BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: charboncycle

How a Genetic Mutation Makes Rabbits do Handstands Rather than Hopping

Erin Garcia de Jesús in sciencenews explains on a genetic level why the domesticated rabbit, Sauteur d’Alfort, does a handstandRabbits of Okunoshima, August 2018 (03) to move quickly rather than hopping. The cause of this change in their behavior is due to a defective gene likely linked to their limb movement.

Scientists completed a study not only to understand the rabbit’s handstands but Leif Andersson claims it would contribute “to our basic knowledge about… how we are able to move”. To find out where the mutation occurred, scientists crossed Sauteur d’Alfort rabbits that do handstands with New Zealand female rabbits that hop. They scanned the genetic blueprints of their offspring and looked for mutations that didn’t appear in the offspring. They found a mutation in the RORB gene and concluded that it was a likely explanation for the rabbit’s handstands. In rabbits that have the mutation, there is much less RORB than in rabbits that don’t, this is because the “change creates faulty versions of the genetic instructions that cells use to make proteins”. A lack of RORB protein in interneurons, the spinal cord nerve cells, will cause the rabbits to lack the ability to coordinate their hind limbs. They are still able to walk normally when they are moving slowly by alternating their front and hind legs normally. Since hopping requires the synchronization of the hind legs the mutation prevents them from doing so, so “all rabbits with a RORB mutation use their front paws to move quickly,” Carneiro says. Though they were able to understand how the mutation in one gene affects the rabbit’s movements, the gene could potentially be affecting the rest of the rabbit too, but they are unsure. If the scientists could understand how the genetic defect affects the body on a more broad scaleGregor Mendel 2 then they could understand the way that all animals move. Though the rabbits may not ever be able to hop, these findings can help researchers to develop ways to repair human bodies when there are defects in the RORB protein that could potentially cause disease. 

In AP Biology this year, we learned about Mendel’s laws of inheritance and all about genetics. He studied how genes are passed down from the parent generation, recessively or dominantly. Mendel stated that a mutation in a single gene can cause a disease that will be inherited. In connection to the rabbit’s genetic mutation, a lack of the RORB protein causes the rabbits to have insufficient limb control, but the presence of the protein makes the rabbits ‘normal’. 

Comment below if you have ever heard of a genetic mutation that caused an animal to move in an abnormal way, I’d love to hear. I did some research and these Sauteur d’Alfort rabbits are incredibly rare and originate from France. Ironically enough, in French, their name means Alfort’s Jumpers! I also found a video of one of them if you want to watch it… click this link.

How CRISPR Technology Can Potentially Reverse Extinction

Though Christmas Island rats went extinct over one hundred years ago, Anna Gibbs in sciencenews describes how genetically modifying the Norway brown rat would essentially reincarnate the Christmas Island rat. CRISPR is a relatively new technology that can be used to edit the genes of animals and has changed the science world of extinction. It works by editing “an existing animal’s genome so that it resembles that of the desired extinct animal… making that proxy as similar to the extinct species”.

Gibbs explains how using this technology, scientists compared fragments of the extinct rat’s genetic makeup, the Christmas Island rat, to that of their living relative, the Norway brown rat. By taking DNA from two preserved skin samples of the Christmas IslanRattus norvegicus - Brown rat 04d rat, the scientists were able to recover 95% of their genome. They compared the samples of the extinct species with the Norway brown rat and found that their genomes were very similar, 95% to be exact. Because of evolutionary divergence between the two species, the last 5% of the genetic information was lost forever. The missing genes were mostly located in the regions that controlled the rat’s immune responses and sense of smell. If they were to edit the Norway brown rat’s genome to resemble that of the Christmas Island rat, the differences in smell would be detrimental to their survival. This tiny difference in their genomes would prevent scientists from being able to recover the extinction of the Christmas Island rat. 

Though the scientists didn’t intend on actually reincarnating the rats, Gilbert says that what they discovered “could prove useful for people working on even more ambitious projects, like bringing back the wooly mammoth”. The hurdles of CRISPR technology lie in the tiny details of genetic engineering, even the smallest difference can prevent de-extinction. Ben Novak, a leading scientist at a nonprofit that uses genetic engineering for conservation projects, says that though there are MaclearsRatSkullways to capture some of the missing data, “the fact that some data will always be missing is a limitation that de-extinction scientists have already come to terms with”. The goal of de-extinction isn’t to completely recreate the extinct species but rather to formulate a new species out of the old that will fool its environment and live on. As we learned in AP biology this year, our bodies contain DNA polymerases that are constantly proofreading our DNA strands to make sure all of our nucleotides are correctly paired. If they are not, they are programmed to cut out the incorrect segment and replace it with the correct nucleotides. We even have a DNA ligase that acts as the glue in our DNA and keeps everything together. If the DNA polymerase were unable to detect the incorrect nucleotide matchup then it would stay and end up as a permanent mutation in the next cell division. Errors with the DNA polymerase, such a tiny part of our whole working body, are alike to the small error in CRISPR technology. The inability to recover all of the genomes due to the tiniest difference will cause scientists to miss out on the reincarnation of animals lost forever. 

Overall, though CRISPR findings are really “awesome”, it may not be the best use of money when we are struggling to keep our rhinos alive. In my opinion, CRISPR is not worth the funding until we are able to figure out how to recover 100% of the extinct genome. Comment your opinion on whether CRISPR should continue to receive additional funding, essentially is it worth it knowing we will never recover 100% of the extinct genome? 

Why Cucumbers Are So Cool

Cucumber in the marketJessie Szalay and Callum McKelvie outline in ​livescience why cucumbers actually relate to the phrase, “cool as a cucumber”. Not only are cucumbers a healthy option in the kitchen, but their numerous health benefits on a molecular level also contribute to their greatness.

Cucumbers are 95% water, therefore containing many hydrating benefits and nutrients for our bodies. According to Lemond, “we can get 20-30 percent of our fluid needs through our diet alone”. Cucumbers are a really good way to up our intake of fluids in our daily diet. Cucumbers became categorized as a superfood in 2019, accrediting their nutritional benefit to a higher status. Phytonutrients are health-promoting substances found in plant foods. Cucumbers are a really good source of phytonutrients, containing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer benefits.

When breaking down the individual benefits of the cucumber, the peel and the seeds offer the most nutrients for our bodies. Containing a good source of fiber and beta-carotene, which is “an antioxidant that helps with immunity, skin, eye, and prevention of cancer”. The seeds also contain a good source of minerals and calcium. 

Cucumbers aid in cancer prevention. They contain two phytonutrients compounds that are associated with anti-cancer benefits called lignans and cucurbitacins. Pharmaceutical companies have been looking into cucurbitacins as they think they can aid in new cancer-fighting drugs. They have found that the cucurbitacins “can help block the signaling pathways that are important for cancer cell proliferation and survival”. They can also inhibit the growth of pancreatic cancer cells. But, overall the current evidence doesn’t suggest that Cucumbers reduce/kill lung cancer cells.

They also can benefit our bone health. Vitamin K is essential to bone health, and one cup of cucumber contains ~19% of the daily intake recommendation of vitamin K. Vitamin K may lead to reduced fracture rates, increase bone density, and can positively affect our bone’s calcium balance. Our body uses vitamin K when building bones, studies have shown that a higher intake of vitamin K leads to a reduced risk of hip fractures in both elderly women and men.

Furthermore, cucumbers also keep our hearts healthy. Ware said “eating a variety of fruits and vegetables of all kinds is associated with a reduced risk for many health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and obesity”. Cucumbers have a pretty high level of potassium which is helpful in this regard. Potassium is essential in maintaining good heart health, so adding a bit more cucumber a day is just one step towards a healthy heart. Studies have been done that prove that those “who consumed 4,069 mg of potassium each day lowered their risk of cardiovascular disease and ischemic heart disease… compared to those who took 1,793 mg per day”. Cucumbers also promote vasodilation which is the widening of the blood vessels, linking it to low blood pressure. As mentioned previously, the vitamin K content in cucumbers also is known to be essential in the blood-clotting process.

Pickling is the process of preserving edible products in an acid solution to prevent spoiling. Pickles are either fermented or non-fermented. Fermented pickles are soaked in brine (water saturated with salt). Different types of pickles are soaked in different solutions, thus the difference in taste. As we learned in AP Biology this year, lactic acid fermentation is done by bacteria and animal muscle cells. Fermentation occurs when there is no oxygen available or an organism didn’t evolve to use oxygen. In bacteria, lactic acid can convert milk products to cheese, yogurt, etc. In pickling fermentation, the cucumbers are soaked in an acidic liquid to achieve a sour flavor. The sour flavor/fermentation process is a result of a chemical reaction between the food’s sugars and naturally present bacteria. “Commonly planted varieties of pickling cucumber include Royal, Calypso, Pioneer, Bounty, Regal, Duke, and Blitz” according to Szalay and McKelvie. My dad and I have made pickles before and they were delicious, like cucumbers, pickles also have several health benefits. Fermented food in general is really good for our body and acts as a natural probiotic. ​​This means that they can restore the balance of the bacteria in our gut, support our digestive health, and can even alleviate any digestive issues.

Let me know in the comments your favorite ways that you include cucumbers/pickles into your diet, I am always looking for new ideas. Hopefully, after reading this you will add some more cucumbers into your daily diet, because I know I will!

Why Our Brain Wants Us to Adopt Routine Exercise in the New Year

In her article titled The Year in Fitness: Shorter Workouts, Greater Clarity, Longer Lives, Gretchen Reynolds outlines the many studies done that prove different ways that physical activity aids in our body’s overall health and well-being, even improving our brain power. 

Fitness news throughout 2021 revolved around the length of our workouts in connection to our health. Research has proven that short workouts are enough to improve strength in both college students and adults. This key evidence proves that in order to maintain your weight and health jAbdominal Exerciseust a few minutes of working out every day should do the trick if you don’t have enough time. On the other hand, we have learned that losing weight may be even harder than we think. Many studies have reinforced the idea that on days that we exercise we are actually burning fewer calories than when we don’t, making it harder to lose weight. Despite these findings, exercise helps us to maintain our weight and is essential in our overall health. 

Furthermore, exercise can also enhance our brain power and lend a hand to our creativity. From multiple experiments done this year scientists have found that “physical activity fortifying immune cells that help protect us against dementia; prompting the release of a hormone that improves neuron health and the ability to think (in mice); shoring up the fabric of our brains’ white matter, the stuff that connects and protects our working brain cells; and likely even adding to our creativity”. There was even a study done that showed that physically active people thought up more creative and inventive ways to use umbrellas and car tires than those who didn’t partake in as much exercise. In connection to what we have learned in AP Biology this year, the immune system protects our body against pathogens. Since physical activity strengthens our immune cells, it will in turn help our overall health and wellness in the long run, protecting us from various diseases. 

In preparation for the new year, Reynolds discusses a study that reported that those who were active had a much stronger sense of purpose in their lives. Reynolds discussed with the leading scientists of the study and found that “exercise amplified people’s purposefulness over time, while simultaneously, a sturdy sense of purpose fortified people’s willingness to exercise” creating almost a perfect symbiotic mutualism relationship towards one’s health and wellness. For me personally, exercise does just this. I find that on the days I workout I feel more productive, more efficient, and am eager to take on the rest of my day. 

Overall, taking in all of this year’s exercise research, we should prioritize exercise in the coming new year if we want to use our brains with continuing clarity and for optimSquatsal creativity in the coming years. I know that I will be continuing to prioritize working out every day, even if it is just a quick walk to start my day. My favorite workouts are strength training and walking outside. Comment below the workouts you’re going to carry into the New Year and if they have had any significant effect on your daily life, health, and brain power. 

 

 

COVID-19 Has the Ability to Attack Your Brain.

COVID-19, the virus that has been encompassing our world for the past two years, has been known to affect us in various ways. It can be deadly or merely cause patients to show cold-like symptoms. Specific symptoms that have been spiking curiosity in scientists lately relate solely to the brain; “headaches, confusion, hallucinations and delirium… depression, anxiety, and sleep problems”, and the non-medical term; brain fog. What Laura Sanders aims to answer in her article from ScienceNews is: what have scientists discovered so far that can possibly link COVID-19 to neurological problems? Can COVID-19 alone be attributed to these problems? Why or why not? 

The first step in understanding if COVID-19 really has an effect on the brain is gathering data. Scientists completed a study that reported a very alarming answer; “in the six months after an infection, one in three people had experienced a psychiatric or neurological diagnosis”. This study was published last spring and included those who had experienced mental illnesses, strokes, brain bleeds and other neurological events after six months of COVID-19 infection. The issue with this study is that the connection between COVID-19 and these events is not 100% solidified so it is still unclear whether COVID-19 itself is the cause of these problems. However, Avindra Nath, a neurologist who studies central nervous system infections at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, has been trying to find traces of the virus inside of the brain to prove this theory. Nath and his team, after failing several times to find virus in the brain, hypothesized that the virus may not be targeting the brain itself but the blood vessels inside it. They examined blood vessels of post-mortem brains of those who suffered from COVID-19 with an MRI machine so powerful it couldn’t be used on living COVID-19 patients. The MRI machine that they used allowed them to see the blood vessels in a way that they were never able to see before, due to its strength. With the machine, they were able to see that there were clots in the blood vessels, that the walls were alarmingly thick and inflamed and that some blood was leaking out of the actual blood vessels and into the post-mortem COVID-19 victims’ brains. According to Nath, “These results suggest that clots, inflamed linings, and leaks in the barriers that normally keep blood and other harmful substances out of the brain may all contribute to COVID-related brain damage”. But, like before, no solidified conclusions can be made from Nash’s study alone due to several unknowns. 

Inflammation and its effects on the human body is another concern related to COVID-19. Any inflammation in the body can cause the brain to make and use chemical signaling molecules differently. Neurotransmitters are key signaling molecules in helping nerve cells communicate and can be disrupted by inflammation. Other key communication molecules like serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine can get scrambled up when there is a lot of inflammation, causing further problems. As we learned in AP Biology this year, innate cellular defenses within the body usually lead to an inflammatory response. This happens when the pathogen is able to get past the barrier defenses: our skin and mucous membranes. In the area where the pathogen enters, mast cells will release histamine and macrophages will secrete cytokines. The histamines boost blood flow in the area causing inflammation and allowing the inflammatory process to progress. The cytokines attract neutrophils which digest pathogens and dead cell debris contributing to inflammation and the completion of the innate response. Microglia are cells found in the brain that release inflammatory cytokines to amplify the inflammatory response by activating and recruiting more cells to the specific area in the brain. The microglia are the brain’s version of the body’s immune system. Now you may ask what do microglia and inflammation have to do with COVID-19? Well, in 43% of 184 COVID patients and 34 of 41 post-mortem COVID patients, active microglia was found. This means that microglia had initiated an inflammatory response within the brain as a result of SARS-COV-2 entering the body, proving that COVID causes inflammation in the brain and that it can possibly be the cause of the neurological events mentioned earlier. 

Nevertheless, there are still many unanswered questions about the virus’s effects on the brain and if we will ever know who is most susceptible to this concerning response. One important factor contributing to brain functioning that we can not forget is lockdowns. COVID-19 lockdowns have been connected to mental health disorders and according to psychiatrictimes, mentCovid-19 mental health impact in the United States July 2020al illnesses can activate inflammation in the body. This tells us that COVID-19 may create inflammation indirectly through mandated lockdowns. Another thing to note is the term ‘brain fog’ that so many patients have used, including me when I had COVID-19 last spring, is nonmedical. Though it is listed as a symptom, it can not be attributed to SARS-CoV-2 affecting our brain’s functioning until we research more thoroughly. So, for now, we can not 100% attribute COVID-19 to attacking the brain alone but we know that it has the potential to have a very alarming effect on our brains and our body as a whole.

Yoga is Scientifically Good for You! Who Would have Known?

Yoga. A mindfulness practice first instilled by the Indus-Sarasvati civilization in Northern India over 5,000 years ago. To this day, yoga is practiced as a regular fitness activity by many but the real question lies in, is it actually good for you? Why? How? 

Kailash Integral Yoga

As a yogi myself, I am passionate, and maybe even slightly biased, to the enormous amounts of positives that come with the practice of yoga. On the surface, yoga is said to improve flexibility, muscle tone, and core strength. But, there are many benefits to yoga that lie beneath the surface of our bodies. Let’s start off with mental health. The concept of parasympathetic nervous system activation, is the activation of our ‘rest and digest’ state in our bodies. This activation is due to yoga’s practice of breathing and “single-pointed focus”. It puts our bodies into this rest and digest state and pulls us out of our agitated ‘fight or flight’ state, also known as the sympathetic state. Anxiety, a stress inducing mental health disorder, increases the secretion of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline, in the body. This elevated secretion causes an unbalanced nervous system. Yoga’s inherent goal, as stated in Is Yoga Good For You?, is to bring our bodies out of chronic sympathetic activation, this reverses the negative effects of anxiety in the body, reduces the secretion of stress hormones, and rebalances the body’s nervous system. As we learned in AP Biology this year, steroid hormones are a type of lipid. Cortisol, a stress hormone Cortisolthat increases production when anxiety levels rise, is a type of steroid hormone. We know that lipids work as insulators, store energy, and form the plasma membrane. Anxiety, as I mentioned, increases the secretion of our stress hormones. Anxiety causes the cortisol levels to remain elevated in a stressful situation, this can lead to several health problems linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, etc. Considering all of this, yoga’s breathing tactics to calm the body actually lessen our symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress and can be a very beneficial practice for someone who has anxiety. 

If the effects on mental health haven’t urged you to buy a yoga mat on Amazon just yet, keep reading. If they have, I recommend the link below 🙂 

Yoga is not only a beneficial tool for someone looking to improve their mental health, but it is a capable practice for all ages. Myths surrounding yoga say that it is only for the young, but studies have shown that yoga does improve the physical function and mental wellbeing of adults over sixty yeaYoga Barnstarrs old! It is a great tool for the elderly due to its ability to lower blood pressure levels and aid in our cardiovascular health. For young kids, though, yoga can be beneficial to calm down the overactive ones and/or ones with behavioral issues. Yoga is actually being implemented into many schools in the form of mandatory classes due to all of its positive benefits on young kids’ minds. As kids, the frontal cortexes of their brains are not fully developed yet so they are literally able to take in ideas, essentially more open minded and creative. This allows kids who take up yoga to appreciate it in a much different way, their innate curiosity can even lead them to creating coping mechanisms and life skills that would have otherwise not been developed says Pearce. 

So, is yoga beneficial for you? Though yoga can improve mental health, stress, and even help the elerdly, you don’t have to fall into any of these categories to participate in the practice. Yoga acts as a mood booster, stress reliever, strengthens flexibility, and provides you with an outlet of relaxation that you may not get in this busy world. Yoga is for everyone and the inclusivity of the yoga community will embrace you as you are; you don’t have to be “good” at yoga to participate either! Now, here is a link to buy a yoga mat… Come join me for hot yoga classes at Bikram Yoga in Roslyn, Namaste! 

If I wasn’t able to convince you to buy a yoga mat by now, please comment below and tell me why not!

 

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