth with harmful particles that may be present in the surrounding air. When used properly, as stated by the FDA in an article named N95 Respirators, Surgical Masks, and Face Masks, “a surgical mask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria), keeping it from reaching your mouth and nose. Surgical masks may also help reduce exposure of your saliva and respiratory secretions to others”. However, surgical masks have flaws, very small particles do not get filtered or blocked that you could be exposed by coughing, sneezing, or medical procedures. They are only designed for one use and can become damaged. As for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Covid-19, they do not completely block the virus from getting through, rather, reduce the magnitude that can pass through. Also, because of its loose-fitting design, there is a higher risk of harmful particles getting past the mask barrier through the open slots. Ultimately, surgical masks are one model of masks used to protect yourself from harmful particles in the air. 

 

Another type of mask seen throughout the pandemic is an N95 respirator. These face coverings, constructed with many layers of protection, are also used to protect you body from consuming harmful particles, but are designed with a more secure fit and effective filtration system, “that are tested for fluid resistance, filtration efficiency (particulate filtration efficiency and bacterial filtration efficiency, flammability and biocompatibility”.  Many people tend to feel more secure with a N95 respiratory mask because it also accommodates coating technologies to reduce or kill microorganisms. However, people with chronic respiratory, cardiac, or other medical conditions may have a more difficulty breathing with this mask and they are classified as single use to ensure maximum protection.

Lastly, another commonly seen mask are cloth masks. These masks are common due to its easy accessibility and their generally patterned designs. However, as stated by the CDC, these masks do not provide filtration as well as surgical masks or other respirators. Although they provide adequate protection from the virus, they are not permitted to be worn my healthcare workers. Ultimately, in the communal setting cloth face masks allow protection, when worn properly of course, and their protection level can vary depending on material, number of layers, design, etc., but surgical mask and respirators overall considered more protective.

 

Overall, the surgical mask and N95 respirator are two commonly found face covering that will give you protection against the pandemic. It is important to keep in mind that although our immune system provides us with innate immunity, a defense that is active immediately upon infections, and adaptive immunity, an acquired immunity of typically a slow response. Because adaptive immunity is a slower response, for the Covid-19 virus, it is typical to take around two weeks for your body to develop antigens. That being said, masks are a significant precaution against contracting the virus. Lastly, both of these masks are approved by the CDC and are seen in the medical field and in everyday life and can protect you from unwanted pathogens. 

 

 

 

LION: The King Of The COVID Vaccines

As the SARS-CoV-2 virus (also known as COVID-19) continues to rage across the world killing millions, more time, effort, and money is being put into researching the best vaccines to help bring the world back to a state of normalcy.  One such vaccine is being developed at the University of Washington using replicating RNA is called LION (Lipid InOrganic Nanoparticle). In its animal trials in July, the vaccine already found some success inducing “coronavirus-neutralizing antibodies” in mice young and old which has given researchers a lot of hope for the future of the vaccine.

 

One might wonder, why do we need a vaccine at all? Vaccines are used to expose your body to small doses of a virus or in this case by mRNA, which teaches your body to produce the antibodies needed to fight the virus and makes memory cells. The next time you are exposed to the virus, your body will be able to produce the necessary antibodies to a much larger degree, much quicker, for longer so you will be protected from becoming sick.

One of the lead researchers on LION, Professor Deborah Fuller of the University of Washington School of Medicine qualified the goals of a successful COVID-19 vaccine saying it, “will ideally induce protective immunity after only a single immunization, avoid immune responses that could exacerbate virus-induced pathology, be amenable to rapid and cost-effective scale-up and manufacturing, and be capable of inducing immunity in all populations including the elderly who typically respond poorly to vaccines.” This is quite a lot to accomplish but LION lends itself very well to these goals, conquering most of the problems a typical DNA vaccine would have. DNA vaccines work by coding for the antigens which are then exposed to the immune system to create memory cells so the body can treat the virus later. The downsides of a DNA vaccine is sometimes those antigens fail to create an immune response or can even cause the cell to become cancerous when the DNA joins the host cells DNA, disrupting it. There is far less risk with RNA vaccines which occupy the cytoplasm and only interact with ribosomes.

Shown above us a basic drawing of what SARS-CoV-2 virus looks like.

LION is a replicating RNA vaccine, but how does replicating RNA work? RNA codes for spike proteins and ribosomes in the body make the necessary proteins. Replicating RNA allows for more spike proteins and ribosomes to be coded at a greater rate, which produces a greater number of proteins continuously while triggering “a virus-sensing stress response that encourages other immune activation.” For the vaccine the RNA replicates proteins that tell the body to reject the SARS-CoV-2 and attack them “with antibodies and T cells”  which stop the protein spikes on the virus from interfering with the cell. The development of B cells, which remember how to make the antibodies to fight the virus when infected again, as well as T cells is especially critical for the vaccine as they can develop immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 antigens. What makes the LION vaccine special is the nanoparticle it is named after which “enhances the vaccine’s ability to provoke the desired immune reaction, and also its stability.” This makes it more valuable than other vaccines of the same kind as it can achieve effective results with a longer shelf life. It can also be mixed simply using a two vial method as the mRNA component is made separately from the main vaccine formulation. For all these reasons, the scientists are optimistic as the vaccine goes into the next stages of testing that this vaccine could help provide a long term solution to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COVID-19 vaccines start becoming available to essential workers in the coming weeks and my father prepares to take one, it can be quite unnerving to think about all the potential negative side effects of the vaccine. These vaccines have been developed without the typical ten years of testing, so knowing more about the research behind the vaccines serves as a comfort me and many others. Our future is in these vaccines and research so knowing which we should invest our time and money in is always a good idea.

Meaningful Momentum or Mirage? The True Effect of The Covid-19 Pandemic on Our Environment – and How We Must Move Forward

During a time where everyone is forced to self-isolate inside, it may not feel very natural to think about the environment in which we live. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly affected the great outdoors for the better and (if reports are to be believed) the worse.

At first glance, it would be entirely logical to conclude that a decrease in travel and industrial production would lead to a significant boost in the health of the environment. According to the NIH, “the global disruption caused by […] COVID-19 has brought about several effects on the environment and climate. Due to movement restriction and a significant slowdown of social and economic activities, air quality has improved in many cities with a reduction in water pollution in different parts of the world,” therefore allowing many governments to gain more momentum in their strides against climate change.

However, this positive sentiment is not shared by many high-ranking officials of NASA, who believe that the pandemic has put a pause on necessary procedures that served to improve our environment. As a result of social distancing and quarantine mandates, there “are far fewer intentional fires to boost biodiversity [the level of variety of life on Earth] and reduce fuel loads in the Southeast.” The lack of these fires is suspected to have impacted the region’s biodiversity by both eliminating habitats for eukaryotic organisms (organisms with nuclei) who thrive in fiery environments and polluting prokaryotic organisms (organisms without nuclei) with fuel (according to Ben Poulter, a research scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center). Moreover, the positive effects of the pandemic on the environment may not even be sustainable. Per National Geographic, “daily global carbon emissions were down by 17 percent compared to last year [before the pandemic]. But as of June 11, new data show that they are only about 5 percent lower than at the same point in 2019, even though normal activity has not yet fully restarted.” This spike in carbon emissions could be due to both the government “favors” (such as tax breaks, regulatory rollbacks, and cash loans) offered to high-polluting industries in order to help them stay afloat during the pandemic and the fact that the lax quarantine restrictions in place have not been very effective in keeping people off of the road and in their homes. When these two developments are taken into account, the state of our world during the pandemic looks rather grim.

The theory that the so-called “improvement” in our environment’s health may be very short lived is also supported by data concerning former Covid-19 patients. A new study discussed by Healthline reveals that “people who recover from even mild cases of COVID-19 produce antibodies that are believed to protect against infection for at least 5 to 7 months, and could last much longer” (For context, antibodies are blood proteins produced by Plasma B Cells that combat viruses that invade the body. The production of antibodies is part of the body’s Humoral Immune response.). While this is great news for healthcare workers who must deal with the disease firsthand, it has dangerous implications for former Covid-19 patients who may use their newfound “immunity” to resume life as normal, which could undo the minimal environmental progress that our country has made.

Despite this backslide, it is still possible to ameliorate the damage done to the environment after the pandemic ends. The chief editors of Scientific American argue that while the pandemic has “barely made a dent in climate change,” our environmental plight has shown us a way forward: using our newfound free time to fight for justice and equality for marginalized groups that are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. “The pandemic has not only aggravated the stark inequities and injustices [against minorities], [but] the mass unemployment it has generated has also given millions of Americans the motivation and opportunity to express their outrage. Their impassioned protests against systemic racism may be essential to moving the U.S. to a more equitable and sustainable future. Change is in the air.” While it may appear unorthodox to equate climate change activism with social justice advocacy, it’s entirely possible that they’re one and the same, as evidenced by the social and environmental reforms proposed by the Green New Deal. Consolidating these two fights against the exploitations of nature and humans may prove to be a viable path forward in the coming months.

Overall, while it’s possible that the pandemic’s improvement of our environment was a false mirage, we can make that imagined progress real by campaigning for all forms of justice, whether it’s environmental or societal.

Restaurants: A COVID-19 Hotspot

After spending months locked in our homes, eager for social interaction, you may find yourself wanting to justify grabbing a quick bite with a friend despite the risk of COVID-19. However, this MIT Technology Review article proves that not only are restaurants the riskiest location when it comes to the coronavirus, but you are actually four times more likely to catch the virus in a restaurant than in the gym, which is the second most dangerous location.

Safegraph, a company that collects anonymous location data from smartphones, curated a team of epidemiologists, computer scientists, and social scientists from Stanford University and Northwestern University. Together, Safegraph and their new team used smartphone data to predict and understand where most people were catching COVID-19. To do this, researchers tracked nearly 100 million people through their phones in 10 of the biggest US cities from March 1 to May 1, collecting the movements of people going to gyms, grocery stores, restaurants, places of worship, etc. 

After accumulating this smartphone data, they used it to predict the level of risk each location had based on three categories: “how big the venue was, how long people stayed inside it, and how many people were likely to be infectious in the given area.” After comparing their predictions to the official records of cases, it was proven that their new prediction model was accurate. Like one may have already guessed: the smaller the venue is, the longer people stay inside it, and the larger the number of people inside the venue are all of the factors that make a location more dangerous when it comes to catching COVID-19.

Epidemiology has proved that the three factors stated above make someone more susceptible to getting COVID-19 because the virus spreads most prominently through respiratory droplets. These droplets can be spread through breathing, talking, eating, etc. In restaurants, people don’t wear masks, allowing these respiratory droplets to infect everyone around them, as they can land on surfaces as well as drift through the air. Another danger with restaurants and not wearing a mask is being asymptomatic: unknowingly contracting the virus, having no symptoms, and then going to restaurants, where you take your mask off, allowing the virus to spread to all those around you. 

Eating, talking, breathing, and possibly even laughing are almost all guaranteed when going out to eat. However, those are all the primary methods by which respiratory droplets spread. 

If you acquire an asymptomatic or mild coronavirus case, research suggests that your immune system works the same as it normally would for other viruses. When you come in contact with COVID-19, your innate immune system immediately reacts; it is the first line of defense in your immune system and releases a rapid response. This quick response is nonspecific, meaning that it is recognized as simply a pathogen, with minimal specifics. As that rapid response begins, your adaptive immunity begins to develop and form antibodies to fight the specific virus you are infected with. Because this response is more specific to the virus you have, it is also slower acting, which is why viruses take days or weeks to recover from. 

Anyway, going back to the research: Using this new prediction model, the research team simulated different restaurant situations, such as 10% capacity, 50% capacity, and even full capacity. The model suggested that implementing a 20% maximum capacity in restaurants would cut infection rates by 80%. However, from an economic standpoint, a 20% maximum capacity would result in a likely loss of 42% of customers during “peak hours.”

So, it is crucial to think about what is more important: minimizing infection rates or keeping businesses alive? Personally, I think it is necessary to find a balance where people can stay safe, and businesses can remain open, especially small ones. Restaurants have already begun thinking of safe and innovative ways to dine. For example, a restaurant in NYC has an outdoor patio with large, private pods where groups of people can eat out without exposure to the people around them. Though even this system has its loopholes and issues, it is a step in the right direction. 

Will you be going out to eat this week? 

The Reoccurring Virus?

The spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the virus that causes Covid-19, which is more notoriously known as the coronavirus, has been deemed by some to be one of the worst pandemics ever seen. With over 13.5 million cases and over 200 thousand deaths, the pandemic has taken the world by storm. In an article, Jop de Vrieze speaks on a topic that is of concern in regards to the subsiding of this virus, the topic of reinfection.

In our body, antibodies are our natural defenders. These antibodies are part of the body’s adaptive response to pathogens. Generally, B Lymphocytes(B cells) binds to an antigen and recognize it. T-Helper cells then cause the selected B cells to divide into B-Plasma cells and B-Memory cells. The B-Plasma cells then secrete antibodies which bind to the pathogen and then neutralize it, allowing Macrophages to engulf and destroy the antibody-covered pathogen. B-Memory cells help the cell be able to remember the pathogen, ultimately preventing reinfections. Antibodies are defined by Mayo Clinic as “proteins produced by your immune system in response to an infection. Your immune system — which involves a complex network of cells, organs and tissues — identifies foreign substances in your body and helps fight infections and diseases.” When you contract the virus, your body develops these antibodies that can help provide protection. But there’s a catch. The CDC says that ” we do not know how much protection the antibodies may provide or how long this protection may last,” which opens up the possibility for reinfection.

Specific to de Vrieze’s article, a man in Hong Kong tested positive for the coronavirus in March and tested positive again in August, becoming the first official reinfection case. Neurologists have, reasonably, expected much milder symptoms from reinfection cases, but that hasn’t been the case for some. As the CDC stated, the amount of protection and the protection’s longevity is still a big question. The leading case in de Vrieze’s article was that of Sanne de Jong. After having the virus and mild symptoms in Mid-April, she tested negative in May and then tested positive again in June. What is so special about her “reinfection” case is that when her virus samples were taken, they were very similar. This is of significance because it correlates to another, yet more unlikely, theory mentioned in the article. When the article was written, “no proof exists of mutations that would make the virus more pathogenic or that might help the virus evade immunity. But a recent preprint by a team at the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle suggests one may exist. The team describes a person who was infected in March and reinfected four months later. The second virus had a mutation common in Europe that causes a slight change in the virus’ spike protein, which helps it break into human cells. Although symptoms were milder the second time, neutralization experiments showed antibodies elicited by the first virus did not work well against the second, the authors note, ‘which could have important implications for the success of vaccine programs.'”
The possibility of reinfection is rare but is still very possible. And other mysteries of the coronavirus are still present. Here is my advice: Play it safe. With the uncertainty and danger surrounding the virus, the best thing we can do is prevent the spread and protect ourselves and others. The need for concern can pass if we are simply patient.

Testing For The Virus That Changed Our Lives

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease, has changed our daily lives completely. Doctors and researchers have been working endlessly to figure out how to put a stop to its spread and get us back to our normal ways of life. Getting tested for COVID-19 is an extremely helpful way to further our knowledge of the virus and prevent it from spreading.

In order to prevent the spread of the virus, we must be able to track it. Researchers have found a way to test for COVID-19 through diagnostic tests. The tests are performed by healthcare personnels at clinics or doctors’ offices, with specific kits. The head is tilted back at a 70 degree angle and a swab is inserted inside the nostril, sometimes both, to collect the cells from the back of the nose. The swab is inserted to absorb the cells and then put into a sterile tube to be sent to a laboratory. There, a PCR test is performed and the cells are examined.

You might ask, “how does the test work?” In simple terms, the virus’ RNA is made up of thousands of nucleotides. Researchers have developed a PCR test, in which it looks for the virus’ DNA, within a person’s cells. Since the virus does not have DNA but rather has RNA, a RT-PCR test is needed to test for the disease. The RT-PCR test consists of various “reverse transcription polymerase chain reactions” where the RNA of the virus is transcribed into “complimentary DNA” that is used in the PCR test. The nucleic acids of a person’s cells are taken from the swab they were tested with, and replicated millions of times to be examined. The DNA is processed by a PCR instrument to see if the genes of the virus is within the human cell. 

SARS-CoV-2 has a surface made up of spike proteins. The spike proteins attach to a receptor on the surface of a human cell and fuses through the membrane. This is how it passes through its first line of defenses and enters respiratory epithelial cells lined on the respiratory tract, making it a respiratory virus. Once the virus is inside of the cell, it releases its RNA and is encoded, thus replicating itself. From there, the dendritic cells work to get a defense reaction from the immune system. 

When the pandemic had recently started, there were very limited tests available. The CDC, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, urged that only people with symptoms or people who have had high exposure to a person who tested positive be tested. Symptoms include a dry cough, fever, and shortness of breath. It was later found that people were testing positive for COVID-19 who had no symptoms, or had high exposure to it. This pushed researchers to develop more tests due to the fact that the virus was spread easier than they initially thought. Now there have been millions of tests shipped out, and more people are able to get tested. This is prevents the virus from spreading through people who do not know they have it. It also allows researchers to get a more accurate number of positive cases. The development of test kits and PCR testing has been extremely successful, even though there have been some inaccurate results. 

When do you think we will be able to return to our normal lives?

Santa isn’t bringing coal this year, he’s bringing Covid!! How to stay safe this winter.

Some feel that the Christmas spirit isn’t floating in the air this holiday season, but rather fear of the corona virus, and how it will be handled this winter. With temperatures dropping as fast as these store prices on sale, many worry how will the U.S stop cases from spiking as much as it did earlier this year? Don’t miss out on your favorite blogger Monoseanarides’ holiday special.

Spread (Overview)-

SARS-CoV-2 is a highly contagious strain of the coronavirus that spreads in multiple different ways. The virus can be spread through small particles or respiratory droplets (ex. aerosols created by the cough, sneeze, speech, and breaths of a Covid-infected patient). Once these particles are in the air, they are inhaled through the mouth or nose and enter the lungs and airways which is believed to be the most common form of infection. Droplet particles that have landed on surfaces can cause the virus to spread by touch. Once someone has touched an infected surface the disease can spread to them by touching their mouth, nose, or eyes. Spread by touch is not a primary way of transmission. When spending time with someone who has not been tested you should not be within 6 feet or 2 arms lengths of the person. Something to look out for during this pandemic is Community Spread. This is a term coined for an area where multiple people are infected with the virus and not everyone knows where the virus was contracted from. To inquire on whether or not there is a local community spread near you contact your local health department’s website. There are still a lot of questions regarding the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus including whether or not warm weather slows down the spread of the virus, and cold weather periods are where the virus spreads most like the flu virus? There is still a lot of research to be done on the virus and there is no permanent answer, but it is safe to assume that cases will start to spike again during the winter because that is when sicknesses like the flu spread best. Another question frequently asked is whether or not the virus can be spread through mosquitos and ticks like other illnesses such as the Zika virus or Lyme Disease. As of now there has been no evidence proving that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be spread from person to person through the bite of a mosquito or a tick.

Spread (A closer look)

For all my crazy biology fans like me no need to worry I’m going to explain to you guys how the SARS-CoV-2 virus infects healthy cells. When a SARS-Cov-2 virus enters your body it latches onto one of your healthy cells’ receptors using its spiked protein surface, it usually latches to a healthy cell in the lungs. The viral proteins latch through the ACE2 receptors. The virus then travels down your respiratory tract to your lower airway where the most ACE2 receptors are present. This can cause your lungs to swell, which can make it harder to breathe. These complications can often lead to pneumonia. Once pneumonia is formed patients go into ARDS, however this only occurs in severe cases.

How the body responds-

Normally when a virus enters the body the automatic response mechanism used is innate immunity. Innate immunity is a defense activated immediately after infection. Innate Immunity is the first and second lines of defense because it is a rapid response. After the innate immunity is activated the adaptive immunity is activated. This response is slower because its job is to fight off any extra infected cells and memorize the virus so that the body is prepared for another infection. It has been seen with the SARS-CoV-2 virus (usually in older people) that cytokine storms occur when parts of the immune system overwork or works harder than other parts of the immune system.

Could Rapid Testing Be the Key to Beating COVID-19?

A study published by University of Colorado Boulder and Harvard University researchers, states that rapid tests could help the world come close to eliminating COVID-19. The study focused on whether sensitivity of the tests, or turnaround times of getting the results is more important. By using mathematical formulas, different scenarios and three locations (a 10,000 person population, a university setting and in a large city) they came to conclude that when trying to slow the spread, frequency of testing and turnaround time is more important than the sensitivity of the test.

It is important to note the difference between the PCR test and the rapid antigen test. A PCR test, which uses polymerase chain reaction technology (hence the name) to detect traces of the virus’ genetic material. A rapid antigen test does not trace the genetic material but instead looks for specific proteins on the surface of the virus, known as antigens. A PCR test can detect one SARS-CoV-2 RNA molecule for a positive test result, the rapid antigen test needs thousands of virus particles for a positive test result. An antigen is present on the outside of a pathogen. In adaptive response to pathogens, dendritic cells place these antigens on display. The antigens are what allows the T-helper cells to recognize the antigen and trigger the cell mediated and humoral response. Therefore, if your body is fighting against COVID-19, the antigens would be displayed on cells and the rapid test may recognize them.

In one of the scenarios a large city had widespread rapid testing two times a week and they reduced the infections by 80% compared to widespread PCR testing done two times a week that only reduced infection by 58%. This scenario shows that because two thirds of infected people do not show symptoms as they wait for their results they are not quarantining. If people receive the positive tests results sooner, they can self-isolate sooner.

People have felt hesitant about rapid testing since it is less accurate than PCR testing and may miss cases where levels of infected particles are too low. However, it has been shown that there is a short time period where PCR testing will show a positive, and rapid tests won’t. This is because infected particles can go from 5,000 to 1 million in less than 24 hours. During this short window of time it is also likely that the patient is not contagious yet. 

Personally, I think that having more accessible rapid tests will be a huge help to curbing the virus. Even with less sensitivity, if a person tests positive then they self-isolate up to up to 48 hours quicker, if tests results take longer, then even more. This means that less people will get infected. I know that when family members have gotten tested, especially in the beginning of the pandemic, tests took 5 days when the labs were backed up. If they had not been properly quarantined during the 5 days, this could pose a danger to others. Therefore, I think that the accuracy can be put aside for the speed of the test results.

So, what do you think? Is rapid testing the inexpensive, fast, key piece to curbing the infection rate, or is the accuracy of tests more important?

COVID-19 May Be Behind Dangerous Blood Clots in Patients

According to an article by Erin Garcia de Jesus, a new study shows that some of COVID-19’s lethal blood clots may originate from the immune system attacking the patient’s body instead of the virus. These clots form due to excessive inflammation from an overactive immune response in severely ill patients. Researchers are now trying to figure out how this response happens. Currently, the belief is that some of the clottings may come from auto-antibodies that go after the cell membrane-forming molecules instead of the foreign invader. This attack would prompt neutrophils to release a “web of genetic material geared at trapping virus particles outside the cells.” While this process may control infections in tissue, it causes clotting in the bloodstream. Cardiologist Yogen Kanthi and her colleagues at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., reported that “some blood clots may form when the webs trap red blood cells and platelets, creating a sticky clump that can clog blood vessels.” Blood clots in the lungs have become a significant cause of death for COVID-19 patients.

Auto-antibodies that recognize phospholipids can cause antiphospholipid syndrome (APS). APS is an autoimmune disease in which auto-antibodies can activate clot-forming cells, putting patients at a higher risk of blood clots. Extremely ill COVID-19 patients sometimes have high levels of neutrophils as well as phospholipid-binding antibodies in their blood. The belief is that antibodies may be causing the neutrophils to release traps that create clotting.

According to the study, of 172 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, more than half had auto-antibodies that recognized one of three various types of host phospholipids. When the researchers combined auto-antibodies taken from six COVID-19 patients with lab-grown neutrophils, the neutrophils cast their nets. Furthermore, when the researchers injected the same patient auto-antibodies into mice, the mice formed blood clots.

While this research is promising, Thomas Kickler, a hematologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, states that “it’s unlikely that phospholipid auto-antibodies are the whole story.” Other inflammatory immune responses can also trigger clots, so the antibodies may only be part of the mystery.

On a brighter note, a process called plasmapheresis (filtering the liquid part of blood), could assist severely ill COVID-19 patients by removing the problematic antibodies.

This topic relates to our AP Biology study of the immune system. COVID-19 is a threatening virus that penetrates our immune system, and it can cause various problems in our body once it makes its way past our defenses. One of our main defenses is antibodies. Antibodies are specialized, Y-shaped proteins that bind to a foreign invader inside the body. The immune system uses the antibodies to search and mark the invader. Antibodies are a humoral response in part of the adaptive immune system which learns to recognize and eliminate specific invaders. People recovering from COVID-19 may have antibodies that are effective against the virus. Another bodily defense system is inflammation. Inflammation is an internal defense that is part of innate immunity. During inflammation, cells release histamine, and macrophages secrete cytokines. The histamines dilate local blood vessels and increase capillary permeability and cause the area to swell with fluid. Cytokines attract neutrophils and dendritic cells, and natural killer cells kill damaged or infected cells. A fever (a common symptom of COVID-19),  is a systematic inflammatory response triggered by pyrogens released by macrophages.

Our Next Steps To Defeat Covid-19.

Introduction

Whether it is protection from an angry bear, a criminal on the loose, the simple flu, or for safe sex, the measures we take to ensure our safety is one of the most important steps to continue to stay healthy and safe. We must continue to educate ourselves on what actions we must take in order to keep ourselves and the people around us as safe as possible.

Recently, our society has had a lot of controversy around products like masks and their effectiveness. Although many of our methods may not guarantee complete safety, we must attempt to reduce the amount of spread of serious viruses like SARS-CoV-2.

To quickly clarify, SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that invades our bodies. When SARS-CoV-2 is able to bypass our bodies’ immune system functions and infect cells in our system, our bodies contract the disease Covid-19. If further information is desired, please refer to this study on SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 conducted by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.

As we approach a whole year with the presence of Covid-19 in the United States of America, we must stop to reflect on our actions and see what we can do to prevent the virus from wreaking more havoc on our society. One of the most important factors for Covid-19’s ability to spread as much as it had, was the lack of proper protection techniques used by citizens of the United States of America.

Firstly, it is very important to understand how SARS-CoV-2 is able to transfer from person to person so easily. According to the CDC, The most common way for SARS-CoV-2 to spread is through people inhaling respiratory droplets, released through other people’s coughing, sneezing, talking, etc. into their own nose and mouth. Although much rarer, SARS-CoV-2 can sometimes be spread through airborne transmission and contact with contaminated surfaces.

Since breathing is a necessity to continue living, we obviously can’t perfectly avoid inhaling these respiratory droplets, but in what ways can we try to reduce the damage of possible Covid-19 cases in the United States of America…

Forms of Protection

According to the CDC, we can take very specific steps in order to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

To further elaborate on a few of these methods, we as a society must educate ourselves on the best and most efficient way to carry out these actions. One main example at the moment is mask usage in the United States of America. Despite constantly being told, I often see many citizens wearing their masks in ways that are strongly discouraged: some under the nose, some dangling from their ears, and some not on at all. Not only does this put their own bodies at risk of contracting Covid-19, but it also risks the health of others as well.

According to the articleStill Confused About Masks? Here’s the Science Behind How Face Masks Prevent Coronavirus” by Nina Bai, a study conducted by health affairs, compared the Covid-19 growth rate before and after a mask mandate. Nina  states that “the first five days after a mandate, the daily growth rate slowed by 0.9 percentage-points compared to the five days prior to the mandate; at three weeks, the daily growth rate had slowed by 2 percentage-points.” Another study conducted by Christopher Leffler, Edsel Ing and many more professionals also found that out of the 198 countries that they had observed the Covid-19 death rate of “those with cultural norms or government policies favoring mask-wearing had lower death rates.”  Through studies, we can observe the effectiveness of such resources and use these materials such as masks to the best of our abilities to help each other stay safe.

If you are in need of instruction on how to properly use a mask and other small important pieces of information. Please refer to the CDC’s article “How to Select, Wear, and Clean Your Mask”

Another term that many have learned this year, is the term “Social Distancing.” Although staying 6 feet apart from one another like the CDC has told us, it becomes very difficult for every day citizens to abide to this rule as we have a natural tendency to gravitate towards our peers, family and other people in our communities. In order to reduce spreading the virus to other people we must stay socially-distant from others to allow people to live their lives much more comfortably, especially considering that most cases of SARS-CoV-2 transfer are caused through inhaling respiratory droplets.

Another luxury many people don’t use properly is the sinks that are in our homes and bathrooms. I’ve seen way too many people use hand sanitizer instead of going to wash their hands for the recommended 20 seconds with soap and water. For many reasons, this practice can be extremely harmful if someone is trying to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. According to the CDC, there are many cases where using regular hand sanitizer won’t be as efficient as a simple washing of hands with soap and water. For example, hand sanitizer is not as efficient on greasy and dirty hands: hands after handling food, playing sports, going fishing and many other activities that may lead to dirty hands. In cases as such, the CDC recommends using soap and water for 20 seconds. However, we must truly wash our hands by properly scrubbing our hands and not simply allow the water from the sink to run through our fingers and palms. The friction caused by scrubbing allows for the lifting of dirt, grease and microbes on your skin. Microbes are also extremely present under your nails which is why your parents always tell you to make sure to get your nails when you wash your hands. Without properly cleaning our hands and other parts of our bodies, we may accidentally bring harmful substances towards our face, where the virus may be able to easily enter our bodies. By cleaning our hands thoroughly and carefully, we significantly reduce the chances of spreading the virus to others and ourselves.

Biological Implication

The reason the CDC places so much emphasis on thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water, is so that we can make sure to keep our hands clean from any harmful substances. If someone were to only wash their hands with water, they wouldn’t be able to wash off all the non polar substances like grease and oil off of their hands. For this reason, we use soap to and water rather than only water. Due to water’s polar properties, it can only bond with other polar molecules. When one adds soap into their cleansing routine, there are two new parts being tossed into the mix. The hydrophilic heads from the soap attach to the water molecules and the hydrophobic tails of the molecule bond with the non polar substances such as grease and oil. The water then continues to carry the soap and harmful substances away from our hands as other water molecules pull them down with them as gravity takes its course. Soap, being made of lipids, shows versatility as it’s able to bond with both polar and non polar molecules and allows us to fully wash our hands with its polar and non polar qualities.

Conclusion

With proper masks, socially-distant people, clean hands and many other precautions we can make sure that the spread growth is reduced way more than it previously was. Scientists are still trying to figure out all the details themselves. They’re human beings and they’re bound to make mistakes as well, so we must be understanding and flexible when new studies and information prove claims that could help us reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and Covid-19 even more. In these troubling times we must look out for each other and be strong yet malleable as we face hardships that many haven’t ever experienced before.

 

 

 

COVID-19 New Target: The Environment

The deadly COVID-19 virus has changed our way of living greatly, including individual human behavior as well as behavior on a larger scale regarding businesses and factories.

National Geographic published an article written by Beth Gardiner surrounding the misconception on how the environment has been impacted by this widespread virus. It is noted that many people assume the environment is in a thriving state due to a major decrease of time humans spent outside of their home. Ultimately this is not the case, the question is what’s really happening to our earth in this time of uncertainty?

The only way to answer this question is to look back on the beginning of the worldwide lockdown. In April 2020, people stayed inside, there was limited traveling occurring, and businesses and factories closed, with this information it imperative to see how this vast change impacted our surroundings. It was found that “daily global carbon emissions were down by 17 percent”. Although seemingly positive, this number is not much higher than that of previous years around a similar time. This means that with a complete lifestyle change from every single person and cooperation in the world, we still are unable to show a substantial amount of beneficial actions towards the environment to save it.

Now we all may know that carbon is released into the air in a variety of ways, however it is important to distinguish the differences in these ways. One of the most known, harmless ways is how living organisms release or interact with carbon. As we breathe we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, releasing it into the atmosphere, however plants and trees can use this CO2 to preform necessary tasks such as photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process where “plants use the energy from sunlight to produce glucose from carbon dioxide and water”. This process is crucial to support the life of a plant and provides their “food” to keep them thriving. Once the glucose is produced in the plant, pyruvate can be created. Pyruvic acid provides energy, ultimately allowing the increase of ATP production during the cellular respiration process.

ATP is energy used to power different processes such as forms of active transport allowing substances to move from a low to high concentration, unlike passive transport. ATP is not required when passive transport is occurring. As ATP is produced, it can be stored to be used later for processes such as cellular respiration and photosynthesis which are crucial in maintaining healthy plant cells, however, ATP can not be stored in its usual form, it must be in the form of storage molecules such as the carbohydrate glycogen. Carbohydrates function to store and release energy, once ATP is needed, it will be transformed out of it’s storage form back to ATP.

Now why is this background information important? Now that we see the good natural carbon dioxide does, we need to focus on how a certain type is damaging our planet. Carbon dioxide is emitted through the usage of gas from cars and factory productions, things so normalized on a daily basis. When these machines and vehicles release carbon, it has no where to go besides the atmosphere and plants can only take in so much carbon, ultimately its just pollution. This pollution now sits in our atmosphere and builds up as more time goes on. Carbon is needed to regulate and take in the inferred energy the earth releases, otherwise known as heat. Although carbon absorbs this energy, it still needs to go somewhere and one of those places is back into the earth’s environment. The excess amount of carbon in the atmosphere leads to something called climate change ultimately the more carbon released and built up, the hotter the earth will get which can make the earth inhospitable if we make no change. Another negative of the carbon build up in the atmosphere, is the effect is has on marine life. Carbon can make water acidic which damages the habitats and living conditions of underwater life.

Now that Carbon emission is fully explained and exemplified, lets answer our initial question. How has COVID-19 played apart in environmental issues. As mentioned there is evidence in a decrease in carbon emissions when human behavior was significantly changed, however the decrease barely surpassed that of previous years when life was ‘normal’. As things began to open up and manufacturing continued, it was found that the amount of carbon emissions went right back up to where there initially were. “In China, traffic is back to pre-pandemic levels”, and “factories pushed to make up for lost time, pollution returned in early May to pre-coronavirus levels, and in some places surpassed them”, disproving the idea that COVID-19 has been beneficial to our environment. Ultimately we have shown no progress in improving our environment even when almost every aspect of typical life was shut down. COVID-19 instilled panic in everyone including factories that are now just working to pollute the atmosphere more while they still can.

We have vaccines- is the pandemic over?

Does a vaccine mean the end of this pandemic?

For this portfolio project, I will be focusing on the vaccine development process and how the developing vaccines each prepare the immune system to fight COVID-19. The goal will be to explore the stages of development, testing, and distribution to the public and how these new vaccines function. Since there has been recent progress with a few vaccine candidates, namely the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, this blog post will be about the implications of vaccine distribution in coming months.

Firstly, a new vaccine does not mean that it will be safe for society to return to normal just yet. While we’re all definitely excited about the news of successful vaccine trials, the effects of vaccination are not immediate, and the goal of herd immunity will not be reached for a little while. Also, the vaccines have not been tested yet on children and pregnant women, and since women around childbearing age are highly represented in the population of health care workers, it is important that the vaccine work for pregnant women. With the trials so far, we do know that there have been no unexpected negative side effects to vaccination, just the typical mild ones such as injection-site soreness and fatigue.

So why is getting a vaccine so important? It’s true that none of the vaccines are 100% effective, but they have been proven to decrease the severity of symptoms. (Both vaccines have reported about 95% efficacy rates in preventing COVID-19.) There are many good reasons to get a vaccine. Not only will it protect you, but it will be a safer path than widespread infection to build herd immunity. Since the trials did not measure rates of infection, it remains unclear whether the vaccines prevent infection and transmission, though results from another vaccine’s trials suggest that it might somewhat protect against infection. Either way, the rate of subjects who became severely ill was lower for those vaccinated in these two prominent vaccines’ trials. The high rates of hospitalization are due to development of severe symptoms, so reducing symptoms would also help to slow the pandemic’s adverse effects.

So, we’ve seen that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective in reducing symptoms, but that brings us to another question. How do these vaccines work? Both of these vaccines are mRNA vaccines. This means that they deliver synthetic messenger RNA that is taken in by immune cells that then produce the spike protein, just as would happen if the cells came into contact with the actual virus. However, since it is just the proteins, there is no risk of getting infected with COVID-19 from the vaccine itself. The immune system will then recognize the protein as a foreign substance and develop an immune response and produce memory cells that will respond swiftly in the case of seeing that protein again. As we learned, the adaptive immune defense depends on the recognition of the epitope of a virus, in this case the spike protein. After first infection, the memory B and Tc cells that are produced via clonal expansion remain in the lymph nodes until the same virus attacks again. However, this mRNA vaccine removes the need for a first infection in developing adaptive immunity because the spike proteins are produced without the rest of the virus needing to be introduced.

Now, let’s imagine it’s a few months from now, and the distribution of vaccines has begun. Can we skip the precautions we have in place now? Do we still need social distancing and mask-wearing? Well, until most people are able to be vaccinated, it will be important to maintain safety protocols that reduce the spread. Even once somebody is vaccinated, they will need to follow guidelines, because it takes several weeks for the immune defense to build up, and both vaccines require a booster dose about a month after the first one. Also, we’ve already addressed the uncertainty about transmission after vaccination, so it’s best to err on the side of caution. 

So, even though these vaccines may not be perfect, they will help control the pandemic. The main question that remains is how efficiently and fairly vaccines can be distributed to best reduce deaths and bring about an end to the pandemic.

Covid-19: It’s Time We Start Listening to the Long-Haulers

Over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic, millions of people across the globe have contracted Covid-19, and while many have unfortunately lost their lives to the virus, millions of people have been able to recover from Covid-19. However, recovering from Covid-19 may not mean the end to all problems for patients. Many people who have recovered from the Covid-19 have expressed that they are still experiencing symptoms such as fatigue, muscle/body aches, and shortness of breath. 

What is a Long-Hauler?

These people that are showing continued symptoms of Covid-19, even after “recovering” from the virus, are being referred to as Covid-19 long-haulers. As mentioned before, long-haulers face lingering, persistent symptoms such as constant fatigue, difficulty breathing, and headaches that have prolonged to weeks or even months after defeating the virus. In a well-written article by the New York Times, the experience of Covid-19 long-haulers is examined. The article focuses on myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and how it relates to covid-19 long-haulers. 

While rather unknown by many, ME/CFS has been around and diagnosed for a decent amount of time. ME/CFS often follows viral infections, thus it is really no surprise to the people who have been researching ME/CFS, like Jamie Seltzer, a main contributor to the article, that an estimated 10% of Covid-19 patients are suffering symptoms like fatigue, brain fog and chronic pain for prolonged periods of time. The article explains that the amount of Covid-19 long-haulers that have tested positive for COVID-19 or its antibodies makes a strong case that coronavirus is turning into ME/CFS. 

While the exact cause of ME/CFS is not completely understood, findings of immune abnormalities in some ME/CFS patients, such as elevated levels of certain cytokines or poorly functioning immune cells, has enabled researchers to believe that the immune system plays a role in the development of ME/CFS. In relation to our AP Biology class, we learned about the immune system and the function of cytokines. Cytokines attract neutrophils, which digest pathogens and dead cell debris, as well as dendritic cells. Cytokines are important in regulating the body’s response to disease and infection.

Since ME/CFS is unknown to many, and the exacts of how it occurs is not completely understood, the article notes that ME/CFS is regarded as a contested illness. This means that the legitimacy of ME/CFS is questioned by some in the medical field. Many coronavirus long-haulers have noted that they have experienced doctors who were skeptical, rude, or unhelpful, if not baldly disbelieving of their condition/symptoms. Thus, the main point of the article is that the Covid-19 long-haulers should open the eyes of many in the medical field to the legitimacy of ME/CFS. It is a hope by some in the ME/CFS research field that the experience of Covid-19 long-haulers will prompt more research into ME/CFS, a condition that receives fractional amounts for research compared to more known illnesses. 

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After reading this article, I do believe I’ve gained a lot. As a rather healthy young adult, the idea that “if I got covid, I’d be fine,” sort of plagues your mind. However, now I know that it is much more complicated than that. If the estimation that 10% of Covid-19 patients experience prolonged symptoms is accurate, then it should definitely prompt more people of my age to make sure they are doing everything they can to prevent the contraction and the spread of the virus. The cure to ME/CFS is still unknown, so it is crucial we do what we can to prevent getting it. 

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