AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: blevans1

Bullying and its Epigenetic Effect

Unfortunately, bullying is commonplace in most schools in America.  Most people are aware of the mental and psychological harm that bullying can cause, but not until very recently have they been aware of the lasting physical changes it can cause.  With the discovery of epigenetics, or the study of genetic traits or expressions that are not caused by DNA, but rather by the methylation or concealing of genes, a new door into the effects of bullying was opened. A group of researches from the UK and Canada performed a study on identical twins.  At age 5, the twins had not been exposed to bullies and expressed almost all of the same traits, physically and emotionally.  The researchers then waited until the twins were 12, imageand revisited only the twins that had different experiences with bullying (one twin was bullied when the other was not).  The researches found big disparities in the twins epigenome, or the way they express their genes.


The bullied twin’s protein that codes for a protein that helps move the neurotransmitter serotonin into neurons called SERT had significantly more DNA methylation in its promoter region.  This change is thought to dial down the amount of proteins that can be made from the SERT gene — meaning the more it’s methylated, the more it’s “turned off.”  Therefore, the bullied twin is unable to produce as much serotonin.  This effect is thought to persist through a person’s life.  The effects of bullying will persist an entire lifetime.


The researchers also tested how the twins responded to stressful situations differently.  The bullied twin had a much lower cortisol response than the twin that had not experienced bullying.  Cortisol is a hormone that helps people through stressful situations, like being bullied.  However, having too much cortisol is harmful to the body.  The bullied twin’s body turned off the gene that aids in cortisol production because they were being put in stressful situations so often by bullies that their body couldn’t tolerate the amount of cortisol they were producing.


This study is not only interesting from a scientific standpoint, but it is also very important in the movement against bullying.  These scientists proved that bullying not only does immense psychological harm, but it also effects people’s well being in a very real and lasting way.




Link to article:


Your Potato Chips Could be Killing You


Last year the FDA found a very dangerous chemical that forms in many common foods during cooking.  The chemical is called acrylamide and research suggests that it makes people more susceptible to certain cancers.  Acrylamide forms during frying, grilling, baking, roasting, or toasting when the amino acid asparagine reacts with sugars in the food.  It is what gives food like potato chips their crunchy-ness and taste.

French Fries, potato chips and other potato products have the most acrylamide in them.  Scientists have also found acrylamide in products such as coffee (especially dark roast), roasted nuts, and breakfast cereals. It is estimated that 38% of calories come from food that contains acrylamide.  Acrylamide is also found in cigarette smoke.

Acrylamide has also been found to affect pregnant women and infants.  One study in Environmental Health Perspectives showed that high acrylamide intake may be connected to slower and less fetal growth.

There are a couple of things that you can do to limit the effects of acrylamide.  The first is cooking/frying/roasting potatoes for a shorter time and toasting bread for a shorter time.  Do not let the potatoes become dark brown and do not char/burn your toast.  Another thing you can do is cook at a lower heat and use more organic ingredients.  You can also eat less potato products, cookies, and pastries and switch to a light roast coffee.  

Research on this chemical isn’t totally conclusive so I wouldn’t be too worried about it.  However, I will be more careful about the potato products that I eat and the way I cook my food.


Other Articles:

The Smell of Grass: A Cry for Help


 We all love the smell of freshly cut grass.  However did you know that the delightful aroma given off by newly mowed grass is actually the plant’s cry of distress?  And that being so, does that make us all sadistic?  We may never know.  However, what we do know is that new studies have found that the smell given off by plants not only serves as a signal of harm but also as a summons for helpful insects.  The plants in distress release airborne chemical compounds that call nearby creatures to the rescue.

Dr. Michael Kolomiets,  a plant pathologist in the ARGlife research division of Texas A&M, has been studying these lipid-derived molecular signals that affect not only plants, but also humans and animals, and was recently granted $490,00 to continue his research.  We know a lot about how humans deal with these molecular signals, we get headaches and pains and then take aspirin to repress the symptoms; but we know little to nothing about how these same signals affect plants.  Kolomiets believes that a better understanding of this particular branch of plant biology could aid in many things such as insect resistance and drought tolerance.

Plants respond to all types of danger in the same way, weather the threat be a predator or a lawn mower.  They produce defense proteins that will make the plant either less appetizing to the predator or more appetizing to helpful insects and animals.  Kolomiets studied a mutant corn plant that could not produce one of the most important molecular signals called green leaf volatile.  Green leaf volatile is the combination of chemicals that get released when plants suffer tissue damage  Kolomiets found that not only did the signal make the plant less appealing to the insects that were eating it, but also attracted parasitic wasps that would attack the insect.  These findings may help farmers make plants that are more capable of protecting themselves from insects.

I think its really interesting that something as seemingly insignificant as the smell of grass could be the product of such a complicated biological process.  I also think that it is important to understand how we are affecting other organisms and how they are responding to human actions.  We take a lot of things nature does for granted and I think that this article gives us insight into the complicated biological reactions that go into all forms of life.

Article Link:

Related Links:


Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

Skip to toolbar