AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: buddhabear28

Viruses: Good or Bad?

As we recently learned in class, scientists are attempting to use viruses to treat cancer and according to this article, scientists are inching closer and closer to success. The idea to use viruses to treat cancer stems from the discovery that when sick with a virus, cancer patients tended to go into remission.

Even though cancer cells can replicate quickly, they can’t defend against attacks as well as regular cells can. Thus the search is on for a virus that won’t damage normal cells but will attack cancer cells.  Many viruses were tried, for example, the “cat plague”  which was inserted into rural cats, and in most cases failed due to the return of the cancer or the development of a deadly infection.

However, in the 1990s, various steps were made by a few doctors that allowed this research to progress. First, in 1991, Dr. Martuza of Harvard Medical School  attempted using the HSV (herpes simplex virus) type 1 as a cancer fighter. He modified the virus by taking certain genes out and then injected the modified virus into mice with brain cancer. The mice first went into remission and then unfortunately died. Around the same time, Dr. Bernard Roizman of the University of Chicago found a master gene in the herpes virus that when removed could only slow tumor growth and could no longer overpower healthy cells. In 1996, Dr. Ian Mohr in NYU altered the crippled virus even more and attacked cancer cells with it until a mutant of the virus evolved and was able to replicate in those cells. Dr. Mohr and a student then made it so that the virus didn’t attack the immune system.

There are some great benefits using viruses to attack cancer. Viruses not only attack the cancer, but get stronger over time, unlike chemotherapy. They also produce an immune response that helps to attack the virus. The side effects of this viral treatment are less detrimental than those of chemotherapy . These side effects include nausea, fatigue, and aches.

Most recently, an engineered form of vaccinia by the name of  JX-594  is being tested against liver cancer and has already helped in doubling the survival rate of patients with this cancer. Though there are still hurdles to overcome, it is clear that great progress has been made thus far.

Quarter Horse? More like Million Dollar Horse! But is it all worth it?

According to the article, “How the Quarter Horse won the Rodeo” quarter horses are known for their superior speed, agility, and tranquility.   Why are these horses so superior? According to BioMed Central’s open access journal, BMC Genomics, used sequencing to map variation in the genome of the quarter horse male. The sequencing revealed that the quarter horse’s genome was enriched for variants in genes involving sensory perception, signal transduction and the immune system.  Further research was done on the genetic variants of these horses by the researchers from Texas A&M University. The researchers evaluated genetic variants in quarter horses such as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP), copy number variants (CNV), and insertions and deletions (INDELs).

Not only do these variants help explain the uniqueness and superiority of these horses, but they have also been of use to equine breeders and veterinary medicine to improve the health and performance of these horses. For example, these variants can be used to fix HERDA, a disease in which the skin of the quarter horses is fragile and thus tears easily. So, in the spirit of the film GATTACA and the ethics of genetic engineering, what are your feelings on using these variants to enhance these quarter horses? And what about enhancing humans?

“Yoga, Schmoga”


As someone who strongly dislikes yoga, specifically because it’s so boring and doesn’t do anything for me, I am ecstatic at the justification as to why hot yoga and yoga in general should not be popularly practiced.

Glenn Black, a celebrity yoga teacher of almost 40 years who currently lives in Rhinebeck, NY and is known for his rigorous yet down to earth style, is someone who speaks out about the damaging effects of yoga. These effects consists of slipped discs and broken ribs.

William J. Broad, the author of this article, went to Black not only to find out about why someone who makes a living off of yoga would put down it’s popular practice but also because he suffered a ruptured disc in his lower back and reached out to Black to help with the pain. Broad noticed that Black really only does simple poses and makes his students hold them as long as possible, making the exercise hard as possible while also leaving it up to his students to be easy on themselves and their bodies.

The way he has his students practice yoga is a direct reflection of his belief that more people should give up yoga because it harms more than it helps. He said yoga should be used therapeutically, to strengthen weak parts of the body or should only be practiced by people in good physical condition. Ultimately, in Black’s eyes, yoga is not for everyone, especially since today’s popular practitioners sit in chairs all day and then go to yoga classes, putting strain on their bodies, bodies that aren’t very flexible and that may have other physical problems.

Though yoga has become very popular, with numbers increasing from 4 million to 20 million practitioners, Black is not in support of this at all, so much so that when people come to him with yoga injuries, his solution is often “Don’t do yoga”.

Coffee Clues

In reading this article, I find one more reason why coffee, caffeine in particular, is awesome. Not only does it taste good, but it is a helpful hint in determining when and where sewage systems need to be repaired. Almost 3 % of coffee and other caffeinated drinks enter the sewage system through urine. Thus, high amounts of caffeine in urban areas shows that urine is present in the different bodies of water and is thus a sign of contamination by fecal coliform bacteria.

Gross right? Sebastien Sauve explains that if caffeine is found in sewage, that means that it came from human waste. However, he continues that caffeine is an important marker of sanitary contamination, or contamination by waste, because it helps to determine problems with multiple sewer systems.

Sauve and his colleagues discovered caffeine as compound that helps to detect fecal coliform bacteria in sewage through research on the Island of Montreal in Canada They tested for both caffeine and carbamazepine   and found that caffeine is useful in detecting coliform bacteria because it is consumed by so many people, in comparison to the compound carbamazepine, an anti seizure medication that isn’t as popular a drug as caffeine. They found that if caffeine appeared in the water at levels of 400 nanograms per liter, levels of fecal coliform bacteria were always above 200 colon-forming per 100 mL of water, a level that almost prevents swimming or bathing in the US.

Despite this highly useful information, caffeine isn’t always the best marker because water could still be contaminated without the presence of caffeine to indicate so, yet caffeine can be used to figure out when repairs to sewage systems are necessary.

Babies Save the Day?

No, a bionic baby did not come and save today’s world from global warming but in fact, embryonic cells could potentially save those who suffer from Sickle Cell Disease.

Sickle Cell Disease occurs as a result of a DNA letter change in the gene for hemoglobin, the main protein that carries oxygen for red blood cells. It is possible for the single mutation in the amino acid sequence to affect the entire protein because, as I learned in class, the chain of amino acids, formed by peptide bonds, constitutes the primary structure of proteins.

A recent study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that sickle cell disease, a disease that can be very debilitating and affects mostly African Americans, can be cured with the use of stem cells. This is important because the only cure that has been found so far is bone marrow transplants, which can be very painful and is not always successful. The researchers isolated a patient’s own bone marrow cells and used them to generate induced pluripotent stem cells, which are adults cells that can be reprogrammed into embryonic cells. These embryonic cells can then be coaxed into red blood cells, through the use of growth factors.

Despite this progress, Dr. Linzhao Cheng states that, “these immature red blood cells still behave like embryonic cells, and as a result are unable to turn on high enough levels of the adult hemoglobin gene” . The cells still need to be coaxed into mature red blood cells.

Even if these cells can be coaxed into maturity, can they be used to cure Sickle Cell Disease? Can babies actually save the day?

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