AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Author: genetchencode

Black Science Researchers Making a Difference in the Community

As seen throughout society this year, especially, Black Lives Matter Movements have gained a lot of support and attention. Not only is this movement present in everyday life, but also more specifically the science and education world. As shared in this article from Science News, many Black scientists are using their experience and knowledge to fight for diversity and equity in science, especially Deja Perkins, Raven Baxter, Brian Nord, Angeline Dukes, and Gary Hoover. 

Urban Ecologist, Deja Perkins of the University of North Carolina is the president of BlackAFinStem and a co-organizer of #BlackBirdersWeek. She was inspired to act when another member of BlackAFinStem, Christian Cooper, was verbally harassed in Central Park for the color of his skin while taking part in bird watching and research. Following this incident, BlackAFinStem was created to bring awareness to Black people’s experience in the outdoors and those who have had unpleasant experiences while working in the field. Although, since the beginning of BlackAFinStem, more and more organizations have been looking to hire many members of its workshops, presentations, and development, Perkins believes that gatekeeping could become a barrier for long term change. 

Another notable Black scientist is Raven Baxter. She is a science education graduate from the University of Buffalo who founded @BlackinScienceComm. She founded this in order to create a safe space for other Black scientists to share their voices and to encourage them to use their voices to advocate for justice. She mentions that one larger importance is for generations to come and in hope of alleviating that feeling of imposter syndrome, “the product of not feeling like you belong because you don’t see anybody like you in your field. So you’re doing well and you’re succeeding, but you feel like you’re an imposter because the narrative that’s been pushed for so long is that we’re not in these fields or that we don’t do well in these fields. But that’s not true.” Especially in this past year, Baxter, has successfully created a place where scientists alike can uplift others in hope of making the science field a better place.

Angelina Dukes is a Neuroscience graduate student from the University of Irvine, California who founded and resides as president of @BlackInNeuro. In her department, she was only one of two Black women, which she felt at times very segregated. With that, there were no Black Faculty members which she describes as, “emotionally and mentally draining”, so the need for a community that would understand and uplift others drove the creation of BlackInNeuro. The success of this platform allowed for many scientists to connect with each other and Dukes believes that because, “ There aren’t a lot of Black people in faculty positions. [They] have the energy and the drive to build a community and hopefully retain more of us in these fields so we can get those faculty positions.”

Overall, many scientists are working toward making not only make the science field a more inclusive place, but all society as well. These few people have created very influential platforms that have already begun to make others feel more safe and comfortable in their field and will continue to do so in the future. 









Protection by Different Face Masks

During the time of the Covid-19 pandemic we know that it is important to wear masks, but which ones? Different masks hold uniqueness, but ultimately are all used to protect you from airborne pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, that your immune system would need help fighting. 

Although, the best way to prevent contracting Covid-19 is to isolation and social distancing, when in public settings it is important to have a face covering. One of the most common face covers that you will see are surgical masks. Surgical masks  are disposable, loose-fitting face covering that provide a separation between the nose and mouth with harmful particles that may be present in the surrounding air. When used properly, as stated by the FDA in an article named N95 Respirators, Surgical Masks, and Face Masks, “a surgical mask is meant to help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria), keeping it from reaching your mouth and nose. Surgical masks may also help reduce exposure of your saliva and respiratory secretions to others”. However, surgical masks have flaws, very small particles do not get filtered or blocked that you could be exposed by coughing, sneezing, or medical procedures. They are only designed for one use and can become damaged. As for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Covid-19, they do not completely block the virus from getting through, rather, reduce the magnitude that can pass through. Also, because of its loose-fitting design, there is a higher risk of harmful particles getting past the mask barrier through the open slots. Ultimately, surgical masks are one model of masks used to protect yourself from harmful particles in the air. 


Another type of mask seen throughout the pandemic is an N95 respirator. These face coverings, constructed with many layers of protection, are also used to protect you body from consuming harmful particles, but are designed with a more secure fit and effective filtration system, “that are tested for fluid resistance, filtration efficiency (particulate filtration efficiency and bacterial filtration efficiency, flammability and biocompatibility”.  Many people tend to feel more secure with a N95 respiratory mask because it also accommodates coating technologies to reduce or kill microorganisms. However, people with chronic respiratory, cardiac, or other medical conditions may have a more difficulty breathing with this mask and they are classified as single use to ensure maximum protection.

Lastly, another commonly seen mask are cloth masks. These masks are common due to its easy accessibility and their generally patterned designs. However, as stated by the CDC, these masks do not provide filtration as well as surgical masks or other respirators. Although they provide adequate protection from the virus, they are not permitted to be worn my healthcare workers. Ultimately, in the communal setting cloth face masks allow protection, when worn properly of course, and their protection level can vary depending on material, number of layers, design, etc., but surgical mask and respirators overall considered more protective.


Overall, the surgical mask and N95 respirator are two commonly found face covering that will give you protection against the pandemic. It is important to keep in mind that although our immune system provides us with innate immunity, a defense that is active immediately upon infections, and adaptive immunity, an acquired immunity of typically a slow response. Because adaptive immunity is a slower response, for the Covid-19 virus, it is typical to take around two weeks for your body to develop antigens. That being said, masks are a significant precaution against contracting the virus. Lastly, both of these masks are approved by the CDC and are seen in the medical field and in everyday life and can protect you from unwanted pathogens. 




Do Birds Think Like Us?

Contrary to popular belief, a bird’s brain is indeed intelligent. Pigeons are able to identify the painting of Picasso and Monet, with training and ravens are able to identify themselves in a mirror. For a long time, it was believed that bird brains are not complex, however, according to an article from Scientific American, recently it has been discovered that bird brains have many similarities to the brains of mammals. 

The neocortex is the outer layer of the brain that allows cognition and creativity, in mammals. Although the brains of birds hold a different shape, new research can compare their structure to the neocortex in mammals. It is found that the layout of the brain is similar to humans, explaining their advanced behavior and abilities. Originally, it was believed that avian brains were a  group of neurons located in a region known as DVR, and an individual nucleus called the wulst, whereas mammal brains consist of six layers with columns of neurons that transfer information horizontally and vertically. These clusters of neurons, each contained a nucleus which ultimately allows for the production of proteins in the cell. However, In a study done by, senior author Onur Güntürkün, a neuroscientist at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, along with his colleagues they discovered that, ”in both pigeons and barn owls, these brain regions are constructed much like our neocortex, with both layerlike and columnar organization—and with both horizontal and vertical circuitry” (Stetka). This research rejects the once accepted understanding of avian brains. Additionally, “We can now claim that this layered, corticallike organization is indeed a feature of the whole sensory forebrain in most, if not all, birds,” says Martin Stacho, co-lead author of the study and Güntürkün’s colleague at Ruhr University Bochum. Ultimately, it is confirmed that the DVR of avion brains is related to the cortex of mammal brain, thus explaining many of birds unique abilities. Although this theory was suggested by Harvey Karten in the 60s, it was not supported, but new this research credits Kartens hypothesis

This new discovery raises more questions of the possibility of sensory consciousness in avian brains and ancient animal brain evolution. The latest common ancestor of birds and mammals are reptiles, from 320 million years ago, and its brain is believed, “it wasn’t like the neocortex or the DVR. It was probably something in between that, in mammals, developed a six-layered neocortex and, in birds, to the wulst and DVR”, said Martin Stacho.


With the current discoveries on bird brains, new possibilities are being researched and many scientist are realizing that our brains may hold more similarities to different animals than previously believed.



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