AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: emdaniels

The Blood Brain Barrier Can’t Block This!

University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor, Shaoqin “Sarah” Gong is ready to take on finding cures for brain disease such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Gong and her colleagues strive to enable a “noninvasive, safe and efficient delivery of CRISPR genome editors” that can be used as forms of therapy for these diseases. According to MedlinePlus, there are many forms of brain disease, some caused by tumor, injury, genetics; however, Gong’s research focuses on degenerative nerve diseases. Degenerative nerve diseases can affect balance, movement, talking, breathing and heart function. The reason cures for degenerative nerve disease are difficult to create is because of the blood brain barrier. According to the American Society for MicroBiology, the blood brain barrier is a feature of the brain and central nervous system blocking the entrance of “microorganisms, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses or parasites, that may be circulating in the bloodstream”. Unfortunately, the barrier block is a very selective site that won’t let vaccines and therapies through. Fortunately, Gong’s nano-capsules with CRISPR’s genome editors point toward brain disease therapy and a cure.


Alzheimer's disease brain comparison

Gong’s study proposes dissolvable nano sized capsules that can carry CRISPR genome editing tools into organs. According to CRISPR Therapeutics, CRISPR technology meaning Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats is an “efficient and versatile gene-editing technology we can harness to modify, delete or correct precise regions of our DNA”. CRISPR edits genes by “precisely cutting DNA and then letting natural DNA repair processes take over.” CRISPR targets mutated segments of DNA that can produce abnormal protein causing diseases such as degenerative nerve disease.  CRISPR works with the help of a guide RNA and Cas9. Together the complex can recognize and bind to a site next to a specific target sequence of DNA that would lead to the production of an abnormal protein. CAS9 can cut the DNA and remove a segment. As a result natural DNA pathways occur and RNA polymerase will return to rebuild and correct the mutated segment. 


Consequently with the addition of glucose and amino acids the nano-capsules containing CRISPR Technology can pass through the blood brain barrier to conduct gene editing to target the gene for the amyloid precursor protein that is associated with Alzheimer’s. The topic of gene editing coincides with the Gene Expression portion of the AP Biology curriculum. In the topic of gene expressions 2 processes are emphasized: transcription (the process of making an RNA copy of DNA) and translation ( the process of making proteins using genetic information from RNA). In the CRISPR technology the editing of genes closely relates to the process of transcription. Transcription mistakes can be made which can lead to mutations, these mutations can potentially cause nonsense, missense or deletions of nucleotides ultimately producing wrong codons that would code for incorrect/abnormal proteins. However, the CRISPR technology would be able to correct these mutations in the DNA, replacing the incorrect nucleotides to correct ones and preventing the production of abnormal proteins. Fortunately, Gong’s unique nano-capsules have successfully been tested on mice, giving scientists hope that treatments and therapy for these brain diseases are coming soon and can help many.

Read it and wheat…

Wheat, corn, and rice are the most important crops around the world. As someone who enjoys baking, wheat is the base of almost all the desserts and bread recipes I bake. However, as I have become more interested in baking various types of bread, I wondered how gluten is formed and how bread textures change based on how long I kneaded the dough. According to Jessica R Biesiekierski in her article “What is Gluten”, Gluten is “complex mixture of hundreds of related but distinct proteins, mainly gliadin and glutenin.” The gluten matrix is essential to the quality of bread dough. It has the ability to act as a “binding” agent and is also used in marinades and even capsules in medication.  The biology of gluten and its structure depend on the ration of glutenin and gliadins. Each component has different functions that can effect “viscoelasticity”. In her article Biesiekiersk, worked to find evidence that “exposure to gluten may be increasing with changes in cereal technology”. There are many diets and intolerances caused by gluten such as the gluten free diet, gluten disorders, coeliac disease wheat allergy and sensitivity. In conclusion of their study, they determined “Gluten is a complex protein network and plays a key role in determining the rheological dough properties and baking qualities.” However, they came across a challenged. They learned that protein structure can “vary dependent on several factors”. Ultimately, make “analysis and definitions difficult”. And overall they conclude that “further work is needed to completely understand non-coeliac gluten sensitive”.

Another study that researched viscoelasticity is by is Peter R. Shewry, Nigel G. Halford, Peter S. Belton, and Arthur S. Tatham studied “The structure properties of gluten: an elastic protein from wheat grain”. According to Science Direct, viscoelasticity refers to a material’s tendency to act like a fluid or a solid. An additional article that explores viscoelasticity.

Vehnäpelto 6

They manipulate the “amount and composition” of HMM subunits concerning the strength or change of gluten structure and properties. These scholars describe wheat as a plant with many properties, however, they emphasized “viscoelasticity”. In terms of this research, viscoelasticity is “the balance between the extensibility and elasticity determining the end use quality.” The scholars use the dough as an example stating that “ highly elastic (‘strong’) doughs are required for bread making but, more extensible doughs are required for making cakes and biscuits”. In the study, these scholars focused on the HMM protein subunits of gluten. At least 50 different types of gluten proteins can be produced during the kneading process; however, these researchers have chosen to focus on the HMM subunits of glutenin. HMM, subunits, X type, and Y type can be only found on one chromosome in wheat cells. These two subunits are 70 % accountable for the viscoelastic variations in bread. This presentation allowed the researcher to see how stable and unstable the subunits were which would play a role in their ability to interact with peptides. In addition, these peptides may relate to the role of gluten in stabilizing the structures and interactions of the subunits.

US Navy 050102-N-5837R-011 Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Joshua Savoy and Culinary Specialist 3rd Class Davy Nugent prepares bread in the bakery aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) Both articles emphasized the importance of protein structure. AP Biology greatly emphasizes the importance of Organic compounds. Proteins have a few structures that are ultimately composed of sequences of amino acids to create polypeptide chains. From primary structure proteins can become more complex by forming alpha helixes and beta pleated sheets. From that point 3D structures can be made. Gluten has a very structure characterized by “high allelic polymorphism encoding its specific proteins, glutenin, and gliadin”. This leads to wheat producing “unique types and quantities of these compounds”, these types and quantities can vary based off “growing conditions and technological processes”.

Ballerinas Got the Brains!

A 2013 research article conducted by scientists at the Imperial College of London has dived into the ballet world and researched the brains of ballerinas. Their research led to the discovery that dancers can suppress signals of dizziness using the balance organs of the inner ear. The vestibular system, found in the inner ear, consists mainly of smaller circular canals. Each canal recognizes different motions: Up and Down, Side to side, and tilting. These canals are filled with hair and liquid which move with your body to send signals to the brain using the acoustic nerve. With this information, your brain can process balance, dizziness, and vertigo. These researchers became curious about how ballet dancers can perform multiple balanced pirouettes without feelings of dizziness. And as a dancer, I would say this is because of the technique of spotting which involves rapidly moving the head to keep one’s eyes on a fixed spot.

However, this study has proved that wrong. So, with the help of 29 ballet dancers and 20 rowers, the researchers put it to the test. Their method of testing involved putting the volunteers in a dark room and spinning them on a rotating chair. They then timed how long it took for the dizziness to stop. In addition, the researchers measure eye reflexes triggered by the vestibular organs and later completed MRI scans of the patient’s brain structure. The data they collected showed that the eye reflexes and perception of spinning lasted a shorter time with the dancers than with the rowers.

From this point, doctors wondered how they could transfer this ability to their patients. After taking an in-depth look at the dancer’s brains it was concluded that the cerebral cortex and cerebellum were the most affected. The cerebral cortex is found in the largest part of the brain and is responsible for speech, judgment, thinking and reasoning, problem-solving, emotions, learning, and the senses. While the cerebellumMajor parts of the brain, a fist-sized portion found in the back of the brain, uses neurons to coordinate voluntary muscle movements and to maintain posture, balance ,and equilibrium. In the AP Biology curriculum, learning the nervous system helps in one’s understanding of transport and membranes. The nervous system sends signals across the plasma membrane of a cell to the brain. With this signal, the cerebellum and cerebral cortex can process information and signal parts of the body to move. From looking at the MRI scans, scientists discovered that the dancer’s cerebellum was smaller. Scientists believed dancers would be better off not using their vestibular system and solely relying on “highly coordinated pre-programmed movements”. Scientists believe it is not necessary for dancers to feel dizziness so, their brains adapted to suppress that feeling. As a result, the signal that goes to the cerebral cortex is reduced. So, if scientists and doctors monitor the cerebral cortex they could begin to understand how to treat patients affected by chronic dizziness.



How Bats Turned Themselves and the World Upside Down

In a research article written in early-mid November of 2022, Smriti Mallapaty conducts and evaluates the bat ancestry in SARS CoV-2. Over the few years of COVID research, scientists discovered that COVID shares ancestry with bats more recently than they believed. However, recent findings suggest that finding that ancestor is unlikely.
In a recent presentation at the 7th World One Health Congress in Singapore, scientists compared portions of the coronavirus set of genes, which led to the discovery that COVID and bats shared genes as recently as 2016. In addition, it narrowed down the time between SARS-CoV-2 jumping from bats to humans. According to the Bat Conservation Trust, the reason for the transmission of COVID from bats to humans is due to deforestation and livestock farming on the cleared land brought wildlife into much closer contact with humans providing the opportunity for a spillover event.
Bat 03
This study conducted by Mallapaty highlighted the difficulty of finding the direct ancestor of the coronavirus. However, this led to research efforts in Asia. Many southeastern Asian scientists have come together to test the sequencing of viruses in different tissues to identify the ancestor. But, due to their struggle to find their ancestors’ people began to believe that the virus came from a Wuhan Virology facility. In the Wuhan Virology facility, according to the United States Senate, researchers and their collaborators collected virus expeditions on large scales to Southern China and Southeast Asia, where bats naturally harbor SARS-related viruses, on an annual basis from 2004 onwards. Scientists collected samples of bat blood, urine, and saliva. The bats and or samples from the bats transmitted covid to humans beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This passage relates to the AP Biology Curriculum, specifically the Immune system and Adaptive immunity. In adaptive immunity, the body uses Pathogen Specific Recognition to target infected cells through a cell-mediated response. The MHC protein on macrophages and dendritic cells displays the foreign antigen and releases cytokine. The cytokines activate the T helper cells to recognize the antigen and start the cell-mediated response. The T helper cells stimulate other T cells to divide into Killer T and T memory cells. The T-killer cells kill infected cells, and T-plasma cells block off and remember the antigen to cause a faster immune response if exposed again. In addition, one can be further protected by receiving the mRNA vaccine. The mRNAs vaccine blocks the spike protein surrounding COVID cells so it can bind to the receptor on human cells that would allow it in.
 Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (51240985843)
Overall, from their rigorous research, these scientists were able to find that SARS-CoV-2’s closest known relative is a bat virus found in Laos called BANAL-52, whose genome is 96.8% identical to SARS-CoV-2. In addition, another virus = is called RaTG13, which is 96.1% identical. They did this using a method of isolating viruses from bats and comparing their genomes. All these percentages reveal that the virus has undergone between 40-70 years of evolution. On the other hand, some researchers say that comparing whole-genome sequences ignores the role of recombination in virus evolution. Recombination is a description of DNA made by combining genetic material from 2 different sources. In this process, pieces of RNA could be very different from SARS-CoV-2, suggesting they are more distantly related, whereas other fragments that are much more similar imply a closer relationship. Therefore to account for recombination, researchers compared bat and pangolin genes and split them into segments and smaller nucleotide segments. At that point, each segment was evaluated with a subset to estimate how recently SARS-CoV-2 shared a common ancestor with a bat or animal virus.
This topic grabbed my attention because I was reflecting on my interactions with animals. Besides domesticated animals, the only animals I have had true interactions with are bats and birds. In addition, since the pandemic, I heard about the role bats play in the spread of COVID but never took the time to understand their involvement. In short, I took this opportunity to educate myself on these creatures that hang upside down and turned our world upside down.

SHOULD Beauty be Pain?

Would you ever think that straightening your hair could risk your health? It turns out that the use of chemical hair straighteners, such as relaxers, may lead to an increase in uterine cancer in women. Until recent research, researchers believed that only ovarian and breast cancer could result from the application of chemical hair straighteners. But a recent study conducted by the National Cancer Institute proves otherwise. Many people question how these harmful chemicals are allowed in hair care products and why the FDA does not ban their use. In response to that question, hair care products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Therefore the FDA is not responsible for the safety of customers who become victims of these harmful chemicals found in their products. In addition, these products are mainly bought and used by black women, who permanently want to straighten their hair. In comparison to other women within the study, 60% of women who did use these products identified as black. As a black woman, I believe that information about what is in our hair care products needs to be studied and the research needs to be shared. With the hope that more black women can avoid harmful products such as relaxers to prioritize their health.

Natural Haircare Remedies & Hair Treatments - 50888045466

A study was conducted for a decade on 34,000 women to see if hair straightening products led to uterine cancer. The study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between products and uterine cancer. However, there was 2.41% difference between the risk factor of women who did use chemical straightening products and women who did not use chemical straightening products.

Parabens, bisphenol, formaldehyde, and metals play a key role in the increase of uterine cancer because of their reputation for disrupting the endocrine system. The endocrine system is the organ system responsible for controlling and regulating the body’s hormones. The organ system, compiled of multiple glands placed throughout the body, releases hormones into the bloodstream to control factors such as insulin, the function of reproductive organs, body growth, and energy development.

Endocrine central nervous en

When these hormones are called upon by a cell’s receptors, which send out signals asking for specific hormones, they come in contact with the targeted cells. This process would not be possible without the cell membrane. The cell membrane is a layer that encompasses all the cell’s internal parts called organelles. In addition, the membrane serves as a barrier between what is inside and outside the cell. The importance of the cell membrane and how it transports and brings materials into the cell is emphasized in the AP Biology curriculum. At this point within the cell, the cell takes on the process of receptor-mediated endocytosis. The hormone whose need is triggered by the cell docks with a receptor. The cell membrane then engulfs the needed hormone.

In all, research about the harmful effects of chemicals in hair straightening products is alarming for women everywhere. Specifically, for the black community who’s women depend on these products more often for hair maintenance and care.

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