AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: annaphase

What You Eat Now Matters Later!


Researchers from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen have potentially uncovered the cause for developing obesity. This process involves precursor cells, the fatty acid palmitate and the hormone TNF-alpha.

^Above is a photo of fat tissue

What are precursor cells and how does it work? 

A precursor cell is an immature cell that has not undertaken a specific role in the body yet, for example a mature cell would be considered a muscle cell. When this cell comes in contact with the fatty acid palmitate and the hormone TNF-alpha it is disrupted. This interaction will cause future damage; it causes the cell to develop into a dysfunctional fat cell. Obese patients with type two diabetes will often contain these types of reprogramed cells.

How were these cells discovered?

The researchers collected physical data from multiple types of patients with 43 planned opporations. They retrieved fat tissue from 15 lean patients, 14 obese patients, and 14 obese patients with type two diabetes. When they compared the data from the three groups of patients they noticed that the fat cells from the obese patients with type two diabetes were not normal fat cells, they were reprogrammed cells that did not function like normal fat cells. Once they realized this, the researchers were able to recreate the reprogrammed cells by exposing precursor cells to the palmitate and hormone TNF-alpha. In just 24 hours they were able to complete the process successfully!

What can I do with this information?

These results illustrate how essential it is for you to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. It proves that your habits now will affect you in the future. This is why people should learn about how to live a healthy lifestyle at a young age. The younger the better, because it would decrease the chances of precursor cells to be transformed into abnormal fat cells for your future life.

The future:

Hopefully, this study sparks new ideas and discoveries regarding preventative obesity tactics. The researchers hope to discover a way to reverse the abnormal programing of the fat precursor cells. If researchers could figure out a way to reverse this programing how much safer could obese patients become? Could this research impact the education systems, forcing health classes earlier in students lives? This article interested me because I am always focused on how my decisions will affect me in my future, however I never thought of this with my eating habits.

CRISPR Cas-9 is the New Key to Curing Parkinson’s Disease

A new screening tool for Parkinson’s Disease was just discovered by a team of researchers at the University of Central Florida. They did this by using cutting edge gene-editing technology, CRISPR Cas-9, which allows scientists to detect levels of alpha-synuclein, a brain protein associated with Parkinson’s.

What is alpha-synuclein?

This protein can be found in our brain, it is something all humans have. When someone develops Parkinson’s, the levels of this protein become abnormal. This protein can become dangerous to neurons and kill them. This person would gradually loose brain cells, affecting their motor functions.

What is CRISPR Cas-9?

CRISPR Cas-9, Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats, is a gene-editing system that enables scientists to edit DNA while preserving the cell. Instead of extracting all of the proteins from a cell and measuring them, CRISPR Cas-9 allows us to edit one gene.

How is used?

The specific gene the team wanted to edit was the alpha-synuclein. The CRISPR Cas-9 helped them edit the gene and add a luminescent tag, made up of similar proteins that make fireflies glow, in order to track how much of this protein is produced in a brain cell. When the brain cell produces alpha-synuclein, it glows, making it easier to visualize once the cell is in a diseased state. Furthermore, scientists can treat these cells with different medications, whether or not they glow will tell if the medications tested are successful.

The Future:

Engineered cells and light detection are a great duo for the future of researchers. Light detection on these engineered cells is helpful for high throughput screening where multiple drugs can be tested at the same time. This research can potentially lower the number of Parkinson’s cases per year. Currently, 60,000 new cases are reported per year in just the United States! Could these numbers drop in the future? Can CRISPR help find a cure to other diseases as well? Reading this article opened my mind to the endless possibilities CRISPR unlocked, I am excited to see where else it could take science.




A Pill That Lasts for a Week!

A Pill That Lasts for a Week!

HIV budding from a Lymphocyte


Cutting edge research from MIT, Brigham and Women’s Hospital has discovered a new way to deliver HIV medicine. They designed a new type of capsule that can deliver a certain dosage of medicine for over a week. This discovery makes it easier for patients to stay consistent with treatment and is beneficial to the patient because less frequent doses improves adherence.

How Does it Work?

The idea stemmed off of another older study using similar capsules to gradually release ivermectin, the malaria drug. This type of capsule could stay in the stomach for as long as two weeks! The new version the researchers designed is a star structure with a specific backbone that has six arms. Different drug-loaded polymers can fill each of the six arms. “In a way, it’s like putting a pillbox in a capsule. Now you have chambers for every day of the week on a single capsule,” Traverso says. These capsules were tested on pigs, and fortunately worked perfectly. The capsules were able to release three different HIV medications over a period of one week and then disintegrated and passed through their digestive tract.

Why is it Important?

The significant drop in mortality rate of HIV since the 1990’s shouldn’t stop researcher from striving to end the epidemic. In 2005 there were 1.2 million HIV-related deaths and 2.1 million new HIV infections. Antiretroviral drugs have been tested in multiple trials to see if they can prevent HIV infection in healthy populations. Although the success in theses trials is mixed, a constant obstacle in this treatment is having people stay consistent with taking the pills.

The Future?

Researchers have also attempted to predict the efficiency and benefits of a weekly drug. They determined that switching from a daily dose to a weekly dose could potentially improve the efficiency by 20%! The prediction also showed that over the next 20 years, 200,000 to 800,000 new infections could be prevented in South Africa! Could this new drug capsule help solve this problem and potentially other dosage problems with other diseases? Could it be the start to new universal dosage methods? This article sparked my interest because the HIV epidemic is something discussed a lot in the 21st century, however there haven’t been many groundbreaking discoveries. Coming across this article gave me hope for the future of medicine and curing this epidemic!

Engineering Cancer Killers!árezFlores

Engineering Cancer Killers!                                                                                               

Today, millions of people are dying from the complex disease, cancer. Although treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation are used to cure the disease, immunotherapy has emerged as a potential cure for cancer. Professor Oliver Ottmann, Head of Haematology at Cardiff University and co-lead of the Cardiff Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC), acknowledged the importance of immunotherapy and considers it a huge breakthrough in cancer research and treatment. This lead his team to further discover the key to genetically engineering T-cells to recognize and kill cancer cells. 

How Does It Work?

T-cells are an important part of our immune systems. They contain receptors that can recognize bacterial infections or viruses and help fight them off, and potentially kill cancer cells. Scientists have developed a way to genetically engineer T-cells using CRISPR genome editing. Normally, the genetically engineered T-cells, that are created to fight cancer, contain two types of receptors. One type is called therapeutic, and is created and added on to the cell in a lab, and the other types of receptors are natural and originated from the T-cell.

The Problem 

The team acknowledged that since both kinds of receptors occupy the cell, there is minimal space for all receptors to fit on the cell; therefore certain receptors must challenge other receptors in order to perform their own function. Since there are more natural receptors on a T-cell than the therapeutic receptors,the natural receptors perform superior than the therapeutic receptors. This means the genetically engineered T-cells are not able to work at their full potential; they are unable to kill cancer cells efficiently.

The Solution

After recognizing the problem, Professor Oliver Ottmann and his team genetically engineered T-cells, by genome editing, that only contain the therapeutic receptors they intended on adding. By eliminating all of the natural receptors that T-cells normally have, the therapeutic receptors will increase in efficiency.

The Future

Since scientists have figured out a way to maximize the efficiency of genetically engineered cancer fighting T-cells, finding a cure to cancer could be closer than we thought. Could this cutting edge research be the start of a solution for cancer treatment?  Do you think scientists and society will pursue this theory? This article sparked my interest because finding a reliable cure for cancer has been a problem for many years, every discovery we make brings us closer to finding the best cure.

This Scary Spider Could Save Your Life!

This Scary Spider Could Save Your Life!

In current times, more and more people are suffering from cardiac insufficiency. Since cardiac tissue is unable to be revived (once its dead), researchers have been struggling to figure out how to create a structure similar to cardiac tissue, that can mimic the tissue’s function. A recent discovery made by researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Iniversitat Erlangen-Nurnberg (FAU) an their colleagues from the University of Bayreuth, led to idea of using spider silk to recreate dead cardiac tissue. Their results are published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

What is so important about spider silk?

Fibroin, the protein that gives spider silk its mechanical stability and special structure, could be the missing piece to creating artificial cardiac tissue. The indian silk worm was observed first by  Dr. Felix Engel of the Department of Nephropathology at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen, its specific properties make it eligible to help create cardiac tissue. In addition to indian silk worm, Prof. Dr. Thomas Scheibel, holder of the Chair for Biomaterials at the University of Bayreuth, discovered that garden spiders’ silk along with the help of E. coli, can produce the proper protein needed.

Do they really work?

These silks were put to the test, when Jana Petzold, of the Erlangen team headed by Prof. Engel and Tamara Aigner from Prof. Scheibel’s Bayreuth, placed a thing layer of the silk protein—(eADF4(κ16) onto a film, since the silk protein is positively charged, the idea is that it would then adhere or stick to anything negatively charged. Cardiac functionality was their main interest during the experiment; they compared plain cardiac tissue applied to a film, to spiders silk applied to a film of fibronectin. They did not find any functional differences between the two! Furthermore, the cells cultured on a film of eADF4(κ16) grew in response to factors responsible for hypertrophy (enlargement of cardiac cells), this discovery reinforces the similarities and potential for spider silk proteins to help reverse the effects of cardiac damage.

The Future:

Although the idea of using spider silk was just discovered, do you think scientists will pursue this theory? If so, how long will it take? I was particularly intrigued while reading this article because spider silk seems like the most random match for something so intricate and complex. Scientists are now realizing why this silk is important. Another use for spider silk is in antibiotics. Who knows, there could be many more uses for spider silk to soon be discovered!


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