BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: adrienneosinetriphosphate

What is Nanotechnology, and How is it Transforming Vaccine Development for SARS-CoV-2?

1,000+ Free Covid-19 & Coronavirus Illustrations - PixabayCOVID-19 Spike Protein

In an era of mask-wearing and social distancing, the big question on everyone’s mind is when will things go back to normal? Scientists all over the world have been working quickly and intensely to develop a solution–one that is safe. 

Nanotechnology is the process of manipulating atoms and molecules on a microscopic scale. According to a UC San Diego ScienceDaily Article, scientists have been using this technique to design vaccine candidates for COVID-19. Nicole Steinmetz, a nanoengineering professor at UC San Diego, has been one such scientist. Instead of relying on older vaccine models, such as live-attenuated or inactivated strains of the virus itself, these “next-generation vaccines” are more stable, easier to manufacture, and easier to administer. 

Since June 1 of 2020, there have been more than one-hundred vaccines in play, with more than a few triumphing through clinical trials. Although many may be years away from deployment, the act of their development will prepare our nations’ leaders for future pandemics. 

There are three forms of these novel vaccines in the mix: peptide-based, nucleic-acid based, and subunit vaccines. All of these are alternatives to classic vaccines, which are slower to produce and sometimes pose the threat of inducing allergic responses.

scientist, microbiologist, virus, molecular biology, laboratory, coronavirus testing, COVID-19Vaccine Development

Peptide-Based Vaccines

Peptides are short chains made up of amino acid monomers. Simple and easily manufactured, peptide-based vaccines are typically made from VPLs, or virus-like particles, which come from bacteriophages or plant viruses. They are composed of peptide antigens, and mimic the patterns of pathogens, making those patterns visible to the immune system. However, they do not produce a strong enough immune response on their own, and thus must be accompanied by adjuvants.

Nucleic-acid Based Vaccines

In the midst of a fast-spreading pandemic, the world needs a vaccine that can be both developed and deployed rapidly. DNA and mRNA vaccines have this potential. DNA vaccines contain small, circular pieces of bacterial plasmids that are engineered to target the nucleus and produce parts of the virus’s proteins. They have a lot of stability, however, they also pose the risk of messing up a person’s pre-existing DNA, leading to mutations. In contrast, mRNA-based vaccines release mRNA into the cytoplasm, which the host cell then translates into a full-length protein of the virus. Because it is non-integrating, it does not have the same mutation risks as DNA-based vaccines.  

Subunit Vaccines 

Subunit vaccines have minimal structural parts of the pathogenic virus, meaning either the virus’s proteins or VLPs. These vaccines do not have genetic material, and instead, mimic the topical features of the virus to induce an immune response. 

The Power of Masks

Delivery Development

One of the most important aspects of a vaccine is accessibility and deployment. In the past, when dealing with live or inactivated vaccines, the lack of healthcare workers to administer the vaccines emerged as a significant concern. Yet, through nanotechnology, researchers have developed devices and platforms to ease these previous issues. They have created single-dose, slow-release implants and patches that can be self-administered, removing pressure from health care workers. Open reporting and the mass culmination of data has allowed for this rapid development of vaccine technologies. Because of these revolutionary advancements, some researchers optimistically predict that COVID-19 has the potential to become merely another seasonal flu-like disease over time.

What Lies Ahead

In these bleak times, it is promising to look at such amazing scientific developments. While a good portion of the general public feels skepticism towards the speed at which these COVID-19 vaccines are being produced, and thus claim they will not take it, I believe that the work of these scientists will not go to waste. As a nation, and as a global community, we will get past it, and come out stronger than ever on the other side. 

Now, ask yourself, would you take a COVID-19 vaccine? 

Warmer Winters, Less Lake Ice

 

Royalty-Free photo: Ice, glacier, frozen, cold, glacial ice, air inclusions | PickPik

Crystalline Lattice Ice

An article written in the ScienceDaily explores recent concerning data: due to climate change, lakes in the Northern Hemisphere are experiencing “more ice-free years.” You may be wondering—well, why does the amount of ice on a lake matter? The dwindling ice on our Earth’s lakes is not only a wake up call for our climate sensitive present and future, but also an indication of the detrimental ecological, cultural, and economic impacts of climate change.

I used to take ice for granted; now I understand why it is truly a unique thing. Water is one of the only substances that is less dense as a solid than as a liquid. This phenomenon is due to its hydrogen bonding. As temperatures fall below 4 degrees celsius, water molecules move too slowly to break these hydrogen bonds. As a result, the molecules are able to form a crystalline lattice, making the most amount of hydrogen bonds possible, 4. This property is crucial for life under ice to exist on earth, and therefore, crucial to the balance of all life on earth. Now, with a changing climate, ice is at risk. 

In a recent study, researchers analyzed 80 years of lake ice data from 1939-2016. Focusing on 122 lakes that have historically froze every winter, the researchers concluded that ice-free years for these lakes were 3 times more frequent since 1978. This trend is highly correlated with abnormally warm winters, and it will continue to increase as the earth warms at higher rates. 

The absence of ice on these lakes has various implications. Communities around the lakes that have traditionally depended on lake ice for ice fishing and ice festivals during the winter are paying the consequences. In addition to economic and cultural impacts, there are also ecological implications. The lakes are warmer in years without ice, and, as a result, they stratify earlier. The formation of distinct thermal layers increases the lake’s susceptibility to toxic algal blooms, which can be harmful to marine life and to people. 

File:Algal bloom(akasio) by Noctiluca in Nagasaki.jpg

Toxic Algal Blooms

 The authors noticed that this warming trend was not unique to a specific location of lakes, but rather, applicable to a broader region of Earth’s lakes. In a new study, researcher Filazzola and his colleagues looked through a broader geological lens to understand how the frequency of ice-free lakes has changed over time. They gathered consistent historical and modern data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) for 122 lakes in North America, Europe, and Asia. Some of the oldest data collected was from 1443 about Lake Suwa, located in Japan. At this historic lake, the researchers collected impressive documentation from 15 generations of priests, who have always regarded the lake’s ice with “celebration.” Again, this demonstrates the cultural significance that lake ice holds in many communities. 

File:180205 Lake Suwa omiwatari 03.jpg

Lake Suwa, Japan 

Overall, Filazzola and his colleagues concluded that there is a correlation between air temperatures/climate cycles and increasingly “ice-free years,” which they defined as a lake not having “100%” of ice coverage “for at least one day.” Their data clearly demonstrated that lake warming is more prevalent in the last 40 years than in the last 80 years. One of the researchers, Sharma, even called the growing absence of ice as “not normal” and “a historical snapshot to understand that the climate is changing.”

As a 17 year old in today’s world, I feel very strongly about earth’s changing climate and its negative effects for our future. While the subject has become politicized in the United States due to certain industrialist economic beliefs, our changing climate is indeed pressing and sensitive. It is our duty as stewards to protect the planet and to moderate its changing climate.

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