AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: enzmilyjane

Hacking Evolution to Stop Malaria?

Kevin Esvelt is a biochemist, at MIT Media Lab, his approach to dealing with disease is instead of waiting for a disease to infect you, eradicate it completely. His hope is that on animals, such as mosquitos. he could use the CRISPR technology to block the gene. He believes that “we should be able to build organisms that are programmed to be immune to every virus known to infect them“.  By using the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing and gene drive he, and his team, would be able to block that gene from appearing in the next generation.



Although, eradicating horrible diseases such as Ebola and Malaria sounds extremely beneficial; there is some draw back. Malaria, for example, is spread across many nations; therefor, scientist would need permission to genetically alter a species from each nation; but before this can be agreed upon test communities would need to be set up. Esvelt would want to test the CRISPR technology in small, localized areas before moving on to an entire species. Esvelt is confident that with a disease as deadly as Malaria, nations would be able to reach an agreement to go with gene editing. Esvelt hopes that by using CRISPR technology he would be able to create organisms, like mosquitos, in the case of Malaria, that are programmed to be immune to Malaria. If this were to happen these deadly disease would not be able to spread. Hence, Esvelt’s key belief of not waiting for the disease infect you, but rather eradicate it completely,



A Painful Death for Lobsters?

The Swiss government has just passed a law that is illegal to boil a live lobster. The government of Switzerland believes that lobsters can feel pain.  Dr. Richard Elwood says, “there should be a more humane approach with lobsters.”  Dr. Elwood says that crustaceans, like lobsters, guarded their wounded areas. They also avoided areas were they would be shocked and live crabs crawled off of a hot barbecue grill. These are some of the main pieces of evidence that support Dr. Elwood’s theory. Dr. Elwood believes that these responses are the crustacean equivalent to expressing being in pain.

Dr. Ayers disagrees with the notion that lobsters can fell pain. He believes they lack the brain anatomy need to feel pain. Dr. Micheal Tlusty, a lobster biologist, says although lobsters do not have the brain anatomy that we associate with pain there is no way to be certain because  crustacean brains are so different from the human brain.  Even though a lobster will continue to twitch after loosing a limb, there is no way to be certain if it is out of discomfort or a natural reflex.

According to the Swiss government says electrocution, by Crustastun, is the preferred option


Do Whales Exfoliate?

While trying to study bowhead whale’s feeding habits, Sarah Fortune was able to answers a questions that has been puzzling researchers for years: Why do bowhead whales continue to return to the Cumberland Sound in Canada and why are they constantly rubbing their bodies against rocks?

Well, it turns out they bowhead whales like to exfoliate and rub off dead layers of skin, just like us! Sarah Fortune made this discovery when a whale removed a transmitter, she had attached to track them, while rubbing against a rock. She noticed large pieces of skin coming off the whales’ backs and sides along with the transmitters.


Most whales are believed to shed skin and hair little by little throughout the year, like humans. However, some cold-water whale species are believed to shed as they migrate to warmer areas in the summer. Until Sarah Fortune’s study, very little was known about bowhead whales molting patterns. Although it was believed that they shed in the warmer months like belugas (a cold-water species). This latest discovery, of bowhead whales rubbing against rocks, will help confirm the belief that they shed seasonally. It also helps to explain why bowhead whales are willing swim into much shallower waters; they use rocky shores and big boulders there to exfoliate!


Back from the (almost) dead: Burmese Star Tortoise

The Burmese Star tortoise trade is very lucrative, but also very harmful. Poachers make money by capturing them in their natural habitat of Myanmar (formally Burma) and selling them as exotic pets. The Burmese Star tortoise was classified functionally extinct, meaning their population was so small that it was no longer able to sustain itself.

Herpetologist, Steven Platt, set up breeding colonies in Myanmar. In 2004, they captured less then 200 tortoises from the wild and put them into three breeding colonies. This was a large enough starting population to avoid inbreeding. Today the number of tortoises they have has grown to 14,000! In 2013, about 1,000 tortoises were reintroduced into protected land. In 2016 these colonies produced over 2,000 hatchlings per year.

Despite the massive success of the breeding colonies there have been setbacks. At first, poachers broke into the breeding colonies to steal the tortoises. Modifications, such as 10 foot concrete walls, were installed to protect the tortoises from the thieves. After the tortoises are reintroduced into a protected area there is still the concern of poachers. However, with the success of the breeding colonies, that were started by confiscated tortoises, there is a lot of promise that this species will survive going forward. A new idea to reintroduce this species is the bury their eggs and let them hatch in nature. Dr. Platt hopes this will speed up the re-establishment of the population.

Dr. Platt recognizes that he and his team can not reintroduce the Burmese Star tortoise effectively without community support. By sharing their work with the near by community, members of it look of for illegal activity and are willing to help in any way they can. Dr. Platt’s group also gets local monasteries to bless the tortoises which supports the local theory that harming a tortoise will result in “divine retribution”.



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