BioQuakes

AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: cytoplasammy

COVID-19 New Target: The Environment

The deadly COVID-19 virus has changed our way of living greatly, including individual human behavior as well as behavior on a larger scale regarding businesses and factories.

National Geographic published an article written by Beth Gardiner surrounding the misconception on how the environment has been impacted by this widespread virus. It is noted that many people assume the environment is in a thriving state due to a major decrease of time humans spent outside of their home. Ultimately this is not the case, the question is what’s really happening to our earth in this time of uncertainty?

The only way to answer this question is to look back on the beginning of the worldwide lockdown. In April 2020, people stayed inside, there was limited traveling occurring, and businesses and factories closed, with this information it imperative to see how this vast change impacted our surroundings. It was found that “daily global carbon emissions were down by 17 percent”. Although seemingly positive, this number is not much higher than that of previous years around a similar time. This means that with a complete lifestyle change from every single person and cooperation in the world, we still are unable to show a substantial amount of beneficial actions towards the environment to save it.

Now we all may know that carbon is released into the air in a variety of ways, however it is important to distinguish the differences in these ways. One of the most known, harmless ways is how living organisms release or interact with carbon. As we breathe we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, releasing it into the atmosphere, however plants and trees can use this CO2 to preform necessary tasks such as photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process where “plants use the energy from sunlight to produce glucose from carbon dioxide and water”. This process is crucial to support the life of a plant and provides their “food” to keep them thriving. Once the glucose is produced in the plant, pyruvate can be created. Pyruvic acid provides energy, ultimately allowing the increase of ATP production during the cellular respiration process.

ATP is energy used to power different processes such as forms of active transport allowing substances to move from a low to high concentration, unlike passive transport. ATP is not required when passive transport is occurring. As ATP is produced, it can be stored to be used later for processes such as cellular respiration and photosynthesis which are crucial in maintaining healthy plant cells, however, ATP can not be stored in its usual form, it must be in the form of storage molecules such as the carbohydrate glycogen. Carbohydrates function to store and release energy, once ATP is needed, it will be transformed out of it’s storage form back to ATP.

Now why is this background information important? Now that we see the good natural carbon dioxide does, we need to focus on how a certain type is damaging our planet. Carbon dioxide is emitted through the usage of gas from cars and factory productions, things so normalized on a daily basis. When these machines and vehicles release carbon, it has no where to go besides the atmosphere and plants can only take in so much carbon, ultimately its just pollution. This pollution now sits in our atmosphere and builds up as more time goes on. Carbon is needed to regulate and take in the inferred energy the earth releases, otherwise known as heat. Although carbon absorbs this energy, it still needs to go somewhere and one of those places is back into the earth’s environment. The excess amount of carbon in the atmosphere leads to something called climate change ultimately the more carbon released and built up, the hotter the earth will get which can make the earth inhospitable if we make no change. Another negative of the carbon build up in the atmosphere, is the effect is has on marine life. Carbon can make water acidic which damages the habitats and living conditions of underwater life.

Now that Carbon emission is fully explained and exemplified, lets answer our initial question. How has COVID-19 played apart in environmental issues. As mentioned there is evidence in a decrease in carbon emissions when human behavior was significantly changed, however the decrease barely surpassed that of previous years when life was ‘normal’. As things began to open up and manufacturing continued, it was found that the amount of carbon emissions went right back up to where there initially were. “In China, traffic is back to pre-pandemic levels”, and “factories pushed to make up for lost time, pollution returned in early May to pre-coronavirus levels, and in some places surpassed them”, disproving the idea that COVID-19 has been beneficial to our environment. Ultimately we have shown no progress in improving our environment even when almost every aspect of typical life was shut down. COVID-19 instilled panic in everyone including factories that are now just working to pollute the atmosphere more while they still can.

Glowing Venus Fly Traps: Do they Have a Memory?

An article, published in the New York Times, written by Cara Giaimo, examines the science behind the closing of a Venus fly trap, a notably unique plant. The article discusses research approaches conducted by Mitsuyasu Hasebe, the leader of a science research team in Okazaki, Japan, in order to learn about the reasoning behind the plants reaction to stimulus in connotation with calcium Ions. Hasebe did this by gene splicing the plant. Gene splicing is used to modify a gene in eukaryotic cells , which becomes a new code for proteins being created.

Venus Fly traps are so unique in the way they get food, as most plants make their own. Dr. Hasebe’s study allows insight and explanation to how they function.

Hasebe’s research went in depth on an existing hypothesis from the late 90’s. In 1988 It was assumed by a team of plant researchers that the sense from the fly trap was caused by the overlapping of existing calcium ions, however it was explained that there was “no way to test their idea”. Dr. Hasebe found a way. His research ultimately lead to answering a long unknown question raised about this species.

Calcium Ions

As many of us know, the Venus fly trap has very unique and seemingly unknown characteristics. If its ‘just’ a plant, how does it act in a predator like manner?, the answer to that is calcium ions. In order to get a closer look at the calcium ions within the plant, researches spliced a gene into the Venus fly trap and the targeted areas (the calcium ions)began to glow. The glowing calcium ions allowed the team “to visualize the fly traps memory mechanism” and show the “ions build up as the hairs are triggered”.  This process exemplifies the Calcium signaling and the calcium ion build up that occurs when the hairs are triggered “quickly enough” after an initial stimulus.

Since Venus fly traps obviously don’t have  nerves to send messages to a brain like animals do, how do they process and react to this necessary information? Calcium signaling, in basic terms is used as a form of communication in cells. Looking at this process in terms of cell structure, the calcium ions surrounding the cells enter the cytosol, the jelly like substance making up the cytoplasm, and begins to regulate the proteins and enzymes within the cells. The cytoplasm is where the organelles remain suspended within the cell, provides further protection against any threats towards the organelles, and also helps structurally support the cell. For context purposes, organelles are structures within a cell that have a specific function and duty to fulfill in order to keep a cell functioning properly, for example a vacuole which is one large organelle in a plant cell but smaller in an animal cell, stores necessary solutes such as water within the cell. The calcium ions in the cytosol surround the suspended organelles. The cells themselves don’t initially have these calcium ions but they can recognize them due to the abundance of them outside of the cells. This article questions the plant’s “memory” of the first brush on the hairs. It is later revealed that instead of memory, like how humans experience, Calcium signaling provokes and communicates movement after the repetitive touch between cells.

 

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