AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: danasaurus

No More Water Damage?

Have you ever dropped your phone in water? If so you know the horrible feeling of “my phone is ruined”! But this whole situation can now be avoided with a recent discovery made by a British based firm called “P2i“. This firm is known for being the leaders in liquid repellent. The company was established in 2004; it was developed by the United Kingdom government’s defense science and technology laboratory (DSTL). Their new nano-coating is talked about in an article on CNN.


Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns

Photo by Kārlis Dambrāns


Their latest discovery is a liquid repellent nano-coating that provides a watertight solution. Simply spray the nano-coating onto a surface and liquids will be repelled. The trick is a “patented chemical that lowers an objects surface energy”, when the surface energy is lowered the “liquid forms beads upon contact and rolls off with out being absorbed”. This special chemical is extremely small- 50 nanometers wide (which is 1,000 times thinner than a human hair)!

The chemical sprays on clear which makes it invisible to the naked eye. So spray this on your iPhone or any mobile device and it won’t look a bit different. Stephen Coulson, the chemical engineer who invented this new technology stated “You look at it and you can’t see any change. But when you drop water on it, it will just bead up and drop off. More importantly, the internals will also be protected to prevent corrosion damage”.

Interestingly, the British Ministry of Defense started the question of whether water repellent chemicals could work- specifically to protect its soldiers during attack. They wanted uniforms that could resist all types of liquids including chemical weapons. So P2i created clothes for the British Army.

Continuing with their success, P2i now works with Motorola and TCL Alcatel. But they are not only limited to electronics, recently they began working with  shoe-makers K-Swiss, Nike and Adidas. P2i is now experimenting with formula one racing cars, tennis balls and surfboards. Coulson stated “we see the future as everything being treated with P2i’s technology”. Here is a video from CNN talking with P2i about the nano-coating. What do you think of this new product?







Weak Immune Systems Are Good?

In a recent article published, it is said that baby’s weak immune systems are  good because they let in good bacteria. A recent study suggests that babies are deliberately vulnerable to bacterial infections in the months after birth. This vulnerability allows good microbes to enter the baby’s gut, skin, mouth and lungs. Perhaps we could use this system to treat infections in infants and change the way babies are vaccinated.

To test this theory that the weak immune systems let in good bacteria, scientist Sing Sing Way proposed a experiment. Coming from an infectious-disease background, the pediatrician from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital used mice to test this theory. He compared the immune cells in week-old mice to those in adult mice. The younger mice had a higher proportion of red blood cells. With this, he found that these cells suppress the immune response by making the enzyme arginase. 

Sing Sing Way then gave the young mice antibodies that removed the red blood cells and stopped the production of arginase. When infected with Listeria Monocytogenes the mice’s immune systems fended off the bacterium. However without the arginase, the mice’s intestinal cells became inflamed. Ofer Levy, from Boston Children’s Hospital, concluded that reducing the inflammation must be the body’s reason for initially suppressing the immunity- “If there were no mechanisms to dampen inflammation, the newborn would fall apart”. What do you think of Levy’s conclusion and this new study?



Revolutionary Three Cent Test

Jack Andraka

Jack Andraka

A recent article talked about Jack Andraka, who is not the average 15 year old. This young man has just made “the biggest breakthrough in pancreatic cancer detection methods in more than half a century”. Jack, a high school student from Maryland is being praised around the world as a genius.

But what inspired this young man to start his research? When he was 13, a family friend developed pancreatic cancer and unfortunately passed away. Jack did some research and found that the traditional method for checking for pancreatic cancer only worked 30% of the time. Even worse is that the method had not been updated in 60 years and cost about eight-hundred dollars! Upset about the situation, a 13 year old Jack decided to change all of this.

The issue with pancreatic cancer detection is that by the time it is usually found, it has spread from the pancreas to other vital organs. The survival rate of this cancer is less than two percent, but Jack is hopeful that his new method for detecting this cancer will change that statistic.

The old method included doctors “having to spot a minute irregularity in the level of one of the over 8,000 proteins that can be measured in the bloodstream”. This 60-year-old detection test called enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (or ELISA) was lacking in efficiency. You can read more about the previous test here. Jack’s test came from his idea of using a piece of paper containing a carbon nanotube (a tube of carbon with a thickness of a single atom), this paper contains antibodies that would react in the presence of mesothelin (a protein found in high levels in people with pancreatic cancer). When the paper is dipped in blood or urine, the mesothhelin adheres to the antibodies and changes can be detected in the nanotubes electrical conductivity. The best part is that this is a non-invasive test!

Jack’s promising idea however was not accepted by many institutions. He had sent his proposal paper to over 200 institutions. In the span of two months he had received rejections from 199 of these institutions- but one place, Johns Hopkins University, reconized the genius of his idea. They agreed to work with the teen and in just seven months Jack’s new test was complete. And the results were astounding!

His test has proved to be 168 times faster than the previous existing tests, it has been accurate 100% of the time, and it only costs 3 cents! Not only is his new test able to detect pancreatic cancer, but it may be able to test for other types of cancer as well as HIV!

Because of his amazing success, Jack has been granted scholarships from Intel, and other donors. He won the Gordon E. Moore award and was invited to speak on TED talks.  You can find his talk here.

Jack hopes to start up a company to commercialize his test. He offered advice to teens all around the world- “Make sure to be passionate about whatever it is you get into, because otherwise you won’t put the right amount of work into it”. I know Jack has inspired many high school students across the country, and he has sure inspired me! What will you do by the time you are 18?









Can We “Turn Off” a Chromosome?

What is this crazy idea of “turning off” a chromosome and how will it benefit us? Well, in a recent scientific discovery Dr.Jeanne Lawrence and her team found a way to turn off the extra chromosome that causes Down syndrome. This discovery talked about in an article written by Jennifer Wong has opened new perspectives on treating the syndrome. Now now, this is not a cure to Down syndrome, it is way to eliminate the symptoms. Still an astonishing feat! To examine this we must first simply look at what Down syndrome is. Down syndrome is caused by the presence of an extra chromosome- chromosome 21. So we can fully understand chromosome 21 in it’s entirety is here is some more information. People unaffected by this syndrome have 22 chromosomes, however in the case of Down syndrome chromosome 21 gets copied three times instead of the regular two- causing an extra chromosome. This genetic disorder is quite common in our present day. Down syndrome is known for causing intellectual issues, heart problems and early Alzheimer’s disease. To add, this is a great website which explains Down syndrome in further detail.


The extra chromosome 21 in down syndrome

The extra chromosome 21 in down syndrome

So what is this ground breaking discovery? Dr.Lawrence, at the University of Massachusetts, tested the idea of “shutting  down” chromosome 21. She and her team had discovered that the gene specifically involved with X-Chromosome  inactivation could be used to “turn off” the extra chromosome. This gene is known as XIST- X-inactive specific transcript. XIST has a non-coding RNA covering. This causes a string of chromosomal changes that mute gene expression. Dr.Lawrence wondered if this gene could be used to shut down chromosome 21. She and her team set up an experiment- to insert the XIST gene into the extra chromosome and see if it causes the inactivation they were hoping for. But doing so is not as simple as it sounds. How do we insert a gene into a chromosome with out fault? The answer to this is an editing enzyme called the zinc finger nuclease- an enzyme that can insert genes into chromosomes while making little to no mistake. To  ensure certainty  the team used doxycycline, a drug that helped to induce an expression from the gene.

After conducting this experiment Dr.Lawrence and her team found that the expression induced by the doxycycline on the XIST gene could effectively inactivate or in other words, turn off, the extra chromosome. This turned it into a Barr body (a condensed X chromosome). The experiment had worked! Dr.Lawrence’s paper on the experiment can be found here. The inactivation of chromosome 21 eliminated the symptoms of Down syndrome. A brilliant discovery sure to pave the way for further exploration of cures to Down syndrome, a syndrome which effects many people in our world today. What do you think of this amazing find and how it will benefit those affected by Down syndrome?

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