AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: biologiamaster

Breakthrough in Epigenetics!


This file (Arabidopsis thaliana flower) is in public domain, not copyrighted, no rights reserved, free for any use


For several dozen years scientists have searched for a way to understand the role of a single RNA strand in gene expression.  Scientists have been without a method to pinpoint 1 type of RNA strand and isolate its effect thus discovering its influence and its corresponding proteins role in influencing the way our bodies work.

However a breakthrough was made this march regarding such obstacles.  A team of scientists from Michigan Technological University discovered a way to turn off small RNA strands in order to figure out what they are up to.  They did this by inserting their own custom DNA strand that codes for something called a small tandem target mimic or “STTM” into a plant known as “Arabidopsis“.  Inside the plant, these DNA strands gave rise to STTM’s that blocked the ability of a target RNA to express itself.  The particular target for the STTM was a type of RNA strand suspected to be involved with facilitating vertical growth of the plant.  The STTM’s stopped the RNA from being able to cut itself into smaller bits, and prompted the target RNA’s to destroy all of its own smaller RNA’s that would normally slice the target RNA.  This effectively lead to the disappearance of the target RNA’s protein products thus resulting in no expression of the gene the target RNA from transcribed from.

The result was outstanding.  “The control Arabidopsis plants grew upward on a central stem with regularly shaped leaves and stems. The mutant plants were smaller, tangled, and amorphous.”

The above process is said to be “a highly effective and versatile tool” for studying the functions of small RNA.  One researcher on the team who discovered this method stated that she intends to use this discovery to study type 2 diabetes.



The Sad Fate Of Salmon


Picture of Salmon - Free Pictures -

Often times we are encouraged to consume more fish for their nutritious Omega-3 fats.  One species of fish “Salmon” is most often touted for its high omega-3 content.  Salmon is particularly prevalent in US supermarkets and is consumed by approximately 25% of Americans.  It is however curious to note that 90% of salmon consumed by American’s is in fact farm-raised.  These farmed raised fish in comparison to their wild relatives contain 20% less omega-3 fats, 20% lower protein content, hefty doses of antibiotics, dye; to mimic the healthy orange color of wild salmon, flame retardants, and pesticides which exist in their feed.


Recently there has been much debate about approving the farming and distribution of Genetically engineered salmon throughout the United States.  The modified salmon in question is being studied by the largest salmon farming business in the US; Aqua Bounty Farms.  “This experimental hatchery has been injecting growth hormone genes into fertilized salmonid eggs to produce fast growing salmon, trout and Arctic char.”.  In response, Purdue University and the National Academy of Sciences has produced their own research that highlights the considerable risks of such genetic modification.  Research from the mentioned institutions states that releasing one of these “transgenic”  fish into the wild could damage native populations to the point of extinction.


This brings us to the next question, what are the odds one of these transgenic fish will escape to surrounding waters?  A statement from the Canadian government provides a dark answer.  “In the past decade nearly 400,000 farmed-raised Atlantics escaped into British Columbian waters and began competing with wild species for food and habitat”.  Even more sinister is the fact that these are mild predictions, environmental experts put the figure closer to 1,000,0000 escapes.


As of now the USDA (hyperlink) which in the past has advocated clear marking of food as organic or genetically modified has curiously lent Aqua Bounty Farms $500,000 and declared their approval of GMO salmon.  Last year the FDA gave the go-ahead for the GMO fish despite considerable evidence that it may very well endanger Wild Salmon.  Luckily Congress shows no signs of approving the sale of such fish at this present moment.



Chocolate, both sides of the coin…err bar.

Chocolate’s ability to lower the occurrence of coronary heart disease in its consumers seems to have real scientific basis.  Chocolate, which is known for its high phenol content, specifically “epicatechin” has been shown to reduce lipid oxidation in humans. Now you are probably wondering what oxidized lipids have to do with coronary heart disease, well…keep reading.  Oxidized lipoproteins are thought to play an integral role in coronary artery disease.  In combination with high blood cholesterol, high levels of these lipoproteins serve as a useful marker for predicting impending coronary artery disease.  While these studies are quite promising for chocolate connoisseurs, I personally believe chocolate should be eaten in moderation.   One reason to consider eating chocolate in moderation is due to the presence of Theobromine, a naturally occurring chemical compound in the same family as caffeine (interestingly enough Theobromine is the compound in chocolate which is toxic to dogs.)  Theobromine is capable of causing such adverse effects as, sleeplessness, tremors, restlessness, anxiety, loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting as well as acting as increasing urine production.  Lastly, the chocolate or cocoa used in clinical studies doesn’t appear to bear much resemblance to the sugary candy bars most people are enjoying.  Has anyone tried eating pure cocoa?  It’s not much of a treat.  Chocolate in my opinion remains a dessert and as a dessert, should be consumed infrequently.  Sorry chocolate lovers, maybe one day.           


How often do you think chocolate can safely be consumed?  Do you agree with cocoa’s recent characterization as a health supplement?  Have you ever tried raw cocoa?            

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